by Jack Qu’emi Gutiérrez
Prince was everything.
It’s really fucking me up that I have to talk about Prince in the past tense. Frankly, until a few hours ago, I was convinced that he was immortal. I mean, did he look like he aged at all? The only thing that ever changed on that man were his outfits.
I never had the pleasure of seeing Prince in concert. But I am so glad I was lucky enough to be alive at the same time as him. Prince was an unapologetic, androgynous, Black, musical savant whose penchant for drama and smoky, purple eyeshadow overwhelmed my unworthy little femme senses. Seeing such a stunning, ethereal creature on the cover of my parent’s Purple Rain album opened a critical door for my expression as a queer femme of color. I used to pour over that cover, from the floral border, to the deep purple motorcycle Prince straddles so effortlessly; a purple fog swirling around him. I can remember my parents playing “When Doves Cry” and how I attempted (and failed) to hit the same falsetto escaping from Prince because I thought his singing runs were actually what doves sounded like.
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I’ve always had dramatic tastes myself. I’ve always been a person of small stature, but big personality. In my mind, there is very little a touch of glitter can’t fix. My eyebrows and lipsticks are key aspects of my aesthetic, and I’ve constantly been reminded that my unabashed bluntness can be rough on many people’s palates. Growing up, being this ~extra~ wasn’t desirable (particularly if you, like me, aren’t White). I was too loud, too opinionated, and just generally too much. When I started dressing myself and was allowed to wear makeup, I once again did the literal most with bright colors, heavy eyeliner, colored hair, and glittery nail polish. All of this was pretty garish for a teenager and only overshadowed by my later foray into body modification.
There was a lot of not-so-subtle pressure by my family, my peers, and even my coworkers to tone it down. Apparently, being small and femme was typically associated with being fragile and quiet. Needless to say, I continue to (sometimes unpleasantly) surprise people.
But then there is Prince— who, as I mentioned, was everything.
You see, Prince was 5’2”. Prince was always unapologetically Black. Prince’s lewks were always a statement. Prince commanded a room the same way he would command a stadium. Prince effortlessly presented a kind of feminine masculinity that not only confused the shit out of his fans, but also made us want to be and be with him. Prince was a male sex symbol who laughed in the face of normative masculinity a la Simba from the Lion King “in the face of danger”.
I honestly don’t think there are words to express how incredibly crucial Prince’s music, style, attitude, and very existence in popular culture was for every “weird”, queer kid with a healthy excess of melanin.
Prince became a glittery beacon of hope for those of us who couldn’t relate to White celebrities’ “strange, sexual, and gender-bending” shtick. Prince balanced a silent power with his extravagant tastes. Seeing a Black person embody free expression through more than music was critical for many of us who found the extroversion White stars exhibited inaccessible because our skin was shades of brown. Brown and Black bodies are either hypersexualized or desexualized. We are constantly the targets of sterilization, violence, and rigid policing. It’s not possible for many of us to walk down the street or leave our homes while presenting ourselves authentically. We are disrespected for our individuality. We are reminded far too often in overt and covert ways that we were once seen only as property. Our value in this White supremacist, capitalist patriarchy isn’t measured in individuality. Prince is a reminder that there is still power in our eccentricity, strength in our oddity, beauty in our originality.
Prince’s passing doesn’t negate the artistry he gave us. His imprint has permanence attained by so few. Personally, Prince showed me that I had options—that I didn’t have to choose between compromise and ostracization. My flamboyance is now palatable because Prince demanded it be so. He has carved out spaces for alternative expressions through many creative avenues. He has touched and inspired millions throughout generations. To even attempt to imagine this world without his particular peculiarities and continuous creative content is heartbreaking. I know he has enough musical material in a vault somewhere to hold many of us over until we check into a senior living facility, but most of all I will miss his looks, his charm, the shade he threw, his constant undermining of societal expectations, and those long-lashed, smoky, purple-lidded eyes.
Prince was everything.
Prince IS everything.
Jack Qu’emi is a nonbinary femme who has been creating content on the Internet for almost 5 years with a focus on educational material that critically analyzes current events and pop culture. They are based on the East coast, but often work remotely. You can follow Jack on Twitter @jackquemi. For inquiries/ consulting/ work, please email email@example.com
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