jes skolnik
Jan 11, 2016 · 3 min read
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David Bowie: glimmering, ever-mutable image.

David Bowie: fallible human.

David Bowie: powerful.

David Bowie: protected.

David Bowie: mourned.

Mourning a celebrity is a strange thing. I don’t do it often; it just doesn’t strike me personally to do so. Most of the art that has the greatest personal impact on me is made by people I know, or come to know.

David Bowie: different.

Part of the reason his work is so meaningful to me — and perhaps to you — is its resolute humanity. Through the idiosyncratic, he found the personal. Besides the surprise of his death, curated as the art spectacle he wished it to be with the release of a truly stunning album and the semiotic closure of his own self-created mythology, the reason it seems to have struck so many of us so hard is that we saw our own ugly, gawky, fucked-up, queer, wrong selves transformed into something world-changing in his alchemical mirror. He built a home for freaks. He may not have intended to, at least not in the beginning, but he did. A home on skeletal songbird-legs, roaming the world in search of the next transformation.

David Bowie: familiar.

Of course I thought of Lori Maddox last night. Of course I thought of the capability of those whose art we love to do things we consider morally wrong. I thought of our culpability, our vulnerability.

Maddox does not view herself as a victim. This does not excuse the fact that Bowie had sex with her when she was underage, but we need to allow survivors the ability to define our own realities and speak our own experiences. We can believe it was on him, as the adult, not to have sex with her, and we can understand the context for his actions without excusing them.

I had sexual contact with a lot of men inappropriately older than me when I was 13 and 14. 22, 23, 24, 25, 26-year-old men. Sometimes I initiated it; sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I felt coerced; sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I was forcibly raped. Sometimes these men used the power that they had as musicians I admired to appeal to me. Sometimes I was manipulated. Sometimes I wasn’t. I wanted to be loved; I wanted to be desired. I felt that sex was all I had to offer. This is clearly based on my own history as a survivor of child sexual abuse. You learn early on how to be used, how to offer yourself. That is what grooming does.

Were these men ethically wrong? Yes.

Do I feel that I was abused? Only in the situations where I felt forced or coerced. Which, again, was not all of them. Some of those relationships, even with uneven power dynamics involved, felt real, and mutual, and loving. I look back on them and don’t know how to feel about them. They are part of my life.

Were they pedophiles? Some of them. Some of them had a history of going after inappropriately young girls. Some of them didn’t. Some of them found themselves with me as an anomaly. Not everyone who commits statutory rape is a pedophile, someone who seeks out such encounters and has a significant pattern of doing so.

I am not Lori Maddox. I am not anyone except myself.

But I understand that things are grey, and uncomfortable, and it’s ok to let that sit with me.

If I am to mourn Bowie, I am to mourn his wholeness — all that he did right, all that he did wrong. His fallibility, his humanity, his beauty, his brilliance, his queerness, his abuses. His loving and beautiful relationship with Iman. His inappropriate relationship with Lori Maddox. It is all part of the same picture of a human who was constantly, by his own admission, changing, both with and against the cultural backdrop he had such an indelible impact on.

I can hold that — queasiness, love, questions, reservation, sadness, disappointment, anger, admiration, all of it — and hold it sacred. Resolutely human.

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