When I was a child, my grandfather and I had this exchange that would run: He: “How ya doin’, pardner?” Me: “Everything’s hunky dory.”
So I was a little freaked out the first time I saw David Bowie dressed in women’s clothes on the sleeve of Hunky Dory, because: A) that expression was our little thing; and B) one of my earliest memories was of dressing up in my grandmother’s clothes. It wasn’t sexual at all, but we’d play husband and wife together. My grandfather not only didn’t mind, he seemed to enjoy it. That ended after my grandmother died, in 1968. It hurt him too much to be reminded of her, so when I’d go and visit, I’d go upstairs and dress in those clothes by myself. And she had some beautiful clothes from the ’40s and ’50s. There was a skirt and top in black crêpe de Chine with sequins on it, and a beautiful red velvet suit, and an amazing pair of green alligator slingbacks that I once wore for some skit in Cub Scouts. She was a great dresser. It was that kind of ’40s drag that was a throwback to Hollywood movie stars, and which [Warhol superstars] Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis were doing then at the same time I was dressing up in my grandmother’s finest.
I didn’t quite understand what bisexual meant as a child and thought it was to do with gender, like being half-and-half. I knew that was freaky, and that Bowie was freaky, and that people thought it was weird, so I didn’t really like him because I was afraid that if I showed any kind of affinity I would be revealing myself. One Bowie song I have a visceral and emotional response to is “Young Americans.” That came out in 1975, when I would have been 12 or 13, and I remember being at the public swimming pool one summer afternoon, in my small hometown, lying on the towel on the concrete, with all the kids screaming and running around, and “Young Americans” came on the sound system, and I just had the most fabulous feeling. That song is such a euphoric number, and I felt, Oh, this is great, this is me, I’m a young American. It was so simple -- that combination of the smell of chlorine, the summer, the damp towel beneath me, the song playing, my eyes closed, daydreaming about some fabulous existence somewhere where this bisexual crazy-looking Englishman with two-colored eyes could be singing about young Americans. Somewhere there were people who not only were listening to that song like I was, but who were able to celebrate it -- they were having that existence that I hoped to have.