Bowie, a genderqueer icon?

Julie Burchill was a fan of David Bowie in her adolescence. I was not, I might have first heard of Bowie in relation to Iman. There were about 2 supermodels close to my skin colour; and music magazines weren’t easily available on my island.

Content note: Rape (incl. statutory rape), rape culture; rape humour and details in the xojane piece.

Recently I read Lori Mattix, who was 13 or 14 when she first got raped, by Bowie. Here is something about children and consent and words by someone who has been like “baby groupies”. In response to posts, rape apologists have said Mattix/Maddox changed her statements on whether it was Jimmy Page or Bowie first but they absolutely trust her words when she says it was not rape. As hard as it may be to lay charges against a celebrity for rape, a 30-year old did but Bowie was not charged. I must have heard about a rape allegation and at the same time I knew of a pervert who was a fan, I chose to not listen to Bowie. I must have heard some on the radio and at a friend’s, a huge Bowie fan. I thought of her when I got the news, I felt sorry for her. Recently I also learned about R Kelly being a pedophile and today I learn about Iggy Pop. Well I wish I hadn’t wasted my money on his music in the past. I’m disgusted that a fave cartoon had a jingle by him! It was on TV and it is for kids! This is white supremacist culture. Part of what is triggering is not that the world’s “faves are problematic”. “Problematic” isn’t even appropriate, and let’s also recognise that global majority cultures have a heavy global north bias.

I’ve been thinking of how abusers are charismatic in life as in culture. Some, without even knowing the celebrity is a rapist or abuser, may not understand what the big fuss is about their work then on the whole, it’s almost as if there have been efforts to propel abusers to the forefront of culture. That they make “art” and get funds or the opportunities to make more funds is one thing; it’s another that Iggy Pop, a rapist, is asked to make a tune for kids! That just feeds into my impressions that white culture is deliberately constructed in this way. The terrible reactions or endorsements from our friends, colleagues or strangers following DB’s death reinforce my impressions. These conversations did not start with DB’s death but with the news of his last album. That is when I learned Mattix/Maddox’s name. I’m older now, had free time and internet access (both which I haven’t always had readily). His death opens a space of public discussion that goes predominantly as headlines tell us, it is dishonest in more than one way and please don’t call it disrespectful when there’ll be other discourses. Many are only finding out he was a rapist. His fame triggers rape survivors. Survivors who get broken then see their assaulters not only get on with their lives but who are put on a pedestal while the survivor is called a liar or mentally unstable; assaulters remain free to assault others. ‘Free’ not in the carceral sense but as if permission is granted by society for abusers to thrive.

I can’t recall if I’d heard about Bowie’s anti-semitism before his death. I also read “actively anti-racist” as a descriptor but I see stories of him as a white saviour. Let’s not use this moment to redefine what is anti-racism. Rock Against Racism started against Bowie. Then he reportedly changed. Racism is a business, as is charity or media statements against it. Transphobia has been colonised into cultures, then culture places gender bending white performance as revolutionary.

“Though he’s helped many folks realize their gender and sexual identity, while he impacted the gender binary, it’s imperative to credit most of that – along with the acceptance he was shown by pop culture – to the fact that he was white, male, and wealthy.” Impacted the gender binary for whom?

Kemp’s fascination with kabuki in particular was a major influence on Bowie’s gender-bending ways. “The main thing [Bowie] got from Kemp was his taste for turning life itself into a performance, another Kabuki-like influence,” Ian Buruma writes in the New York Review of Books. “In the old days onnagata actors [men who dressed as women in Kabuki theatre] were encouraged to dress up as women in real life too.”

Lately regarding Bowie, it was his persona’s gender expression people are talking about when they say “gender identity” or “androgyny”. It was appropriation for commercial purposes, a bit like Eddie Redmayne portraying Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl, except no one has been saying that Lili Elbe was intersex! Did Bowie’s impersonating a disabled woman make him an icon for white trans PwD? Is Eddie Radmayne’s role as a PwD praiseworthy?

Mostly white bisexuals, or queers commemorate Bowie speaking of his influence on them or on their genderDoes the narrative change with all the space he gets to occupy around his death?

“At this point, Bowie is beginning to become more commercially successful and some say that his choice to out himself publicly right before the release of his next album was done for purely economic reasons.

It was his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (commonly shortened to Ziggy Stardust) that shot Bowie into mainstream and commercial success. […] As soon as the world finds out that David Bowie is not heterosexual, his gender expression is more accepted and almost expected. […] This is problematic for those in the transgender community […] and even the bisexual community because their gender expression and orientation is not part of a character or role; that expression is their identity and who they are.”

I wonder if someone had said that he tried to be gay or bisexual by choice (those are valid orientations) and he failed, Bowie didn’t say it, he said he was a closet heterosexual thus mis-appropriating even the word “closet” perhaps, I wonder.

What were Ziggy’s pronouns?

“[…] taking a closer look at some of his lyrics, there are some raised questions about his personal gay pride. In the song “Lady Stardust” Ziggy is “Lady Stardust [singing] his songs of darkness and disgrace.” If Ziggy was strong and comfortable with his identity and proud of who he is (as Ziggy and as Lady), why are his songs filled with darkness and disgrace? These lyrics just raise certain questions about the pride of this strong gay persona. But, in his song “Width of a Circle” off of The Man Who Sold The World, the lyrics seem to demonize the gay lifestyle. The narrator sings that “he smelt the burning pit of fear” and his “tongue [was] swollen with devil’s love.” The song tells a story of a gay seducer and it seems that through these metaphors for gay sex, that Bowie is commenting that they are wrong and sinful.

A Bowie biographer, Christopher Sandford explains that a sexual acquaintance of Bowie said that Bowie and his wife at the time “created their bisexual fantasy” (Sandford 48). It would seem that David Bowie used bisexuality and androgyny in his performance as art and a way to gain fame and money.” Latter quotes from this essay.

“we for whom queerness is not a phase seem to have two options in terms of how we deal with Bowie’s fraught relationship to our name and our stuff. We can be pissed off and view his career as, at least in part, an act of sly cultural appropriation—one of many that pop has committed at our expense over the years. Or, […]”

“Bowie would seem to be a natural fit in this category; you can’t appropriate what you help create. ”

DB helped create what he appropriated from Little Richard, Romy Haag and kabuki?

“The biggest mistake I ever made,” Bowie told journalist Kurt Loder over some beers in Australia, “was telling that Melody Maker writer that I was bisexual. Christ, I was so young then. I was experimenting …” Though many queer fans viewed this recantation as “an act of betrayal” according to biographer Marc Spitz, coming as it did at the onset of the AIDS crisis, Bowie doubled-down in 1993. You can read more here, and about “culturally gay” It just sounds like gaypitalism trying to profit from Bowie’s appropriation or is inclusive of anyone who has money. After all white gaypitalism would rather count Bowie among them than those they leave to be homeless, face violence, live in poverty or die.

Looking at the bigger picture, gaypitalism would rather have someone who was a hebephile freely commiting statutory rapes, and accused of rape on a 30-y-o, upheld as a queer icon even though politics of substitution (Puenzo’s XXY, end of page) of pedophilia/ hebephilia with minority sexual orientation or gender identity vilifies the SOGI minorities. Then again perhaps it is a sign that rich white gays are now immune to that. They’ve had  representation in white popular culture while transwomen continue to be devalued or vilified and non-binary is erased. *Little Richard had been an inspiration for a decade before Bowie, Little Richard was the homeless queer youth turned genius, flamboyant performer, the bisexual alien who embraced that label again 9 years ago.

I have many people to thank for making this eye-opening moment more bearable on social media. I want to quote them all (each and every status or comment I liked or post I  shared has been so valuable, and each presence has been important though I don’t know most of those people) but for readers, here’s a couple:


“If people only lie about having been raped ~2% of the time (same % as other crimes); If only 32% of rapes are reported; and If only 2% of rapists will ever spend a single day in jail; Then why do we ask “do we really believe he did it” 100% of the time?” — RJ Blank



The Kinfolk Kollective:

“Y’all can keep all your rape apologists scenarios and deflection:

*Yes, I’ve done plenty of shit wrong in my life. None of that includes raping anyone.

*There’s no complexity to it. I don’t support rapists. If all my idols are found to be rapists, I then have no idols.

*I don’t give a fuck if David Bowie was on his John Brown shit, A RAPIST IS A RAPIST. Keep your fucking white savior awards and ally cookies. They are not rape pardons.

*If we don’t define people by their worst acts, tell me why the fuck OJ is associated with murder more than football? Tell me why y’all CHEERED when Osama bin Laden was killed. Tell me why y’all don’t go digging up all the good done by suicide bombers.

*Ain’t a CD, TV show, movie, clothing line or book on earth that would make me conflicted about calling a rapist what he is.

*Rape culture is a fucking problem. Just because rape is confined, excused and explained away doesn’t make it any less morally reprehensible.

*Stop fucking asking why people are bringing this up now, after his death. I ain’t see none of y’all mention him before yesterday either. Obviously, people are going to have something to say when you’re fawning over a rapist.”

Tony Brazier : I was thinking about writing an article about how there probably won‘t be as big of a deal made when Little Richard dies[…]. At first I thought it was a really good idea, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized no one would want to publish that article. I doubt if you will see as much on Social Media, about the artists that really did something new. Not to discount Bowie, but it’s not like he created a whole new genre, I mean he had 10-20 years of Pink Floyd, the Beatles, ELO, Black Sabbath, etc… to pave the way before him. Richard, and many other black artists made something totally different from jazz and blues and took it out into the world where they faced insane challenges. […]