David Bowie: Gender & Sexuality Groundbreaker
February 1, 2016
On January 10, 2016 around third period study hall, I found out that David Bowie had lost his battle with cancer and died. It took me a minute to process what happened, and I went home that day and played Changesonebowie on vinyl for a while. When I took to Twitter, an onslaught of LGBTQ people were mourning his loss and telling stories of how he had inspired them.
It was during a 1972 interview with the now defunct British music newspaper Melody Maker that David Bowie came out, saying, “I’m gay, and I always have been….” Interestingly, when he said that, Bowie had been married to a woman (Mary Angela Barnett) for two years (they were later divorced), and twenty years after that interview, Bowie married another woman: model and entrepreneur, Iman.
This is what was so great about Bowie—he repeatedly broke the strict boundaries around sexual orientation and gender. In a time when being gay had only recently been decriminalized in England, he showed the world just how fluid sexual orientation could be. In a 1976 interview, Bowie told Playboy, “It’s true—I am a bisexual.” Bowie’s success and openness about his sexual orientation brought a lot of attention to this issue. It should be acknowledged that as a white cis-male—a famous one at that—Bowie had certain benefits and opportunities that many of those in the LGBT community, including people of color, didn’t have then and don’t have today. But it’s admirable that as a celebrity he was so open about his sexual orientation.
Bowie also broke boundaries in terms of gender expression. Most notably, Bowie’s persona Ziggy Stardust helped challenge the gender binary of the music world and beyond. Ziggy was an androgynous alien rock star Bowie portrayed on stage, wearing a face full of makeup and a body hugging jumpsuit. Playing with gender wasn’t something that was seen as frequently in musicians before Bowie. Many musicians of today openly play with their gender and inspire their fans to do so as well; this can be traced back to Bowie’s influence.
So, whether or not you’re a fan of The Thin White Duke (another Bowie persona), it’s safe to say that he helped the music industry be a little more open about gender and sexual orientation, which paved the way for us today.