Female impersonation need say nothing about sexual identity, but it has for a long time been almost an institutionalized aspect of gay male culture.
Although sparse in images documenting the gay community, pre-Stonewall gay male photography blurs the boundaries between art, erotica, and social history.
Given the historic stigma around making, circulating, and possessing overtly homoerotic images, the visual arts have been especially important for providing a socially sanctioned arena for depicting the naked male body and suggesting homoerotic desire.
Independent films that aggressively assert homosexual identity and queer culture, the New Queer Cinema can be seen as the culmination of several developments in American cinema.
Renowned photographer, teacher, critic, editor, and curator, Minor White created some of the most interesting photographs of male nudes of the second half of the twentieth century, but did not exhibit them for fear of scandal.
The first international fashion superstar, Halston dressed and befriended some of America's most glamorous women.
An artistic movement that grew out of Dadaism and flourished in Europe shortly after World War I, Surrealism embraced the idea that art was an expression of the subconscious.
Film, stage, and television actor Paul Winfield was openly gay in his private life, but maintained public silence about his homosexuality.
Acclaimed Costa Rican-Mexican singer Chavela Vargas died on August 5, 2012 in a hospital in Cuernavaca, where she had been admitted for heart and respiratory problems.
In his glbtq.com entry on her, Miguel A. Segovia observes that "Vargas became notorious for the eroticism of her performances and for her open expression of lesbian desire."
As Isaac Garrido reports in the Huffington Post, Vargas defied gender stereotypes to become one of the most legendary singers in Mexico. She "rose to fame flouting the Roman Catholic country's preconceptions of what it meant to be a female singer: singing lusty 'ranchera' songs while wearing men's clothes, carrying a pistol, drinking heavily and smoking cigars."
Segovia notes that a crucial element of Vargas's radical performance art was her seduction of women in the audience and her singing songs written to be sung by a man to a woman.
A major figure in Mexico City's mid-twentieth century artistic explosion, she was a friend and frequent house guest of the Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. She had an affair with Kahlo and was close to the gay Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.
Fittingly, she appeared in Julie Taymor's film Frida (2002), where she hauntingly sings "La Llorona," or "The Crier."
After gaining fame in the 1960s, Vargas fell into alcoholism in the 1970s. She retreated from the public sphere for about twelve years. She attempted comebacks with only modest success, though she did sing in local cabarets, especially those frequented by gay men, who throughout her career constituted a large fraction of her admirers.
In 1981, she made a major comeback with stellar performances in the Olympia Theatre of Paris, Carnegie Hall in New York, the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico, and the Palau de la Música in Barcelona.
She experienced another revival in the early 1990s. Gay filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar helped bring her a new audience by incorporating her bold, expressive, and seductive music into his films.
In 2000, the President of Spain presented Vargas with "la Cruz de la Orden Isabel Católica," one of the most prestigious awards for artistic production.
Vargas pursued an active working life into her nineties. In 2011, she released a new album of García Lorca's poems and appeared in concerts, singing from her wheelchair.
The video below captures Vargas in concert late in her life.
In the clip below, from Frida, Vargas sings "La Llorona."___