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I am glad I waited. I saw Purple Rain again today. It has been sometime since I’ve seen it. I’ve wanted to write something, write some thing about Prince leaving us but I couldn’t express it in the right way. I had to gather my thoughts and wait. Yes, indeed I had to let things simmer… Now that I have, I am glad I did because I needed to see Purple Rain on the big screen before I could wrap my mind around why I love Prince and what he did for me. I needed the movie to say goodbye and to embrace what he was that changed me.
Prince came onto the scene wearing lace, leather, pearls and would turn profile with his guitar and cradle it between his legs stroking the arm up and down as he played, leaving no doubt to what he was suggesting. His mix of purple jackets, silk scarves, lace and leather with gold hoop earrings and bold eyeliner was NOT something you saw a black male wearing at the time. The A-Team made its debut on television a year before and Mr. T was what a black man was supposed to be- dark, masculine, angry, huge biceps, powerful, physically imposing, smoking etc. Mr. T was the embodiment of the black brute, and that was what blackness was.
Here comes short, soft spoken Prince with the eyeliner and purple and leather thigh high boots with high heels to blow that whole stereotype apart. He looked like a woman but sang like a man, and evoked pure erotic strength. He wrote sensitive androgynous lyrics about “not being your woman or your man” yet it was clear women wanted him, and he was a sex bomb waiting to explode. Prince did not play with sexuality, he was sexuality. He embodied all of it. He was the gender binary and in-between. As a child watching him hump the floor, lick his guitar, strut around in panties on stage with feathered hair I had until then only seen on Farrah Fawcett-the definition of what a black man was allowed to do broadened.
Suddenly if this guy could do whatever the hell he wanted onstage and wear lace and panties and still be thought of as “a man” then maybe, just maybe I would be ok. I knew I was different from when Christopher Reeve entered my life. I did not know what “gay” meant, but I knew I liked him in his Superman costume more than most boys did…I quickly learned from school, church and television that I had to hide this affinity for good looking men. I wasn’t supposed to like them “that way.” I was shamed into the closet by life at a young age. However Prince played a huge part in my ability to crack the door open and secretly know that it was ok. I was ok. Sexuality was mine to do with as I pleased. Prince gave me hope that black men could have a complicated and sophisticated sex expression like everyone else. Spontaneity wasn’t just for Boy George. Everyone including blacks could have fun and be free to be themselves. This was a powerful message then and still is today. For Black Lives to Matter we must consider the whole person with agency. Having sexual agency is a huge part of our being full, happy, well functioning people in this world. Prince gave me the permission to be kinky, be weird, be whatever the hell my little black self wanted to be. I will always be grateful to Prince for giving me the permission and the power to be myself.
Seeing him up there on the screen it made me tear up as I knew it would. Another genius has left us all too soon. I cried because it is one more black icon gone. I cried because his music brought out the real me that I was afraid of for so long. I cried because his beautiful blackness touched me in a way I had forgotten.
Rest in Peace my Prince.