On August 16, 2018, Madonna turned sixty.
My first memory of Madonna was watching her “Like a Virgin” video when I was five years old. I remember my sisters performing dances to “Into The Groove” and “True Blue” in our living room. It was only after the “Like a Prayer” era, however, that her impact on me began.
I was one among many gay men who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s feeling like they inhabited a world of darkness. I was in high school in the mid-90s and I remember that it was a very lonely time. This was compounded by the Indian culture I grew up with at home, in which homosexuals weren’t even supposed to exist. There was no one out there saying it was okay to be gay – no one, on the scale of Madonna, that is.
Sexuality was never openly discussed at home, in school or even in public. So, Madonna became my secret teacher and mentor on the subject. Even before I had the courage to say who and what I was, she gave me the words. In her songs, videos, concerts and interviews, she unabashedly celebrated sexual diversity and exploring one’s sexuality.
One time, I remember watching the Girlie Show on Much Music in front of my dad and uncle. It was the part where “Justify My Love (The Beast Within Remix)” was playing. As Madonna recited from the Book of Revelation, two male dancers violently and passionately groped one another on stage. My uncle and dad watched with puzzled faces. I felt embarrassed but couldn’t change the channel. There, in our living room, Madonna was breaking boundaries.
Like many gay men, I had to conceal the truth of my sexuality for many years, at great personal cost. On this her 60th birthday, then, I want to say thank you to this remarkable woman, if for nothing else, then for recognizing that we exist, for making us visible and for not giving a fuck. Thank you, Madonna, for being the person I could always look to and remember myself.