I’m a straight man, but I’ve never felt comfortable performing masculinity in the way that’s most commonly been proscribed to me. Growing up in suburban Texas, I felt the constant pressure to conform to a certain identity–watch football, like cars, find a certain kind of woman attractive. It didn’t help that my hooked-nose and sometimes-curly hair convinced everyone very early on that I was secretly Jewish (I’m not), which was a big no-no in overwhelmingly white Plano (“The gymnastics capital of the world”). And it was compounded even further by an over-effective metabolism that has managed to keep me chronically underweight well into adulthood. I was physically unable to perform the active constituents of my community’s masculinity, and I didn’t care to conform to its intellectual constituents. In the eyes of my peers, I was not a man–or so I was repeatedly told. I tried to be, though, feigning an interest in football and first-person shooters, and for a brief time I took up the guitar. But it was awkward–I was awkward–and I was mostly alone. I was gangly and strange looking and I liked Woody Allen movies and long books about nothing and David Bowie. Oh David Bowie. I was weird, but David Bowie, and later Prince, made that OK.
In the shadow of their deaths, I can’t offer anyone anything except my love for these two men. They are two of the biggest monuments dotting my internal landscape, and, their territory overlapping somewhat, I cannot help but pair them in my heart and in my head. While my interest in either of their music has waxed and waned over the course of my life, both of them–as men, as people, as personas–have remained beacons in my life, allowing to repeat to myself that “There is nothing wrong with you.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve sought friends and spaces who don’t hold me or my body to an impossible standard, people who have encountered similar obstacles–some systemic, some quotidian. But David Bowie and Prince were the first to make me feel like I wasn’t alone, like I wasn’t a fatally flawed oddity. Their charisma, their fearlessness and their daring filled me with confidence, but it also gave me hope. You could dress how you want, where your hair how you want, move and sound how you want–and people could love you for it. They taught me to love myself in a way that I have only recently been able to understand.
I know I’m not alone in this respect, and I will forever admire these two men precisely because their greatest legacy is one of boundary pushing, of refusing to conform, of making their own rules. Their deaths are a tragedy, and my condolences are with their friends and family. But as we move into a world without them, please move into it with the lessons they taught us. If we seek to emulate them, let us emulate that. Let men, women, or genderqueer individuals express themselves in whatever way they feel most comfortable, most liberating–whatever way they feel is truest to them. Let people define themselves and build their own identity, and accept that identity. Love each other, and love each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies and differences.
Thank you, David Robert Jones.
Thank you, Prince Rogers Nelson.
I love you.