Education Through Desire, 2017. Written for Fuck What You Love 2.
The BRIT Awards are more than just an awards ceremony. For people like me, they can also be a rite of passage, sexually. In 1997 they provided me with the first inklings that I wasn’t straight by helping me focus my attention on the strong, commanding thighs of Geri Halliwell. At the BRITs two years later, it was another woman with a centre parting that got my attention. Or so I thought.
Femmes with centre partings were clearly my bag at the time because, by 1999, I’d already developed an obsession with Brian Molko which is why I had made the decision to watch the BRIT Awards that year – I knew he was performing. I watched Placebo and David Bowie’s frankly substandard cover version of 20th Century Boy with a degree of disappointment. It wasn’t a wasted watch though as Brian at least still looked beautiful, with his black curtained hair framing his tiger cub face, black eye make-up drawing me into his eyes and his petite frame dressed in suitably androgynous, all black, semi-militaristic clothing. I continued to watch the awards ceremony, being, for some reason, drawn in by the high camp of the ABBA medley. The Manic Street Preachers, a band I had seen glimpses of in the music press but had dismissed because the singer looked like my dad, won Best British Group.
That’s when I saw a vision that would change my life.
Centre-parted hair falling over a beaming face which was adorned by dark eye make-up and a wide grin, double leopard print and a leopard print gilet at that, trousers under a skirt in that awful 90’s way, a domineering tallness compared to everyone else on the stage and the skipping rope! Oh, the skipping rope. As he jumped up and down his hair flew in all directions as he continued to grin. “She’s so beautiful”, I thought. This was Nicky Wire, who I was convinced was a woman. I both wanted to fuck him and look like him. I was 11.
When the Manics collected Best British Album I noted that Nicky leant over and delicately a kissed a woman sitting at the table – “She’s like me”, I thought. He leapt to the stage and aggressively shook the hand of the boxer delivering the award, having to bend his knees to be able to bring himself down to his level. Naturally, my first thought was “That’s what she’d have to do if she kissed me. She’d have to kneel”. Then came the performance. Watching Nicky parade around the stage in a feminine yet aggressive manner as he fingered the strings on his bass was almost too much for me. All I could think of was how the sheer fabric of his dress would feel under my fingers as I grabbed onto his waist and explored his form.
The week after having this sexual awakening I went into full obsession mode. Constantly spending time in my local library finding out all I could about Nicky Wire first and the rest of the Manics second. The music, at this point, was secondary to me looking at photos of him half naked and in dresses. Watching videos of him playing with his hair, making arrogant off-hand comments and flashing his grin was secondary to me listening in depth to his lyrics. The first thing I discovered was that Nicky Wire was a man. My heart was briefly broken but I decided that I didn’t care that much and he was still pretty and girlish and non-threatening. It also opened me up to thinking about my own gender – I’d quite quickly started trying to dress like Nicky which I then realised meant that I was trying to dress like a man, albeit a feminine one. To quote one of Nicky’s lyrics from Born A Girl, a song seemingly written about his own gender identity, ‘I wish I had been born a girl instead of what I am, I wish I had been born a girl and not this mess of a man’. Although I was AFAB, “traditional” modes of womanhood or femininity felt completely alien to me. I felt I was in a half-way state, a mixture of strange femininity and otherness. From Geri in 1997 to Nicky in 1999, I realised I connected with the notion of a performed femininity. Leopard print, heavy eyeliner, plimsolls, tacky dresses and plastic jewellery became my daily uniform and one in which I felt comfortable.
When I refer to my dress sense as my ‘uniform’, I mean it quite literally. Some context is required here: I left school permanently when I was 11 after being bullied in primary school and suffering a nervous breakdown. My androgynous Manics fan uniform was my school uniform. After the initial hyper-thirst period, I soon immersed myself in everything that the Manics had to offer culturally. While I was masturbating to photos of Nicky Wire and, by this point, Richey Edwards, I was also learning about the Situationists, left wing politics, Mishima, Ballard, modernism, punk culture…. I educated myself through their references, their gigs and those by related bands became my school and their songs and interviews became my textbooks. Without falling in love with that androgynous, skipping, beauty I would’ve been lost, stuck in my room in a Birmingham suburb, never discovering, learning or creating.
It’s normal to want to fuck your teachers, isn’t it? I suppose what isn’t normal (or maybe it is) is when you get to speak to your teacher after school and get angry when the feeling isn’t reciprocated. Out of my head on a mix of mental illness, youth, cheap wine and ferocious lust, each time I ended up meeting Nicky I felt that he didn’t give me enough attention. He didn’t want to scissor me on the signing table at the Virgin Megastore and that’s all I wanted. The person who had educated me via lusting after long fingers, strong thighs in mini-skirts, glitter stained cheeks and beautifully sad eyes could fuck off for all I care. I avoided the Manics for years after this.
Of course, I didn’t really mean it.
Here I am, nearly 30 years old and still eternally grateful for seeing that beautiful person in a leopard print gilet at an awards ceremony. Never let anyone tell you that lusting after a popstar is pathetic. It gave me an education, a life and a way out.
/ Olivia Sparrow