“George Michael believed he subconsciously created his arrest. Yes, there comes a time when some of us can no longer hide.”
Last weekend I saw the Sydney Symphony Orchestra perform in the Concert Hall of Sydney Opera House. Any remnant these musicians and this venue were classical or establishment were blown right out the doors of our sailing icon.
It was a tribute to the late George Michael, on the thirtieth anniversary of his first solo album, Faith. I confess knowing little about the man and not a lot of his music. This show filled me in.
George Michael was a 25 year old global superstar. The debut Wham! album Fantastic and George Michael’s debut solo album Faith each sold over 20 million copies. I was about the same age as George Michael but listening to very different artists. While Wham! cutely sang “Wake me up before you go, go”, I was watching Iggy Pop fall off stages and Nick Cave snarl and bark. They were music’s dark rebels.
But George Michael brought us his own rebellion, a sexual one. In 1998, he came out as homosexual after being arrested for soliciting sex in a men’s public toilet. In 2017, pop icons are expected to be sexually open. In 1998 it was less so and certainly problematic if you were homosexual. George Michael changed the future of all of us when he told the world he was gay.
I help people to write authentically. I notice they experience a kind of ‘coming out’ phase. You don’t have to be writing about sexuality to feel afraid of honesty. Sharing personal philosophies and beliefs is frightening for most; especially when challenging establishment. I didn’t realise the fear of authenticity was so prevalent until I’d been teaching it for a few months. I thought it was just a problem I used to have. In honesty I’ve never overcome the fear, just got used to it. And I have to. Authenticity was my ticket away from laryngitis and chronic bronchitis.
George Michael believed he subconsciously created his arrest. Yes, there comes a time when some of us can no longer hide. A sub-conscious need pushes us beyond what the rational mind would recommend. Authenticity might be a daggy word but in practice it’s more like an extreme sport.
I wouldn’t have been at the show, but my son skate boarded for a promo they were shooting. He told me, “They offered free tickets to a show of music of a dead musician called George.” Surely he meant a composer. I looked up names and read them out. No, not Gershwin. Not any other Georges I could find. I realised he’d said musician. Search came up with George Michael. Why not, I thought. I was curious after a client* had written about the hope he gave her young bisexual self.
In one surprising moment of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra program, two men simulated sex (I think that was at the back of the stage). Watching simulated gay male sex at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was unexpected but it wasn’t the moment that took my breath away.
That came when singers David Campbell and Gary Pinto moved down either side of the stage’s cat walks. They were singing a duet. Approaching centre stage from the sides; their eyes were on each other. As they met, hands tenderly touched the others’ back. I grew up watching Sonny and Cher singing I Got You Babe. To me, duets had stayed in the realm of heterosexual romance. I’m at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon and two men are standing centre stage singing a love song to each other.
George Michael changed the future of every western gay person – and everyone else – when he came out in 1998. The SSO influenced all who saw this show, here in 2017. Status quo now challenged, reality adjusted. I left the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall with new eyes.
We each have opportunities to speak honestly about who we are and what we stand for. Yes, anything that challenges status quo feels dangerous, especially to the person revealing. But if it’s from a position of self-awareness and humanity, it will probably just be common sense. You may be ahead of your time. The time will come.
I hope George Michael’s coming out is written into the modern history of sexuality. And soon the idea of it becomes redundant, an old fashioned notion. The SSO has already collaborated with Nick Cave. Perhaps they are in talks with Iggy Pop. Surely the concept of establishment will fade completely. A future created through authenticity and challenging the status quo is one I can look forward to.
*KatieMac Publicity client Dr Christy Newman, Assoc Prof UNSW had her Dangerous Blog on George Michael published in Huffington Post. Read it here.