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.
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.