Pur­ple Reign: Life lessons through mu­sic and stilet­tos

Ash­leigh Atwell is a queer les­bian writer and or­ga­nizer born and raised in At­lanta, GA.

GA Voice - - Out Spoken -

In my al­most 27 years of life, I’ve lived through the af­ter­math of sev­eral celebrity deaths. Some didn’t af­fect me while oth­ers hurt me but I usu­ally got over it within a week. Prince Rogers Nel­son has been dead for a month and I’m still hurt. I still have mo­ments where I stop what I’m do­ing and say aloud, “Bruh, Prince is re­ally dead.” Y’all, he’s gone. Only one other celebrity death has truly hurt me and it was my dear Nippy, Whit­ney Hous­ton. Still, some­thing about los­ing Prince is dif­fer­ent. This sur­passes los­ing a mu­si­cian or a celebrity. As a lit­tle queer black per­son, it was hard to find black celebri­ties, re­gard­less of gen­der iden­tity, that weren’t nor­ma­tive. Ev­ery­one was re­ally het­ero and their gen­ders were neatly boxed with a bi­nary bow on top. Then, there was Prince. The man who strut­ted around in three-inch heels with his body adorned with rhine­stones. He wore crop tops and winged eye­liner while other men fa­vored baggy jeans. He was het­ero­sex­ual but un­abashedly fem­i­nine and shut any­one down who had some­thing to say about it. It wasn’t im­plied, ei­ther. As he said in “I Would Die 4 U,” “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I’m some­thing you will never un­der­stand.”

That was the type of per­son I needed as a queer child. He was it for the weird awk­ward black child.

Prince also touched me as an ac­tivist or as some of my bougie friends say “artivist.” Prince’s mu­sic did many things, in­clud­ing in­spir­ing so­cial change. Prince used his craft to speak on a va­ri­ety of is­sues in­clud­ing HIV/ AIDS back in the 1980s when ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing a sit­ting pres­i­dent, re­fused to talk about it. That brav­ery and com­mit­ment never wa­vered. De­spite post­mortem at­tempts to white wash Prince, he was a staunch sup­porter of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment. He re­leased a song ti­tled “Bal­ti­more” in 2015 and fol­lowed it with a Fred­die Gray trib­ute mu­sic video. A few months be­fore that, he stood on the Grammy stage and told the au­di­ence that “Black lives, in fact, mat­ter.”

Lastly, he em­bod­ied shade. When he side-eyed some­one, a shadow was cast. His face has been im­mor­tal­ized in GIFs of his stank faces from mu­sic videos like “Black Sweat” and “Kiss.” When R&B pretty boy Trey Songz stood on the BET Awards stage in 2010 and war­bled his way through “Pur­ple Rain,” Prince clearly wasn’t here for it. There was no need for him to say a word. We just knew be­cause of those eyes. An army of At­lanta queens march­ing through Pied­mont Park couldn’t match the in­ten­sity of those eyes and the shade they cast.

I thought I was done writ­ing about him. I fig­ured I was done griev­ing. Not to men­tion, I saw Madonna’s Bill­board Awards trib­ute and that fool­ery threw me back into mourn­ing. Gays, from your sis­ter, come re­trieve her be­cause your girl is act­ing a fool. I di­gress.

In “1999,” the song, Prince told us that life is a party and par­ties aren’t meant to last. I beg to dif­fer. Prince’s party isn’t over, it has just tran­scended and I’m still down here danc­ing.

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