Saturday 24 February 2018

Ziggy showed us it was okay to be 'gender outlaws' and 'misfits'

David Bowie on stage in 1992
David Bowie on stage in 1992

Jocelyn Noveck in New York

It's perhaps not so surprising that the word "androgynous" was spiking on the Merriam-Webster online dictionary after Bowie's death was announced, as people looked up a word so commonly mentioned in connection with the rock star's blazingly unique style.

But while the word aptly describes much of Bowie's chameleon-like appeal, there was another, deeper association being mentioned by some in the aftermath of Bowie's death: the idea that the singer was a crucial source of support - perhaps even to the point of saving lives - for youngsters uncertain about their identity or sexuality in an era when gender fluidity was much less accepted than it is today.

"David Bowie showed this queer kid from Baton Rouge that gender outlaws are cool," wrote singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier on Twitter. "Androgyny=rock&roll, not a reason to kill myself."

Gauthier (53) explained in an interview that she'd stumbled upon Bowie's famous Ziggy Stardust persona when she was 14 or 15. "I was clearly aware that I was a gender outlaw," she said.

"Being androgynous didn't sit well in Baton Rouge in 1974 or 1975. I hung out with outsiders. Bowie gave them hope, and me hope.

"I do think his work saved thousands of gender-different kids," Gauthier said.

She added: "It wasn't a matter of what he was saying or arguing, it was a matter of how he was appearing. It may have been a show, but it was authentic."

While the specific words may have been different, similar thoughts - the idea of Bowie making those who felt somehow different feel more welcome - came from far and wide on Monday.

One of those expressing such thoughts was Madonna, who spoke of Bowie's androgynous image as easing the way for her as a young person.

"I never felt like I fit in growing up in Michigan," the pop star wrote on Facebook.

"Like an oddball or a freak. I went to see him in concert ... We got caught after, and I was grounded for the summer. I didn't care. I already had many of his records and was so inspired by the way he played with gender confusion. Was both masculine and feminine. Funny and serious. Clever and wise."

Actress Evan Rachel Wood wrote on Twitter that Bowie "always made me feel less alone in this crazy world".

And filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, also on Twitter, wrote that "Bowie existed so all of us misfits learned that oddity was a precious thing. He changed the world forever."

Irish Independent

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