The reason why Prince’s death is so devastating, I think, is because we all know there will never be someone like him again. There’s his immeasurably innovative music, of course–which broke down the boundaries between funk, R&B, pop, rock, and electronic music–but he was also an idiosyncratic public figure and—even though he was straight—a queer role model.
Prince Rogers Nelson—yes, Prince is his real name—was literally born to be a star. His dad, a musician who performed under the name Prince Rogers, gave him that name so that his son could accomplish what he hadn’t in showbiz. And boy, did he ever. Prince was a performer in the truest sense. He could command a crowd like no one else. You could talk about his impeccable songcraft, or his immense talent on each of the countless instruments he’d play on his records, or the countless political statements he made in and out of his music.
But his most remarkable political statement, and the biggest impression he made on me, was his gender presentation. He was unafraid to go on television wearing makeup and frilly purple outfits, to sound feminine, to release a song called “If I Was Your Girlfriend.”
In writing this article, I tried to think of all the Prince anecdotes from my life: the 2007 Super Bowl performance that was my introduction to his music, the first time I heard “Raspberry Beret” and had my mind blown, the countless moments in my life that his music has soundtracked. But all of these fell short, because in a way, my whole life has been a Prince anecdote.
Growing up in Indiana, I'd always tell people my favorite color was blue or orange or green or something that was “manly” enough not to elicit taunts of “you're gay,” or worse. But deep down, purple had always been my favorite color. I was just too afraid to endure their taunts, and even more afraid that they might be right.
It took a while for the message to get through that I didn't have to listen to what society thought about me, but Prince was the one who hammered it home. Having someone like Prince out there in the music world who was willing to be feminine, play with gender roles, and wear purple mattered tremendously to me, whether I realized it at the time or not.
Sure, Prince was a straight, cisgender man, but he inspired countless weirdos, freaks, and queers to see that they didn’t have to conform to what society thought of them. Seeing someone who was that unafraid to be their authentic self was enough. Like he said in my favorite song of his, “Uptown:” “Where I come from, we don't let society tell us how it's supposed to be.” So eventually, I stopped caring about what was “masculine” and “feminine” and started caring about what was right for me. And yes, I started wearing purple.
There's no way of calculating yesterday's loss, but I do know what I’ve gained from being lucky enough to have shared the same planet with Prince. Thanks to him, I have an example of how to live and express yourself however you feel and not care about what other people think. And really, what’s more queer than that?
Kevin Tidmarsh PO ’16 was editor-in-chief of TSL last semester. Next year, he hopes not to be just another unemployed journalist. He was dreaming when he wrote this, forgive him if it went astray.