One day, when the folks of Generation X are grandparents, maybe we will tell our children of the time when, for better or worse, it was OK to be weird.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, not everyone needed to be categorized. You could let your freak flag fly. David Bowie reveled in androgyny, onstage and onscreen, identifying as Ziggy Stardust, an alien who need not choose male or female. After Bowie came a deluge of gender-bending rock stars.
Prince, even before he changed his name to a mashup of the symbols for male and female, wore purple, lace, sequins, and velvet while singing extremely heterosexual lyrics. Boy George, Morrissey, and Marilyn Manson all bent gender to various degrees, and like Prince and Bowie, they topped the charts.
Annie Lennox and Grace Jones likewise became massively popular by being their own thing, which didn’t quite allow for characterization.
Back then, men wore nail polish and grew their hair long for a thousand different reasons. Kurt Cobain wore dresses in public. Even Joan Jett dressed in androgynous black getups with Converse.
The celebrities back then were out to defy characterization and be whatever the heck they wanted to be, social expectations be damned. Some did it to express their sexuality. Some did it to shock. Some just wore what was comfortable.
Bowie bent identity and gender because he liked to play a role: “Offstage, I’m a robot. Onstage, I achieve emotion. It’s probably why I prefer dressing up as Ziggy to being David.”
But role-playing isn’t allowed anymore. It’s unwoke. It’s appropriation. It’s erasure.
Halle Berry, the storied actress, producer, and now director, was run through the Culture War gauntlet for violating the new rules. She wanted to play a transgender character in a movie despite not being transgender.
Berry is an actress, you may be thinking. She is not a drug addict, a mutant, or a sufferer from dissociative personality disorder. Yet she has played all those roles, and many more, in movies. Pretending to be something she’s not is literally her job. But playing a biological woman who identifies as a man is not allowed if you’re a biological woman who identifies as a woman.
These days, everyone has to be categorized. You can’t be your own thing. You have to be put into a category — cisgender, nonbinary, transgender, or whatever new category they will name tomorrow. And you are not to deviate from your assigned category, lest you commit appropriation.
Berry broke that rule. Transgender activists made their feelings known, and Berry recanted and apologized. From now on, presumably, she will stay in her lane and play only the roles and wear only the clothes that society’s tastemakers expect of her.