by Ekundayo Afolayan
Yesterday, a legend died. I was in shock as I found out about Prince’s passing through friends on Facebook and text messages from family members. It wasn’t until I met up with my mother for coffee that I finally broke down crying. Although I had never met him, listening to his lyrics and seeing him perform allowed me to know myself better.
There are very few artists who have expressed themselves as fully as Prince did. During his 57 years of life, Prince consistently showed us Black femme extravagance. From his purple suits to press n’ curls and high pitched moans, Prince showed us how to authentically and fully live out our truths. Even though Prince was always seen as weird, it was because he strived to be his true self – and he owned it.
As a bigender Black person who suffers from seizures, I have always been seen as ‘odd.’ I’ve struggled with feeling like a man with my ‘feminine’ small stature, long hair and wide hips. But when I listened to Prince’s live performance of “Cream” and his 1984 hit “I Would Die 4 U,” I knew that I could learn to love myself too.
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As a child, my family would keep me in pink clothes for fear of me looking ‘too gay’ on the days that I wanted to present as a boy. I internalized a lot of those experiences when I was told I have to choose between being a stereotypical, gender-conforming man or woman. But later in my life, Prince would show me that there wasn’t a right way to be a Black man.
Prince showed us that he didn’t have to perform as hypermasculine to be a man. Through Prince’s music and gender expression, I began to embrace identities around my gender that I had learned to hate. When I felt particularly dysphoric, I listened to Prince’s lyrics over and over again “I’m not your woman. I’m not your man. I am something that you’ll never understand.” I lived for his confidence and I wanted to embody every bit of it.
My attachment to Prince grew when I found out that, like me, he also dealt with disability throughout his life. As a kid, Prince had epilepsy and as he aged, he also had hip dysplasia but, for religious reasons, he refused surgery and opted for a cane instead. I’ve personally had to deal with having seizures for almost a decade now. It is grounding for me to know that an international icon who I have always admired also has a history of dealing with a similar condition.
Visibility is really important to me; especially because positive representation of Black folks, femmes, and people with disabilities is rare. We typically aren’t seen as desirable or worthy of love. But Prince helped to inspire my self-love by exuding his confidence and being celebrated for it. I’m taking a cue from Prince. I’ve learned to be extravagant and myself not despite the seizures, but in the active acceptance of them.
Prince always stressed the importance of being ‘cool’ but that’s because Prince changed the definition of ‘cool.’ Instead of ‘cool’ being defined externally, Prince told us that ‘cool’ started from the inside. Once, in an interview, Prince said, “Cool means being able to hang with yourself.” Ever since I read that, I have decided that hanging with myself is the ultimate gift. I take time just to treat myself and make an extra effort to love myself with every fiber of my being because Prince made me realize that I’m worthy of self-love.
But, like all of us, Prince was not perfect. As a light-skinned Black person, I felt represented in his music. But his protégés rarely had hair kinkier than 4A or skin darker than a brown paper bag. Dark-skinned people and people with phenotypically black features need representation and celebration, too, and the absence of dark-skinned people isn’t revolutionary. Even with these limitations, Prince was invested in Black liberation and always talked about music as if it could transform the world, like when he said “Like books and Black lives, albums still matter.”
As I mourn the loss of Prince with all of my family and friends, I feel unified by my community. While I never knew him personally, I felt a deep connection to him and his work. His life showed me that the most revolutionary action is to love myself in all of my Blackness, disabilities, and genders.
Ekundayo Afolayan is a Black queer college student studying illustration. When not writing or crafting, they’re freaking out over cats on the internet, how many jellybeans they can fit in their mouth and surviving in an anti-Black, queerphobic and transphobic society.
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