Saturday, April 23, 2016

Prince is dead. And he was a raging homophobe.

Saying that is not going down well with the grief-stricken Facebook crowd.

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We read into Prince what we want to see.

He was a very short, rail thin, slender-shouldered man with unusual facial features. Because he failed heteronormative standards of masculinity, most people "read" Prince as androgynous. That Prince wore high platform shoes to enhance his height and stage presence; that Prince liked flamboyant clothing in order to overcome his short stature and somewhat shy personality; that Prince liked a wide range of hair styles (just like his idols, Little Richard and James Brown); that white people don't understand black hair styling......... somehow, this translates to "Prince was a queer gender-bender androgyne." (And no matter how muscular he became later, his clothing choices often masked it -- which only maintained and sustained the public's impression of him as a twink.)

Does this make Prince a "queer gender-bender androgyne." No, it doesn't. Not to my mind.

I see a parallel between people who see short twinks as "submissive bottoms" -- no matter if the guy really is an aggressive, dominant top -- and how people see Prince as this androgynous-supportive gay icon.

Almost everyone who knew Prince has said that he had NO homosexual tendencies. From his early teens to about 1984, he enjoyed hanging out in gay clubs and around drag queens because he loved the libertinous and flamboyant atmosphere of these clubs and these individuals. He enjoyed the way the atmosphere in these clubs helped him overcome his shyness and introverted qualities. He enjoyed being around people who were outcasts and different and yet had the courage to be themselves, because Prince himself felt like an outcst and felt different and drew inspiration from them in order to be courageous and be himself.

The same close associates and friends who say that Prince was a confirmed heterosexual also say that Prince was a firm adherent of Seventh-Day Adventism, and that his struggle with his faith only deepened over time. Seventh-Day Adventists believe homosexuality is "a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world." Prince's religious beliefs may or may not have included this teaching. But his "sudden" convertion to religious fundamentalism in 2001 wasn't sudden at all, to anyone who knew him.

And consider: Prince made it big in 1984. Sixteen years passed, and he converted to Jehovah's Witness. Sixteen more years passed, during which time he was a right-wing religious nutjob, preaching against homosexuality and denouncing gay marriage (when he chose to make his religious views known, which, admittedly, was not often).

Yet, we persist in remembering only the pre-Jehovah's Witness Prince. Why? Because we read into Prince what we want to see there.

That Prince was a nice person rather than a turd (like Pat Robertson or Jesse Helms) helps "us" to read him the way we want to. That Prince persisted in showing a highly sexual, libertinous persona on stage helps "us" to read him the way we want to. That Prince remained an incredible stage performer helps "us" to read him the way we want to. That we can continue to enjoy Prince's music for what it is (just as we can enjoy rabid anti-Semite Richard Wagner's music for what it is) helps "us" to read him the way we want to. That Prince chose to keep his virulent homophobia quiet, while emphasizing sexual liberation, helps "us" to read him the way we want to.

But, to my mind, too many people are still "reading" Prince the way their own biases and desires lead them to, rather than the way Prince really was. "We" are choosing to ignore the fact that he was a raging homophobe, because our understanding of Prince's sick religious homophobia is very limited and was not a big part of his public persona. Prince means something important to many people, and that meaning remains untainted (and incomplete, I think) only because their knowledge of his gay-hatred was nonexistent or so easily explained away, or because Prince himself chose to de-emphasize it.

I don't think Prince actively duped the public (especially his gay fans) in order to make money and retain an audience. His audience in recent years had shrunk dramatically, and Prince didn't seem to care -- he made the music he wanted to make. And money-grubbing doesn't seem to fit with the rest of his personality.

I'm not sure how to explain the disconnect between Prince's gay-friendly and libertinous public persona and his private views on gays. It would be too easy to write him off as a hypocrite. I think, tentatively, that he struggled with it, just as he had long struggled with his religious views overall. Once he had a public personality, he found it hard to change that public image, just as he found it hard to embrace religious fundamentalism until he did so in 2001. Embrace right-wing heresy he did, though. Just as, maybe, over time, he would have embraced a less sexual and libertinous public persona. I dunno; we'll never know now.

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