George Michael was more than a pop star to me, he was a beacon of hope
Between his time in Wham! and as a solo artist, George Michael created the soundtrack to almost everyone’s lives. We’ve all been off our faces dancing to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, or sobbed into a probably too large glass of wine while Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me encouraged us to lament our love life.
George Michael was one of the most successful pop stars of all time – not just of the past decade, or the past twenty, but of all time. He sold over 100 million records, was nominated for eight Grammys, 15 Video Music Awards, and 4 Ivor Novello Awards, raised countless thousands for Terrence Higgins Trust and did incredible work to keep the fight to cure AIDS in the public consciousness.
For me, George Michael was more that just a pop star who seemed to reinvent himself every few years and appeal to a new range of fans by changing his sunglasses; to me he was a pop star who reinvented what it means to be gay.
Arrested by a sly fox of a policeman in 1998 for committing a lewd act in a toilet, Michael didn’t do what most popstars would have done: Instead of apologising profusely and pleading his innocence to anyone who’d listen, he went out, recorded a song about it, filmed a video where he danced in a toilet with a huge glitter ball and owned it.
What was most remarkable about George Michael’s Outside was that he went from closeted gay man to ‘openly gay man.’ That term ‘openly gay’ is derivative and offensive. Focusing on being openly gay seems to be a state of argument and division, instead of how difficult it must have been for Michael to deal with the sudden interest into his private life. I was 14 at the time of his outing and just coming to terms with my own sexuality. Michael’s really struck a chord.
Before George Michael, it seemed to me that gay men had been aromatic, intelligent but unthreatening men who acquiesced with society’s attempts to keep them outsiders. After George Michael’s candour, it felt like people began to see that gay men were more than just caricatures. We were going to do what we wanted, and if you didn’t like it, so what? I thought he was brave and brilliant.
George Michael’s refusal to be shamed was an incredibly strong message to a young gay man like me, living a life dictated by boring people; destined for a life of minimum wage and mediocrity. It was a torch light to every single gay man who had been made to feel ashamed.
Michael’s legacy isn’t about that incident in the toilets or crashing into a shop under the influence. It’s as an incredible artist and activist. His legacy shouldn’t be pacified or romanticised.
Without George Michael, there would have been a lot more heartache and hatred in the world. What he did should be honoured and respected, not trashed and smeared with rumours that he can’t fight. Although Michael never had a problem with being gay, his career shows every single gay man, young or old, new to the community or seasoned pro, that they are free to be whoever they want to be and no forced to change.
Take up where George Michael left off; fight for LGBTQ+ rights wherever you can, be the person who makes a difference, don’t stand for anyone shaming you for something that is natural and great.
Image credit: Reza Vazi