In lieu of my weekly HRT update, I wanted to share something personal. As the world knows by now, the iconic David Bowie passed away on Sunday. Rather than talk about my favorite songs of his (because there’s just too many of them), I felt it was more in keeping with the tone of my blog to tell you a story about how a happenstance moment involving a David Bowie video opened my eyes.
When I was younger, my family didn’t get cable until around 1989. I distinctly remember that because the Depeche Mode video “Personal Jesus” was on heavy rotation on MTV. For the years leading up to that, I was relegated to waiting for Saturday nights, when the syndicated TV show “Night Flight” aired. Our local NBC affiliate aired it after Saturday night live, so I’d stay up until 1AM ready to tape the latest episode on our brand new VCR.
The format of “Night Flight” was all over. Sometimes it would be random videos, interviews and what-not, and other episodes would be based on a theme. This specific episode had a theme, and it was androgyny in rock & roll.
At some point, the show came back from a commercial break to show the David Bowie video, “Boys Keep Swinging”.
I invite you to watch it now, if you haven’t see it already. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. His backup singers in the video all looked alike, but I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t until Bowie reveals himself as his backup dancers towards the end that my young mind put one and one together.
I sat there wide-eyed as he smeared his lipstick across his face and removed his wig. Why? Looking back, my theory goes: perhaps my feelings of being born into the wrong gender had always been there, but I was never able to fully vocalize or express them; never mind seeing anything on TV that those feelings connected to.
For me, it was Bowie that first taught me that genders are not set in stone. Feelings of gender dysphoria don’t automatically mean a lifetime sentence in an emotional & mental prison, and he showed me that for the first time. It was the first glimmer of hope I had in knowing, once I grew up, that I could change things. For me.
Rest in peace, dear Starman. You influenced more than just musicians and artists. Among countless others, you helped inspire me to be me.
PS – Fun fact: it’s not until just a few days ago that I found out the video for “Boys Keep Swinging” was inspired by his transgender muse & lover at the time, Romy Haag. Here’s a great read on their relationship and how it influenced Bowie.