As the world honours the late, great George Michael, we’re serialising the star’s Attitude cover profile from May 2004. Typically forthright, the ‘Outside’ singer spoke to us about everything from the closet and celebrity culture to open relationships, New Labour and cruising. Check back every day this week for a new instalment in this frank and unflinching five-part series which captures the sparky, plain-spoken spirit that made George Michael an inspiration to so many, both gay and straight alike. Read the previous instalment here.
This interview first appeared in Attitude issue 212, May 2004. Words by Adam Mattera
When did you first realise you were gay?
You know, I hear people say they knew when they were as young as 3 or 4. I didn't identify as gay at all when I was a kid. But I swear to god, all of my early memories of masturbation are clichéd straight fantasies like nuns with their tits out and shit like that! I remember them clearly. And I don't remember twigging anything about male sexuality until puberty. When I was 13 a man made a pass to me. I don't think he was a paedophile — I looked lot older, probably about 16, and it only occurred me at that point. That's when I started to fantasise about men.
Do you think other people suspected?
There's no question that before I had it figured out I used to have gay men follow me because they thought they had spotted a gay teenager. But I know exactly the first time it ever occurred to me to have wank about a man. I think that's one of the reasons I was confused later. I know people are going to jump all over me for saying this, but I'm being honest so... most of my adult life my knowledge of the gay scene was so limited, I was so ignorant about gay sex, that I find myself puzzled as to how commonplace mild to harder S&M is in gay circles now. The things that I thought were more peripheral are much more common than I ever thought. At first I presumed the reason I didn't want to go down any of those roads was because I thought I was too inexperienced. I thought it was something that goes on with time and boredom — and you have to understand I'm not judging what I'm seeing in any way — but I don't understand why someone as fucked up as me, and I can say that with all honesty, doesn't want to go there.
You think you're fucked up?
I don't feel really fucked up as a 40 year old man, but I have been a fucked up person. With a fantastic career, cause for some reason I could always hang onto that and do that well, but everything else has been a mess. I come from a mess. I was a mess. And I'm trying not to be a mess. But I can't help thinking that when the role play of power gets beyond a certain degree in gay sex, it always becomes about someone being punished and someone doing the punishing. And we all know that people want to be punished out of childish desire. But it's always the same: someone being punished for being a nasty little queer and punishing someone for being a nasty little queer. I understand the turn-on of that a little, but I can't go to any degree till I end up either wanting to start laughing or to bow out of it. I feel it's degrading. Believe me, these people can't all be as fucked up as me. They can't be!
But maybe the reason my sexuality doesn't go there is because I didn't self-identify as gay when I was young, when you're at your most vulnerable and most impressionable to people telling you your sexuality is wrong. When I heard clergymen arguing on the telly or my dad calling someone a poof at work, it didn't hit me, it didn't make me feel 'god, that's the way I feel, he's talking about me' which must be horrific. This is what drives me mental about gay stereotyping on TV and when the fucking clergy come out of their confession boxes and all start having a go at us, it makes me extra sensitive to that idea of what it potentially does to children. It's difficult enough knowing that your parents don't want you to be gay, that they won't great gran-kids and you'll let them down in that respect, that's always going to be hard enough. But to have all this other shit going on.
There’s enough people out there ready to throw shit at you without beating yourself up.
Exactly. And I’m definitely not above internal homophobia. I think every gay man is a recovering gay child or teenager or whatever. I just feel there should be a generation that is allowed to develop without that extra shit.
Is that part of why you want to be so honest about everything now?
I suppose I'm a little more open about my sexuality than people expect me to be. I don't want to fit into the groove that David and Elton fit. Or Graham Norton fits. I want to be me. I know some people would consider me camp and some wouldn't. I know I'm not butch. I also know that I don't find myself represented on TV, I see myself like many of the people I've met who don't relate to people on TV Not that those people shouldn't be there, because they are a representation of some of gay culture. It's great that it's almost fashionable now, but I don't think it should necessarily be on straight people's terms.
The harmless 'funny uncle' stereotype?
The idea of the gay man being the most entertaining in a group of people is easy for straight society to take under its wing. I've been watching the TV since I was a child, and there isn't a huge difference in the representation from the Larry Graysons and John Inmans to what's on TV now. They're very entertaining, but they're such big nellies that you can’t imagine then having sex. The whole thing is very comfortable, but we should be beyond that now. Young kids should see their sexuality as acceptable, not laughable. I suppose my speaking openly about my sexuality is not comfortable to people in that way, but it's who I am.
Read all five parts of George Michael's May 2004 cover interview here. Images by James Dimmock