Bowie’s Impact on Gender

Gendered Lives has asked a couple of people to respond to what David Bowie meant to them, particularly in relation to his impact upon their thinking about gender. Here, our first respondent, Francesca Lisette, writes a moving personal tribute.

Bowie’s death was to me, even more astonishing than his life…

…because it revealed the extent to which he had always been there: until now, I’ve been fortunate enough to always live in a world which included David Bowie. It feels like I’ve lost a mentor & muse, who somehow seemed as familiar as an eccentric, glamorous uncle. I would not be the person I am today without him.

My dad had a collection of vinyl records which he would play on a Sunday, and one afternoon he played ‘Space Oddity’. It was the first piece of music I felt lyrically connected to as a child who wanted to be an alien, an astronaut or a gender-bending popstar when I grew up. And then I saw the video! It was at Madame Tussaud’s; my parents left me watching it for ten minutes, hypnotized. A boy with long hair & hippie clothes who seemed to comprehend the ethereal endlessness of the galaxy, and shared the desire to get lost in space. (It was not the now-famous red-haired clip, but the original BBC performance from 1969).

Bowie was there in the background through every phase of my life: as I discovered my personal aesthetic through an obsession with queer culture – I watched Velvet Goldmine and Wilde on my birthday – and my fascination with fellow glam icon Marc Bolan. As I kissed androgynous girls, and boys with elaborately strange hair who wore more makeup than me; as I dyed my hair every shade of the rainbow and wore loud clothes to match (my riotgrrl phase); as I became close friends with a boy who bore a striking resemblance to Bowie and had been equally influenced by him… Most pertinently, I had a phase of getting into the music not just the image, around 2009, (by which time I had mostly switched from Ziggy-style excess to New Romantic pseudo-formality, tailored suits and hats). I loved Ziggy Stardust, but it was Low and Heroes – Berlin-era Bowie – that really struck a chord with my post-punk tastes. It felt particularly fitting to leave the house on the day of his death and walk through the snow and past the frozen lake to my friends’ house in Neukölln, a world as icy and sparse as the eponymous track on Low. He wasn’t ‘a thing of the past’, either: my friends and I were talking about Bowie’s new album & watching him parade around in various female personas in the video for DJ just a few days before his death.

Bowie showed me that anything was possible. To say he blazed a trail was an understatement. Moreover, he was probably the first famous bisexual I knew of. If Bowie was fearlessly open about his queerness, why couldn’t I be? For these reasons, I’m wrong: there’s no such thing as a world without David Bowie, because he changed it definitively. Not only did he leave an artistic legacy that will neither fade nor be forgotten; he also left an army of star-gazing, strange-eyed creative warriors in his wake.

Francesca Lisette is a poet and performer, currently based in Berlin. Recent work can be found at Cordite Poetry Review (http://cordite.org.au/poetry/irishenglish/from-becoming/) and http://francesca-lisette.tumblr.com

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