In 1984, I was 12, and George Michael was 21. It’s hard to overstate how big a star he was at the time. It seemed all the girls I had crushes on in school had crushes on George Michael—pictures of him and his just-so stubble on their binders. He was “every hungry school girl’s pride and joy.”
George Michael marked a generation gap between me and my older siblings, who were mostly classic rockers. They didn’t listen to R&B or New Wave. It’s no coincidence they had narrower ideas about what was masculine and feminine.
I listened to Faith about a million times, on a loop with one of those cassette players that automatically flipped.
George’s passion and soul elevated even the silliest of songs. Who else could have sung “don’t leave me hanging on like a yo-yo” and made your heart burst with bright passionate yearning? One More Try was resonant with real soul and delivered with phrasing that was as flawless as his face was in those days.
My sister Linda was the one person in my family who kind of got George Michael. In the early nineties we went to a gay bar, and on the bathroom door, instead of the word “Men” there was simply a picture of George Michael. Believe it or not, that was my first indication that George Michael might be gay.
It seems so obvious in hindsight, right? You watch the orange mocha frappuccino scene in Zoolander and you wonder how we didn’t know. But it wasn’t obvious.
When George was caught having sex in a public restroom in 1998 and subsequently came out, I was sad because I wanted everything George Michael represented to remain on the spectrum of straight masculinity.
There were countless boys in my generation who didn’t get bullied because George Michael broadened the gender spectrum. Many of them, like me, were straight but a little fey, good dancers, fiercely passionate. We were less Marlboro Man and more George Michael.
On behalf of all those boys, straight and gay, I want to thank you, George.
I still remember hearing you sing Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me for the first time, and feeling the same thrill the live audience felt about the surprise arrival of Elton John.
Hearing the song again now, what’s obvious and achingly beautiful is your yearning to be your authentic self. It’s less about sexuality than honesty, acceptance, and love. That public display of vulnerability and longing helped a generation find their authentic selves, too.