I got the news that David Bowie died on my phone while sitting on the toilet. It was undignified, ignominious, and wholly modern. As were my tears. I cried fresh, new, culturally relevant tears because I – and many others – lost an icon.
Bowie was (and GOD, how I hate to use the past tense) a hero of the margins – unrepentantly, aggressively authentic. His art was entirely his, without apologies. Many marginalized communities, especially the LGBTQ+, celebrate his weirdness as a beacon in a small, dark world and since many of my friends belong to that community I celebrate his weirdness with them.
So, that first bout of weeping was for them, and the artists and dreamers and weirdos whose light went out on the vast, cruel sea.
For me, though, the little girl who never had trouble assimilating, who embodied the term “wall-flower”, it wasn’t his weirdness that was my beacon. It wasn’t what he did that entranced me, it was what he didn’t do. He didn’t apologize. He didn’t conform. His opposition to Normal could have taken many forms, and I would have been in love with any of them. It was the act of defiance that made me watch him, his very breath a giant “Fuck You” to the establishment’s control and THAT enthralled me. Whether he was strutting across the stage in glitter, hypnotizing a young woman with crystal balls (unsurprisingly, that is both a literal interpretation AND a euphemism), baring his soul in simple, unaccompanied song, or orchestrating his final farewell, Bowie never seemed to do anything that wasn’t entirely honest and true to his artistic vision. For me, it was about his authenticity.
The little girl who assimilated retreated by degrees, replaced with a painfully self-aware woman. Right now, replaced with a woman who is self-aware, and in pain. The authenticity of my life is ugly, and raw, and set with jagged edges that rip the fabric of my psyche to shreds. My authenticity is not about sparkly jumpsuits and flipping off the establishment. It’s about emotional tar pits, and vicious anger, and snarling, black despair. My honesty is found in days when I simply can’t do anything but stare blankly and drink at socially inappropriate times. My non-conformity comes from screaming my pain instead of just bearing it, like the good little wall-flower expected to. My authenticity is not fit for consumption; it is not art. But it is real, and I am no less heroic for confronting it, head-on.
My first tears were for the freaks and dreamers, artists and weirdos and friends. But the tears that came later, that sent me running for the bathroom stall in the middle of my workday to sob into handfuls of cheap, single-ply toilet paper that dissolved under the onslaught – those were for me. And for Bowie, who surely knew that lonely darkness, and came out swinging a light of his own. I cried because my truth is ugly, it’s mean and bitter and exhausting. But it’s mine. I am living an authentic life, no matter if I can’t turn it into art or a beacon for three generations to rally around. It’s mine, and it’s true. And for now, it is enough. I am a hero, if just for one day.