This article originally appeared in the May 1985 issue of playboy magazine.
John Wayne must be spinning in his grave: Shucks. It was bad enough to have that Michael Jackson fella singin’ all high-pitched and squeaky, but at least he was Amurrican. Then along comes this British, uh, person wearin’ braids an’ dresses an’ lip rouge an’ eye liner an’ God knows what else, for God’s sake. What the hell is this? Ol’ pal Ronnie Reagan is in the White House in 1985 and we have to put up with this … pansy stuff?
Yes, Duke, Boy George is alive and thriving in 1985. The 23-year-old singer and songwriter has, with the backing of his band, Culture Club, received more publicity and been the object of more controversy than any other pop act in years. And it isn’t just the music world that hasn’t known quite what to make of him: With his trash-glittery dresses and quicksilver switches in appearance and gender, the fashion world has been left bewildered and transformed.
Given the fact that his first album was released in 1982, Boy George has become a brand name in a remarkably short time: Everyone has heard at least one Boy George joke, and nearly everyone has heard a Boy George tune (Culture Club’s first album produced three top-ten hits, including “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”–the first debut album to do that since “Introducing the Beatles,” in 1963). Moralistic tub thumper Jerry Falwell has denounced Boy George as a pernicious influence on youth, and Boy has noted that without Princess Diana and himself, the world’s press would be bereft. In fact, he was publicly snubbed by another princess–Margaret–who pronounced him an “over-made-up tart.” Customs officials at the French border once refused to allow him into their country because they didn’t believe he was male, as his passport indicated.
In this country, Boy George has proved a worthy sparring partner for Joan Rivers, who, while appearing with him on the 1984 Grammy-awards show, cracked, “You look like Brooke Shields on steroids.” He never got to use the line he had rehearsed (“What’s the difference between Joan Rivers and the Statue of Liberty? Not everyone has been up the Statue of Liberty …”) but nevertheless became a favorite of Rivers’.
George has ushered in a trend heralded as the “invasion of the gender benders,” which may be hype but includes interesting company: Mick Jagger and David Bowie before him, and Michael Jackson and Annie Lennox with him, seem to be pushing the boundaries of sexual ambiguity. But with George, there is no doubt: He wears dresses and announces that he’s bisexual. To some, it seems that Boy George is not just a novelty but is spearheading an alternative sexuality.
It all began for the Boy when he was growing up in London in a working-class family; his father was a construction worker who sometimes coached small-time boxers. George says he began dressing outrageously in his preteens, even in Catholic school, when he would borrow clothes from his older brother, who was involved in London’s punk scene. George paid a price for his eccentricity and was picked on at school, developing a vicious wit as his defense. At the age of 15, he began attending London’s punk clubs, trying to outdo his friends by dressing more and more outrageously. He was finally kicked out of school when he showed up with his hair dyed bright orange.
The club scene became his life. He would spend as much as two hours primping in front of a mirror before embarking on his nightly tour of punk and gay clubs–not for sex or other kicks, he says, but just to be seen. During that time, he worked as a fruit picker, a clothing salesman and was once hired to help costume a Royal Shakespeare Company production. It was while he was working in a trendy clothes store that Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols’ former manager, recruited him to sing in a band named Bow Wow Wow. Shortly thereafter, he joined bass player Mikey Craig, drummer Jon Moss and guitarist Roy Hay to form a new group called Culture Club. Within months, they were making audiences gasp. Although their music has been critically praised for its infectious melodies and clever lyrics, it is Boy George’s personal impact that has propelled the group’s notoriety. As he has boasted, “Even if we never sell another record, we have made history.”
To recount some of that history, playboy sent Contributing Editor David Sheff and collaborator Vicki Sheff to interview George, starting with his tour of Japan. Their report:
“We flew into Osaka, and although George wasn’t ready to begin the ‘Interview,’ we discovered accidentally while strolling through the ancient Osaka Castle how far his influence has reached. A group of giggling Japanese girls, making a school tour of the castle, were dressed in various versions of Boy George; and although they didn’t speak a word of English, we could make out the lyrics of the Culture Club songs they were loudly singing. And at the sold-out concert hall that night, the Japanese audience chanted 'Boya! Boya! Boya!’ to bring George back for three encores.
"Before the 'Interview,’ we had wondered, What do you wear to interview Boy George? We were pondering that and other weighty questions in our hotel room when there was a knock at our door. George, who doesn’t allow anyone into his private rooms, had decided that the 'Interview’ should take place in our room. He was wearing a black-and-white checked overcoat that bloused down to his knees, covering tight gray trousers that zipped from the ankles. He used his sunglasses as a band to keep his long tresses away from his face. His white nail polish was chipping, presumably from superstar nail biting. He removed his shoes before walking on the tatami mat, exposing tasteful green-and-pink socks. In photographs, he seems a small, delicate man; far from it. George is tall, heavy and large-boned, even husky. He settled down on the mat and began bitching immediately: He was tired of green tea. 'All I want is a good cup of English tea.’ He then volunteered, as if we were being blessed, that this was the first interview he had ever done without make-up, which meant that he was wearing only foundation, eye liner and mascara, light blush and maybe a touch of rose lipstick. We drank green tea and talked until five a.m., by which time an unmistakable five-o'clock shadow was sprouting through his make-up base.
"In that and subsequent sessions (some of them with the more familiar make-up on), George was bright, charming and entertaining; yet there would never fail to be moments when he was a 23-year-old kid snickering over the fact that he has succeeded–and quite well, thank you–at pulling the wool over the eyes of just about the entire world. "On our last day in Japan, we were waiting with the rest of Culture Club in the hall of the band’s row of suites, preparing to head out to a Tokyo Chinese restaurant. The band members were waiting–and not altogether patiently. When someone screamed at him to hurry, George puffed back, 'Fuck off.’ Jon Moss explained the delay: 'George can’t decide whether or not to wear his shoulder pads.’ Ah, but it’s tough at the top.”
It’s not as if you haven’t heard this question before, but tell us again why you dress up the way you do.
I think I look like a pig without make-up on; it’s no more complicated than that. If I wore a skirt and a blouse, I’d look a right idiot, but I don’t really wear that kind of thing. More often, I wear a cassock like the ones Arabs wear. It is a style of clothing, not necessarily male or female. In England, there’s this guy who looks a lot like me sort of put through a mincer. He’s as fat as I am, but he wears leotards, with his balls kind of hanging out the side on stage. I think he looks ridiculous, whereas I think I look smashing. My look is androgynous but not effeminate. I’m a big guy and I don’t look ridiculous in dresses. You know, I was the first man to appear on the cover of the British edition of Cosmopolitan. I also did the cover and six pages of beauty shots for Harper’s Bazaar Australia. Those are things that no other man has ever done and I take pride in being the first.
Some people think you’re a passing fad; others think you’ve had an effect beyond your looks and your music. What do you think?
Maybe it’s cheeky, but I think I’m having an effect. Because of the music, people are at least considering something they probably would have dismissed completely–being different. I think, or hope, that people are coming around and saying, “I like him. He’s OK. I’m not afraid.” That’s the first step. They might then accept their neighbor who is different from them. Attitudes change over long periods of time. [Shrugs] On the other hand, maybe I haven’t changed anything. Maybe I’m just another stupid pop star like David Cassidy. Maybe I don’t mean a thing.
You mean something to people such as Jerry Falwell, who has accused you of subverting America’s youth, and to many others, including students who boycott your records and call your music “queer music.”
What can you say to ignorance? Of course, in the name of religion, there have been many atrocities. As to the Reverend Falwell: If he thinks that I’m a Communist plot to subvert the youth of Western society, what is he–a strong believer in democracy? Or does he have his own brand of Communist policies that prevent anyone who doesn’t follow his beliefs from breathing God’s free air? It’s funny that the Russians also think that Boy George and Michael Jackson are Western society’s way of subverting their youth. Well, maybe we’re neither. Maybe we remain in our own politically free zone. As for those students, they’re the sort of kids who would laugh at a girl who is fat. I’m not the only thing they dislike. And it’s not just kids; some kids never grow up. There are 40-year-olds who go around picking fights at bars and calling people names. Hopefully, kids grow up and learn to accept other people. It’s a shame, but I really don’t care. They’re frightened, but there’s nothing to be frightened by.
What are they frightened by?
I think the thing that frightens most people is that I’m not confused about my sexuality in any way. I have many gay and bisexual friends who are really screwed up, but not me. There was never a time in my life when I kind of went [theatrically], “Oh, my God! I’ve been in bed with a man!” I’ve always been with both men and women and I never gave it a thought. It’s always been like eating a bag of crisps. [Giggles] And I love crisps.
Why do you think that frightens people?
Confused people wrapped up in their safe skin of so-called normalcy assume that everyone who isn’t “normal” is screwed up and inferior. It’s like the people who believe blacks are genetically deficient. It’s insecurity. I’m threatening their little safe world.
You can’t make someone a queer. It’s not catching, not like herpes or a cold.
Part of it is that they think I’m promoting homosexuality.
Should they be worried?
Of course not. You can’t make someone a queer. It’s not catching, not like herpes or a cold. You cannot make somebody gay. I think someone should get the doctors in on this to back me up: You can’t make someone queer.
But you must admit that, as a pop star, you are an influential role model.
If I am, what is wrong with men being presented with different kinds of role models? I’ve always maintained that men weren’t born to drink beer, either. Where does it say a man is born to drink Colt 45? God, I know a lot of boys who want to be James Dean and a lot of girls who want to be Marilyn Monroe, yet they were such sad people. Are they better role models? Remember, I’m not telling people they should be like me. I’m telling people they should be whatever they are.
And you think they’re frightened because, as you said, they think you’re promoting homosexuality?
I’ll tell you the real reason people are threatened: They think if all the men were to dress up like Boy George, there wouldn’t be anyone to fight their wars for them. I think a lot of the older generation thinks if there’s a war tomorrow, all these pansies, the Hare Krishnas and the peacenik hippies are not going to fight. They’re afraid there will be no real men left to fight their wars.
How far would you have to be pushed to fight, either for your country or for your family and friends?
I don’t think I would have to be pushed to any great lengths to protect my family and loved ones. Defending my country is another subject for consideration. The point is that people, even when fighting for their countries, are only really fighting for their families and those close to them. People say they are fighting for their countries, but I think people are basically selfish, fight for themselves. In that sense, everybody is the same. It has nothing to do with the way someone is dressed.
The early Roman men screwed each other and they were butchers. King Charles dressed up and used to kill Christians for sport. Remember the days of the French Revolution and the English wars? Homosexuality was everywhere. Those pansies fought. The early American statesmen and generals in the Civil War wore powdered wigs. Samurai had elaborate costumes and they wore make-up, yet they were incredibly violent. You can still see it in kabuki. They were violent beyond anything I’ve ever seen. They mutilated each other and they wore dresses. If there are no real men around now, there never were any. The fact is that England was once a nation of drag queens–totally. Everybody looked like me–though I am very clean and they were filthy.
But their fashion wasn’t eccentric for their period.
In Japan, you see women on the streets in traditional Japanese costumes. You don’t see anyone in England dressed as King Charles. Maybe that is what I am. [Laughs] Maybe that is what is happening. The English are so ashamed of their culture that they are destroying it as quickly as possible.
You’re giving contradictory messages: Nothing changes. Everything is changing.
Things are very slow to change; but they change. Ten years ago, men didn’t wear after-shave. Now they do.
After-shave was considered feminine. Now we’ve moved on. It’s manly to wear after-shave. Ten years ago, men didn’t wear after-shave. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have gotten to this level.
What paved the way?
Time. Logic. Affection. Those are the things that allowed me to get to this level. There is no pretense in what I do. I am honest. In a way, I am very anticelebrity. I am not like Liberace; he’s such a cover-up job. If you hide things under the carpet, eventually they’re going to have to be swept out. I don’t hide anything. I said I was bisexual from the beginning. And I bring a bit of humor into it; I don’t take myself seriously.
You’ve been compared to David Bowie. He dressed up. He admitted he was bisexual. Did he help pave the way?
Bowie and I have nothing in common. Bowie wasn’t a real person. Bowie created a persona. You never really know who the real Bowie is. Bowie is clever, a genius. Whether you like what he is doing or not, he survived from an era when most people fell, and you can only praise him for that. I never wanted to be Bowie, but I was a Bowie fan because I thought his words were brilliant. What has given me acceptability has nothing to do with Bowie, however. It’s the Culture Club’s music, a sense of humor and the fact that I take the time to explain what I am trying to do.
For a while, people were talking about you and Michael Jackson as the forerunners of some kind of androgyny—-
First of all, I don’t think Michael is androgynous. I’m sure he’s pleased that his voice hasn’t broken; I mean, it sounds fine, doesn’t it? But, to me, he’s male. My God, he looks nothing like a woman to me. All that stuff about his looking like Diana Ross is funny, but that’s all it is.
What about the idea of androgyny in general?
That merely means that women are accepting the masculine qualities in themselves and men are accepting the feminine qualities in themselves. Men are delighted to find that they don’t have to be something they’re not. They don’t have to be John Wayne, able to handle everything without showing any emotion. They can be weak sometimes, as we all are, and not be afraid to show it.
Sexual liberation is hardly a new concept.
It’s talked about, but how much have things really changed? Notice how men treat their wives with little smart remarks and a coldness in public. When they are home in bed, they might whisper all those gentle, loving things, but never in public. I’m saying it’s fine to express your emotions. It applies equally to both sexes. Androgyny means being liberated from the constraints of sex. Dressing up is just the obvious way. In America, women are very manly, which I don’t mean as an insult. They’re very independent. There is a long way to go before real liberation, but they are more independent than my mother was or than the women in Japan or England are. In England, feminism is a joke. In America, at least it’s a debate.
The fact that I’m accepted doesn’t mean that androgyny has been substantially accepted. Liberace is, too, but he’s seen as a harmless oddity. As for me, I’m a pop star. There are different rules for pop stars. And although it distresses me when I’m dismissed as another Alice Cooper, it doesn’t matter what people say. I will have an effect, because, America, we are inside your home! We’re in people’s lives on a huge scale. Everyone knows about Boy George. I don’t think any performer ever received so much publicity, not even the Beatles. I think I’ve topped everybody on that score. As a result, whether I’m taken more seriously or not, I’m having an effect.
Do you think the politics of the time have anything to do with it?
Absolutely. In the Sixties, people wore miniskirts. It was a form of liberation. During World War Two, women’s skirts went down to the floor. It was a sign of depression. When somebody dies, in many cultures, the survivors wear black. Fashion has a lot to do with the political situation of the time.
What does your fashion say about our political climate?
It says people are changing; they are not buying traditional male and female roles. They’re growing up. I look the way I look because it’s the way I want to look. No one is telling me I should be a certain way. We are living in a time when people are free from war, people are expressing themselves a lot more.
That’s not what we were getting at. Some people claim that the sort of thing you represent is a reaction to the world’s political situation; specifically, that it’s a reaction to the macho Reagan era, to the threat of nuclear war. What do you think of that theory?
It’s a bunch of crap. That’s what they say about homosexuality or punk rock or anything else people don’t want to face. When I was on Face the Nation, a woman asked, “Don’t you think men are being more feminine because they think men start wars?” No, I don’t believe that. I’ve heard different versions, too. An old guy I know believes that nature created homosexuality as an alternative to war as a means of controlling the population. It’s very idealistic, but I don’t agree with it. Homosexuality has always been around. It’s just more visible now. You can’t pretend it doesn’t exist anymore.
When my mother went to England from Ireland, a Catholic who knew a very sheltered world, she was in a bar with my father and a transvestite came in. My mother was completely shocked. She had never seen anything like it. It was around, but people were so sheltered. Now we’re just more aware of it because of the media. The media are showing people that all kinds of lifestyles are available. If Quentin Crisp had had the media exposure that I have had, it would have caused a major trend. There would have been Quentin Crisps running around everywhere.
Despite your androgynous appeal, there are more women in your audiences than men. Why?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that women are more intelligent and open than men. Joan Rivers says women respond to me just as they talk to their hairdressers. But I’m not a poofter, I’m not a gay boy. I mean, imagine if I had those swishy mannerisms and a high-pitched voice! I’m so glad I’ve got a hairy chest! When people meet me, they always remark about how big I am. They think I’ll be some sort of imp. [Laughs] Sorry to disappoint you. Anyway, with David Cassidy or someone like that, boys wouldn’t go along with their girlfriends, because they knew the image was sexual. With me, it’s not. They know I’m not going to sleep with their girlfriends. [Laughs] They know my reputation. There’s no threat. I’m not saying, “I’m staying at the Five Star Motel. How about it?”
Also, to a small proportion of women in the audience who have terrible lives with their husbands or who can’t get boyfriends, I represent some kind of comfort. If somebody asks me what kind of girl I like, I say, “Fat girls with 50 chins,” just to make the point. I mean, what a stupid question–“Strictly blondes with big breasts.” Such cheek, isn’t it? Ridiculous.
Let’s talk about some of the publicity you’ve received over the past couple of years. When Princess Margaret said you looked like “an over-made-up tart,” there were headlines. You’re not bad at making your own publicity, are you?
Well [grins], you take advantage of things that come along. It was very humorous when she refused to meet me; the press people were very upset, because they weren’t able to photograph me and Princess Margaret together. They needed a photo, so I gave them one. I marched into the ladies’ loo, knowing full well that I would get major coverage from that. I went, “Ahem!” and marched into the loo. I wasn’t surprised that when I came out, all the photographers were standing there. That’s Hollywood, right? There’s a lot of Hollywood in what I do. It’s good fun.
You were gracious, in your way, about being snubbed, saying it was Princess Margaret’s prerogative not to talk to you, since you are “just a peasant.”
She’s royalty, so of course she can treat people like peasants. But, in truth, it wasn’t long ago that she was a peasant, the same as I. Let’s not forget how the royal family got where they are. They robbed and pillaged and raped. So, yeah, Princess Margaret, I am a peasant, and so are fucking you. Look in the mirror. One of the English papers took a poll, asking, “Was the princess rude to Boy George?” and I won three to one. In spite of all this, I quite like the royal family–as opposed to a Fascist dictator. Their job is not to offend anybody and they don’t represent anything in particular.
You and Princess Diana end up in the same gossip columns. What do you think of the younger royals?
Charles is quite nondescript. Andrew enjoys himself a lot, but why shouldn’t he? There are other kids of his age who go out screwing girls every night; it’s just that the press writes about Andrew. It’s true that Lady Di and I are both entertaining the country. She has done a good job. There was an article that asked, “What do Boy George and Lady Di have in common?” We’ve sold more hats than anyone in ages.
Whom do you consider the best and the worst dressers these days?
Fashion is a hard subject, because I always think that if you rate highly in any best-dressed list, you must look pretty awful. The people who compile them are nothing but fools. There are no best-dressed people. One man’s poison is another man’s wine, you know.
How about worst dressed?
I’ll let loose this once: Number one on my list, Joan Collins, because she looks like an oven-ready turkey in those ball gowns she wears. Two, Maggie Thatcher, because she looks as if she’s still wearing the hangers. Three, Joan Rivers, because she borrows all her clothes and forgets to remove the return tags. Four, Brooke Shields, because she won’t stop wearing Michael Jackson. Five, Boy George, because he’s jealous none of their dresses will fit him.
Let’s talk about that crack you made on the Grammy-awards show in 1984, which first brought you a fair amount of notoriety in middle America. You remarked, after receiving an award, Americans “know a good drag queen when [they] see one.”
That bombed in certain ways. A lot of people in the know giggled, but a lot of other people who are not so clever said, “Oh, is he a drag queen?” What a shame: Those people have no imagination.
You don’t consider yourself a drag queen?
Of course not. I dress up to look beautiful. A drag queen is somebody who has the mentality of a drag queen: a man who wants to be a woman.
We’re getting into semantics now: Isn’t that what makes a transsexual?
A lot of drag queens are having sex changes, yes. I know hundreds. They are sad creatures; I was never sad. I didn’t look anything like a woman. Listen to my voice. I might have been wearing a pair of high heels, but no one ever doubted my sex. It was more a case of what I could do next to make everyone go “Huh?” I wore everything. I wore skirts and fish-net tights. I’m not ashamed of it. I could give a damn, but the drag-queen comment was meant as a joke. You have to be so careful what you say in America. In England, I said, “I’d much rather have a good cup of tea than sex” and people laughed. I mean, of course it’s a joke, but in America, when I made that remark, people responded, “My God, he’s celibate.” People offered me tea!
The reason I make jokes about sexuality is that I think it’s wrong when people are obsessed with your private affairs. It’s social adultery.
What point were you making with the tea comment?
Just the obsession with sex. Reporters have asked me the most obnoxious things. They’re obsessed. “Are you queer?” “Are you queer?” “Are you queer?” The reason I make jokes about sexuality is that I think it’s wrong when people are obsessed with your private affairs. It’s social adultery–that’s what my song Black Money is all about. You are making light of your emotions, and what else do you have?
How do you feel about tea versus sex?
Tea is fine, but I do have to get my act together occasionally [laughs]. It’s just that I don’t think it should be the main topic of discussion with the public. Think about it: A kiss is putting your tongue inside someone’s mouth. Kissing and fucking are the most intimate things: You are going inside somebody; somebody is coming inside you. Kissing and fucking are the ultimate. The rest is OK, but those are the ultimate.
But you’re the one who has purposely made sex the biggest issue surrounding Boy George.
I’m happy to talk about sexuality. It’s an important part of our lives. It affects everything else. But that’s different from betraying my own sex life.
Haven’t you encouraged all the scrutiny? You’ve chosen to live your life as an open book.
[Giggles] What a book! Seriously, I have nothing to hide, so I’m not worried about it. My motto is: You should never, ever do anything you’re ashamed of; so I don’t have anything to worry about. People in this business always get caught. Michael Jackson’s organization keeps telling everybody he’s not a homosexual. You get the feeling something’s going on there. You should never try to defend yourself. But would you want every aspect of your life to be public property? Much of the press is like flies on the walls looking for dirt.
But the press also was responsible for making you a celebrity in the first place. You can’t have it both ways.
I’m aware that I never would have become this successful without the press, but the other side is that, on the whole, the press actually has no insights into what we’re doing. In our shows, you can always tell the press: the only people in the audience sitting down.
Does it hurt when the press writes negative things about you?
It used to tear me up, but now it’s like a running game. I find I am more protective toward the other members of the band than myself. I don’t like people I care about being kicked in the teeth by assholes. If you’re made of thinner stuff, some of the things they say about you can kill you. It can ruin your relationships. If you take it all too seriously, you become neurotic, like Frances Farmer. You can kill yourself or go insane. I was very affected by the film they made about her life. Frances came to believe that feelings are signs of failure. She thought to be weak was the worst thing in the world. She put everything into the world’s perception of her. She was obsessed. They spit in her eye and, instead of moving on, she couldn’t cope; she cracked up. Michael Jackson should watch that film twice a day.
Celebrities can easily get a very unreal picture of the world. They feel like the center of the universe and some of them forget that they’re not. They start to believe they are better than other people. They care too much what the public thinks.
How about you?
It won’t happen to me: I’m much smarter than Frances Farmer was. The more you let people control your life, the more you become a victim. Everybody is saying, “You should do this” and “You should do that.” The other day, I was going to go down to the lobby in the hotel and meet some of the fans, 'cause they’re sitting down there and I’m sitting up here and I’m bored, so why not? “I’m goin’ down.” But then, from all directions, it’s “You can’t go down.” There was a ten-minute discussion about whether I should or shouldn’t go down to the lobby. Finally, I said, “Shut up, I’m going down.” And the assistants and guards had to come with me; it’s their job. So I did and they did and it was fine.
Why were they trying to talk you out of it?
Security risks; but I don’t want to live that way. I do what I want to do. Tell me I can’t do something and I’ll do it.
At the same time, you have admitted that you’re obsessed with fame. Are you as aloof from it as you say?
I know that unless you’re happy inside, no matter how much cocaine you stick up your nose and how much money you have in your pocket, it won’t help. That’s the mistake famous people make and that’s the mistake I won’t make. Being famous is like being in school, in a way. You fool yourself that you’re on top of the universe or something, but you’re just at school, where everyone loves you as long as you keep the ball. All the girls want to go out with the lead guy and all the boys want to go out with the top cheerleaders. Well [giggles], I’m the top cheerleader. And it’s all an illusion, just like in school. I think I’ll go on for some time, but if I don’t, I won’t be devastated. I would be devastated if I lost my friends and family.
Have you been able to have a normal social life since you’ve become famous?
The temptation is to become a recluse, like Michael–you get so embittered by the psychotic things that are written about you when you want to just go out and enjoy yourself for the evening that you don’t go out. But I don’t need to lock myself up like Michael. I mean, it can do strange things to you.
I’m now convinced that Michael is two people.
What do you mean?
About a year ago, Michael called me in the Virgin Records office in London. He was really sweet. We just chatted on for ages. He said to me, “I couldn’t speak to you until you got this famous,” and I said, “That’s rubbish.” He laughed and said, “That’s just what my sister said.” I told him, “She’s right. Your sister is going to get on fine.” I was trying to be as natural as possible and I didn’t find him shy at all. Anyway, I gave him my home phone number.
Pretty soon, some guy who sounds exactly like Michael Jackson starts calling my home phone number, but he says his name is Houston Hawkins. He’s shy and very ordinary, not famous at all–but I know that Houston Hawkins and Michael Jackson are the same person.
Are you saying that Michael Jackson has a split personality?
I suppose I could be wrong … but I’m sure I’m not. It may be Michael just pretending to be Hawkins and getting a real kick out of doing it.
Have you confronted Jackson about this?
I did. I said, “Michael, you know, there is something going on….” But he never let on. I was in hysterics for a while. I couldn’t cope with it. Maybe Michael and Hawkins are two people. Maybe Michael has this friend called Hawkins. Or maybe it’s like Harvey–you know, Harvey the imaginary rabbit in the film. I think I can understand it.
I got famous just recently and I took control of every part of my career. Michael has been doing this since he was five years old and I’m certain it is a bit bewildering to him. He might want to be like Hawkins, just ordinary and nice. Anyway, I’d love to get really friendly with Michael and get to know him. I think I could liberate him a little bit. That’s what he needs.
How would you—-
I mean psychologically. That’s all I mean. I really think we could be friends. I think I could like him a lot.
How has fame affected your love life?
It’s hard enough having a relationship, but when you’re in the limelight, it’s nearly impossible. People all want you. It’s bad enough in the normal domestic dramas in the home, in suburbia, let alone on a scale of about 10,000,000 people saying, “I’d want to screw the ass off him.” It would be fucking torture. Women come up and ask me to sign their tits. It’s odd.
What kinds of people–women or men–do you go out with?
I always go out with people who are real down-and-outs, the worst kind of people. Everyone else hates them. They’re always mixed up, screwed up. It’s not to save them or because they are easy bait, but I’m just attracted to them. I suppose it’s because they’re the kind of people who have stuff to talk about. It’s like if you go into a laundromat and you see an old woman sitting there, watching the machine go round and round, maybe you have a conversation with her. It’s more interesting than talking to someone like Barbra Streisand, because she’s got everything going for her.
Who are your friends?
Some reporter from Fleet Street said, “Oh, what a sad existence Boy George has.” But it’s wonderful, actually. When I’m on tour, I’m with my friends. My manager is a very good friend. Jon Moss is probably my best friend. I adore the band. Another good friend is a man named Philip, in London. There’s nothing sexual, we’re just friends. He’s not impressed by my success. I have a lot of friends who are girls. I love fat, bitchy Jewish girls. I like a fat person who isn’t ashamed of being fat. I’m very imperfect and I can laugh about it. I love to mix with loudmouths. I love to go off into the country and just scream at the top of my lungs and run around. I like a balance. I couldn’t be with men all the time; I couldn’t be with women all the time. I like men with feminine sides and women with masculine sides. I don’t like silly women or big-headed men.
Have you ever been swept off your feet?
Yeah, but that’s not real love. If it doesn’t deal with the practical side of life, or until it deals with the practical side of life, it’s not love. Loving is very selfish; you love someone because you want him to love you back. Those things build over time. I’ve been in love. And, no, I won’t go into it.
Are you jealous?
Very. I don’t believe that you stop being jealous. You accept things a bit, like when you’re younger, you don’t want your girlfriend to speak to anyone and you don’t want her to mention her other boyfriends. If your girlfriend mentions someone else, now you know you can’t beat her with a plate for it. But you don’t really get better at dealing with jealousy. As a kid, you get destroyed when you fall out of love, and that doesn’t change. You may not show it as much, but it hurts the same. You hear people say, “Oh, I used to be like that.” They’re still fucking like that. You want to slash your wrist and take an overdose, you cry a little bit, and then you quickly go on to McDonald’s. You live with it. C'est la vie.
Are you looking for someone?
We’re always looking for someone, though I’m a bit busy to do anything about it now. It’s no different, though. Just because I’m successful, I don’t suddenly wake up thinking, God, I’ve got such a fab body. I may as well go and get who I can. I know I still have the same ugly body that I had ten years ago. I’m still as ugly and problem-ridden.
A lot of people have said that I had some sort of depressed childhood. Most of it was insignificant. There was nothing demented about my childhood.
Let’s talk about your background. Your father boxed, didn’t he?
Yeah, he did. And, no, that’s not why I’m the way I am. A lot of people have said my eccentricity is a reaction to my father’s overtly masculine boxing image and all that bullshit, or that I had some sort of depressed childhood. But I’m afraid it doesn’t wash, because it’s not true. I had quite a good and, believe it or not, normal childhood. I don’t have a particularly liberal background and I wasn’t raised in a hippie commune, so I don’t know why I’m the way I am. My childhood was very normal. Most of it was insignificant, like building sand castles and falling down and hurting my leg and getting up and riding bicycles. There was nothing demented about my childhood.
There are no skeletons, no Rosebud in the closet?
[Dramatically] One day in the showers at school, this horrible thing happened and I’ve been this way ever since. [Laughs] No, nothing like that. It’s not, like, “I always take my diary to read on the train–I love reading things that are sensational.” I’ve never had one of those–it’s all pretty dull, actually.
Did you talk with your parents about your sexuality?
Well, my father still snickers at pornography. Men don’t talk about certain things, because they feel embarrassed. I remember one of my biggest rows with my father was when I was very young and took home a porno magazine with pictures of men and women fucking, which I found in the rubbish tin. He humiliated me in front of everyone. “Don’t you know what this is?” I thought, You idiot. It was only because he was really embarrassed. Even now, I don’t think I’ve ever talked to him about it. My brother once found a box of condoms floating in a river. He took it home and my father went crazy. My brother said, “Dad, what are these?” He thought they were balloons. Whack! That was the attitude. Sex was never discussed. I suppose if my parents had decided to sit me down and tell me about the birds and the bees, I would have told them to buzz off, anyway. It might have been funny to get them to say “tits” or something, like getting a judge to say “fuck” or the queen to say “asshole.”
Then how did they react to your dressing up?
My mother thought I looked great. My father just wanted me to be happy. It has always been that way. In school, they didn’t apply so much pressure about academics. They were far from liberal, but they understood that being happy was more important than trying to fit in. Not at first, but as we got older. When I was very young, I rebelled like other kids. They would say, “You’ve got to do this” and I would always say, “Why?” Even then, I approached things logically. If my mother swore and told me not to swear, I’d say, “Then don’t you do it. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.” She knew I was right. I never smoked, but my father hit my brother for smoking and I would say, “Why can’t he smoke? You smoke.” It’s very funny: Now my mother says she never swore at me or threw things. I say, “You lying cow!” I mean, she threw plates and everything.
Were there difficult times?
Five minutes here or there. Once or twice a week. They’re part of growing up.
But your songs–That’s the Way, for example–include angry lyrics about struggling as a child.
The songs are about my childhood and my friends’ childhoods. Teachers make you more inhibited and paranoid. Your parents don’t want to listen. We’ve all heard, “Don’t say you didn’t hear us calling” and “Wait until your father gets home.” That’s the Way is full of those things they used to say: “I’m only trying to help you.” From your teachers, your headmasters, your parents. The next line goes, “That’s the way we destroy the baby: Shut it out, shut it out.” That’s it. So, yeah, there were some things to go through, but every kid goes through them. When I used to go home, I’d say to my mom and dad, “I did this and I did that,” and they’d say, “I’m watching TV.” I used to hate that. I took second place to the TV set. Fucking hated that. They ignore you and you really feel like a piece of scum.
In the song, you ask for affection: “Caress me.”
Yeah, well, I was lonely. You don’t fit in at school and you go home and you can’t get anyone to understand and you think, like, I am so on my own. Sometimes I feel that now, even with all these people around. You go home and you want affection, but there’s no affection.
What did your parents do for a living?
My father built a business. My mother worked at the school. She cooked and she was, like, a toilet attendant, which was to stop the girls from writing on the toilet walls and smoking.
Were they middle-class?
We never had a sense of being in any class. To be honest, you can buy yourself into any class. I am middle-class now because I have money, but that doesn’t mean I want to be middle-class in attitude. My father had a funny attitude toward money. He gambled a lot, he bet on race horses. My mother would always scream about it. But when he won a lot of money, he would buy her a washing machine. He was that kind of person. When I was living in a squat [an abandoned building] later on, he would break in and fill my cupboards with food. At the same time, he always played the tough role. Now I want to buy my parents a house, because the place they are living in is not of value for the money from my point of view. My dad says, “What’s wrong with the place where we live?” It’s pride. My mother says, “If you want, you can live here. When you get hungry, you’ll come.”
My father used to go on about being a man, and it never really washed with me. I was never convinced that is what he thought. I was convinced that he would stick by me, whatever happened, and he did. I would scream at him, but that’s allotted–you have five minutes of hatred for your family. But they always stuck up for me.
How about brothers and sisters?
There were five of us. We’re all very different. When one of my brothers got married, he had a wedding and I couldn’t go because of the way I looked. It was like he was embarrassed. He and I never had a good relationship. Once, he climbed into the house in the middle of the night and my mother told him that he couldn’t do that anymore. He said he was leaving. She said, “OK, leave.” She wasn’t going to start crying and beg him to stay; my father had threatened to leave enough times. She might have cried afterward, but she’d say, “Go to hell! You get treated well in this house. Go find somewhere better.” So my brother went off to his girlfriend’s house and when they got married, they sent my mother an invitation. That broke my mother’s heart. Mothers don’t get invited to their children’s weddings; they organize weddings. How dare he? Now he’s the only one in my family who has given photographs away to the press. I hate him. I think he’s a fucking idiot. I think he’s a boy disguised as a man. On the other hand, another brother is a good friend. He got married, he asked me to be an usher at his wedding and told me to wear what I liked. He’s brilliant. Then there is a younger brother and a younger sister. He’s a photographer, doing well for himself. She is a sweet little kid who likes dressing up and boyfriends.
What caused your father to threaten to leave?
My parents would have arguments, like any two people. But they had their own code. He’d go away for three hours, and then he would come back and it would be forgotten. My parents got the serious crap out of the way in the early years before they had us. Once they had children, it was, “OK, we’re going to work and see this through.” If you met them, you wouldn’t know they loved each other. They’re not soppy-doppy about it. But they do love each other very much.
You were beginning to talk about what it was like for you at school.
I didn’t fit in, because I didn’t want to fit in. I didn’t particularly like bragging about who I slept with and I didn’t like hitting people. There were people in school who were supposed to be “right” who were so evil to me. That’s why I’m so careful now how I treat people, because I’ve been hurt so many times. You think you’re missing something. You’re not missing anything. I mean, everybody is going to the same party in the end, so what is the point of trying to find the right people? I didn’t agree with survival of the fittest. And they try to make you into a robot. I understand it, since it is hard to teach 20 people who don’t want to listen. But I’m not going to let you make me a robot. Joining was the word. That’s one of the worst things about people: joining in. If there’s a car accident, we all join in and watch, but nobody wants to help. If there’s a fight, people line up, but no one will interfere. I never wanted to join anything. I was looking for something else. I’m very liberated. I’ve never been prejudiced against anyone. I couldn’t care less. I take everyone as a person. At school, the “in” people tortured the “out” people. I never enjoyed calling people fat and four-eyes. I always thought it was rude.
Unless they did it first.
Not even then, if I knew it would really shatter somebody. I saw it all around. Teachers in school would hit kids who were fat. They would make them run miles. This big fat guy would be dying, running and puffing and dying. He was fat for whatever reason. He ate too much or had a bladder complaint. Didn’t matter: He was tortured for it. It was a way for teachers to inform us that they were the toughest. “This will happen to you if you’re not careful.” I hated that. These were so-called adults.
Did you complete school?
I was kicked out of school; I asked for it. Then I moved to suburbia, thinking that I would meet all these trendy, different, interesting, sort of crazy people. I lived in a squat and got in with these people in the West End. I thought I would find people who were different, but they were all the same. I was looking for individuals, but I found there isn’t any such thing as a group of individuals. The people in the squat thought anybody who didn’t dress up was an idiot. They were judging everybody else, just like the people at school who tortured fat kids. That’s not individual.
Were you already dressing up?
When I was a kid, my brother was a skinhead, dressed like the droogies in A Clockwork Orange. I wore whatever clothes he left around. I went through different periods: My hair was green and then orange–Fifties, Teddy boy. Then my hair was white, sticking up straight. I always outdid everyone else. When I dressed up punk, my hair was out to here. We went to clubs every night. I started getting in the newspapers a lot for being dressed up. Eventually, the papers were saying, “George was out again, trying to be noticed.”
So you were a punk?
It wasn’t called punk, it was just people dressing up. The idea was to be individual and have fun. Suddenly, [rock promoter] Malcolm McLaren labeled the thing punk and it became a movement. Before that, nobody really knew why we dressed up. As soon as someone put a label on it, the violence started. I was always a bit too extreme for punk, anyway, and once it had a name, it became a phenomenon, so it attracted more people. It was natural that people who were really individual would go even more over the top. Instead of just having spiked hair, you’d have hats and platform shoes, loads of make-up, wigs, plaited hair. My hair was enormous spikes. I would wear clown outfits with huge spotted ties and checkered trousers. Nothing matched. I started to wear the sort of Marlene Dietrich look and a veil. I started getting really well known just because I dressed better than anyone else and my mouth was bigger than anyone else’s. The punks were spitting at me, like, “You poof!” But the idea of punk rock was meant to be individual. All these assholes joined in with the violence. There I was, in my Ali Baba slippers rolled up. The people who were hitting me were just so freaked out by the way I looked; it was fear of the unknown. It was supposed to be antiviolence, but it had become the reverse. It was an acceptable excuse for beer boys–beer boys are like thugs–to dye their hair bright colors. There’s nothing individual about beating people up.
What about the punk-rock scene that was emerging in the mainstream?
Some rebels. These bands were supposed to be different, but it’s just like the miners in England. In England, we have a miners’ strike going on at the moment. In the middle of it, there was this big deal about this miner who won the pools. His response was, like, “I’m all right, Jack,” and he bought himself a Rolls-Royce and he has said, “I’ll never go back to work.” A week before, he was talking about solidarity and the class struggle. Same with the punk groups as soon as they got a hit.
The groups were supposed to be antistar, but they became the stars. You’d go up to Johnny Rotten in a club and think it might be interesting to talk to him, and you’d be lucky if he spit in your face. The music wasn’t the point, anyway. The only reason I had been going to punk gigs was that everyone else used to go and it was a place to go dressed up. Then we started going to gay clubs–everybody: Johnny Rotten, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Billy Idol. Those clubs were a lot more decadent, sort of Berlin. I had a good friend named Marilyn. He was a drag queen who dressed exactly like Marilyn Monroe. He was a 14-year-old boy who spent two years locked in his bedroom with blankets over the windows and emerged as a woman; he really thought he was a woman. Marilyn was a bad influence on me in that period, too–I started to wear skirts and to do my eyebrows like Jayne Mansfield. To make a long story short, my friends Phillip and Marilyn and I became sort of the king and queens of the clubs and parties. We were outrageous for the sake of being outrageous. There was nothing else to do.
When did you start singing?
I would sing once in a while and thought about getting a band together. I saw McLaren at a club and asked him if I could sing with Bow Wow Wow. He changed my name to Lieutenant Lush and I sang with them for three months. Mikey [Craig, Culture Club’s bass player] came up to me one day and asked me if I wanted to form a group. To make a long story short, I met Jon and Roy and we made a tape and Jon took it around and he got our manager. Whatever you read, Culture Club is very much a four-piece thing. I’m not just saying that for PR. I’d probably be singing cabaret in some dive. They’re brilliant; it just clicked.
What happened next?
We took it very seriously. We had a lot of rules: No drinking, no drugs, no women, no parties after the show. We’re still strict, but it never comes up anymore. We don’t have groupies around; we don’t sleep with fans. We have a good road crew. They get pissed [drunk] and fall over, but they don’t smash up their hotel room, because they have to pay for it if they do.
You wouldn’t sleep with a fan?
It is like forcing people to have sex with you when they don’t want to; it’s the most repulsive thing in the world. Also, I’m no fool: They would not be having sex with me. They would be having sex with my veneer, and I don’t want that, thank you very much. Anyway, we signed with Virgin Records and began to unleash ourselves on the world.
Where did the name Culture Club come from?
The Beatles admitted that they could have been The Shoes or anything else, but I wanted us to be something that meant something. It was like bringing all these cultures together, these clashing cultures. Mikey is black, Jon is Jewish, Roy is as white as you get. On the album, we had symbols of different cultures mixed together. It’s accepting and learning from other cultures and respecting your own. Culture Club became a phenomenon: People know who I am in Egypt, Canada, Africa, Jamaica, even Russia. I’m banned in Russia and Singapore. When I got expelled from school, I never thought I’d be banned from Russia. Pretty good.
Why do you call yourself Boy George?
A lot of Rasta people call themselves King Freddie or Poppa George. “Boy” was like a milk version of that; I was from the white scene, so I started calling myself Boy George.
And your success came virtually overnight.
Yes, but I wasn’t laughing at the glory of it. I was thinking, This is it. We’ll never have another hit. I was furious with the idea that I was just a novelty. People said bitchy things and I would say, “You cunt. You don’t understand at all. You think I’m just an idiot.”
And you set out to prove them wrong.
[Smiles] Revenge is wonderful.
What singers and songwriters do you admire?
Stevie Wonder is the one I actually think is the most brilliant of all. If Stevie Wonder recorded Mister Man, I would have an orgasm. I would love him to do that, so tell him.
All right. Who else?
Different people during different periods. Elvis Presley, of course. Jon, our drummer, turned me on to a lot of music from the Sixties, like Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Moody Blues and Dylan. Joni Mitchell is wonderful. Court and Spark is my favorite album forever.
In the middle of your live performances, you sing a line from Mitchell’s Woodstock.
It’s gorgeous. So idealistic.
Your first hit was Do You Really Want to Hurt Me. Apparently, you were incensed that some people thought the song was about S/M.
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me is an optimistic song about a relationship. Some people are very stupid. There’s nothing we can do about it.
Your biggest hit–about 1,500,000 sold–was Karma Chameleon, from your second album. What’s a karma chameleon?
First, I believe in karma totally. I think every time you stub your toe, it’s because you did something. You get paid back. I had some really bad love affairs, and maybe that’s because I did some horrible things as a child. The song is about somebody who is friendly with you because of what you are or what you represent. Like a chameleon, they’ll change, depending on the wind–or who is “in,” or who has the power or the money. The idea of a karma chameleon is that the important thing is to be true to yourself and true to those you love.
Were you doing that with the more recent War Song? It didn’t do so well commercially and some found it preachy.
I think it’s important to say some things because you believe in them. People warned me not to say the things in War Song. They said, “You can’t say, 'People are stupid,’” but of course we are, so of course I should say it.
You’ve criticized Clash and other political bands for haranguing people. How are your message songs different?
Clash is, like [yawns], it’s shouting at people. Who wants to listen? Communicating with people is how they change. War Song is like a chant, it’s a dance. And who would argue that war is stupid? Maybe people aren’t ready to admit that the only reason there is war is that we are stupid.
Let’s talk about some of the other bands. What do you think of Duran Duran?
They are a really good band, but I don’t like them as a social comment. I think they sell status. They are saying, “We’ve made a lot of money.” I don’t know how it is in America, but my brother and sister cannot afford to wear the Anthony Price suits that Duran Duran wears. They cannot afford to drop their yacht’s anchor and lie on the beach like Duran Duran does in their videos. I try hard to make what we do accessible. Kids can look like me very easily. I try not to be seen in mink coats.
How about the Eurythmics?
They’re a great band, too, but I don’t know what will happen to them. Annie [Lennox] has married a Hare Krishna guy. They go after famous people.
Any chance you’ll go that way?
They don’t allow bisexuals in Hare Krishna. I’d have to form the Merry Krishnas.
Looking back, the Beatles and The Rolling Stones?
They’re a little before me, though I think the Beatles were brilliant and I love The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger said he liked my dresses but called me the worst dancer in the world. The reason I am such a terrible dancer is that I won’t take dancing lessons. I really should, but I think it would kill my act. And I say to Mick Jagger, “I love your trousers, but I don’t think you should store your vegetables inside them.” [Laughs] I still quite like The Rolling Stones, anyway.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood? Some have said it has replaced Culture Club as the hot new band.
A lot of clever managers are trying to say that Frankie Goes to Hollywood is The Rolling Stones and we’re the Beatles, which is clever but ridiculous.
Which Beatle does that make you?
I’m Paul McCartney and Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes to Hollywood is Mick Jagger. But no one even knows if the people in the band play on the record; there’s a lot of talk that they don’t. There is nothing unique and original about them. They’ll have a huge record, but they’ll peter out.
How about the Police?
I have no opinion on the Police, really. They are very good for what they do. I don’t understand Sting. He says he doesn’t want to be a sex symbol, then he appears in a loincloth covered in oil. You have to compliment them on their sound.
Do you read much?
I have never read any books other than the biography of Tallulah Bankhead, but I have quite a literary mind and I’m quite well informed.
Do you have any idols?
Montgomery Clift. Mmmmm. And Elizabeth Taylor.
Why Clift and Taylor?
Him, because he was really tragic, not just his looks. He was never allowed to be what he was. He was a tortured person, epitomizing the word tragedy. And gorgeous. She is the opposite. She ruled everything. She reminds me of me. [Giggles] You have a prize and part of you wants to smash it. She’s got that kind of look that she can get anything off you. [Haughtily] “Give it to me. I want it. It’s mine.” She reminds me of me.
How about Joan Rivers? Is your relationship with her just media hype or are you friends?
A friend is someone you can depend on 24 hours a day, so Joan Rivers is more of an acquaintance. We get on very well when we see each other, and I find both her and her husband very sweet and charming. Joan is a real character and one can’t help but fall in love with her.
**Your sharp tongue is already famous as a rival to Rivers’. It’s a superiority thing. On the train, people would say things to me about my looks and I’d sit there thinking, Fuck you. I’m going to get somewhere. Some hideous old cow on the train would be really rude to me and make some comment or giggle and snicker and I would find the most obvious defect about her and say, very loudly, “That’s all right, dear. Chin up! And don’t forget the other one….” It’s quite fun, actually. I always evened the score. But never unless they deserved it.
You’re convinced that Boy George and Culture Club will be around for a while. What will you do to make that happen?
I put everything into Culture Club. My attitude is that if you have a business and you work until six o'clock and then you get drunk and your business doesn’t do well, that’s your tough shit. If you work 24 hours a day, your business will be successful. Culture Club can never fail to be exciting in one way or another. Each member of the group contributes something unique. We are never short of new ideas.
And the future? Do you look down the road?
I don’t want to be like Mick Jagger, but if I were honest, I’d have to admit that I want to stay on the top like he has. It’s really quite nice, you know. I wouldn’t mind making records at 80. It’s not just a selfish sort of thing, either. I believe that at the end of it all, it is important to have made some mark on history. I don’t want to be just a fly-by-night. Having said that, I’d like to keep doing it as long as it’s exciting. Sometimes I think six more months at the most. Who knows? But I’m such a good pop star! Do you want to know why?
Because I love everything about it. I love the fans, the attention, the presents, the money–I love being able to buy my dad a new car. I have no guilt complex about the money. Nobody just gave it to me. I’ve earned it. I’m not buying a Rolls-Royce with it, though I could. That still wouldn’t make me obnoxious; I’d just drive it better than everybody else.
You can confront the world with eccentricity if you give people the respect of offering an explanation. That’s why I talk about this, rather than just tell the world to accept me or fuck off.
Where will you go from here?
I could go to the Vatican, I suppose. Or maybe I could move into Buckingham Palace. [Laughs] And I don’t mean as the queen. It’s all a new adventure. Who knows? For someone schoolteachers used to ignore, I suppose it’s a thrill just having people listen.
And you’ll win over even the haters and the mockers?
It’s hard, but you can win people over. When I was in Egypt, half the American Air Force was staying at our hotel. There was a crowd of GIs and this one guy, a real meathead, called me a faggot. I should have kept my mouth shut, but I said, “Why don’t you fuck off?” He said, “Well, now. What are you going to do about it?” I said, “Oh, you’re so fucking tough, aren’t you? What a fucking man you are.” I carried on, drinking my tea, wondering when he was going to come over and thump me. I was thinking, He’s not going to let me have the last word here. He’s not going to let me get away with that. I mean, he was one of those guys with a green neck because it’s been shaved so much. So he went up to the bar and was there snickering it up with these other weedy-looking creatures, making comments about me. In the group, there was one black guy and I turned to him and said, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” He asked me what I was talking about and I said, “You’re a minority. How dare you sit there snickering while someone takes a slap at me?” He said that the guy was his friend and I said, “If you’re a friend to him, you ought to teach him some manners, because that’s what friends are for.” Then I sort of walked off, thinking, They’re going to kill me.
The next day, I saw them again and this time they were charming to me. I sat with them and we talked and I learned about them and they learned about me. I could not believe I’d met somebody so interesting. And, of course, that’s what you find. I mean, after that, I went out for a photo session wearing a plastic dustbin wrapped in cloth on my head as a sort of headdress and very Egyptian make-up–this yellow-and-gold face–and all this outrageous jewelry and we were going to go out on a camel. Well, these same guys who’d been harassing me came running up, out of breath, taking pictures, saying I looked brilliant. People will understand if you take the time to explain. You can confront the world with eccentricity if you give people the respect of offering an explanation. That’s why I talk about this, rather than just tell the world to accept me or fuck off.
So that’s what it takes. If you’re threatened, look at me–I’m not a threat to anybody. I’m not against anybody. I’m for everybody. I would never go to a march for hippies or blacks or gays or straights, but I would go on a march for human beings. People seem to be sensing something going on: I drive along and construction workers give me their hats to sign. Blacks give me the OK sign. People come around if you treat them with dignity. That’s a big word for me.
What do you think lies ahead on the sexual frontier? Jan Morris, the noted author, who is herself a transsexual, wrote in an essay discussing your sexuality that the future of sexuality is intersexuality. Do you agree with her?
It’s all rubbish. The sad thing about being a public figure is that people use you like a flag to portray their own confusion. I don’t want people to intellectualize about something that is basic. You’re hearing this from the horse’s mouth: I don’t believe people will stop getting married in 1990. I think love will never change. There are a set of morals that always come back. Those people who were the freaks in the Sixties are running the corporations of America. Yes, acid freaks are running CBS–sorry, everyone; I don’t want to blow your cover. The moral values I adhere to are very simple. All I want to be able to say in 30 years is that I never compromised. All I can say is that I hope to be a good person. To everyone: What you have seen on TV is me. What you hear on the radio or read in this Interview is me. People can think what they like about the things I do and the things I say and the way I look. This [bows] is me.