Prince of Men

My life changed the day I discovered Prince. I was a mass of pre-teen confusion and awkwardness when I became mesmerized by his purple badness. He possessed that edge, that wildness, breaking the rules, doing his own thing with his own style.

He was the first man I had ever seen dress in a pair of bikini briefs and a trench coat, and heels, and he could dance in them - well! And he did it all. He played 27 instruments. He produced, arranged, composed and performed all of his music, and did his own choreography. Many guys were envious of the women surrounding him – Vanity, Apollonia, Sheila E., and others.

Prince became popular during the Reagan era, when America was looking once again to the All-American frontiersman, the rugged individual, the man’s man. It was the era of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme, and the other action heroes that saved America from terrorism and saved the damsel in distress. It was the time politically when the Berlin Wall would crumble, and America would reassert itself as the baddass on the block.

Prince’s androgynous looks and hyper-sexuality was antithetical to this sort of bravado, while many of that ilk relished in bashing him and all of his disciples. Prince defied the macho stereotype and carved out his own identity, standing on the shoulders of pioneers like Little Richard and David Bowie. Even glam rockers like Poison, Twisted Sister and others served as an unspoken solidarity.

I would listen to Prince for hours, dancing, posing, and playing air guitar. I had the quintessential Prince memorabilia: posters, magazines, records, t-shirts, buttons, everything. I wanted to be like Prince. I started wearing my hair over one eye like him, earrings, long coats the gloves – except for the high heels. I just couldn’t pull them off like Prince did!

A lot of people, including my parents, thought he was a freak, but he was not a freak to me. Prince was my hero. He came along right when I needed him, when I was so depressed, feeling so out of place, and feeling like I didn’t fit in anywhere. He said screw everybody else, just be myself. He said I was fine just the way I was, that I didn’t have to change for anybody. He allowed me for a moment, to escape from all the madness in school, at home, and in the neighborhood. I entered his world, and could be whatever I wanted to be.

My parents frowned on Prince. They preferred Michael Jackson, and other popular R&B artists who at that time looked clean and dressed nicely, sang clean lyrics and for the most part did clean dancing; not the gyrating, half dressed, high heeled, makeup wearing weirdo who used profanity, sang about sex, and looked like he was masturbating with his guitar.

My parents prayed that my Prince fascination was just a fad, something that I would outgrow, and eventually resume being the nice middle class Huxtable kid that they were attempting to raise. They were terrified that I would morph into a forever disciple of the Purple One.

Unfortunately for them, it got worse. While keeping my Princedom intact, I go into the alternative/punk/goth/industrial scene, with more bands who mused themselves in androgyny, like The Cure, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Gene Loves Jezebel, with other alleged grotesquely costumed weirdos like Skinny Puppy and Ministry.

Soon I was in all black, with earrings and eyeliner, and stud bracelets and belts, spiked hair and boots. I received my share of bashing from other men who called everything from a freak to a faggot, and some who threatened to kick my ass.

Still, I refused to toe the line and embrace the male image that graced magazine covers, and television and film screens. I refused to believe that those images were the only ones that a man could aspire to be. As far as I was concerned, Prince and the other male musicians I followed was equally as viable, and had a valuable place in our society.

In homes, schools, and neighborhoods all over this country, there are boys who are battling to claim their own androgynous identities while recognizing their evolution into young manhood. They stare at their adorned image staring back at them in the mirror and enjoy what they see, while others are in the wings throwing rocks to shatter it.

 

 

Ron Kipling Williams