Can you be a role model for something that you actually aren’t? Let’s take the 1970’s rocker Suzi Quatro for example. I wasn’t super familiar with her until recently, but check her out. She is a performer who people say heavily influenced Joan Jett; she had the leather body suits and the mullet and the high kicks and the gravelly voice all going on a few years earlier than Jett. She got very famous in England. I vaguely remember Quatro from her occasional appearances on the sitcom Happy Days, where she played a character called “Leather Tuscadero” who was the tough younger sister of Fonzie’s girlfriend. Leather Tuscadero had been in reform school, and Fonzie took her under his wing, and she would show up and her rock band would perform in the soda shop.
Suzie Quatro’s appearance in the 70’s is what I traditionally assumed a lesbian looked like. Where did I pick that up? It just seeps through the air, I think. Or maybe from sideways comments muttered by whoever might be sitting in the room with you when you’re watching Happy Days. She’s boyish, and ballsy, and struts around with her bass guitar slung low, emulating cocky rock boys. At any rate, it seems pretty certain that other people picked up on the idea that she was a totem of lesbian appearance, because so many of us have followed in suit and cut our hair to look surprisingly just like hers. It’s a good look, I think. I actually remember in highschool, in about 1991, sitting in my hair dresser’s chair, and trying to describe how I wanted her to cut my hair shorter in the front and longer in the back, with it kind of being layered in the section above my ears. My hairdresser, god bless her, told me that such a haircut didn’t exist.
So, Suzi Quatro isn’t a lesbian. She is quoted as being really into dudes, and is pretty explicit about having enjoyed being physical with them. She’s just a real tough straight lady, and that is awesome. I personally am more excited about living in a world where you can’t tell from first glance what something is. Meanwhile, however, the girls who do like girls need something to image themselves after. I guess that when we don’t have the luxury of seeing very many icons representing ourselves back to us, we have to settle for the closest thing we can find.
As one of the earliest examples of guitar-playing girls to lead a rock band, Quatro herself would have been looking for a model to follow for how to be this thing that she had never seen before. She is from Detroit, but got picked up by a manager who took her to live in London and start her Suzi Quatro career from there. Quatro arrived in London when the glam rock era was in full force, where male performers like David Bowie wore mascara and dressed in women’s clothing. I found an interesting article online about Quatro’s “musical androgeny.” One point it makes is that Quatro emulated glam style to a certain degree, both imitating and inverting Bowie’s approach to playing with his gender. She strutted like a dude, and adopted the masculine style leather catsuits and the swagger, but where the guys leaned towards looking feminine, she wore very little make up and generally played the whole thing more masculine. I can see that. More than anything else though, I feel blessed to now be able to consider David Bowie as being the great grandfather of the lesbian hairdo.