• Hollie Black

The Man Who Fell to Earth -- And Shook the Gender Binary Forever

On the 8th of January, 1947, a legend was born. The ingenuity of this man was that he was open to experimentation and interpretation in a way no artist had ever been before, exposing himself as exactly who he was. As a result, the man in question, David Bowie, provided and continues to provide refuge for those who identified as different both before and following his recent death. His life, depicted in vibrant living color in the forms of musical experimentation and a series of stage personalities, each of whom identified differently on the gender spectrum than the last, inspired a generation of outsiders and irreversibly influenced the LGBT+ world.

Bowie’s gender-bending journey truly began at a dramatic presentation, starring Lindsay Kemp. He was enchanted, so much so that he later went backstage to meet with Kemp and request lessons with him. Kemp, an English, dancer, actor, mime artist and choreographer, immediately fell in love with him, and so began a short lived but extraordinarily fruitful love affair, resulting in a few plays, Bowie’s early studio album The Man Who Sold the World on which he sported an assortment of funky vintage dresses, and lastly the infamous Ziggy Stardust.

Ziggy, of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, was and is an icon in the world of androgyny and non gender conformity. Ziggy Stardust is the star of the album aptly titled ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’, the story of an androgynous, sexually fluid, alien rock star and his eventual rock and roll suicide, which was brought on by Bowie’s feeling that he had become incapable of drawing a line between Ziggy and himself. The album, which was released in 1972 (in the midst of a distinctly straight era), was extremely well received, and Bowie was thrust into the public eye, becoming a deity like figure for trans, bisexual, gay, etc. youth, many of whom have since stated that David Bowie saved their lives.

Bowie went on to develop a collection of personalities, including Aladdin Sane (I’ll spare you the years of pondering it took me to realize that Aladdin Sane is secret Bowie code for A Lad Insane), the carnage of the era of Ziggy which showed himself split, as if by a bolt of lightning between his own mind and that of Ziggy Stardust. The Man Who Fell to Earth came into being after his reinvention, when Bowie put an end to his excessive cocaine use and moved to Berlin. Pierrot was the new wave mime figure, who in an ironic way referenced back to his beginnings in training with Lindsay Kemp. The Outsider, the quintessentially ‘90s Bowie, all goatee and multicolored hair and Meta-Bowie, who was Bowie’s acknowledgement of his vanished youth. All of these characters were unique and representative of a chapter in his life, from green artist to extraterrestrial to drug abuser to old and damaged but still addictively creative soul. His various identities and musical stylings have influenced today’s culture more than, dare I say, any other rock artist throughout all of history.

David Bowie, in essence, is a legend, and his deeply rooted influence in music and in LGBT culture will live on for generations to come. A continuous round of applause for you, Starman. Rock on.