4 Postitive Ways Freddie Mercury Challenged the World
Freddie Mercury would have turned 70 today. In honor of the singer’s birthday, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Centre named an asteroid after him. In the past, he also had an isopod found off the coast of his native Zanzibar named after him, the Cirolana mercuryi. And let’s not forget the arboreal frog genus Mercurana, also named after the star. Mercury is arguably one of the best-known rock stars of all time, and Queen is one of the best-selling bands of all time. His status as superstar is undeniable. Throughout his life, he flirted with the press and public, not revealing his sexuality, but certainly not hiding it.
He coyly said, “I’m as gay as a daffodil,” without ever clarifying the sexuality of a daffodil. In the same interview, he said “I’ve had my share of schoolboy pranks. I’m not going to elaborate further.” Although friends knew that he was bi, he didn’t ever come out to the public. It wasn’t until his obituaries came out calling him a “self-confessed bi-sexual” or “openly bisexual” that the public learned. In fact, he was so private, it wasn’t until the day before he died that Freddie Mercury publicly admitted that he had HIV/AIDS.
After his death, he left the bulk of his estate to Mary Austin, his ex-girlfriend, with whom he had remained incredibly close. Over the course of his life, Mercury had multiple relationships with both men and women, and his bisexuality was considered a bit of an open secret. Even though he was never out in his lifetime, Freddie Mercury was never afraid of challenging society’s sexual and gender expectations.
In case you ever wondered why a band that consists of four men is called “Queen,” it was all due to Freddie Mercury. He pushed hard for the band, originally called Smile, to be redubbed Queen. (Thank you Freddie!) There was resistance, because of the “gay” connotations of the word. Freddie Mercury would later say,
I thought up the name Queen. It’s just a name, but it’s very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid. It’s a strong name, very universal and immediate. It had a lot of visual potential and was open to all sorts of interpretations. I was certainly aware of gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it.
2) His Style
Queen performed for the first time in 1970, and Freddie Mercury’s costumes and strutting soon became iconic. He was known to be flamboyant, and the whole band definitely adopted a more glam aesthetic. This was the same time that David Bowie and Mick Jagger were performing in dresses. Freddie Mercury jumped into the fray, rejecting rigid ideas of masculinity and dress and embracing the more androgynous aesthetic.
The music video for “I Want to Break Free” featured the band, including Freddie Mercury, cross-dressing in a parody of the show Coronation Street. In the U.S. people did not understand the joke, and the cross-dressing segment caused the video to be banned in the U.S. The title of the song and the segment were seen by many as a confirmation of the fact that Freddie Mercury was not heterosexual and hurt the band’s reputation in the U.S.
4) His Style Again
Even while his music video was being banned in the U.S., Freddie Mercury didn’t conform to dominant ideas of masculinity. He abandoned the androgyny of the 70s. He cut his hair and ditched the makeup; he also grew the iconic mustache. Although we love it now, fans were known to throw disposable razors onto the stage when he was performing. He started wearing tank tops that showed of his arms and hairy chest; he often wore jeans, and he started incorporating pieces inspired by BDSM leather culture into his wardrobe. In fact, he was adopting a hyper masculinized style that was associated with “gay” men of the 1980s. Oddly, this was seen as more transgressive than his glamorous 70s look. Still, Freddie Mercury unapologetically rocked that ‘stache.
It’s tragic that Freddie Mercury never had the chance to be more open about his sexuality in his lifetime. I think that one of the reasons that he continues to resonate with queer folks everywhere is that he so gleefully challenged society’s expectations and norms around sex and gender roles. In honor of Freddie Mercury’s birthday, why not celebrate by challenging some norms of your own?
Talia Squires is the editor in chief for bi.org. Talia has a degree in German Literature from Bryn Mawr College and a Master's in Critical Studies from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She's obsessed with good food, fantastic wine, and trashy television. She lives in LA with her husband and fluffy Lhasa Apso.