1998 was a bad year for me. As if repeating a year in Class X wasn't enough, I had developed a hopeless crush on my classmate who didn't even know I existed. He, the class jock, me the gay nerd. As cliched as they come.
As if to make things even more difficult for yours truly, my classmates finally found a word that defined the box of oddities that was me, 'gay'. It was a whisper campaign like most teenage whisper campaigns tend to be - wanton, relentless and confused.
Unbeknownst to me, someone else was having a way more difficult year. Pop icon George Michael was battling rampant homophobia in an apparently liberated first world country, he was arrested for engaging in a lewd act earlier that year by an undercover police officer in the public lavatory of the Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills, California - an incident which prompted him to declare his homosexuality, which had been rumoured for some years but had not been confirmed yet.
Till then, for me, a clueless teenager from Kolkata, George Michael was another name in the pantheon of desirable but unattainable men.
George Michael with his luxurious mane and perfectly-chiselled jawline had the world on his feet. His manicured stubble, his leather jackets and his crotch-hugging jeans coupled with his overtly sexual music videos reflected a carefully-constructed persona. It was clear as day that the man was not what his videos made him out to be.
But the world had no place for any other version of George Michael just as it had no place for me.
And so, I had posters of his band Wham on my wall, right next to a poster of a shirtless Akshay Kumar bending down on Juhi Chawla. The wall could have been my sexual universe.
Little did I know, that summer, George Michael would shine on millions of other gay men like me by doing what he should have done a decade ago. In June 1998, George Michael, at the ripe old age of 35, decided to publicly come out with a song.
In the sunshine
I know you want to, but you can't say yes
Let's go outside (let's go outside)
In the moonshine
Take me to the places that I love best
To the world, it was an event long overdue. For me, it was a sign from a force greater than anything
I remember watching the video on MTV, transfixed. It had George Michael, in a pornstar cop costume, dancing raunchily against other men and women. It talked about doing it and not being ashamed of it.
George Michael was looking at the camera and asking the world to F*** off. For me, George Michael had arrived.
I remember my mother clicking her tongue in disapproval. “Ei shob ki dekhis?” (What kind of stuff do you watch?). Indian mothers have a wonderful way of making you feel ashamed of what you are.
I remember not being ashamed of watching the video. If George Michael could be himself, so could I.
All pics sourced from Twitter