The death of David Bowie has not only denied us more amazing music and cultural creativity but also the answer to a question that continues to burn in some hearts. That question: was he straight, gay, or bisexual . . . or something else?
I did not realize the level of interest in this question until a clergy friend of mine, not gay although certainly supportive of LGBT equality, asked me what I thought about Bowie’s sexual orientation and how I thought the LGBT community viewed him as a sexual being. He seemed genuinely puzzled by the lack of clarity about his orientation (really, I think, because he just assumed Bowie was gay).
And then, I watched a post by comedian Sam Kalidi on Queerty (click here for link) in which he pasted together interviews with Bowie about his sexuality. Bowie was quite funny as he more or less dodged answering the question, except one time when he said he was bisexual (and in the same interview, said he was very promiscuous).
No one asked him if we were queer. And that’s how I tag him–queer, as in not wanting to be locked up in unhelpful boxes.
I have written elsewhere about queerness, specifically about God’s queerness (“Faithful to a Very Queer-Acting God Who Is Always up to Something New” in Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians Santa Barbara CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013). Although I am not equating the late British singer and actor with God, I do see in Bowie behavior similar to what I identify as God acting queerly . . . “to act unconventionally or oddly, irregularly in response to the normal . . . interfer[ing] with and spoil[ing] the expected by acting outside normative social boundaries and rules.”
As I am using the term, it is not a catch-all term for LGBT people or certainly the old pejorative term applied to homosexual men. Instead, it is a capacious term, leaving boundaries open for people who live, who act, in ways that feel congruent with their own selves whether or not their actions, their lives, fit within existing social molds.
And that it seems to me is how Bowie often acted. Indeed, as my clergy friend said, he seemed gay, and he certainly helped create gay sensibility. But that doesn’t mean he had to “be gay,” whatever that means (at least not to fit the expectations of others).
I identify as a gay man, I am married to a man (18 good years, and counting), and we have sex with each other. I like looking at men, clothed and naked and in between, and being naked with them, too (but sex only with my husband). That surely makes me gay. And as a political and social statement, I am glad to stand on that ground with gay brothers, lesbian sisters, and bisexual and trans siblings of all sorts.
But I really am more queer than anything. I wear earrings, long dangling ones most of the time, and I like to wear skirts or sarongs (I used to do this at Radical Faerie gatherings, and occasionally I would ride the New York subway that way on the way to a gay club, but it has been some time since I have done so). The latter is not because I want to be a woman, but because I like the bodily freedom of not wearing pants.
I just like to be playful with my body and I don’t think much of rigid gendered behavior; I certainly don’t want to enforce rules on people, other than the prescription to do no harm to others or myself.
This is how I saw Bowie. As you can see from the videos, he could be very funny. And who knows how he actually identified himself to himself. Probably bisexual, if he had to choose. But somehow I think he did not really want to choose, and maybe he never really did.
I honor him for that. I doubt anyone has any doubt of his solidarity with LGBTQI folks and other sexual minorities, so he did not need to declare sides for that reason. What he leaves us, I think, is a legacy of living as himself, creating his own persona not bound by the rules or boxes of society.
Thank you, David Bowie, for sharing your freedom. I am inspired, and I trust others are, too. I am glad you are shaking things up a bit even now on earth, and suspect your spirit is having good fun with your fellow angels right now.