My Bowie: Stephin Merritt

My Bowie: Stephin Merritt

Photography by Andrew Kent
David Bowie’s importance -- at least in my life, and probably in the lives of most people -- is, in a way, more important than the entire gay rights movement. Bowie is about the freedom to have any identity you want, not just gendered. Space alien, crazy person -- it’s all tied together, and it’s all sorts of fun.

It’s not like Aladdin Sane is depressing. It’s fun! And on Diamond Dogs, it’s the end of the world -- and it’s fun! David Bowie showed everybody that they could have absolutely ridiculous clothing and makeup, and not just that it was androgynous, but that it was pointedly absurd, like a gold circle on your forehead. Basically, he was applying art to the construction of persona. He said, “You too can do this!” rather than: “It’s OK to insist on being hired as a gay person.”

That’s a tiny, tiny bit of the freedom David Bowie was espousing, and is still espousing. He is probably the main person -- the main celebrity, I would say -- who had any influence on my life until I was, say, 35 and started listening to Irving Berlin.

I didn’t grow up with a father at all; I didn’t have a father figure telling me how to approach gender, so I thought David Bowie was a perfectly good model of how to approach gender. And I still think so.

In the 1980s, directly influenced by Bowie, friends of mine and I used to say, “My gender is none of your business until we’re in bed.”

Gender is what you say it is.

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