Don’t Rewrite History: David Bowie Was a Humorous Rebel, Not a Social Activist

Bowie in 1987 (Patrick Riviere/Getty)

Poor David Bowie. Barely 72 hours dead and he’s already being misremembered. Turn on the TV and you’ll see cultural talking heads telling the world he was the granddaddy of transgenderism. Open a newspaper and you’ll come across 800-word PhD theses masquerading as op-eds, informing us Bowie paved the way for the “gender fluidity” of the 21st century, the fashion for declaring oneself neither male nor female, but rather non-binary, or genderqueer, and whatever the other post-gender labels are. (It’s easy to lose track. Last year Facebook increased its gender options from 50 to 71, overnight. Presumably some professor suddenly discovered 21 hitherto unknown genders.)

It is a blot on Bowie’s good name to link him with the politics of transgenderism. Just because in the early Seventies he rocked the cultural world by coating himself in makeup and donning dayglo jumpsuits with vertigo-inducing platform shoes, that doesn’t mean he was transgender, far less that he facilitated modern transgenderism. On the contrary, there’s a stark difference between Bowie’s cross-dressing antics and today’s seemingly catching gender dysphoria: Where Bowie and other queens and freaks in the Sixties and Seventies were flipping a beautifully manicured finger at authority, modern transgenderism seeks to become its own form of authority, chastising and censoring those who dare dissent from its theology. The glam crowd broke boundaries; the trans elite enforces new ones.

RELATED: The Gender Fluidity Industry’s Magical Thinking

Bowie’s death had barely been tweeted before people were hailing him the trans messiah. A British newspaper said that 40 years ago Bowie had flown “the flag for the non-binary movement.” Which is patent nonsense, since nobody — certainly not this contrarian lad from Brixton in South London — was using the turgid phrase “non-binary” in the early 1970s.

Bowie was having a laugh — something you could never accuse today’s trans activists of doing.

The historical illiteracy of the claim that Bowie was the king (queen?) of trans people was clear from liberal columnist Sally Kohn’s claim that he was “the world’s first transgender ally — before we had words like ‘transgender’ or even ‘ally’ in our vernacular.” This is historical projection, the imposition of today’s PC values onto people in the past who probably wouldn’t have shared them. CNN said the great thing about early Bowie is that he was “beyond gender,” as if Bowie’s concern was the same as that of the gender-confused fashionistas who clog up social media and adorn magazine covers in 2016: to break free of the allegedly manmade prison of gender, sex, etc.

Please. Bowie was having a laugh — something you could never accuse today’s trans activists of doing. It was a significant laugh, yes, in that it helped shake up the pop world and stoke some healthy intergenerational conflict. (Every fiftysomething who was a Bowie fan in the early Seventies reports that their moms and dads hollered “Is that a man or a woman?!” whenever Bowie was on TV.) There was a knowing naughtiness to Bowie’s gender-bending, not unlike those 1950s rockers who knew that Brylcreeming their hair into the shape of a duck’s ass would rile their elders.

#share#To see how much has changed since then, try using the Bowie-esque phrase “gender-bending” today. You’ll be branded transphobic, unfit for polite society — yes, the very polite society Bowie wanted to piss off! Where Bowie sought to rattle authority, today’s trans activists are the guardians of a new authoritarianism. They don’t break rules; they make them.

RELATED: With Its Celebration of Caitlyn Jenner, the Left Doubles Down on Social Decay

See how unforgivingly those who refer to Caitlyn Jenner as Bruce are twitch-hunted, demonized for “deadnaming” Caitlyn — that is, they’ve blasphemed against the goddess and must be cast out. Observe Ricky Gervais being “called out” for daring to make a joke about Jenner. Witness the ferocity with which students seek to stamp out “transphobia,” which can include something as innocent as believing that there are men and women and that’s it. Look at how some universities are sidelining “he” and “she” in favor of other-gendered pronouns, in what is presented as a liberal breakthrough but smacks of an Orwellian rewriting of language to the end of socially engineering new attitudes among the narrow-minded.

Today’s trans activists, for all their claims to fluidity, have an ironically rigid view of gender.

Bowie didn’t think of himself as non-gender. He was once asked why he was wearing a woman’s dress and he said: “It’s a man’s dress.” I love that. He was a man who liked dressing up. He was playing around. In contrast, today’s trans activists, for all their claims to fluidity, have an ironically rigid view of gender: They think drugs and operations must be offered to the man who has feminine feelings, in order to “make him a woman,” to correct him. Thank God these people weren’t influential in the early Seventies or they might have convinced fun, flexible Bowie that he was psychologically a woman and should officially change his gender, or ditch gender altogether. The experimentation of the early Seventies queens has been usurped by the regimentation of a trans movement that insists some men really are women and everyone must acknowledge this or be branded a hater.

#related#The colossal differences between Bowie’s cross-dressing and modern trans activists’ illiberalism reveals a profound shift among those on the edgy, progressive side of public life: a shift from the politics of autonomy to the politics of identity. Those early gender benders were living autonomously, doing their own thing rather than kowtowing to figures of authority. In depressing contrast, the politics of identity that is the motor of the trans movement is a needy, insatiable beast, its adherents requiring ceaseless validation of their personal identity. So trans activists construct new forms of authority — pseudo-scientific authority — to explain their alleged condition of “gender dysphoria.” And they crush anyone who refuses to offer them recognition, to bow before their Year Zero gender-warping. Where earlier gender benders needed only to do what they felt was right, or fun, today’s trans activists need nonstop moral massaging, official and social nods of approval for their fragile, made-up identities.

Bowie aimed a platform-heeled kick at The Man. Today’s trans activists are the new Man (no transphobia intended), hectoring and censuring those who fail to praise them, and shouting at us like our moms and dads once shouted at Bowie on TV.


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