June is a time to honor the LGBTQ community’s rich history and highlight its remarkable achievements. To celebrate Pride Month, Billboard asked modern music stars to pen essays about their favorite queer icons, and how their sounds, lyrics and overall images influenced a new era of artistry.
As much as I want to say George Michael was a musical influence on me, his influence was actually much deeper for me as a child just hitting puberty around the time Faith came out. I remember clearly being on a road trip with my father who had bought the album on cassette and listening to it while passing through hot dusty vistas of the South West. Up until that album sexuality for me had been something cartoonish and confusing. I had a few bashful moments as a kid where I enjoyed the feeling of wrestling with my shirt off but I remember mostly thinking it was like the feeling of cold sheets against my skin.
However, there was something undeniable about his music and it didn’t stop at Faith. As anyone knows, Michael’s music has always been quite sexually overt, however for a terrified kid who wanted nothing else but to believe I was “normal,” it was that level of overtones that I needed to puncture my skin and plant the seed of truth inside me. Other than the obvious issue of being impossibly attracted to him, I was also terrified of all the feelings he was conjuring up in me. The seed was growing with each listen and I didn’t want to water it.
I distinctly remember being so uncomfortable in my skin that every time “I Want Your Sex” came on I’d ask my father to skip the song because it made me get flush and embarrassed. The video confused me because even at a young age I had this innate sense of relating to him as a homosexual male, without even realizing my own sexuality nor him being out. George Michael provided me with so many amazing memories from his music, but first and foremost I remember him coming out in 1998 and feeling a sense of relief and ease with my young burgeoning instinct. I was yet to experience anything gay for another year, but in many ways seeing him step out in the public helped me make the decision to never hide once I started making music. From the first day, I made music I was steadfast in making it abundantly clear I was gay and a musician and that my sexuality wasn’t the driving narrative behind my music but that I’m not afraid to talk about it.
In the earliest days of touring when I was still selling merch and we were driving ourselves around, I remember young boys, no older than 13 or 14 either messaging me on social media, or coming to a show and thanking me for being gay in a world, specially “indie,” in which they believe there was no room for homosexuals. While George Michael was and will remain one of the biggest pop stars in the world, he enabled me and gave me the strength to be a teeny tiny gay indie public figure, and for that, I am so grateful for George Michael and all he has given me and the world.
This article originally appeared on Billboard.