Queer Celebrity Conference Report

Conference PaperThis two-day conference took place during LGBT Pride Month on 6-7th June at the University of Portsmouth. Organised by members of the Celebrity, Citizenship and Status project, Queer Celebrity brought together scholars from the UK, Europe, US, Australia, and Taiwan to discuss celebrity, gender, and sexuality in different historical periods and geographical locations.

Over the two days, delegates looked at queer figures in the public imagination and interrogated the ways in which queer identities have influenced celebrity culture throughout history and across all media forms, society, and politics. Papers explored the ways in which queer theory complicates and enhances our understanding of celebrity studies and examined how the cultural visibility of queer celebrities has reshaped and expanded norms and expectations relating to sexuality, gender, and identity.

On the first day of the conference, panels covered the following themes: posthumous celebrity, outlaws, travels and trajectories, and (in)visibility. Across these panels, papers focused on a diverse range of topics from celebrity scandals and ‘outness’ (Anita Brady, Victoria University of Wellington), to camp aesthetics in mainstream post-Soviet pop music (Maria Brock, Cardiff University), the representation of queer, black girlhood in American cinema (Tessa Reed, Kings College London), and queer YouTubers in East Asia (Yen-Jen Chen, National Taiwan University).

After a busy morning, delegates had the opportunity to network over lunch and to watch a screening of Daisy Asquith’s (Goldsmith’s, University of London) film Queerama, which illustrates the changes that took place in LGBTQ life in twentieth-century Britain – many thanks to Daisy for this!

The first day of Queer Celebrity concluded with a fascinating keynote and public lecture by Professor Jack Halberstam (Columbia University) entitled, ‘The Sounds of Violence: Screams and Wild Sounds in Punk, Disco and Women’s Music’. Beginning with punk as an anti-fame/ anti-celebrity movement, Jack examined women’s screams and other noises in music as a queer counter to mainstream celebrity.


The second day of the conference opened with Professor Michèle Mendelssohn’s (University of Oxford) excellent keynote address: ‘Born to be Wilde?’. Based on her exciting new book, Making Oscar Wilde — a biography of the Irish gay icon — Michèle’s keynote traced Wilde’s route to fame while considering the intersection between queerness, race, and celebrity.

Following Michèle’s keynote, Panel Six featured papers on queer celebrities and/in popular culture. Margarita Vaysman (University of St. Andrews) discussed the representations of nineteenth-century Russian queer celebrity, Nadezhda Durova, while Joanna McIntyre (University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia) examined Nadia Almada and transgender celebrity. Clare Southerton (Aarhus University) and Hannah McCann (University of Melbourne) gave a joint paper on queer desire in One Direction fandom, and Emily Roach (University of York) followed suit by discussing homosocial desire and 90s boybands.

After lunch, Professor Richard Dyer (Kings College London) gave the final keynote of the conference: “The Melodrama of Queer Celebrity” which focused on queer melodrama in celebrity culture and the melodrama of ‘coming out’.

The final panels of the day focused on iconic queer celebrities and death and celebrity. In Panel Eight, Origins and Icons, Marie Josephine Bennett (University of Winchester) explored Liza Minelli and queer iconicity, while in Panel Nine, Anastasia Howe Bukowski and Junyi Lv’s (University of Southern California) joint paper offered a fascinating insight into posthumous celebrity and fandom pilgrimage in Hong Kong.

The conference came to a close with a round-table discussion in which Professor Dominic Janes (Keele University), Professor Richard Dyer, and Annelot Prins (Freie Universität Berlin) shared their final thoughts on the conference and the future of queer celebrity studies.

The Queer Celebrity conference proved to be a diverse, absorbing, and exciting conference. Many thanks to all the keynote speakers, delegates, and attendees for making it such a memorable event.

To view the conference programme and paper abstracts please see our WordPress site.

For more information about the Celebrity, Citizenship, and Status project please visit our website or follow us on Twitter: @UoP_Celebrity.

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