The death of David Bowie earlier this week left me, like most folks, utterly gobsmacked. My feed was brimming with videos, song lyrics, and photos of Mr. Bowie. But what jumped out at me almost immediately was how, for every post talking about what a gifted musician he was, there were just as many posts talking about how he was the Patron Saint for All Misfits and Outcasts. So many stories about how people who felt isolated, alone, and weird in high school found themselves in Ziggy Stardust or in any of Bowie's other androgynous personae.
They saw a man in glitter makeup, outlandish wigs, and leotards (leotards, for chrissakes!) prancing around on stage bigger than life, not ashamed, telling them it was okay to be queer, a fag, a fairy, to dress up in whatever way felt most true to them. He taught a generation of kids that there's nothing wrong with you in the least if you're a boy and wanna throw on some eyeshadow before heading out on a Friday night. He spoke to the freaks, the dweebs, the gays, the bullied, the goths, and any other misfit who wasn't wearing a letter jacket and spending their Fridays night cheering on the jocks on the football field.
Before there was "Just Jack" on the groundbreaking show Will & Grace. Before there was Madonna in all of her costumed glory. Before there was Gaga. Before all of this, there was Bowie. And it got me thinking about the importance of these celebrities to kids as they come up. There have been a zillion articles, written by people more informed than I, regarding the importance of seeing role models in movies, on TV, on stage, on the playing field, that are representative of all kids, not just the straight, white, middle-class ones. Any number of African-America actors will cite the first time they saw Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek as a defining moment for them. She wasn't someone's maid or slave; she was a Starfleet officer! And that made an enormous difference to a whole lot of black kids coming up during that time. "If she can do that, why can't I?"
And now there's a whole generation of African-American kids that will grow up thinking "You know what? If I bust my ass in school and work hard, one day I could even be President of the United States."
Seeing people that are representative of who you are is enormously important during child development. Not only can a gay kid in Midlothian, Texas, see Neil Patrick Harris with his thriving acting career and have hope for his own future, but also, it subtly reaffirms ideas such as: "You are not abnormal," "there is nothing wrong with you," and "see, there are many others out there like you."
And now we have people like the lovely and amazing Laverne Cox, helping transgender kids everywhere come to grips with what's going on inside their heads and bodies.
While it may piss off a bunch of ignorant hillbillies, we are a diverse country full of black, white, brown, straight, gay, weirdoes, transgender, queer-positive, atheist, Muslim, Christian, hippy people. And, in 2016, it appears as though the people who are cast into visible roles, either through music, acting, politics, and even sports, are finally catching up to that fact. Bowie was one of a small handful of people who led that charge in the '70s and, for that, we owe him an un-repayable debt. There are other pioneers, of course: Cher, Boy George, Iggy, to name a few. But Bowie never bowed to pressure to conform, and that message was heard by a generation of people, some of whom took it to mean, "Hey, maybe it is okay to let my freak flag fly just a little bit."
So to you, Mr. Bowie, Mystical Beast of All Things Outlandish and Strange, I say rest in peace. As someone who started or influenced at least four different musical genres; starred in incredibly provocative films; heavily impacted the art scene, as well as the fashion scene; and who was a guardian angel for freaks and weirdoes everywhere, you are arguably one of the most prominent and influential people of the latter half of the 20th century. I'm glad that, until the very end, you did things your way and taught us all to be proud of who we were on the inside and to live our lives on our own terms. Never settle.
What an amazing legacy for an amazing artist, performer, and human being.
Postscript: Was just finishing this post when I heard about Alan Rickman. My heart breaks. He was, literally, the star of every movie he was in. What another awful loss. British? Sixty-nine years old? Cancer? Death happens in threes? I hope Tim Curry's handlers are keeping a very close eye on him. Sending out good, healthy thoughts for Tim, please. #CurryWatch2016