During my year-end holiday I had to deal with the news of two celebrities’ deaths. Carrie Fisher’s death was particularly stressing. Besides her comeback in 2010s and her popularity with the youth (especially for science fiction fans dealing with depression), her General Organa character in The Force Awakens symbolized Hillary Clinton and women’s leadership.
It was a cruel ending to 2016 that was encapsulated in a meme quoting Emily Dickinson: “My idols are dead and my enemies are in power”.
The other passing star was George Michael. Decades ago I spent Christmas at my aunt’s, and I brought a Christmas compilation cassette. My favorite song was “Last Christmas” – although I had mistakenly (and dreadfully) presumed that “last” meant “the final” instead of “the previous.” The cassette went missing, but my aunt found it months later and she brought it with her to America. The song forever reminded her of me, she said. It is still one of my favorite Christmas pop songs and generally I like every cover versions.
There is a statistical discussion on whether 2016 was particularly deadly for celebrities and the answer is yes. I read a doctor’s tweet storm who suggested the relations between mental health and lifestyle with longevity, as she took care of patients in their 80s and 90s. Perhaps it was a freak coincidence, that they died months after 2015 and before 2017. Maybe they were affected by the rise of Trump and the far right in United Kingdom, which led to increased stress and the return of bad habits. That is why many American feminists remind each other to take care of themselves.
But another tweet inspired me to write this article. There were three legendary male rock stars who died in 2016: David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael. They redefined masculinity. Michael was homosexual but Bowie and Prince were not. When Bowie died a year ago, many people said that he inspired them in being-out -of the box, in experimenting with fashion and style, and in being creative. When Prince died, many said that he proved that a man didn’t have to be masculine to be popular with women.
I was not familiar with Bowie’s and Prince’s songs. The first Bowie’s song that I liked is “Space Oddity”, which I heard for the first time in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The first ever cassette I own is the original soundtrack to the Batman motion picture that was composed and performed by Prince. Of course, the songs are not appropriate for children (they are produced by his Controversy Music, after all).
What impressed me about Batman was how Prince credited the lead vocal of the songs to the characters of the movie – not only Batman and The Joker but even Vicki Vale. Sheena Easton sang as “Vicki Vale” in the love duet “The Arms of Orion”, but there’s another song through which Prince channeled the persona of Vicki.
Throughout school other boys saw me as an effeminate boy, although I was crazy about football and although, ironically, I listened to Ash and Ben Folds Five while the jocks were listening to Boyzone and Robbie Williams. In university, a gangsta-wannabe enemy called me “softie” and at one point, I wondered if I was gay. Not because I felt romantic or sexual attraction to a man, but because I lived in a place where people were open with their gender and sexual identities. After all, I easily wept, I socialized better with women than with men, and I liked Hello Kitty.
A random Facebook quiz identified me as “Casual Feminine” (while female friends taking the same quiz leaned on masculine). The term is yet to have a meaning in gender studies, and is used to refer to a fashion style for women. I like the term. I don’t have to be traditionally masculine, I can go on liking Supergirl and Gilmore Girls, I can walk around the malls with a Snoopy tote bag because it’s handy, and I can go on paying attention to my wardrobe, not because it will make me look more manly, but because it will make me look good.
It made me think about my personal maintenance regime had I been born a girl. More thorough shaves (I shave my face once a week, trying to make it twice). More disciplined pre-bedtime facial care (I’m acne-prone but good luck telling me to wash my face before bed). Handwashing underwear. Better footwear care (my brother-in-law’s diligence in taking care of his Vans and Nikes haven’t inspired me to clean my Converses more often).
Perhaps my casual femininity could be used to take care of myself better, working on things I’ve delayed for too long, and making myself more organized and hardworking. Bowie, Prince, and Michael worked hard not only on their music but also on their appearances. In 1980s, they faced a sea of change in the business as hyper-masculinity reigned again in pop culture, but they faced the challenge in their own ways: Bowie with the business look, Prince rode on the glamour and romantic trends, and Michael parodied the male gaze by sexualizing himself in “Faith”.
While thinking of this article, I read that many Trump voters feared that America has become “soft and feminine.” I laughed because it actually seems pretty good for me, especially now that I’ve found my new heroes: The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, and Childish Gambino.
Read Mario’s take on Singapore, that friend you only meet over holidays, and follow @mariorustan on Twitter.