The sudden death of the gender-queer music icon Prince Rogers Nelson at his home in Paisley Park Studios has shocked the world. As much controversy hovers over his family and the causes of his death, Prince’s music currently populates a growing number of music channels, social media platforms and theme parties. The artist’s hypnotic rendition of Kiss is played everywhere from laundrettes to club nights. Despite the out-pour of condolences from celebrities and fans alike, Prince’s perception of sexuality and marriage equality has left many followers divided.
As a pioneer of black sexual expression, Prince is known for his eccentricity in his sense style. From his famous crop tops, to his sparkly purple jackets, to his cornflower suede boot heels; many observers questioned whether Prince was gay. In fact, in Uptown 1980, one lady did bluntly ask, to which Prince replied:
Kinda took me by surprise, I didn’t know what to do,
I just looked her in her eyes and I said, “No, are you?”
The lady must have been shocked at his reply. Similar, perhaps to how The Washington Post and the woman’s magazine Bustle responded to Prince’s views about gay marriage. Both articles depicted Prince’s ‘anti-gay stance’ as ‘baffling.’ Yet their critique reveals a greater understanding of the social tropes that stereotype individual expression. Prince believed that how you dress or behave sexually should not determine your sexual identity.
Moreover, when we look at Prince’s background and upbringing, we begin to understand how the shaping of his ideology has informed the nature of his opinions. Prince was born on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to a family of Seventh-day Adventists. By 2001, Prince had released 23 albums and became a Jehovah Witness. A young Jewish couple recounts opening their front door to find ‘The Purple One’ with the religious pamphlet entitled The Watchtower. In an interview with the New Yorker, 2008, Prince explains his religious conversion as a Morpheus/ Neo experience and renounced both the Democrat and Republican approaches to gay marriage legislation:
Neither of them is right … God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.’
Prince’s wild and infectious musical persona articulated fluidity between the polarised scales of gender, sexual and religious identity. From the outside, Prince was a character full of contradictions, yet what his life contradicted were the steadfast notions of contemporary culture. I honestly don’t know whether or not Prince was gay or straight. I question whether it should matter now that he has passed away. I guess what was so controversial about Prince and his sexual identity was its lack of absolute idealism:
I just can’t believe all the things people say / Controversy.
Am I black or white, am I straight or gay? / Controversy.
Do I believe in God, do I believe in me? / Controversy.
By Kelechi Iwumene
Sex, Love and Poetry is a celebration of love taking place at The Royal African Society’s annual literature and book festival Africa Writes 2016.
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Picture Credits: fashionablyearly.com/ Imgur via complex.com/ concerts.eventful.com/ Album cover 1999 via wikipedia.org.