It wasn’t until David Bowie passed that I heard about how he had slept with an underage girl.
At the age of 15, Lori Mattix was a self-described groupie in the 70s ~ a groupie who lost her virginity to David Bowie. Last November, in an interview at the Thrillist, the adult Mattix seemed fine about it. Even when Thrillist reporter Michael Kaplan pressed her about it, she seemed dreamily happy, gushing, “Who wouldn’t want to lose their virginity to David Bowie?”
Mattix’s stories of her groupie years, deflowering, and age have varied over the years ~ which is not stated here to cast doubt on her claims, but to point out that she clearly hasn’t viewed her sexual activities with Bowie (or others) to be rape or anything remotely close to it. But, as told in the Thrillist piece, Mattix was a minor and Bowie was not. So even with Mattix agreeing and desiring to have sex with Bowie, her age removes her legal ability to consent. This would make Bowie guilty, ethically if not legally, of statutory rape.
Yes, I know; we all took David Bowie’s death pretty hard. But I’m not posting this about Bowie per se…. I mean, sure, there are definitely implications and conversations we should be having regarding celebrities and abuse. And we do have some consumer power we can wield. But the real issues I am looking at in this conversation are the rights of young people to have any sexual autonomy, who decides who is victimized, and how autonomy and victimization impact one another.
While there are laws that specify ages at which a person is “adult enough” to legally consent, even those which outline what sorts of authoritative relationships render sexual acts as abuse, we all know that there is no magic age at which every person automatically becomes a mature adult. It’s clear ~ or damn well ought to be!~ that infants and young children are not in any sort of position to make decisions about their sexual lives, outside of masturbation, anyway (which is why the “part one” post is so upsetting). But at what point do we give young adults the power to make decisions about their own bodies and sexual needs?
At Medium, Jes Skolnik, survivor of child sexual abuse, writes poignantly about the Bowie situation from her point of view:
[Mattix] does not view herself as a victim. This does not excuse the fact that Bowie had sex with her when she was underage, but we need to allow survivors the ability to define our own realities and speak our own experiences. We can believe it was on him, as the adult, not to have sex with her, and we can understand the context for his actions without excusing them.
I had sexual contact with a lot of men inappropriately older than me when I was 13 and 14. 22, 23, 24, 25, 26-year-old men. Sometimes I initiated it; sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I felt coerced; sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I was forcibly raped. Sometimes these men used the power that they had as musicians I admired to appeal to me. Sometimes I was manipulated. Sometimes I wasn’t. I wanted to be loved; I wanted to be desired. I felt that sex was all I had to offer. This is clearly based on my own history as a survivor of child sexual abuse. You learn early on how to be used, how to offer yourself. That is what grooming does.
Were these men ethically wrong? Yes.
Do I feel that I was abused? Only in the situations where I felt forced or coerced. Which, again, was not all of them. Some of those relationships, even with uneven power dynamics involved, felt real, and mutual, and loving. I look back on them and don’t know how to feel about them. They are part of my life.
Were they pedophiles? Some of them. Some of them had a history of going after inappropriately young girls. Some of them didn’t. Some of them found themselves with me as an anomaly. Not everyone who commits statutory rape is a pedophile, someone who seeks out such encounters and has a significant pattern of doing so.
Others, including Mistress Matisse & Alex Morgan, added to the story on Twitter, addressing the issues of age, consent, and victim’s rights:
When does a child become adult enough to consent?
In some cultures and points in history, a girl was considered a woman when she began her menstrual cycle… Of course, with today’s diet, toxins, and changing parenting styles, adopting such a stance would make some six year old girls legal adults. And what about boys? When would they be considered adult men?
Do two fumbling 14 year-olds having sex make it less abusive simply because neither of them can know better under the law?
We should all seem able to agree that a victim’s opinion matters ~ but even there, people disagree. Many voice the “If she was too young to consent, she was too young to know better at the time ~ and whatever her memory of the event, it is permanently flawed by her age and trauma” sentiments.
These are complicated ideas, fraught with strong feelings. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be struggling with them. On the contrary. We should endeavor to struggle through these nuanced issues because of the strong feelings evoked.
In a rather odd way, even after death, Bowie continues to challenge us, make us take a look at what rules ought to be bent or broken.