LGBT activists, actors, musicians on David Bowie’s towering shadow


I remember my own Bowie phase. I was 18 and my gender identity felt like an unstable rocket about to explode into an unknown guidance. It was the mid-1 990 s and there weren’t any terms for what I was seeming. There was just David Bowie.

For freaky, homosexual outsiders growing up in the ‘7 0s, ‘8 0s, and ‘9 0s, relatable pop icons were a small group. Upon discovering Bowie, I remember realizing that it was possible to not only exist as something outside of “boy” or “girl”but to be terrifyingly beautifulwhile doing so.

I cut off all my hair and bleached it bright orange. I wore suits, ties, and big getups pieced together from thrift stores. I beamed with dignity when I passed for a boy. I wasn’t particularly butch, but certainly Bowie-esque: a long, thin, pale, somewhat effeminate, and mysteriously gendered alien in garish dress. It was a phase that didn’t last very long, but it cemented in me the understanding that gender is flexible, something play games with, a galaxy of overlapping Venn diagrams. In simulating Bowie, I felt more like myself than ever before in my life.

On Monday “the worlds” woke up to the shocking news that Bowie had died of cancer the night before. The LGBT community was impacted in a special behavior: For us he was a forefather.

David Bowie/ Instagram

Bowie first “re coming out” as lesbian in a 1972 Melody Maker interview. Later, speaking to Playboy , he changed his identity to bisexual. Over the years, he would continue to change the terms he applied to himself with the same frivolity and artistry that he applied to his music and fashion. Bowie insisted on being addressed as the faggot he looked like. He introduced the world to the idea that one could be a flamboyantly unusual fairy, a boy in a dress, a seductive charm with no particular gender, so outside of all existing frontiers and categories that no one could tell a negative term in response. It was all part of his plan.

Bowie’s iconic homosexual sensibilities were unavoidable. For many LGBT people, Bowie was one of the first people they’d ever seen be so shameless and get away with it. The Daily Dot reached out to several LGBT artists and activistssome icons in their own to pay tribute to him on the morning after his death.

Elizabeth Coffey Williams

Williams was one of the earliest transgender actresses, appearing in a string of John Waters films starting with 1972 ‘s Pink Flamingos .

It was after the Diamond Dogs display at Tower Theater in Philadelphia that I went backstage. That present was either in ‘7 3 or ‘7 4. That was the first time I ever fulfilled David. First and foremost, I was actually struck by how incredibly beautiful he was. Later, I was lucky enough occasionally in New York to be in his company when he wasnt working.

I cant actually tell I was an intimate of Davids. I hung out with him, I spoke with him. He was lovely, a dedicated artist. He had an extraordinary grace and gentility.I dont guess people today actually understand the magnitude with which he was putting it out there. There was either unfettered worship or complete horror. There were people who were horrified by his presentation. He was genuinely pushing the border. Make no mistake, it was a theatrical decision.

It had a gigantic impact when he declared himself bisexual. It had an impact on people who were never exposed to any such notion. Yet they were so impacted by his music and presentation. It built them rethink how they seemed about things like genderqueer didnt even have a name at that time. It was defiant. Davids presentation was unapologetic.

The greater impact is that he took that subset and shattered it into the mainstream. He had just as many, or more, devotees outside the LGBT community who adored him. He broadened the visibility. There was no word for this stuff. There was no transgender. It was merely sex change. And that wasnt a verb, it was a noun. Now, I co-facilitate a gender group here in Philly. And there are youngsters who identify with all these things and I have to do my homework to catch up on it all. Now they have pronouns like zo and ze and zem . We did not have a word for it.

We acknowledged gender fluidity, and viscerally we understood gender as being more nonbinary. And I think that David expressed hope that non-binary erect even before it had an official word .

Kate Bornstein

Bornstein is the author of several prominent studies of gender theory, including Gender Outlaw , My Gender Workbook , and the memoir ,< em> A Queer and Pleasant Danger .

Ill be 68 in March. David Bowie was about my age.
So its not so much that he had an impact on me when I was very young. Its more that somebody my age was talking about sons in garbs with yearning, and Id never heard that before. That was a moment of great freedom. It was something I could lean on.

No one ever talked with desire, with pleasure, about glam and about blended genders. No one told fuck you to the establishment of having to be a boy or a girl as well as he did. It was so playful. No one could get angry with him. It was brilliant. It wasnt signify. It was ferocious. And he got away with it. He used seduction. The kind of seduction thats only available to someone thats androgynous. He modeled that.

It was like walking in the dark and there was a lighthouse. Today theres a more secure place for trans folk, thats for sure. But if Bowie taught me anything, “its been” the value of anxiety. He retained changing and changing. With each album, the music changed…

It was no surprise when he called himself gay or bisexual, but the fact that he said itoh my god. The heroism. And that he retained on being brilliant and in the public eye, that was what was important. I belief the whole world simply moved, “well, duh.”

Michelle Tea

Tea is the author of several novels and memoirs that indicate lesbian, queer, working-class, and sexuality study themes. Her book Valencia was built into a feature film in 2013. Tea posted the following statement to Facebook, which is re-printed with permission .

Once I dreamed I was walking through the New England Aquarium with David Bowie and it was the most beautiful dream I ever had. It was like looking at fish with deity. I seemed so profoundly adoration and understood, and when I woke up I seemed this heartache that I wouldn’t be able to feel that again but likely we all will eventually and probably David Bowie is seeming it now. I didn’t think he “wouldve been” succumb because I didn’t believe he was human. Now I truly know we will all die .

The Independent/ Twitter

Brontez Purnell

Purnell is a musician( The Younger Devotees, Gravy Train ), author (< em> The Cruising Diary ), and punk icon. He chatted with the Daily Dot via Facebook .

I remember being 12 or 13 and watching VH1 “my generation” or something like that and first determining the age-old Bowie videos and being just like “WHAT THE FUCK ?!?!? “


I guess it kinda augmented the whole queer punk metamorphosi I was about to go under just a year or so afterward.

But I signify even with all this “acceptance” we have now don’t you think it’s funny that there’s like no one cooler than Bowie < em> still ? Like where they at?

I was like 13 or 14 when a classmate told me that David Bowie, Mick Jagger and like Iggy Pop had a gay three-way thing.
For me at that time, there was RuPaul and then David BowieI can’t genuinely think of who else exists in that pantheon, of when I was younger. I guess they must have given me some kind of hope … I never really thought about it before.

Girl, don’t have me weeping right now. LOL .

JD Samson

Samson is a musician( Le Tigre, MEN) and DJ who has addressed her own non-binary presentation by saying “It’s just genderit’s just whatever.” JD was rushing to work on Monday but was able to send the Daily Dot a very short statement on Facebook .

I wish I could just send you my feelings.

That would be the only lane to reveal you what’s happening inside .

Xavier Smith

Smith sought to quoted as just a gay black dude, but also is a renowned musician and backup singer who intersected routes with David Bowie in the course of his career. He mailed the following statement via email.

Here’s to artists that inspire. There aren’t many envelope pushers or risk-takers on the frontline of music today smart enough to envisage something wonderful, bold enough to see it through, and charismatic enough to take us along for the ride.
Here’s to being genuinely fascinatedand not because a marketing department tells us to be, but because of immense talent. I hope Bowie’s death makes people hungry for that. One can only stomach so much fast food .

Nico Martin/ Flickr

J. Rogue

Texas-based J. Rogue is an editor of the book Queering Anarchism . She was interviewed by email.

Growing up in a conservative context, David Bowie was the first person I was ever aware of whose gender was, well, queer.
I remember realizing him on television and being fascinated by the possibility of being something other than a “manly man” or a “girly girl.” He is one of the few musicians I have loved for as long as I can remember.

As a female-assigned, raging tomboy child with a adoration for G.I. Joe and My Little Pony, football and glisten, Bowie unknowingly gave me solace when my gender fluidity was disorient and scary for me. As a person who had felt like an outsider, hearing his voice on the radio built me feel like there were other people out there who maybe felt the same as me, and helped me find those people, too .

Giovannie Espiritu

Espiritu is an out bisexual actress who has appeared on television proves like E.R ., Bones , Gilmore Girls , and Trauma . She mailed the following statement via email .

Bowie induced me feel okay with my weirdness and being okay with letting my freak flag fly.

But not in a dark style. It’s more like a “change the world, there is magic everywhere, adoration is all around me” kind of route. Rest in powerful peace, Mr. Goblin King

Sydney Shackelford

Shackelford is a transgender woman whose transition over the course of a decades-long marriage was the subject of a recent Cosmopolitian feature. She mailed the Daily Dot the following statement via email.

I feel Ive lost an icon today. David Bowie helped me take my first step in my travel to become the woman I am today, part of the expedition was first identifying as gender fag prior to transgender. He played a major role in that step. Thank you for all the great music and inspiration to the LGBT community as a role model that its perfectly ok to be your true-life ego .

Elliott Sailors

Sailors is a boundary-pushing androgynous wife who mainly operates as a male simulate for companies like H& M. Sailors emailed a statement to the Daily Dot.

The world is forever altered by the ferociousness with which David Bowie outstripped the borders of gender and sexual expressionat a time when the world was not devoting the space he became the clearing. No one has had a greater impact on gay culture than David Bowie .

Photo via Marc Wathieu/ Flickr( CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

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