25 years ago, R.E.M. were at the height of their career and one of the biggest bands in the world. Michael Stipe chose that peak to come out as queer, a move he said he’s still “proud” of to this day.
Stipe officially came out in 1994 during the promotional cycle for Monster. It was one year after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and one year before President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. In the midst of these homophobic hostilities, Stipe told interviewers that he was “an equal opportunity lech,” and while he rejected labels such as gay or bisexual, he confirmed that he was attracted to men and women.
In a new interview with Billboard , Stipe said he looks back on that time with bemusement and pride. Even though his public coming out sent shockwaves through the rock community, Stipe insisted that he was “never closeted.” He explained, “That’s the thing that’s beautiful about it and I’m so proud of. You can never find a single picture of me pretending to have a girlfriend or being somebody that I’m not. I was never that guy.”
“Any longstanding R.E.M. fan who had not figured out I was queer before that point wasn’t looking very hard,” he added.
While Stipe did date women during the ’90s (including a fling with Natalie Merchant), he primarily had a small number of long-term boyfriends. He later clarified his orientation as “around 80-20, but I definitely prefer men to women.”
Later in the same Billboard interview, Stipe spoke about R.E.M.’s decision to disband in 2011 as “the right decision.” He said, “Encapsulating the creative work of the band by disbanding allowed us, and I think the rest of the world, to take a step back and look at it for what it was. We were not the guys who were going to always be there, and I think that did us a huge favor, honestly.”
Last month, R.E.M. released a 25th anniversary Monster box set, as well as a remix of the album’s tribute to Kurt Cobain, “Let Me In”. In March, a mere eight years after R.E.M.’s breakup, Michael Stipe finally went solo and played two new songs live. One of those tracks, “Your Capricious Soul”, was later released as a single. There’s probably more where that came from, too; in an interview over the summer, Stipe said he has 18 songs “already ready,” although we’re still waiting on an official album announcement.