We at Notches mourn the passing of the iconic singer and performer David Bowie. A dynamic artist, Bowie pushed the boundaries of genre, gender, and sexuality in his life and work. His sexual identity and its public performance were versatile, challenging and complex.
To reflect upon his life and influence, we offer some sources to begin thinking about David Bowie’s place in the history of sexuality of the 1970s and 1980s.
- Michael Watts, “Oh You Pretty Thing,” Melody Maker, January 22, 1972. Here Watts profiles Bowie as gay and describes his relationship to the gay liberation movement.
- Cameron Crowe, “Candid Conversation: An outrageous conversation with the actor, rock singer and sexual switch-hitter,” Playboy, September, 1976. This interview with Bowie features an in depth discussion of the singer’s bisexuality with Bowie remarking, “girls are always presuming that I’ve kept my heterosexual virginity for some reason. So I’ve had all these girls try to get me over to the other side again.”
- David Bowie, Boys Keep Swinging, 1979. The music video for “Boys Keep Swinging” spotlights Bowie’s 1970s gender-bending style and his embrace of camp aesthetic and drag.
- Kurt Loder, “David Bowie: Straight Time,”Rolling Stone, May 12, 1983. In this interview with Loder, Bowie disavows his earlier identification as bisexual while Rolling Stone trumpets Bowie’s newly proclaimed heterosexuality. The magazine even devoted the cover to Bowie with the headline “David Bowie Straight.”
- Alan McGinty “Ch-Ch-Changes,” Body Politic, November 1983. McGinty reflects on what Bowie’s queer music and identity meant to him as a gay man and how Bowie’s coming out as straight impacted him.
- Lori Mattix as told to Michael Kaplan, “I Lost My Virginity to David Bowie: Confessions of a ’70s Groupie,” Thrillist, November 3, 2015. Kaplan interviews Mattix about the sexual encounter she had with David Bowie when she was 15 years old. The interview raises issues of intergenerational sex, consent and coercion.
What sources would you use to place David Bowie within a longer and broader history of sexuality? What memories do you have of David Bowie, his music, and his career that locate him within the history of sexuality?
Gillian Frank is a Managing Editor of Notches: (re)marks on the History of Sexuality. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at Center for the Study of Religion and a lecturer in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton University. Frank’s research focuses on the intersections of sexuality, race, childhood and religion in the twentieth-century United States. He is currently revising a book manuscript titled Save Our Children: Sexual Politics and Cultural Conservatism in the United States, 1965-1990. Gillian tweets from @1gillianfrank1.
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