Bill Kaelin

Bill Kaelin: How Madonna shapes this gay man’s journey

Last month the world celebrated Madonna’s 56th birthday. August 16 has become something of a “national gay holiday,” with parties thrown all over the world for the icon, and Atlanta joined in.

East Atlanta’s Mary’s threw its yearly “Madonna-rama” event this year, complete with Madonna remixes, rare tracks and videos playing to a packed house. The line outside was fit for a queen, with people waiting more than an hour to get in.

The following night I hosted a screening of Madonna’s critically acclaimed documentary, “Truth or Dare,” at the gay-owned Plaza Theatre. The newly remodeled theater with cozy seats, a full bar, new sound and a brand new screen was the perfect place to host the event, a benefit for AID Atlanta, to honor this year’s new “Mistress of Ceremonies” for AIDS Walk 2014: Sandra Bernhard, who also makes an appearance in the film.

Sandra was essentially outed by Madonna in the movie, making it a hilarious, shocking and famous LGBT moment, and in honor of the groundbreaking scene the Laughing Skull Lounge gave away two tickets to the upcoming live Sandra Bernhard show on Oct. 18 for the best Madonna costume. Tons of people “Expressed Themselves,” with every generation of Madonna represented, making the sing-along style screening that much more special.

Anyone who really knows me understands that I am a true Madonna fan. It is the biggest gay stereotype that I am proud to own up to. Men in our community can be judgmental about my love for her, because some think it makes me more effeminate or a “super gay” to respect and honor such a female icon. I once dated a guy who broke up with me because he was embarrassed that I liked her as much as I do, although he watched “Designing Women” and “Golden Girls” on a nightly basis. Go figure.

It is important to know that I was only a 12-year-old small-town, Midwestern, strictly raised Catholic school gay kid when I purchased Madonna’s debut cassette tape with my Holy Confirmation money. Barely starting puberty and really wrapping by head around being “different”; I was instantly obsessed. The crucifixes, the sex, the beats and the balls of her made my parents hate her and me love her even more. My parents screamed that the world would forget her, but here we are almost 30 years later and she is as famous as Elvis and is actually Googled more than the Virgin Mary herself.

Watching “Truth or Dare” is like watching an old home movie of your funny and obnoxious sister in her younger years. I was 20 years old when the film came out, and the first time I watched it I instantly wanted her to be my best girlfriend. She was fun, talented, rude, protective, and she loved her out and open gays. I had never seen the like before.

The film was also the first time I had seen a Gay Pride Parade or a protest march for AIDS, which scared the shit out of me, but the maternal role she assumed with her gays made me feel safe, and I wished that I could have a girlfriend like her so everything would be OK.

“Truth or Dare” showed me a side of life that I’d never seen before. She helped to remind the world that “we were here, we were queer, and to get used to it,” and also helped me to embark on my journey as a gay man. She stayed with me every step of the way, and in return I stayed with her as well.

I’m sure Madonna is mildly embarrassed to watch some of “Truth or Dare” today. To put it in perspective, I don’t think I would want to see my 24-year-old self high on God only knows what on the silver screen for everybody to see. Would any of us? I realized, watching the film 23 years after its release, how much she has evolved and ultimately how far I have come as well.

We have grown up together, and although I have never met her, she ultimately became that friend and support system that I dreamed of the first time I saw “Truth or Dare,” helping to make my big gay life that much easier, more fun and one big “Celebration.”