The passing of David Bowie is a loss so large that it registers as almost incomprehensible. Few artists of the 20th century have had the same kind of immeasurable creative reach as Bowie, whose work not only forever altered the landscape of music, but also left a shimmering, glittery stamp on the face of popular culture on a global scale. To try and articulate all the ways in which Bowie’s work has influenced the ways in which we think about pop music and gender fluidity and fashion and art is both exhilarating and nearly impossible (though lots of people will certainly spend the next few days, months, years, decades attempting it), but in the immediate wake of his death I can only think about how different my own life might be had David Bowie not come dancing through it. Like so many queer people who grew up in the pre-Internet dark ages, Bowie’s work was a lifeline—not just because of the music he made, but because of what he so flamboyantly represented. Listening to a hand me down copy of Diamond Dogs in my teenage bedroom was akin to having someone fit me with the musical equivalent of a Technicolor bulletproof vest. These were the ideas that would protect me throughout my tumultuous adolescence. This was music that would make me feel suddenly less alone in the world. I listened to “Star” on my Walkman while driving my stepfather’s ancient tractor in dusty circles across the wheat fields behind my parents house in Oklahoma and imagined a better, more glamorous life for myself out in the world, one in which playing “the wild mutation” of a rock and roll star (or a rock and roll journalist) was actually weirdly plausible. Bowie provided much-needed evidence to kids like myself that one’s identity could be fantastically mutable, that sexuality need not necessarily be defined, and that a life of creativity and radical personal evolution was not only possible, but something to strive for. His music will forever be a renewable resource in terms of how it informs and influences everything that comes after, but perhaps even more important than his records is the design for life that David Bowie himself represents. Bowie is the antidote to complacency. He defined for an entire generation (multiple generations, actually) what it means to be an artist. He is proof that simply being oneself—whatever that happens to be at any given moment—is actually enough to change the world.