Whether he meant to or not, George Michael became a role model for struggling young queer men.

As the sun started to set on the garbage fire that was 2016, we thought we’d made it. Boy, were we wrong.

This Sunday, on a holiday when everyone is usually blasting some variation  of “Last Christmas,” we all got the devastating news that yet another legend had left us.

Though George Michael to some was a failed a pop star, he was one of the first to ever show us that being bad and being gay weren’t synonymous — unless you can make it look really, really sexy.

George Michael may not have blazed his trail intentionally at first, but after being outed for “lewd misconduct” in a public bathroom in 1998, he didn’t just open the closet door — he shattered it.

Amid infrequent appearances after the incident, Michael grew increasingly vocal about his sexuality and the community for which he now advocated. This — matched with his string of run-ins with the law — did not pan out well for the singer’s career.

 To the public, it was the decline of civilization as they knew it — cruising in parks, public restrooms, marijuana possession. For young queer men, it was an affirmation of struggle. No one wanted to hide and sneak around. Yet here was this pop sensation, doing the same things most of us gay and queer folks have been doing for decades.

And now, with the advent of social platforms like Grindr and Scruff — though still riddled with the same inherently problematic cultural cues we see in the queer community today (trans exclusion, racism, masc4masc misogyny, etc.) — we see this idea that it’s OK, and even (God forbid!) kind of fun to have sex and search for love with the same ease as our straight, cis counterparts.

In an interview in 2009, Michael told the world about the death of his lover, Anselmo Feleppa, a man he claimed really “broke down [his] Victorian restraint and really showed [him] how to live, how to relax, how to enjoy life.”

“It’s very hard to be proud of your sexuality when it hasn’t given you any joy, but once you have found somebody you really love it’s not so tough,” said Michael.

Feleppa died of AIDS-related complications in 1991, when Michael was still technically in the closet. After coming out, he did what the governments of the ’80s refused to do, and acknowledged the severity of the AIDS epidemic. Along with the sexual liberation we all so desperately needed at the time came the responsibility to be informed on the things that weren’t being taught to the likes of “sexual deviants.”

Following a streak of legal incidents, Michael lamented to one interviewer in 2011 that he blamed himself for “letting young gay kids down” with his antics.

“My behavior meant these kids suffered abuse and the homophobic language that is legal in this country,” he said.

Though I understood this sentiment, I truly believe Michael’s gay bad-boy persona, contrasted with the wholesome straight lover-boy heartthrob he was known to be, has given us all a lesson in the duality that exists in the social consciousness. In my opinion, George broke down those walls and the binary mindset that traps them by being himself whenever he could, after a life of being told how to live and who to love.

Today, with stars like Troye Sivan and Olly Alexander of Years & Years speaking up for the younger generation of the queer community and actively fighting to be heard, we hope the queer rock star’s spirit and legacy will live on.

Here’s to you, George, one last time.

 

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