You Have Been Loved
It is difficult to describe how sheltered and isolated my life was before I moved away from home. I think it is even harder for others to truly understand. I don’t have to wonder how a time traveller from the 1950s would feel, arriving in the present day – I made that journey myself at the age of 18.
This works itself out in myriad ways. For example, I was 16 before I understood why a couple on honeymoon might rather share a tent than use two waterproof sleeping bags, even when on a cycling holiday, when all weight was under scrutiny.
A big cultural touchstone for this feeling of dislocation is music.
This is particularly true because of how important music has always been for me. I could sing in tune before I was 3. My voice got me on the stage of the National Theatre when I was 7, when the minimum age for performers was 8. I started learning to read score when I was 5, and joined the church choir shortly after that. I’ve performed in the Festival and Albert Halls, and have no idea how many concerts and recitals I’ve attended. All through secondary school, I did extra music school on Saturday mornings. I did music GCSE and A Level. I hold instrument grades for three instruments, and have a grade 8 singing with distinction.
All that though – all of it – is only relevant for white music. Classical, orchestral, church, and even if composed within the last 100 years, no electric guitars, and it has percussion, not drums. You know what I mean. My first CD was Mozart for fuck’s sake.
Turns out it’s totally possible to get culture shock in your own country. I vividly remember hearing Dark Side Of The Moon for the first time when I was 17. It was a revelation of a whole new world of musical possibilities. I was drunk on that one listen (I didn’t have a copy) for a week.
The radio was a window into a different world. A very small one. With thick, dirty glass. George Michael made it some way through the window. When his compilation album Ladies and Gentlemen came out, I listened to it over and over and over.
I skipped the one with Elton John though, because he was Gay, and that was Evil. Like murder. And touching your genitals. And too many bells during Communion. I don’t know how I missed, like, the whole of 1998. As I said, it’s so hard to describe to someone who wasn’t there just how far under the rock I was raised.
When I left home, Ladies and Gentlemen came with me, and I spent most of 2003 with unmonitored access to the world for the first time. I was no longer scheduled every day from 7am to 10pm. I had the internet. On my own computer. My phone bills were astronomical.
I discovered that most people didn’t even realise there could be bells during Communion, let alone care about how many there were. I explored new music as far as my meagre salary and crappy 2003 dial up internet would let me.
I found out George Michael was gay, and somehow couldn’t make the mental switch to thinking of him as Evil. I kissed lots of boys, fucked many of them, and it didn’t feel Evil either. I kissed some girls. I wondered if maybe I might be a bit gay too, and worried that maybe I was Evil.
All of which is a round-about way of saying that, for baby queer me, who wasn’t even sure what queer was yet, George Michael was really important. That he was gay was really important. He was one of the first cracks in the queer-people-are-evil-and-also-to-be-pitied wall that my parents had built in my mind. The start of thinking that maybe the Church might not be the only arbiter of how to live.
George Michael was a slut. He worked out his sexuality by having sex with people. He was non-monogamous. He didn’t apologise for any of it. In retrospect, he was a pretty much perfect example for baby queer me.
So, goodbye George. Thank you for the music. And thank you for everything else too. These tears are for you.