Purple Reign: Life lessons through music and stilettos
Ashleigh Atwell is a queer lesbian writer and organizer born and raised in Atlanta, GA.
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.