George Michael: One More Try

1.18.17._Features_Catie Byrne_George Michael_Flickr_Whamerica.jpg

Catie Byrne
  Features Editor

On Dec. 15, at 11 a.m., my second and last dog, Spike, was put to sleep at 14 years old. In his last days, it was 24-hour non-stop care. My sister, mother, brother, father and I would block out times for each day to help him walk, eat and go to the bathroom. For three days, I spent the last of his life with him.

Ten days later, superstar and gay icon, George Michael, passed away at 53 from heart failure. Needless to say, December was a month of grieving.

These two losses while different, of course, remain intensely difficult. It wasn’t until after his death that I heard of George Michael, but the moment his quotes, music and presence began to resurface in the media, it started to set in what had been lost with his passing.

A prolific pop-icon, the more I learned about the star, the more I began to realize the weight of his loss.  

Throughout his career, George Michael suffered in the closet — which is something he would later discuss after a very public outing — he represented a political and radical presence in the media as an uncensored and un-sanitized, sexual gay man. I see him as a sort of inverse to the highly sanitized representation of gay celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres; and ultimately, found him inspiring.

This is something the star commented on, in an interview with The Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone in 2005.

“You only have to turn on the television to see the whole of British society being comforted by gay men who are so clearly gay and so obviously sexually unthreatening. Gay people in the media are doing what makes straight people comfortable, and automatically my response to that is to say I’m a dirty filthy fucker and if you can’t deal with it, you can’t deal with it,” said Michael.

When I read this, I almost had to do a double-take, as I’ve never seen another gay celebrity be quite as candid and open about being gay and sexual.

I found myself pouring through interview after interview, through quote after quote, through song after song. The longer I dug, the heavier the weight of my grief became. It no longer felt like an abstract loss; it felt like I had lost a friend.

This is, in part, due to the way he struggled to accept his sexuality; the way he suffered and the way he refused to make himself palpable and digestible to a public that would have desperately sought him to be. All things that I feel like, as a lesbian, I can relate to.

Michael said he first began to realize he was gay at 19 — as did I — but stayed in the closet for his burgeoning stardom, and for his mother. Michael explained in depth that for many years, he had tried to convince himself that he could be with women, and that he had suffered for it, until meeting and falling in love with a man.

Michael elaborated to The Guardian journalist, Hattenstone, that he did not realize what love was, until he began dating Anselmo Feleppa in 1991.

Tragically, just as their relationship was beginning, Feleppa contracted AIDS. One of the “three great loves,” of his life, Michael spent the last two years of Feleppa’s life caring for him until his death in 1993. It was Feleppa, who inspired Michael to generously donate to various AIDS charities, such as the Terrence Higgins Trust, as well as become an advocate for treatment and understanding of the disease.

In 1998, he hosted the documentary “Staying Alive,” a story following the lives of six young people from various countries who were either HIV+ or who were affected by the virus.

But George Michael was more than an AIDS activist, a pop-star, an outspoken gay icon. He was a person, and he was a person whose private struggles’ often leaked into a vicious public sphere that was all but willing to paint him as a heathen for being gay, sexual and battling with drug addiction.

Michael however, was more than willing to fight back against the press unapologetically, most notably in his music video: “Outside,” which made comment to his 1998 arrest for cruising for sex in a Los Angeles public restroom.

The video opens with a parody of his arrest, which he later explained was a set up by the police and that he was entrapped for returning a sexual gesture to an undercover police officer.

The video makes light of this, and is cheeky, sexual and gay, words that seem to encapsulate the star’s personality. It was his personality, his music and his public presence as a gay man who refused to let people define who he was, which gives me hope for a better tomorrow.

In the words of his “Faith” song, George Michael makes me want to wake up every morning and give life, “One More Try.”

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