R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe Reflects on 20 Years Since Coming Out

Marc Hogan

By Marc Hogan

Lead News Writer
on 10.27.14 in News

R.E.M.‘s Michael Stipe has written a piece for The Guardian looking back on 20 years since he first went public about his sexuality.

In the essay, he recalls making the announcement in September 1994, when the pioneering band had sold 25 million albums globally and was about to release Monster, which is set for a six-disc reissue next month (you can watch a trailer for the new documentary R.E.M. by MTV). “I said simply that I had enjoyed sex with men and women my entire adult life,” Stipe writes. “It was a simple fact, and I’m happy I announced it.”

He adds that at the time, a “largely binary perception of sexuality” complicated his disclosure for the public. “I am thrilled to see how much this has changed in those 20 years,” he writes. “The 21st century has provided all of us, recent generations particularly, with a clearer idea of the breadth of fluidity with which sexuality and identity presents itself in each individual. Gender identification, and the panoply of sexuality and identity are now topics that are more easily and more widely discussed, debated and talked about openly. It’s thrilling to see progressive change shift perceptions so quickly.”

Before the essay closes, Stipe offers some eloquent words on the nature of love and sexaulity. “What I feel we have arrived at with all this, is that queerness — as I am happy to call an all-embracing, foundational tenet — is really a state of mind brought about by an understanding: it is understanding difference, accepting your own truth, desire and identity, and lovely, lovely choice,” he writes. “It is the final, completely obvious contemporary acceptance and understanding that this enormous world of beauty, sexuality, identity, lust, feeling, excitement, and love isn’t just black and white, or simple, at all — it is literally every shade and gradation of the rainbow.”

The piece is also notable for marking a specific time on an announcement that hasn’t always been clearly received by the media. As recently as 2001, an interview with TIME magazine where Stipe said he was “a queer artist” met with headlines such as “Michael Stipe Comes Out.” But as long ago as an October 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, Stipe was sounding much the same note as in his current Guardian piece.

He told RS‘s Anthony DeCurtis that “in terms of the whole queer-straight-bi thing, my feeling is that labels are for canned food. People are much too binary their thinking — I think sexuality is a much more slippery thing that. I’ve always liked the idea that I could publicly play with that and not pronounce myself anything and let people … not wonder … let people take me for what I am. I am what I am — and I know what I am — but I don’t really feel comfortable with labels.”

Read the full Guardian essay here.