David Bowie 1947-2016
Pop star and 1970s bisexual icon David Bowie died in January.
Following Bowie’s death there were many articles in the press celebrating and critiquing him. This isn’t really one of them: I just want to talk about what it was like for me to see visibly Queer celebrities when I was growing up.
I was born in the 70’s so Bowie’s early career passed me by. The gender roles I was growing up with were much more traditional (although I got good messages about what girls could achieve) and sexuality was considered far too rude to mention. There was no World Wide Web so it was much harder to find information or role models. By the time I was coming to terms with my sexuality in the late 80’s Bowie was less in the public eye but I treasured things like occasional TV re-showings of his homoerotic Top of the Pops performance of Starman. It meant so much to me to see visible, unapologetic same-sex affection. It didn’t matter to me then whether or not it was staged to sell records. It was powerful, inspirational and affirming – there were other people like me in the world! Somebody who was admired and acclaimed could be LGBT and so maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t doomed to a life of shame and hiding in the shadows.
I don’t want this to turn into a queer 40-something version of the Monty Python Four Yorkshireman Sketch but it was a very different world then. This was the time of section 28. Without the Internet I had to wait for the few and far between times that mainstream media chose to address LGBT issues before I could hope to find out about possible sources of support. And then without anything like PayPal I had to go and buy an expensive postal order to sign up for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s newsletter or save up for a phonecard to ring the local Lesbian Line from a phone box (they were only open a few hours a week and I made sure to choose a phone box well away from my home or Sixth Form College – I don’t know if I was expecting passers-by to be able to lipread me daring to say the word lesbian or something!).
Looking back, I feel sorry for the teen I was then, the damage to her mental health and the bullying she endured. And I feel proud of her for coming out the other side, for finding other Queers and building a life for herself that was very different from the models she’d received growing up. I remember my heart racing when I stuffed an entirely innocuous self-help/health education book called So You Think You’re Attracted to the Same Sex? into a pile of young adult fiction terrified that the librarian would stare at me or say anything. And nervously watching Channel 4’s OUT on Tuesday with my finger hovering above the change channel button on the remote, just in case anybody surprised me by walking into the room even though I only dared to do it when the house was empty. I griped it so tightly it got sweaty! When I did finally find out about a local “Lesbian and Gay” group (which did actually include several bisexuals but the terminology of the time was strictly L and G – in fact it seemed pretty radical to even have the L in there) we had to rely on landlines (which might well get answered by your parents) and a photocopied newsletter to keep in touch. Some pubs refuse to let the group meet on their premises – they didn’t want to get a bad reputation. It all seems prehistoric now. Sometimes we’d meet in people’s houses and watched “gay interest” programs they’d (literally) taped from television – I fondly remember a special “Gay” edition of The Rock ‘n’ Roll Years and how very exciting and unusual it was to see LGBT people on screen. vaguely
I am so very grateful to David Bowie – and a whole host of other heroic pioneers – for making Bisexuality visible. For giving the young me hope and strength (and some good tunes!)