George Michael taught me that gay sex is nothing to be ashamed of – it's a lesson many still need

In the coming days there’ll be stories blaming his ‘troubled life’, salacious appetite for sexual partners and ‘poor lifestyle choices’ for his untimely death. Rather than mourning his death, fingers are already being pointed towards ‘the gays’

Michael Segalov
Tuesday 27 December 2016 11:37 GMT
It took the singer 24 years to come to terms with his sexuality, he was edging onto 30 by the time his first relationship blossomed
It took the singer 24 years to come to terms with his sexuality, he was edging onto 30 by the time his first relationship blossomed (Reuters)

There’s a neat phrase often thrown around when it comes to being gay and coming out: “it gets better”. Come out of the closet and life will improve, they say; society will accept you; and a loving community will be there waiting for you. It all sounds pretty idyllic, and it would be if it were always true.

When George Michael was arrested by undercover police for cottaging in a Beverly Hills park in 1998, it would have been all too easy for Michael to apologise profusely, to distance himself from his actions, take the fine and community service and promise it would never happen again. But he refused.

“I’m not really interested in selling records to people who are homophobic,” he proudly stated in an interview with Oprah. “I don’t need the approval of people who don’t approve of me.”

The problem was that many were intent on ensuring that for the singer it didn’t get better. The right-wing press bathed the story in faux-moralism and homophobic vitriol, while his sex life became the subject of column inches and scathing attacks.

Mourners pay tribute to George Michael

In the coming days no doubt we’ll see the tabloids once again lay into him. There’ll be stories blaming his “troubled life”, salacious appetite for sexual partners and “poor lifestyle choices” for his sad and untimely death.

Just think about it: he had sex with a plethora of partners, he was partial to smoking cannabis recreationally in private, and no doubt dabbled in narcotics and other recreational substances for periods of his life. It’s the age-old celebrity rock-and-roll lifestyle, but Michael’s sexuality dictates that this time it is up for public debate. Rather than mourning his death, fingers are already being pointed towards “the gays”.

The message is simple: be gay if you must, but at least live and love like the rest of us. George Michael refused and in doing so he laid the groundwork for young gay men like me to be unashamed of our sex and sexuality, making a world still brimming with homophobia a slightly less troubling place to navigate.

Growing up there was never any reference made to how two men might have sex in my school sex-ed classes, few depictions or even suggestions on TV. While gay men might have had their place during prime time, their sexuality often seemed to me as a child to simply be charactered and the butt of cheap jokes.

When gay sex was so rarely mentioned, it was shrouded in vulgarity. I’ve got plenty of respect for Julian Clary, but he hardly offered a rounded sex-ed curriculum. This is undoubtedly a source of the internalised homophobia so many of us grapple with, the negative connotations we associate with our own sexuality.

Michael himself was arguably a victim of this. It took him 24 years to come to terms with his sexuality, he was edging onto 30 by the time his first relationship blossomed.

For some gay men this means never coming out the closet, for others solace can be found in “masc-for-masc” culture, hyper-masculine men only interested in others who conform to a macho ideal. For most of us it it’s simply the shame ingrained in our young minds about the physical aspect of same-sex relationships, often cited as one cause for the stark inequalities in mental health problems that plague our community to this day. George Michael’s refusal to apologise for his sex life or brush it under the carpet is in no uncertain terms a source of hope and inspiration.

As I sat listening to his interviews on YouTube last night, I couldn’t help but think about the homophobia I experience today. Just two weeks ago I was walking through central London with my boyfriend, and we were assaulted by a bloke walking past simply for holding hands.

Anyone who’s experienced homophobia can sing to the fear and anxiety this ends up evoking, how it forces you to take note of your surroundings when displaying the most simple signs of affection, how it feels like there is potential danger at every turn.

George didn’t just hold hands in public, he went out there and he had sex. It might not have been his raison-d’être, but the symbolism to me has always been striking; go out there and be proud.

And for those of you perched in your ivory towers, gleefully asserting you’ve got no problem with people being gay as such, but cruising in public toilets is just beyond the pale, think about why this element of gay culture materialised in the first place. It’s because for too long if we were caught looking for partners, out there in the open, we’d be locked up and criminalised, an irony that George Michael no doubt saw humour in as he sat in cuffs in a California jail cell.


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