Today, we lost David Bowie. Fifteen year old me is fucking crushed. The girl who was out as queer but not trans, who said to herself, “Heh, I guess I’m not a trans woman, I’m just Ziggy Stardust,” is crying like a baby today. Bowie, no, Ziggy, was what I needed him to be then, a glittering, glamorous icon that dared me to experiment with gender.
My mother would sometimes help me with make-up, but only if I agreed that I was a boy. My father would, when I was dolled up like that, call me a faggot and be sexually inappropriate with me. I looked to Bowie-as-Ziggy for strength in times like that. I thought that if only I could be an alien or a rock star like Ziggy, I wouldn’t have to deal with any of that.
It was around this time that I had first heard of Lori Maddox saying she’d lost her virginity to David Bowie. Back then, I’d assumed she was at least 18. I knew she’d said that Jimmy Page raped her, and I believed her. I’ve always hated Led Zeppelin, anyway. (and Screeching Weasel, but that’s another story.)
Today, I came across a source that lists her birth year as 1958, which would mean that in 1972, she was no more than fourteen. She has publicly described her sex with Bowie as consensual , but I really don’t believe, as a survivor of child sexual abuse, let alone a rational human being,that a fourteen year old has enough life experience or information to properly consent to sex with an adult. Even if she lied and told him she was older than she was, even if he had no reason not to believe her and was as gentle with her as she said he was, David Bowie still made a conscious decision to do what he did.
Difficult as it may be to reconcile this information with the glittering icon that I, and many other Bowie fans, wanted or needed him to be, it needs to be done. Several other people have accused Bowie of stealing songs and being emotionally abusive, and I believed them as soon as I heard their stories. It was easy, I thought, there was no way Bowie was a saint.
This, though, has been a much harder pill to swallow. The only thing I can compare it to is when filmmaker Woody Allen’s adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow, accused him of molesting her in The New York Times, I believed her whole-heartedly and cried for days. When that news broke, I was writing the first draft of the manuscript that became my semi-autobiographical novel-in-verse, Never Coming Home. I wanted to throw away my memories of my mother and I laughing at the same moments in “Annie Hall.” I even made the first line in my poem, “Mother’s Day,” “I don’t want to watch Annie Hall with you.”
If I had known then what I know now, I might have written the line as “I don’t want to listen to your old copy of Hunky Dory,” but right now, I’m not as eager to get rid of those memories.
In the process of editing Never Coming Home, where I’ve written poems from the perspectives of characters based on them, I learned that my parents, or abusers, or whatever you think it’s appropriate to call them, were not, in fact, the monsters from my memories. They were people who made decisions and had reasons why they made those decisions. They had terrible reasons for making terrible decisions, so did Bowie, Allen, and whoever else, but that doesn’t erase their humanity.
I’ve seen a lot of people, friends and random internet commenters, say things today like, “Why would you mourn a pedophile?” I’ll tell you why. My father was an incredibly gifted architect and my mother was my first proofreader. They fed me, clothed me, and when they told me they loved me, I believed them. But guess what, they both beat me, they both raped me, they both neglected me, and when I decided they were dead to me, I still needed grieve for the people I wanted them to be. When each of them dies physically, I know I’ll need to grieve again. In short, kill your idols, stab your dad, give yourself time to mourn, remember what you needed from them, and do your best to be that.