I’m supposed to be working on my manuscript draft, but this morning I learned that David Bowie had passed away, and there’s nothing more pressing and present in my psyche. I had hoped a Facebook post would suffice, but it turns out I can’t finish my memoir about being a gender fluid, intersex person until I say just a little more, in tribute, to a man who made it easier to be me.
We’re all a product of the time and place we inhabit, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t lived in a time where I got to sing the lyrics, “Got your mother in a whirl, cuz she’s, not sure if you’re a boy or a girl…” throughout my androgynous intersex adolescence. Although it’s doubtful the famous lyrics were intended this way, they could very well be an anthem not just for visibly gender variant people, but for intersex people whose physical differences are detected by their parents in infancy.
I heard, and sang, the lyrics to Rebel Rebel decades before I learned that I’m intersex, but they made it easier for me to accept who I am when the time came. They had embedded the idea into my brain—in a good way — that someone’s boy or girl-ness could be unclear. And isn’t that the main challenge that intersex people face?
Bowie sang about and embodied gender fluidity so beautifully that he made me feel good about myself as a genderqueer, intersex person – way before non-binary gender identities were recognized. He was one of just a handful of people in the public eye that wasn’t afraid to look pretty, handsome, and anything in between. It gave me and countless others the courage to follow our hearts by doing the same.
Not only that, the infamous picture of him kissing Lou Reed (which came out in 1973, when I was only 5), made me feel better about being a lesbian in a time when people were not yet typically “out”. He even starred in the first movie that brought lesbian sex to the screen for me (The Hunger, with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon), giving it the indelible stamp of “cool”.
Thank you, thank you, thank you David Bowie, for making my life easier as well as thoroughly more enjoyable. I kind of can’t believe you’re gone; you were such a positive part of my connection to humanity. You and your music were so universally appealing that even my reserved, Catholic mother used to sing Space Oddity when I was a little kid, getting all the lyrics wrong in her cute Spanish accent. You were five years younger than her, and now you too are gone, less than two years later. R.I.P. David Bowie. You will be sorely missed, but oh what beautiful gifts you left us all!