Lately I’ve been thinking about my one of my kid Harry’s iconic influencers. A stencil Harry made of her and hand-colored with makeup his senior year of high school hangs in my guest room. His drawing of her famous, humanly impossible arabesque pose appeared in his notebooks. Harry even wore a t-shirt to my hometown book launch that featured a striking image of her with rhinestone-studded bowler hat and a cigarette clenched between her teeth. She’s singer/songwriter, actor, James Bond flick icon and former supermodel Grace Jones. And she’s still my nonbinary kid’s role model.
Decades of Grace.
I knew of Grace Jones in the 70s, as the unusually striking and statuesque model who hung out with Andy Warhol, David Bowie and the Studio 54 crowd. Harry discovered her decades later when his first high school boyfriend Andrew introduced him to her music. He eventually gave Harry her entire discography.
“I was really attracted to how weird her music was,” Harry told me recently. “The image she’d created for herself was very distinctive, irreverent, unapologetic, androgynous and fierce AF.”
Funny, I thought. Those were all traits I’d use to describe Harry. He had eschewed the established gender binary for clothes, toys and colors in early childhood. And just as Grace Jones was intensely honest and different, Harry was always true to Harry. Even before he knew the term nonbinary, Harry knew he wasn’t like other boys. Most of all he didn’t care what other people thought of his gender expression. He never apologized for being himself.
“Plus she’s the fullest embodiment of a diva I’ve ever seen,” Harry continued. “If anyone is deserving of the title diva, it’s her.”
My nonbinary kid’s role model is a true diva.
I knew Harry’s meaning of diva extended beyond the standard fabulous, glamorous, talented and temperamental. To Harry, I imagined Grace Jones was a goddess for her fierce personality and unflinching confidence. I remember how excited he was to see the only North American show of her “Hurricane” tour. Later he loved SO much the Grace Jones performance contract rider he found online. It specified 2 dozens oysters on ice “(unopened—Grace does her own shucking).”
I saw her personal strength — and also some unexpected vulnerability — for myself in the new documentary, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, by filmmaker Sophie Fiennes. From her early modeling days to producing her own albums, she forged her own path. She didn’t let anyone get in her way. Especially relevant I think, she was guided by how things made her feel.
A possibility model.
In a recent New York Times interview with Grace Jones, Fiennes notes that, “Grace is always living the limitless possibilities of being – the possibilities of every moment, that you could live it more extremely.”
The larger-than-life woman who just turned 70 still chooses to make her own rules. And without knowing it, she affirmed my nonbinary kid. The fantastic melding of Harry and drag artist Amber Alert created their own rules and their own understanding of gender identity. As a result, I see them, too, as a possibility.
Happy Birthday, Grace Jones. Thank you for all the possibilities you offer others who oppose established beliefs. I’m pretty sure that, like you, they simply want to follow their dreams, take risks and be unapologetically themselves.
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