A couple of notes. First: CN for discussions of CSA. Second: despite my repeatedly asking them not to (and having my comments removed and accounts blocked), a site whose views on trans women I find abhorrent insists on linking to this post. If you’ve come from there, please read this.
I feel genuinely sad about Bowie’s death. Like many people, I grew up listening to his music. He had a unique voice in every sense of the world. He was brave and beautiful and fearless. Growing up as a queer kid and a bit of an oddball, it would have been hard to not feel a connection to him. Space Oddity was one of my favourite songs, way back when I was a child obsessed with space and robots, convinced that I could go to the Moon someday.
Some of my friends don’t understand why people grieve celebrities.
They say- we’ve never met them, so why would it affect us?
Just as they don’t understand me, I don’t get that perspective either. After all, we don’t just spend our time with the people we know. We spend it with artists we’ll never meet.
That’s not even a 21st century thing. Ever since humans first learned to draw and then to write, we’ve been connecting with each other through time and space. Music written centuries ago gives me goosebumps. Authors who died long before I was born feel like old friends. They’re not, of course. We get their final drafts. What they choose to share. But despite that, this one-way connection is still real.
If we can have a real relationship with people who died long ago, then why wouldn’t we feel connected to living people we’ll never meet? Their words, art, discoveries and music can still change our lives. Or at least, give some texture to their backdrop.
I understand that people feel differently. Some of you simply don’t feel that kind of personal (if one-way) connection to people they’ll never meet. That’s absolutely legitimate, although I don’t see why you’d bring it up when people are obviously upset. Some take it further, describing this kind of grief as performance and appropriative. As if some people are permitted to be sad, and others aren’t.
I think that’s bullshit. When we express sadness over someone we haven’t met, we’re not stealing grief from their family or loved ones. My melancholy this morning isn’t the same as losing someone you love. It’s not even close. People grieve David the man in ways that none of us who loved Bowie the artist could imagine. Of course they do. But the idea that this means the rest of us should shut up and not feel anything? Ludicrous. Bullshit. Ludicrous bullshit based on a holier-than-thou fake cool that looks down on actually feeling a thing.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling. There’s nothing wrong with enthusiasm and there’s nothing gauche about grief. We get to be sad if we damn well please.
Here’s where it gets complicated.
The other story filling up my news feeds this morning? It turns out that David Bowie may have had sex with an underage girl. I say “may have”, because this morning was the first I’d heard of it. And I say ‘sex’ and not ‘rape’, since the woman in question seems to have, as an adult, always maintained it was consensual and I don’t think it’s okay to force our own meanings onto women’s experiences.
That still doesn’t make it okay, if that was what happened. Statutory rape is statutory rape. It’s never okay for an adult to do that.
I get why people are sharing this today. What I don’t really know, is how I’m expected to respond or if the expected response is realistic. You see, I think that this is the expected response: to put Bowie into the Terrible People category and be done with it. To stop caring, never listen to his music again.
I get why people expect that. It’s about standing up for survivors in the face of a culture that brushes away abuse of women and girls by rich white men. Yes. That is important. In fact, I don’t want to dismiss it with three words like “that is important”. That is essential.
But I can’t.
No, I don’t think that what he did was okay because it turns out it didn’t harm her. We don’t have laws against statutory rape because every time an adult sleeps with a teenager they’re scarred for life. We have them because young teenagers aren’t yet able to understand the consequences of their actions or what will or won’t harm them. And because teens who are barely out of childhood are desperately vulnerable to manipulation by older people. The age of consent is a mechanism to prevent adults from taking advantage of disparities in power and decision making abilities.
When it comes to causing irreparable harm, it looks like Bowie dodged a bullet. But the unacceptable action is firing that particular gun in the first place. He did that. That was a decision he made.
I’m supposed to call him a monster because of this, and stop feeling sad about his death. I can’t do that. I can call him someone who did a monstrous thing, though.
What he did was unacceptable. And he still inspired me. He still made music that crawls in through my pores and under my ribs. That kid singing about floating in tin cans in her kitchen a quarter of a century ago is still part of me.
And I think that that’s the hard part, isn’t it? We want to live in a world of heroes and monsters. We want to be inspired be wonderful people, and to condemn the human excrement who do terrible things. We’re not comfortable with how grubby it is, here in the grey areas. Of course we’re not. It’s not comfortable.
But it needs to be. While we make monsters out of people who do bad things, we turn every single one of us into Tinkerbell- only able to feel one thing at a time. To be one thing at a time.
So that’s what I’m going to try to do: try to get comfortable with the discomfort of the grey area. To understand that a glorious oddball can also be someone protected from consequence by his position in the world. To see genius and abuse not as reflections of monsters or angels, but simply things that people do. Real, complicated, screwed up things and people. To try to understand more about the why of it all, since all of it is part of our common humanity whether we like it or not. To acknowledge that I love and am inspired by so much music this man created, and that I’m going to be as saddened by his loss and transported by his music as I’m furious at what he did. And in that discomfort, working towards a culture where rich, white, extraordinarily talented men don’t get a licence to abuse with impunity.
Because we can’t make Bowie into someone who didn’t inspire. And we can’t make him into someone who never abused his power. All we can do is sit with that, and work towards this generation of extraordinarily talented white men knowing that they are as human as the rest of us, and that nobody’s immune from consequence.
I don’t see what else I can do, really.
Well! You had an awful lot of things to say about this. Thank you for coming by! I’m responding in some separate posts to some of the themes coming up in comments. I’ll link to the response posts here:
- Aoife is a vile opportunist attention-seeker, jumping on a bandwagon for clicks and money.
- It Was Acceptable In The 70s: Why I won’t excuse the actions of the past.
- …soon. Soon. Real life demands attention.
Even bloggers have to pay the bills! Monthly subscriptions- no matter how small- help give me the security to devote time to this place and keep a roof over my head. If you like what you read, please do help out: