To honour Pride Week, I’m inspired by one of the most famous and flamboyant men in rock and roll history, a man with one of the most powerful singing voices the world has ever heard, a man loved by heterosexual hooligans, glam boys, and everyday people: Freddie Mercury.
The man was incredible, absolutely brilliant in every way. He had the type of genius that isn’t meant to survive for long in this world… instead to burn brightly for a short, intense time and then fade to the black behind the curtains with a flourish, leaving the rest of us to spend our lives playing catch up, trying our best to understand what we’ve just seen and heard, and to cherish it forever.
– Random fan comment on a Queen video on YouTube
Freddie Mercury broke the rules. He took the rigid concepts of gender and not only bent them, but transcended them.
I recognize Freddie’s contribution to the world on levels beyond musical appreciation – I am no stranger to gender-bending. It all started with my high school obsession with Boy George (Freddie himself saw the Culture Club singer’s talent), then in university, I had a kick-ass feminist Dramaturgy professor in Theatre school who got me to think outside of assigned gender roles and introduced her classes to performances where men played women and women played male roles, playfully confusing our understanding of conformed gender. Donating time at the AIDS Committee of Toronto for years as the first woman to volunteer in the gay men’s outreach program and sitting in on all kinds of in-service workshops and presentations, I am well-acquainted with sexuality, gender, and the socialization of both. I see humans as incredibly complex beings and to force us into pre-assigned gender pigeonholes seems unfair, unless of course those gender restrictions are natural for that person.
I understand that between the socially accepted extremes of sexuality and gender is a vast ocean representing anything and everything in between. This was initially observed by Alfred Kinsey who devised the Kinsey Scale in 1948 “in order to account for research findings that showed people did not fit into neat and exclusive heterosexual or homosexual categories.”
The LGBT community does not fit into these prescribed gender roles and I interpret the queer community as people who are natural being whoever they are and whoever they want to be. It’s about being authentic and there is a great freedom in this.
Gender-bending was part of the fun of the Glam Rock movement that took the UK by storm in the early 1970s, lead by the super sexy and super androgynous Marc Bolen of T. Rex. David Bowie, Gary Glitter, Alice Cooper, and Sweet among others followed in shocking suit wearing make-up, long hair, outrageous glitzy costumes, and platform boots. While Bolen was a huge figure who I believe to be the godfather of Glam, the man who fronted Queen took Glam, performance, and popular music to new heights previously unseen.
Of Glam, Freddie Mercury said in 1973, “We’re confident people will take to us, because although the camp image has already been established by people like Bowie and Bolan, we are taking it to another level. The concept of Queen is to be regal and majestic. Glamour is part of us and we want to be dandy. We want to shock and be outrageous instantly.”
Mercury was special. In the beginning, he experimented with bi-sexuality before fully embracing his homosexuality. “I’m as gay as a daffodil, my dear!” he once said. Freddie sang with an amazingly powerful voice with an astonishing range, wrote classic generational anthems, and rocked and inspired millions of people. Sadly, he was also one of the first famous people that AIDS took from us.
The Mercury image
You may not know this, but Freddie was born Farrokh Bulsara, to Persian parents in Zanzibar, attended an English boarding school near Bombay, and settled in the UK in 1964. He was a part of a post-psychedelic 60s movement that spotlighted sexual and gender experimentation and changed rock music forever. Glam inspired the New Romantics of the early 80s and the androgynous metal hair bands of the mid-80s, all the way up to modern acts like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Adam Lambert.
Freddie predicted his legendary status and thought of himself as a “musical prostitute”. He was a star, he knew it, and he worked it: “I do deliver sex appeal. It’s part of modern rock. I sell sex appeal with my body movements on stage.”
His costumes, part of his onstage persona, were specially designed for him by Zandra Rhodes and later by Diana Moseley (she did the yellow military jacket he wore at Live Aid in 1985). From tight sequined or harlequin jumpsuits to macho leather jackets, and from dreamy floating caftans to regal ermine-trimmed capes, Freddie said, “I dress to kill, but tastefully.”
While viewing some Queen videos online, I was struck by this comment: “Freddie Mercury may be the only person with 6 glasses of beer on top of a piano, [in] a Superman shirt and tight white pants allowed to sing that way. Thanks Freddie.”
The Mercury legacy
Freddie Mercury moved many of us for all sorts of reasons. I’ve been overdosing on Queen music and Queen videos because I love their music and find Freddie’s voice incredible. I also like his flamboyant image and fun attitude. But what did he do for other people? I asked some friends what Freddie meant to them:
“Freddie was a man comfortable in his own skin and that comfort continues to inspire other men to seek and hold their own confidence in their dress and their attitude. I love Madonna but he was the original “Express Yourself””. – Shaun Proulx of Shaun Proulx Media
“I think my impression of him now is mostly fantasy. He is wilder, crazier and gayer in my mind’s eye than he could possibly have been in real life. There are some lyrics or bits of live performance that steal you away from the purity of my original listens to the records, but if I go back to my young mind where gay and straight didn’t exist, I can hear Queen the way I like to hear them: without subtext, back story or bias – lovely.” – Mark Wigmore, CBC RADIO 2 DRIVE
“A musical genius with a lust for life; I would have loved to shop with him!” – Mary
“As a singer, he was phenomenal, and Queen was HUGE in the 70s. However, as a little Catholic boy coming to terms with his sexuality, there was something a little too ‘out there’, even if I wasn’t sure yet what that was. By the time the cringe-inducing “We Are the Champions” became a hetero anthem for athletes a few years later, my sense of irony was highly developed…. I still can’t listen to that song without gagging, and hearing slamming locker doors.” – John
“Freddie Mercury made the flamboyant, colourful and over-the-top performer seem cool and more importantly, macho.” – Tony
“Freddie Mercury was to my mind one of the gay world’s pioneers. He broke the hard ground of suspicion and intolerance and won acclaim and respect. I am saddened and frustrated by the fact he, and others like him, can’t see today what good he has done in winning us more acceptance. Ironically, I suppose, his loss has been our gain.” – Barry
“He was the showstopper, no question. He was easily one of the greatest performers ever. Performing was his gift–along with that superb voice! And truthfully, we all knew he was a gender-bender; that is one reason why I became more and more open to lifestyles like his. It made me realize connecting with both sides of our sexuality can produce great talent–the fruits of which will remain unforgettable.” – Tim
Freddie in 2012
Freddie lives on! Superimpose the Borat moustache onto Freddie’s face and see what you come up with – a Freddie Mercury biopic starts shooting this year, starring Sasha Baron-Cohen.
Also, check out Youtube for various documentaries on Freddie Mercury with interviews from his close friends, family, and lovers, to get to know him better.
For Pride or any time, get out your Queen albums and celebrate Freddie, one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century!
Let me welcome you ladies and gentlemen
I would like to say hello
Are you ready for some entertainment?
Are you ready for a show?
Gonna rock gonna roll you
Get you dancing in the aisles
Jazz and a razzmatazz you
With a little bit of style
C’mon let me entertain you
Let me entertain you let me entertain you
– Freddie Mercury