About two years ago I was walking home when I suddenly realized that David Bowie would die someday. I started crying. What I took away from this incident was the resolution that I should start taking testosterone because I believed that men and other people on T don’t often burst into tears in the middle of the street. I never did anything about taking testosterone though because it’s seemed too hard, and I didn’t do anything to try to reconcile myself to David Bowie’s impending death. We still had plenty of time, I thought.
So you see, I hadn’t even realized what I thought I had realized. A week ago when I found out about David Bowie’s death, I was as shocked and horrified as everyone else. Impossible! Someday, maybe, but not now, when he was still so young, and just had a new album out, and still had a child at home, and no one was ready for this. I have to keep learning over and over that everyone I love can be taken away from me at any moment. No matter how deeply this lesson sears itself into my soul each time, I can’t seem to generalize it. It’s the most important thing there is to know and yet somehow it keeps slipping away from me.
As Noel Gallagher said last year, “No Bowie, no point getting up in the morning.” Bowie was one of my spiritual fathers. I never got the impression that he was a nice guy or that I would want to meet him, but his music means the world to me. Most of his songs are essentially science fiction, rather than boring love songs. And his voice! He had such a big range. I have a lot of auditory sensory problems, which is mostly unhelpful, but one of the good things is what I call “David Bowie synesthesia”—when I hear his voice, I hear a sparkly textured color that is hard to describe and apparently other people don’t have this experience.
His creative process inspired me.
I love how he created different personas, and used artifice to say the truest things.
He is actually a work of art.
On days when I can’t get out of bed, Ziggy Stardust is the way forward.
On days when everything is marvelous, David Bowie’s music makes it more marvelous.
The way that Bill Clinton was called the first black president before white people could conceive of an actual black president, David Bowie stood in as the first transgender pop star even though he wasn’t really.
He occupied a special place in the pantheon for me and so many other people as a role model of being a relaxed bisexual/pansexual person.
He was like an alien messenger from a place with no limits.
And what an unparalleled sense of style! I could look at photos of him all day. He was gorgeous, from first to last. How could an emaciated snaggle-toothed Englishman become so glamorous?
I was thinking a lot about how many people must be devastated. There are all these ardent fans on Tumblr, who I judge to be about fifteen years old, whose lives must be torn apart into tiny shreds and whose parents can’t possibly comprehend what they’re going through. There are the musicians, most obviously Morrissey, who were inspired by Bowie and who are his musical heirs. I can’t imagine how they feel, but there’s no way it’s good. And then of course the people who are really hurting are his widow, Iman, and his two children, one grown and one still a kid, and the other people who were close to him. My heart really goes out to them.
As soon as I learned about David Bowie’s death, I started a “media holiday” which lasted eight days. No Facebook, no Tumblr, no news sites. I didn’t want to read what other people had to say about him. Death and loss are so hard to talk about; people say all kinds of dumb things. (This is me taking my turn.) I really really didn’t want to read it. However, one day when I was talking with my brother, he showed me an article that a friend of his had written about Project Runway. That seemed harmless, so I read it. On the side of the screen as a I scrolled down was a link to another article: “Remembering Bowie: The Man, The Legend, The Sexual Abuser.”
I've known dozens of people who have been sexually abused, and many of them have been silenced, dismissed, or told they were lying. I know zero people who have made false accusations. The data backs up my anecdotal evidence: false accusations are grossly outnumbered by actual sexual abuse. For personal and feminist reasons, I always believe the accuser (with one exception so far in this lifetime where I’m doubtful.) Therefore I didn’t even have to read the article before I mentally judged David Bowie and found him guilty, and everything changed.
About eight hours later I knuckled under and read the article, which was well-written and nuanced and by a Bowie fan. The actual facts were 1) in 1987 a woman charged David Bowie with rape but the case was dismissed by a grand jury and did not go forward 2) statutory rape of a girl in the 13-15 years old range, very early in his career.
In the past, I have always completely written off any sexual abuser. I believe that sexual abusers need sympathy and understanding just like everyone else, but it doesn’t have to come from me. I live in a culture that treats sexual abuse like it’s trivial and makes excuses for predators, and I am not going to jump on that bandwagon.
This was the first time that I felt the dilemma that I have always heard others express and never understood. I didn’t want to write off David Bowie, and in fact, I could not. I couldn’t say, “I love his music but hate him as a person,” because it’s not true. If I only loved his music, I wouldn’t have felt completely gutted that he died, because his music hasn’t gone anywhere.
I acknowledge I am extremely lucky that this is the first time someone I have taken into my heart and given unconditional love to has turned out to be a sexual abuser. Most commonly it is an actual relative instead of “my spiritual father” who I didn’t even know. I talked to my wife about this, and she said this situation is not something you can solve in a minute by either dismissing and saying it doesn’t matter or by turning against David Bowie and throwing all the pictures and DVDs and buttons in the fire. It’s something you have to sit with, and just acknowledge that this awful thing exists. It strikes a very tender place in me. There’s the me who is so guarded against attack from predatory men, a danger that is very real. And then there’s the me who is just full of love and feels trusting and open, and somehow I ended up in the wrong place. Being a fangirl is a huge part of my character and I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t just be my own fangirl and stop bestowing my admiration on others, if they’re going to be such fucking pigs.
It really changes the way I see David Bowie. What if instead of being a happy bisexual icon who loved freedom he was a tortured sex addict who felt compelled to shag anything that moved?
My wife and some friends and I are going to learn some Bowie songs so we can play not so much a show as a protest against his death, just for our friends in a rehearsal space. I had this idea before I read about the sexual abuse history and then I wasn’t so sure, but it turns out I still really want to do this. Maybe it will feel like righting a wrong; maybe we will be our own fangirls; maybe it will soothe my heart.