AS a fey young lad growing up in Reading, Berkshire, England, Simon Doonan lived with his nose buried in fashion magazines, putting on fashion shows in the attic with his sister, garbed in their mum’s clothes. One Sunday morning, Doonan’s father Terry interrupted one of the shows. “Sensing there might be a pansy among the begonias,” the elder Doonan pulled young Simon to a window with a view of Reading Gaol, the Victorian prison where a certain playwright spent two years at hard labor. “Homosexuals lead lonely lives,” he told Simon. “They get beaten up and thrown in jail, just like Oscar Wilde. They get blackmailed too. They often commit suicide.”
His father’s warning did nothing to deter the fashion-obsessed teenager, who came of age in the Swinging Sixties, from “aggressively pursuing fabulosity, fashion, and music.” He became obsessed with early ’70s glam rock, especially that of David Bowie and his “Spider from Mars” guitarist Mick Ronson. In an interview with Bowie, Simon learned about Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, and his obsessions grew to include Lou Reed.
Doonan writes that the year 1972 was pivotal not only in his life but for social change in general. “The counter-culture of the late ‘60s [had]loosened up the stays of midcentury respectability. … Notions of sexual liberation, gender equality, androgyny, camp, unisex style, [and]bisexuality are endlessly dissected.” That year, Sweden became the first country to legalize gender-affirming surgery, San Francisco outlawed employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and London held its first Gay Pride parade. The time was ripe, Doonan writes, for hitherto unimaginable change. For Doonan, two seminal albums appeared that year: Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Lou Reed’s Transformer.
Hank Trout has served as editor at a number of publications, most recently as senior editor for A&U: America’s AIDS Magazine.