Our Bowies, Ourselves

Before I knew I was a bisexual femme, I knew there was David Bowie.

As the kind of little girl who refused to wear pants, only dresses, I worshipped the holy trinity of Disney princesses: Belle, Ariel, Jasmine. I could apply lipstick perfectly by the time I was eight.

giphy

It would be easy to say that the first time I watched Labyrinth, everything changed. Maybe it was the third time I watched it, or the seventh, or the thirteenth. I remember the videotape we had was recorded from somewhere else, so the beginning, where the owl is flying through the sky, was always all wobbly.

But the Goblin King was not.

I was transfixed. I remember sitting on the carpet beneath the TV, as close as I could get before my mom would yell at me, staring up, seduced completely by the bountiful pirate sleeves and atom-bomb hair and glam-as-fuck makeup.

I didn’t know if I wanted to be him or have sex with him or what. I still don’t, entirely.

I could not fathom why Jennifer Connelly — I can hear, precisely, in my mind the way Bowie calls her “Sarah,” with a slight British lilt — did not just ditch that screaming baby and rule with the Goblin King forever and ever. Maybe I actually wanted to be her. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

I was his. He was the closest thing I had to magic. And I didn’t even know about the bisexual connection yet.

There’s this great quote from the Strange Fascination: David Bowie: The Definitive Story by David Buckley: “Bowie’s openly bisexual stance united all those psychically and sexually dispossessed people looking for a symbol for their own feelings of insecurity and lack of rootedness. As a bisexual mainstream pop star, Bowie represented taboo-smashing, rule-breaking and experimentation.”

Of course when I played my parent’s cassette tape of “Let’s Dance” on repeat for two years, I didn’t think of it as groundbreaking. It was almost the opposite. I was a slightly chubby pre-teen who desperately wanted to fit in with my sports-playing basic-ass peers, but I loved dressing up in sequined outfits and painting my eyelids elaborate colors. I would dance around my bubblegum pink room to “China Girl” and “Modern Love.” It was my misfit soundtrack.

One time a few popular girls came over and I put it on for us to practice our dance class choreography to and when one of them missed a step in the middle of it, she stopped and exclaimed, “What even is this music? Don’t you have anything else?” I was mortified. I almost threw the tape away when they left. It took me a very long time to realize that the joke’s on her.

We use the term icon pretty loosely these days but Bowie, well, he’s so very many icons, all at once. A shapeshifter with staggering breadth and depth. A presence at once epic and intimate. My andro-glam Bowie is different than your Bowie, is different than everyone else’s Bowie. There’s power in that. And hope. It’s the legions of us Bowie-loving misfits, perhaps, who shall inherit the earth.

So today let’s celebrate all the Bowies that he was, all the heroes. Let’s grab our crystal balls and our spandex and our glitter like stardust. Let’s put on our red shoes and take off our shirts and paint our faces. Let’s slick our hair back. Let’s dance.


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Maree lives in Berlin and is usually carrying some sort of Tupperware product on her person. She's written for Marie Claire, The Rumpus, and Teen Vogue, but still has not fulfilled her lifelong dream of seeing a real blue-footed booby. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter and probably the dance floor.

Maree has written 20 articles for us.

45 Comments

  1. 0

    David Bowie was the first person I ever heard of being openly bisexual. And while I never aspired to his level of fabulousness, he made running off to become a glamorous rockstar seem like a legitimate life choice when the whole being bisexual at a Catholic college was a bit too much for me.

  2. 0

    No doubt there will be a lot of talk about Bowie’s sexuality. But it’s worth mentioning that Bowie was in two different intimate relationships with trans women… Amanda Lear in the early 70s and Romy Haag when he lived in Berlin. Those are both well known facts in Germany and France (where those two ladies live) but I have little doubt they’ll be mostly ignored in the US.

    • 0

      Much like Amanda Lear being Dali’s muse for decades and his other relationships with trans women being excised from history. I remember his retrospective in my town a decade ago – every aspect of his life and other lovers and their influences examined. Except.

      I think Bambi Lake mentions hanging with Bowie in Berlin and how trans women’s acts influenced his – but I may be misremembering who said that.

      • 0

        Maybe Jayne County? I believe he saw Jayne (who hadn’t transitioned yet, but was very androgynous) perform in New York during the very early 70s with her then band Queen Elizabeth and *ahem* was influenced a lot by her. I was in the same punk scene in 1970s San Francisco as Bambi Lake was and AFAIK that’s where she was during the time Bowie was in Berlin.

  3. 0

    Thanks for writing this. I didn’t end up seeing Labyrinth until college and didn’t appreciate the magic of Bowie until much later. (I really don’t like “wacky riddle-telling puppets” and it put me off the film.) My girlfriend, however, has always loved Bowie and wanted to be Bowie when she was tiny. Even though we have differnt reltaionships with him and his work, his gender expression really influenced our expressions of our own genderfluidity, queerness, and bisexuality. Thanks for the great piece.

  4. 0

    I’ve been waiting for the Autostraddle Bowie post ever since I heard the news this morning.

    He was the only living bisexual that I knew of when I started coming out to myself as bi (Virginia Woolf was only the other bi public figure that I knew of).

    I found his personas fascinating and confusing and vaguely upsetting. I didn’t want to be him but he – his gender presentation and bisexuality and unapologetic weirdness – somehow helped me to figure out how to be myself.

  5. 0

    I appreciate that many people are grieving the loss of someone who inspired/changed them, but he was also a person who (statutorially) raped a 14 year old. Both those things can exist within the same man, whose art was still trancendent, but nuance or even acknowledgement of that aspect has been entirely missing from every story and tribute I’ve seen. I was really surprised that it’s also missing here.

    https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/i-lost-my-virginity-to-david-bowie

  6. 0

    Jareth is someone (~something?) that has been a constant and an object of my love since I first saw Labyrinth. i’ve dressed up as, sung to and loved different aspects of Bowie for each new aspect of my personality and sexuality I discovered. I cannot process his death any more than I can process his aging from an immortal, makeup-wearing androgynous youfh.

  7. 0

    I had no idea he was sick so the news of his passing came as quite a surprise and I’m honestly kind of heartbroken by the news. Even before I found out about his bisexuality I always felt drawn to the ways he experimented with and expressed his gender. Way before I was willing to acknowledge my own gender fluidity I felt a connection to the kind of femme masculinity Bowie could embody.

  8. 0

    My gf sent me a text message in the morning with “Did you hear about Bowie?” and I thought that he was coming to perform in Mexico; we’d been crossing fingers for him to be the headliner of the next Corona Capital. I went online and my heart froze when I read the truth. Although this is really sad, it’s heartwarming to read all the comments about the people who were inspired by him, it’s very beautiful.

  9. 0

    I read about David Bowie passing last night, just before I went to bed, so I essentially went to sleep while sobbing into my pillow. D: It was a rough day today. Did not want to go to work, and spent a lot of time trying not to cry.

    I didn’t even know he had cancer?? And I think that’s what really gets me, that I didn’t even know, and just wondered when he was going to start touring again, because I wanted to see him in concert SO BADLY, and now… he’s just gone? I don’t understand.

    I was introduced to him through watching Labyrinth with friends in college, and was instantly obsessed. I bought all his music, listened to the lyrics over and over, every guitar lick and piano chord and warbling note, watched all the movies and documentaries about and inspired by him, learned all about glam rock and listened to all the other musicians that worked with him and learnt from him, and eventually came to call myself queer too. It helped to have someone like David to look to during that confusing, scary time, to grow strong from his confidence and beauty.

    I will love him forever.

  10. 0

    Yeah… had to watch FotC’s ‘Bowie’s in Space’ in order to not embarrassingly cry at work. I am glad he stuck around as long as he did and created so (very) much cool art… but that doesn’t stop me feeling that the world feels quite a bit less weird and wonderful without him. I fell in love with his voice at 6 and the feeling’s unchanged now.

  11. 0

    David Bowie was one of the people I’ve felt most intensely attracted to in my life. When I discovered him in high school, his queerness started to make mine seem more tangible. After hearing “Rock and Roll Suicide”, I went through the double-disc DVD of his music videos my father had bought and watched each one, even the weird Tin Machine songs from the 90’s.
    I love the sly cleverness of his lyrics, the ever-changing genres of his music, and the Eno stuff I listen to whenever I read or sleep or calm down.
    My whole family is taking it pretty hard, actually, especially my dad and uncle, who discovered “The Man Who Sold The World” soon after it came out. Sharing that bit of queerness with them, of magnetism to this strange person, is a lovely gift of Bowie’s as well.
    I could probably wax poetic about this a lot longer, but I’m going to go hug my “David Bowie Is” book and be appropriately melancholy now.

  12. 0

    David Bowie is not the fist childhood idol that I found out in adulthood engaged in child sex abuse. Mostly what I end up thinking is, “thank goodness I never was anywhere near him, because I could have easily been taken in, and he would have no problem taking advantage.”

    Reading other people talking about being attracted to him as children just cements that and sickens me.

    I would like to be able to have idols where I don’t have to think and feel that.

  13. 0

    I’m younger than most of you guys so I never had any connection to Bowie in the ways you guys describe, but I’ve seen two lines of thought about him: that he’s a rapist/pedophile and that he’s queer/inspiring. I’ve never seen anyone acknowledge those two things at the same time. So mostly I’m confused when I see articles like this.

    • 0

      People are complex. Especially artists who leave a complex body of work. We should try and learn all we can about the artists behind those works, do are best to separate what is known from what is only speculation and rumor, consider the world in which they worked, and draw our own conclusions. Simple lionizing or demonizing is to take the easy route.

      If all the mixed emotion are more than you think you handle, than you can feel free to ignore the subject. However, I personally think we cheat ourselves out a lot of great stories we could learn from if we avoid any art due to the disturbing or repellent aspects of the artists life.

      I’m not much interested in defending whatever David Bowie or anyone else may or may have not have done. The full stories of anyones life can never be totally known. Bowie himself was quoted as being in favor of ‘death of the author.” Heck the commonly agreed upon candidate for authorship of Le Morte d’Arthur, was imprisoned as a thief, kidnapper, and rapist at the time he compelled what is perhaps the primary source for future tales of honor.

      My advise in cases like this is to search for primary sources on the author, go through their body of work whatever place you want to start, and draw your own conclusions.

    • 0

      @akhilleus you’re right that not having an intersection between them is kind of weird. For this piece, it was mostly because I was not aware of these accusations when I wrote it.

      Definitely check out this (http://freethoughtblogs.com/teacosy/2016/01/11/david-bowie-was-wonderful-he-was-also-an-abuser-how-do-we-handle-that/) I feel like it addresses all the complications inherit in these lines of thought in a smart, genuine way.

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