“Excuse me…are you Prince?,” the hotel concierge asked me.
At first I thought he was joking, the kind of slightly homophobic jab I’ve grown used to hearing over the years, so I kind of laughed as I said, “No, I’m not Prince” with what I thought was a tone of obviousness.
Girl, with my dark complexion and the way my entire face looks, no I’m not Prince.
“Are you sure?” he doubled down.
What? I couldn’t believe it. In his heart of hearts, this hotel concierge thought with all seriousness that I was Prince. Had he never seen a picture of Prince before? For what it’s worth I was staying at a hotel in Sydney, Australia, and Prince was also performing in Sydney that very weekend. So…okay. Plus, I’m always wearing something ridiculous so I guess it’s plausible that maybe he honestly thought I was the Purple One. Apparently, too, the story was bigger than just that one hotel concierge. Later that day I met some Sydney friends in a park and when I told them I was staying at the Urban Newtown Hotel one of them said, “Oh, I heard Prince was staying there.”
Maybe he really was and I just didn’t know.
Of all the other black divas and pop singers I’ve admired over the years, from Tina Turner and Little Richard to Beyoncé and Lenny Kravitz, Prince’s androgynous aesthetic completely changed my approach to my own body as well as my connection to queerness. He was proof that androgyny is sexy, that it’s a kind of magic that can captivate everyone, gay or straight, white or black, male or female.
I don’t quite remember when I first discovered Prince. He was just sort of always around in my household. If you were black and in America in the 80s and 90s, you knew about Prince. Your family members loved Prince. You put Prince on at house parties, during the holidays, at BBQs. Your mom loved Prince and your grandmother loved Prince and your aunties and uncles loved Prince.
But the connection I had to Prince went far beyond his music. When you grow up in a black family and you’re the only closeted gay of the bunch the term everyone uses to describe you is “funny.” Well, that or “artistic” or “different.” It’s a way of noticing the big old faggot, looking right at him, without actually having to say that you’re a gay person. Prince being as flamboyant as he was gave me the space to play with my own sense of queerness, to feel that it was ok to be “different,” “funny.” I was fascinated that he was able to be so famous and yet play with gender and androgyny as much as he did — ruffled shirts, pearl necklaces, heels and evening gloves.
Prince will live on in his music, that’s a given, but his legacy will also continue on in every queer person of color who discovers him, who sees in him style inspiration. His legacy will be musical but it will also help queer people of color to learn to love their difference.