On January 10th, 2016, David Bowie died.
The internet was suddenly aflame with people who remembered his music, his videos, his movies, and his gender-bending personas. On Facebook, I saw literally hundreds of RIP posts, photos, tributes, and articles about him. People I would have never guessed were fans, people I would have assumed loved him, people who rarely post anything at all. Everyone missed David Bowie.
I did not know what to say. I posted a gif of Helen Green‘s David Bowie through the years images and a quote from Simon Pegg that made me smile because it was just right.
“If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.” ~Simon Pegg
Look, I was born in 1980 and I grew up in a house filled with Elvis & the Oldies Station, 70s and 80s country, and occasionally, some pop. I didn’t know Ziggy Stardust. I didn’t know David Bowie. And yes, I loved “Labyrinth” and was oddly fascinated by the sexy-as-hell-though-I-was-too-young-to-know-it Goblin King, but the actor/singer behind the character meant nothing to me.
I was well-informed and intelligent growing-up. I was not super-sheltered, I did not grow-up in a hyper-conservative household. But my exposure, in the 80s in the suburbs of Seattle, to anything queer, was limited at best. A girl who lived up the street apparently had two moms and I remember other kids (and their parents) saying hurtful things and even throwing things at their house once, but the only thing I recall my own parents saying about it was to leave them alone and that it wasn’t our business. My dad has been dead 19 years this August, so I can’t ask him what his politics were back then, but my mom’s most frequent commentary on any LBGTQ+ issue is that love is love. I like to imagine that despite his fairly conservative up-bringing, my Dad wasn’t a total bigot/asshole. I never heard him use the word f*ggot, which was pretty common back then, I don’t remember any derogatory gay jokes.
I guess my point is that I was very naive to what gay/queer/trans* was for a long time.
When my cousin/bestie came out, I knew I loved him regardless of who he loved and that was all that mattered. When another of my closest friends came out, I knew I loved her regardless of who she loved. And so on. The people mattered to me, not what they were born with between their legs or who their heart sought out.
I was thirty, or close enough as to make no difference, when I stumbled onto a YouTube video (and subsequently a whole channel) about Androgyny. Boys wearing make-up, primarily for there were no AFAB folk on the channel, and doing it beautifully. Some were gay, some have subsequently come out as Transgender, and others were straight but loved that line between male and female.
When I started watching their vlogs and learning about them, the interwebs opened up to answer my million questions and thoughts and theories and one of the most commonly cited inspirations was David Bowie.
For more than forty years, David Bowie sang songs that reflected the unique and difficult and at times harrowing existence of outsiders. It was okay to be different; to be masculine if you were a chick, or feminine if you were a dude. That’s what I garnered from many of these personal stories, anyway. A lot of people learned to question themselves or learned that being different did not have to mean lesser than, thanks in large part of David Bowie. His androgyny helped mainstream something that had always been there, but had never been in our faces (apparently).
Thank you, David Bowie.
Because without your influence on American culture (and globally, I guess), there are people and ideas in this world that may never have been able to come to fruition. Voices that would have been too scared or confused to come out and join the conversation. Because you, and others, broke the mold in so many ways, others have been able to proudly be who they really are. Little CJ from Raising My Rainbow can live blog the Golden Globes on his Mom’s Twitter account wearing whatever fierce frock he chooses and when he grows up, whether he loves boys, or girls, or both and very variation thereof, whether he is he or she or they or anything else – he can be that.
Because my inquiries may have started with you, but they did not end there. And while I have never questioned my own gender identity, I can empathize with those who have, because you helped me open my suburban, white-bread-eyes and see that there is more than black and white out there.
There is a glorious, incredible, rainbow-hued spectrum of humanity.
I cannot claim to be a super-fan. I probably don’t know the titles of most of his biggest hits, and though I know some of his songs are amongst those I love, I can’t even tell you which ones they are. But I can tell you that his boundary-pushing personas and their lasting influence in American culture, have influenced me deeply and in ways I’m still learning about.
So thank you, David Bowie, for giving me the glasses to see beyond the binary.
Note: Image is “Beyond the Binary” by (me) with “ElizaJane” font