On this day, January 22nd, in 1972, David Bowie conducted his famous interview with music journalist Mick Watts, in which he came out as homosexual, stating: “[I’m] gay, and always have been”. Initially, there was a shock among the general public; how could such a big star so flippantly disclose their homosexuality? At the time this confident public disclosure was of course unprecedented and a very brave statement with homosexual acts only having been legalised five years prior. The statement became all the bolder when one remembers that, at the time, Bowie was married to Angie and they had only recently welcomed their son Duncan into the world.
Over the course of his career, starting with the retirement of his alter ego Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon, London on July 3rd, 1973, Bowie would make his sexual orientation less black and white with his enduring ability of chameleonic transformation. The iconic Ziggy Stardust was an otherworldly and androgynous being who wore excessive makeup and feminine clothing. One could perhaps understand Bowie’s statement that he was gay, or at least bisexual in 1972, but in the years that followed, Bowie created personas that were more traditionally masculine in demeanour and appearance such as the Thin White Duke or the Young Americans era Bowie. This made people begin to doubt the truth behind Bowie’s closet departure in 1972, leading to conclusions that it was the character Ziggy Stardust who had been homosexual and that perhaps he had now moved on.
Over the course of the 1970s, Bowie flipped through a rack of personalities during what was a wild period of excess fuelled by his worsening cocaine habit; this quickly began to create issues for his health and his personal life. Over this period, Bowie would be relatively vague with regards to his sexual orientation, but in a September 1976 interview with Playboy, he declared: “It’s true—I am a bisexual. But I can’t deny that I’ve used that fact very well. I suppose it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Further speculations and rumours surrounding Bowie’s sexuality emerged shortly after his divorce from Angie in 1980. Angie released a memoir named Backstage Passes: Life on the Wild Side with David Bowie that detailed events alluding to the suggestion that Bowie had slept with Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger after a heavy night out partying.
As Angie recalled the moment, she “went upstairs to her bedroom, slowly pushed the door open, and there they were: Mick Jagger and David Bowie, naked in bed together, sleeping. Both men woke up with a start. ‘Oh, hello,’ said Bowie, clearly taken by surprise. ‘How are you?’ Angie felt absolutely dead certain that they’d been screwing. It was so obvious, in fact, that I never even considered the possibility that they hadn’t been screwing.”
She later added in an interview: “I said: ‘Did you guys have a good night?’ They were so hungover they could hardly speak. I took pity on them. I don’t think it was a big love affair (with Mick), it was probably more drunken pawing.”
These controversial revelations began to stir speculation among fans that the Rolling Stones song ‘Angie’ was written about Bowie’s then-wife, perhaps to keep her happy and prevent her from spilling the beans. Although this has since been denied by Jagger as he insisted that Keith Richards had come up with the title for the song.
So, after that partially speculative whistlestop tour of Bowie’s sexual orientation, we are perhaps still just as uncertain as to his exact position on the sexual spectrum, nor can we confirm whether he really was in a secret love affair with his pal from the Rolling Stones. However, these aren’t the important take-away’s from Bowie’s history; if Bowie and Jagger had a cheeky night together 50-odd years ago then so be it, it’s entirely their business. What is vitally important to remember about Bowie is his defiance and bravery to be exactly who he felt he should be whether it’s an androgynous alien from Mars or a slick thin man dressed in a sharp suit.
In his statements about his sexuality, Bowie taught us that sexuality isn’t a binary construct and his nonchalant delivery taught us that it’s not a big issue anyway. Your sexuality shouldn’t dictate how others perceive you nor should it hinder you from reaching your full potential. On top of being one of the greatest creative minds in music history, Bowie has also become an enduring LGBTQ+ icon; he taught us that its cool to be androgynous, it’s cool to be different, and if you are, don’t let it limit who you show yourself to be on the outside.
Here’s a video of a startlingly forward-thinking Bowie when he was just 17, foreshadowing the icon he would later become.