From the Vault: Boy George on bisexuality, butch versus tenderness, and the difficult side of drag
Boy George is still quite the chameleon, although his costumes are less colour by numbers these days; somewhat more two-toned.
The changes instead often occur in his public persona: one day he’ll say absolutely no to signing autographs and will give television reporters a hard time with his one-word responses, the next he’ll play the popstar part perfectly and give enough quotes to fill a few paragraphs of an autobiography.
Antonino Tati gets him on a good day, and forsakes a cup of tea for a strong long black coffee. “What’s a long black coffee?” asks George. “Does it come in a tall glass?” He himself opts for coffee and cream…
This interview was conducted in 1994 – almost 30 years ago – and it is surreal to see how far we’ve come with LGBTQIA rights and visibility – and how far we’ve got to go.
In the current sexual-political climate, George’s words are as potent as they ever were, since just as we thought things were getting better for LGBTQIA culture, suddenly a new obstacle has struck: the big queer backlash.
This year, George and his band Culture Club will return to Australia for a Greatest Hits Tour, kicking off at Perth’s RAC Arena on September 5. Hopefully, he’ll bring some of that strong queer sensibility he’s known for because goodness knows we need it right now.
Scroll down for tour information.
AT: Hi George. It seems you’ve toned the wardrobe down a bit. Is that a conscious effort or something you’ve evolved into?
BG: I think it’s more to do with the choices I have now. I don’t have to, but there are times when I dress really over-the-top. Before Culture Club I dressed up because it was something to do and it was fun. And then it sort of became a career and I almost got trapped in that outfit and people expected me to look like that all the time. I suppose as I got older I got more comfortable with myself and I just felt like I didn’t have to do this for anybody but myself. But there are days when I get up, or nights when I go out, and I think, “Right, I’m really gonna go for it”, although it’s not an obsession like it used to be. Certainly, the drag and the mastery of disguises is very much a part of me, particularly when I’m making videos.
AT: From Boy George the drag artist to Boy George the author. Is it true you’re writing a follow-up to Take It Like A Man?
BG: I’ve been working on a new book for a while. It kind of follows on from Take It Like A Man but it’s much more of a rant than an autobiographical book. It’s my views on gay culture, sexuality, food, religion, everything like that. Some of it is in diary form; events that have happened. Most of it is opinions and observations that many may not agree with.
AT: On all those subjects you’ve mentioned you’ve had some renowned quote or another published globally: the ‘cup of tea’ thing in reference to sex; the Buddhist thing in the case of religion. How does it feel to be so inscribed in 20th Century popular culture, and at what point in your career did you start being desensitised by your own quotes in print?
BG: I don’t think I’ll ever be desensitised. I don’t collect cuttings anymore and it’s not an obsession like it used to be. But I enjoy giving promotion, although I find it a bit stifling. Like sometimes when you go on TV and you don’t get to say anything really intelligent. You’re answering the same questions you answered ten years ago, like “What should I call you: Boy or George?”… “Do you still take drugs or is the drug thing behind you?”… On TV, they don’t want you to say anything but in print I think you have a lot more freedom. And I have got a lot more to say.
“For me, showing men touching isn’t a political gesture; it’s a part of my life. I sleep with men, I embrace men, I like to see men being affectionate with each other. And I actually think that one of the biggest things missing in gay culture is tenderness.”
AT: Could it be because television is so commercially-based and people like yourself are well into deconstructing traditional commerciality? That TV programmers are afraid you might get too close to the bone?
BG: I think people are still quite uncomfortable with certain aspects of gay culture, certainly the sexual aspect. You can be camp during the Mardi Gras but the minute you talk political about your feelings or what you do sexually, people become unsettled and don’t want to hear it. In a sense I feel it’s a kind of mission of mine to promote not necessarily pornography, but indeed the sexuality that exists in gay culture. My video Love Is Leaving has been interesting. All the TV shows have just shown little bits of it and have said, “We can’t show it all because it’s men touching each other”. But all they’re doing is dancing. They don’t actually kiss although it is inferred. But then, football players are always touching each other on the pitch… For me, showing men touching isn’t a political gesture; it’s a part of my life. I sleep with men, I embrace men, I like to see men being affectionate with each other. And I actually think that one of the biggest things missing in gay culture is tenderness.” If you look at any of our magazines or any of our porno videos, it’s all fucking and aggression; it’s all “Get on your knees and suck my dick”, “Lick my arse”. That’s something I enjoy, but I think tenderness is something that also really needs to be put across.
AT: There’s also the bitchy side of the gay community that might need some tending to…
BG: I think the bitchiness is a defense mechanism. You tend to find camper gay people are the ones that are the most defensive because they have a lot more to deal with. If you’re a drag queen, you’re putting your head on a chopping block every day of your life and so that makes you defensive. Even in gay culture, there’s a lot of animosity towards camp, and a lot of gay people want to disown it. That’s something that really disturbs me because I see it as a form of treachery. If you go back to the 1920s or the 1930s, camp was the only way to be counted. We were called fairies but you had to be effeminate in order for people to realise that you were different. So camp has a very important role in our history; it’s very much woven into my act, and I’m very protective of that.
“You tend to find camper gay people are the ones that are the most defensive because they have a lot more to deal with. If you’re a drag queen, you’re putting your head on a chopping block every day of your life and so that makes you defensive.”
AT: Do your Buddhist beliefs incorporate the idea that you were a gay man in all your past lives?
BG: Well my views on sexuality are contentious anyway. I don’t believe there’s such a thing as gay or straight. I think the only things that exists is sexuality. Everybody is sexual, and all sexuality is fragile. To me, a truly evolved individual is bisexual, or at least open to the possibility of being bisexual. I don’t consider myself to be liberated because I sleep with men. There are things about women that I find attractive, although the idea [of sleeping with women] is something that I’m not comfortable with because it’s kind of too late in my life. What I know is that I enjoy male company and sex, and to go out of that would be too threatening for me.
AT: So you admit you haven’t yet reached bisexual nirvana, so to speak?
BG: I haven’t at all. When I was 13 I kissed girls and touched them up. I got aroused by them but I never actually had penetrative sex with a woman. Then I started going out with boys and there was a period when I first came out and I thought “Women, yuk, the idea of it makes me sick”. Then, when I went to group therapy, I suddenly had to undo a lot of my sexual perceptions.
Boy George and Culture Club tour Australia in September, supported by Berlin. Tour dates and venues as follows:
Tuesday 5 September
RAC Arena, Perth
Friday 8 September
Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
Saturday 9 September
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
Monday 11 September
Adelaide Entertainment Centre
Thursday 14 September
Brisbane Entertainment Centre
Tickets go on sale through Ticketek on Friday 21 April, 10am AEST.
2 Responses to “From the Vault: Boy George on bisexuality, butch versus tenderness, and the difficult side of drag”
Love this interview! 👊🏻💯❤️