All of these lines are cited as evidence that “Losing My Religion” is actually about coming out of the closet.
Those who believe that this song is about the difficulties suffered by a gay person contemplating coming out frequently cite these lines. Stipe was raised a Christian, and some feel that the idea of “losing religion” refers to the fact that many Christians find homosexuality to be sinful. Many also add that the “confessions” are Michael Stipe’s own as a closeted gay or bisexual man. The real clincher for most people, however, is the line where Stipe is literally singing that people should “[c]onsider this the hint of the century” (we don’t even need to get into the line about him being brought to his knees).
Before the song was released in 1991, Stipe had refused on several occasions to address his sexuality, so when “Losing My Religion” came out, people assumed that Stipe had as well. This song, these analysts argue, was his veiled commentary on the psychic tensions surrounding the decision to come out.
Stipe has never acknowledged this interpretation. In fact, he has stated that he does not write narrowly biographical songs. Moreover, the word “confessions,” with its connotations of guilt, strikes other analysts as problematic. It makes it seem as though he had been hiding something that he was ashamed of, which might fit from some religious viewpoints, but wouldn’t work if the song were about someone finally getting the weight of a secret off of his shoulders.
For those insistent on finding something about Stipe’s sexuality in the song, an earlier lyric—“that’s me in the corner”—might be more suggestive. On several occasions, Stipe stated that he did not want to be placed in a narrow sexual corner. Instead, he liked to play “around with that stuff. Blurring the edges a little bit. I don’t really like binary thought, no matter where it lands. And I think sexuality is a really slippery thing. I think a lot of people agree with me."
In 2008, however, Stipe took a different stance. He explicitly and publicly acknowledged that he was gay, stating, "Now I recognize that for public figures to be very open about their sexuality helps some kid somewhere."
This line is similar to a line from The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” the song that Michael Stipe claims inspired him to write “Losing My Religion.”
In writing “Losing My Religion” Michael Stipe explained that he set out to write a song about obsession along the lines of “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, and most fans find thematic similarities between the two songs. But there are also significant differences. Stipe’s obsession is less frightening; his narrator is defined by his inability to fully reveal his feelings. Sting’s narrator is far less weak; his obsession takes the form of a threat rather than a self-conscious and timid apology (“Oh no, I've said too much, I haven't said enough”).
The most direct lyrical similarity lies in Stipe’s line, “Trying to keep an eye on you,” but this line also reveals the fundamental difference between the two songs. Stipe’s declaration is couched within an admission of inability; he is “Trying to keep an eye on you / Like a hurt, lost, and blinded fool, fool.” Sting’s narrator extends a more terrifying and relentless threat: “Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I'll be watching you.”