Saturday, 31 December 2016
David Bowie was a Poseur; George Michael was the Real Thing
I am not speaking here about music. What I know about pop music you could fit into a thimble; my favourite pop composer is Donizetti.
No, I’m talking about sexual politics. David Bowie and Prince may have been great musicians -- and in terms of output and originality they may have towered far above lesser mortals (as I say, I am not one to judge these things!). But when it comes to the representation of their sexuality, Prince and Bowie had no courage -- they merely flirted with gender irregularities and bisexuality from a position of heterosexual privilege to make money. George Michael was the real thing: a slutty fag who -- in later years -- was also relentessly proud of his sexual exploits.
I’m not saying that Bowie and Prince didn’t stretch certain borders and boundaries by wearing makeup and acting girly. But straight men are allowed to do that as long as their fans are assured they are straight. No matter what the antics of these girly heterosexuals they kept their careers; a real gay man can’t do that. The gender irregularities of straight poseurs are just an alluring kink or fascinating blip on the sexuality radar screen -- nothing to be fundamentally bothered about. And the credit that we give them for being brave is largely unjustified. However, even more unjustified is the credit we give ourselves for embracing them. It takes no courage to be a diehard David Bowie fan -- but it takes a huge amount of courage to be a fan of George Michael.
I have to admit that for years I too was influenced by the homophobia surrounding George Michael. And when he died, I was so sad about Carrie Fisher that I didn’t have time to think about him. In fact, I would posit that at this moment there are probably more gay men mourning the death of Debbie Reynolds than the death of George Michael!
I know what’s like, because I was saying “What’s the big deal? George Michael had to be dragged out of the closet, didn’t he? And when they finally dragged him out, wasn’t he kind of ashamed of being sexual guy who cruised toilets? I mean he never really embraced his promiscuity after they caught him in that washroom, did he?”
Well he did.
In 2006 he spoke in The Guardian of the representation of gay people in pop culture: “Gay people in the media are doing what makes straight people comfortable and automatically, my response to that is to say I'm a dirty filthy fucker and you can't deal with that, you can't deal with it.” He was tired of the ‘chatty men’ and ‘loving gay couples’ that dominate television shows. When the police and tabloids followed him into Hampstead Heath he was arrested for a second time for having sex in public. He promptly admitted to lifetime love of cruising, saying “The handful of times a year it's bloody warm enough, I'll do it. I'll do it on a nice summer evening.” He was even honest about having an open relationship with his lover.
When I realized I had been duped into ignoring George Michael by a homophobic media, I finally watched his fabulous video Outside. Outside is an unabashed tribute to non-denominational public sex. George Michael made it soon after his first arrest. The video ends with two male cops sharing a passionate kiss. Nothing could be more honest, more sexual, and more queer than that!
But I don’t remember anyone, anywhere -- in the straight or the gay communities -- praising that video or congratulating George Michael for the courage of his statement at the time. Though the song was somewhat of a hit, it was not featured on any album except a ‘best of’ George Michael. And as far as I can tell, it was not reviewed or spoken of at any length in music magazines in English.
George Michael was the real thing: an out gay sexual man and consummate musician. But he paid a real price. A real man like George Michael can never really make it as a luminous celebrity in the commercial music star system. Only poseurs like Prince and Bowie can achieve the status of pop icons.