The stage is bathed in soft purple light. In a ruffled shirt and tight black pants, he preens in the spotlight and we hold our breath in anticipation of what will come next. The music starts and words take to the air in a falsetto proclamation: “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man / I am something that you’ll never understand.”
Some hear the opening lines of “I Would Die 4 U” in ways that can only be described in terms of the spirit. Yet this profoundly spiritual song also embodies a transcendence of gender and conventional identity. It's one of many Prince songs whose lyrics hold deeply personal significance for LGBTQ people, especially those of us who grew up feeling like outsiders because of our sexual identities or how we express our gender.
“If I gave you diamonds and pearls / Would you be a happy boy or a girl?” I know I wanted to scream “YES!” when I heard those words and their apparent affirmation of bisexuality and a degree of gender fluidity. Even though all he could do was offer up his love in a song, it was always more than we could have hoped for.
He confronts invasive questions about identity in “Controversy”: “I just can't believe all the things people say / Controversy / Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?” By the end of the song, he offers a question of his own that celebrates life, regardless of the labels we choose or reject: “Some people want to die so they can be free / I said life is just a game, we're all just the same / Don't ya want to play?”
Of course we want to play! The answer to so many questions in Prince songs is a breathy, excited “YES!,” especially when he invites us to joyfully defy a world that restricts us.
He declares “Sexuality” as a means to a revolution: “Sexuality is all you'll ever need / Sexuality, let your body be free.”
“New Power Generation” throws marvelous shade at “old ideas”: “Pardon us for caring, we didn't know it was against the rules / If we only want to love one another.”
Prince’s words are more than mere lyrics. They are prayers to a higher power stemming from our truest, wildest, most passionate selves. His songs open up our souls like doors leading into new rooms where people are always dancing, love flows like wine, and everyone is free to drink their fill. Through his melding of the ethereal and the carnal, he whispers to us that we can define ourselves and the world we want to live in. We will always have his songs to remind us that being outside of the boxes most people live in isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s the very reason to celebrate a life lived well.
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