Ziggy Stardust is gone. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Rock icon David Bowie was more than an artist and a musician. He threw open the closet door from the beginning, presenting himself as a gay space alien — and the misfits and freaks flocked to him because of it. Every gay kid I knew claimed him as their own, showing up at his legendary Tower Theater shows in full Ziggy Stardust attire and makeup.

It may have been the first time in American pop culture there were open discussions about sexuality, sparked by Bowie’s ever-evolving androgynous persona: “He said he was gay!”

“Yeah, but he’s married and has a kid.”

“But I heard he had sex with Mick Jagger!”

“He says he’s bisexual.”

It slowly dawned on us that if David Bowie was everything, maybe that was okay. If anything, his status as a gay icon rose. (He later told Rolling Stone, “I was always a closet heterosexual.”)

I can’t imagine the style and sounds of the early 80s without David Bowie. You couldn’t go to a gay club without hearing “Let’s Dance,” “Modern Love”, or “China Girl.” But so many of the same kids who were inspired to come out by Ziggy Stardust died in that first wave of the then-unknown AIDS epidemic that I can’t listen to his music without remembering them, too.

Bowie was never an activist, per se. He was an artist. And the single most revolutionary act he performed was to be himself, and dare us to follow.

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