When homosexuality was still considered a shameful secret to many, Bowie told the world he was gay – music and the lives of many of his fans and followers would never be the same. When he stepped onto the stage as Ziggy Stardust in 1972, one of the world’s greatest gay icons was born and the rules were forever rewritten.
Alexander The Great (356 BC- 323 BC) and his lifelong companion and dearest friend Hephaestion (as seen in the red cloak – Charles Le Brun painting) whilst they conquered the world together often compared themselves to Achilles and Patroclus mythological divine heroes and dearest friends in ancient Greece as mentioned in Homer’s Iliad. Many other important male and female figures from this era have also been identified as having multiple gender relationships. History suggests there was greater tolerance in the ancient world.
The rise of monotheism, the belief in one god, and rules that limited social and sexual behaviour over the next 1,000+ years laid the foundation for laws such as The Buggery Act of 1533 under the reign of Henry VIII in England.
There were countless prosecutions and convictions all over the world for centuries. Many of the most notable in England, for example Oscar Wilde in 1895, Lord Montague of Beaulieu in 1954 and Alan Turing in 1952. Turing was a code breaker working for the secret service during World War II who played a crucial role in cracking the Enigma Codes, securing Allied victory and saving millions of lives. Sixty nine years later in February 2021 MI6 apologized for their treatment of LGBT+ colleagues.
In this February 2021 LGBT+ history week the US House of Representatives will vote on the Equality Act that would protect human and civil rights for LGBT+ people. Supporters of the bill are being attacked by opponents. Recent events demonstrate that belief in sexism, racism, misogyny, homophobia and genderphobia persist throughout the US.
Ziggy liberated the gay, the bisexual and the androgynous. Bowie was not an activist in the traditional sense but he helped give voice to disenfranchised subcultures in society – trans women of colour, flamboyant queens, dykes and gay men who brought the fight to the streets and changed the world. To them he wasn’t just a pop idol, he was a lifeline. As an artist Bowie provided a soundtrack and visuals which reshaped the world by complementing a larger fight for acceptance and civil rights.
Two years after marrying his first wife Angie in 1970, Bowie told the world he was gay while on the cusp of fame. In a 1972 interview with Melody Maker, Bowie declared, “I’m gay, and I always have been”. It’s worth noting that this was the same year which Melody Maker called “the year of the transvestite” and 700 people walked from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park in the first Gay Pride march.
Homosexuality had been legalised a few years prior and things were fast changing. Four years later, Bowie pushed the boundaries even further and told Playboy magazine that he was bisexual. “It’s true—I am a bisexual,” he announced. “But I can’t deny that I’ve used that fact very well. I suppose it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
A bisexual androgynous alien rockstar, Ziggy Stardust’s flaming red locks and risque skin-tight Lycra bodysuit wooed the world. Watched by 14 million people, the historic Top of the Pops performance in July 72 saw him put his arm round his guitarist Mick Ronson and stare intensely into his eyes.
As odd as it might seem now, a man putting his arm around another man on television served as a watershed moment for young people grappling with their gender & sexuality
Not only had he made a glittery, alien-looking creature cool, he pioneered a sexy (and marketable) form of ‘Otherness’ that mainstream artists and performers have tried to replicate in the decades since.
The edginess of Bowie’s style earned him fast stardom and the freedom to play with gender and sexuality. Famously, he retired the Ziggy character, but continued to experiment with his image in ways that forced people to rethink ideas of gender. The French designer Jean Paul Gaultier recalled an example from 1978 Bowie’s tour: “At the beginning of the show he appeared as a kind of Marlene Dietrich, but with a white captain’s jacket and a cap. It was obvious that it was not Bowie playing a captain, but Bowie playing Marlene Dietrich playing a man.”
Bowie grasped the implications and possibilities of gender fluidity half a century before these notions established themselves in mainstream culture and society.
She’d walk through the door and she’d set up the drinks on the house. She played a good game of darts, and the men slapped her back, and never took her out.
She wore a trenchcoat khaki, Her hobnail boots were full of holes.
Her mother called her Mary, but she changed her name to Tommy, she’s a one, oh She went and joined the army, passed the medical. Don’t ask me how it’s done.
They sent her to the front line, Fighting for her country’s name.
David Bowie – She’s got medals (1967)