Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou was his name and he was born in London. Just like my father, George Michael’s father was a Greek-Cypriot migrant. Cyprus, a small yet important island, an aqua blue paradise in the Mediterranean that many powerful countries politically want a slice of.
George Michael was my childhood, he was my adolescence, my youth. What initially drew me to him was the colour of songs like ‘Too Funky’. My cousins and I would play the music video, dress up in different costumes, and parade down the living room like we were the catwalk models in the video and George Michael was singing “hey, you’re just too funky for me” to us. But we didn’t understand the rest of that line “gotta get inside of you”.
Repression and rules, the old ways of the migrants, how to behave, how to live your life, following the correct path in life, the path determined by society and culture, the straight view of sexuality – these are issues George clearly grappled with. We see this push and pull in all of his music. These were my struggles as the child of migrants.
Empathy is what George gave to so many of us. In his music he mirrored a suffocation many of us couldn’t express or articulate at our young age. As I got older, George Michael represented liberation, freedom, fun. He was going to the clubs with my cousins because that’s the only way our parents would let us. George Michael was doing things our parents would have killed us if they found out about and being able to say “but what about George Michael?”
George Michael gave an entire generation permission to be themselves in the face of societal and cultural pressures to conform. That’s why the world is crying. He represented freedom from repression. I have lived a life of denying who I am, or as George sings in ‘Freedom’, “there’s someone I forgot to be”. I know what this means all too well. I lived the life my culture wanted me to live when deep down it wasn’t me. And during my emancipation, where I had to fight so hard to attain the independence and freedom I desperately needed, it was George Michael that I could quote, George Michael that I could use as my example, my evidence, my proof.
Today, many years after my emancipation, I am now an artist, fighting against repression. And it’s hard. You have to sacrifice a lot. Personal relationships with family and loved ones are tense. While you are out there expressing and fighting against the grain, your loved ones may not understand and may actually be hurt by your art. It can be an isolating experience. You can feel very alone. This may have been why George took many drugs in his life. I often think about how so many of our idols die so young, how they are so loved yet they feel so alone.
George Michael risked and sacrificed to create his art, because he knew what it was like to feel like you don’t belong, that there is something wrong with you, that you don’t fit in. But he put himself on the line and risked to communicate with us, to inspire people like me to fight and to make a difference. George Michael normalised the fight against repression. He made it popular.
I know some people can’t make sense of the grief when an idol passes. I never met George Michael in person. I don’t know him as a friend. He didn’t know who I was. So why am I affected? Why do I care? He is just another person on the planet, just one of billions. But the truth is that he helped me. He gave me faith. Because if he was out there singing what he was singing and people all over the world adored him then me wanting and demanding my freedom and independence as a woman was not an unreasonable expectation. It was my right. I did not have to be of Orthodox religion if I did not choose. I did not have to remain married if I did not choose. If I wanted to explore my sexuality I was within my right. If I wanted to live my life and answer to nobody – not my parents, not my culture – then I was free to do so.
Thank you, George Michael. Thank you for normalising my fight for freedom. You will never be forgotten.
Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance opinion writer and the author of Love and F**k Poems. She is also an actor and has made her own films and theatre. www.koralydimitriadis.com