[image description: photograph of the late George Michael appearing shirtless with his his right hand on his forehead with his left hand placed on his right wrist. He is facing the camera but looking down and wearing nothing but a cross shaped earring and ring on ring finger.]
TW: death, sexuality, mental health
I should say before anything else that I am caught in conflict over how inappropriate it feels to be providing a self-focused response to the passing of someone so soon after the announcement and the feeling that I must express myself immediately and ‘without prejudice’ as George Michael has inspired me to do. Also, in a very unsophisticated move, let me just proclaim that I completely adore George Michael, I am a fan and this is all said with love.
At the time of writing, it has been almost two hours since I first learned that singer, songwriter and icon George Michael had died peacefully in his home, aged 53. I know this because one of the first actions I took was to tell my mother about it, then tweet about it, in that order. In that time, I have switched between Sky and BBC News channels desperately waiting for more information; scrolled ferociously through my Twitter feed reading responses whilst also hoping for more information and, most importantly, listened to A LOT of Wham! and Michael’s solo work. For many, including myself, an important aspect of George Michael’s appeal is his campaigning for and with the LGBT community.
After being publicly outed in 1997 following an arrest for a ‘lewd act’, Michael was placed in a familiarly uncomfortable position for many LGBT people whereby they are forced to explain what the fuck just happened, and by having their sexuality become synonymous with obscenity. Too often, the fluid and complex matter of sexuality is reduced to nothing more than physical acts, which in many countries (or communities) is considered a criminal offence. It will just be a case of literally being ‘caught in the act’ that will force one to make a statement on their sexuality, without having a chance to discuss the vastly confusing, sometimes painful journey they may have been through. For so many of us, the physical act is one of the last pieces of the puzzle of self-realisation, for some it is the first. Either way, it’s only one piece. Michael was caught in a compromising position with another man, and it was because of this he was obliged to make an official statement, at a time when it was far less trendy or mainstream. He suggests it was a subconsciously deliberate act, a chance for him to finally be his true self. In the same interview he speaks of feeling fraudulent when hiding his sexuality. This must ring true for so many of us who feel as though we cannot be truly ourselves unless someone else knows about it. Bringing this to contemporary times, it could be we do not feel we are being true to ourselves unless everyone on the internet knows about it.
At a time when the internet seems to be in a virtual vigil for the next celebrity death, it’s been painful to see the outpour of ‘fuck you 2016’ tweets or ‘not another one’ comments. A collective coping mechanism has been to simply blame the intangible concept of ‘2016’ like this is the villain of the year. Yet, it is the year that is the villain. I’ve been reading about how this poses as a way for us all to distance ourselves from facing the reality of these numerous deaths, but I guess I’m not satisfied with this. I don’t like the idea of a list of names all blurring into one, with people debating over which death caused the most wide reaction, or who’s the biggest fan of the latest celebrity to pass away. And the reality varies from person to person: for some it provokes a need for analysis on what we can do to support survivors of mental illness or addiction, whereas with others it reminds us of the importance of supporting research into cancer and medical treatments. In all cases, it should remind us that in order to live a life to completion, death is inevitable. We cannot make assumptions or judgements of how these people lived their lives especially in the last few moments, but we can learn from their many great accomplishments and allow their legacies to last forever.