• April 2016
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Another Pathetic Attempt to Properly Explain His Profound Impact

“You like him? THAT freak? Why???”

Even though I was in college and technically an adult, I censored my response to my mother’s shock that I was obsessed with a man who seemed to be a homosexual, cross dressing nymphomaniac.

That is precisely why I like him, Ma. That was in my head.

What came out of my mouth were safe statements about his boldness, his indifference to being a black man wearing high heels and posing on album covers naked like women were expected to do no matter how well they played the piano and hit all the notes and danced all the steps in perfect sync. “Do you hear that guitar?” I chided my mother. “How come you spent your income tax sending me to youth retreat? Why didn’t you get me guitar lessons instead?”

She laughed along with me, but her face still registered confusion and a bit of concern. Was I changing into someone other than the upstanding, church going daughter who grew up so committed to the fundamentalist Christian sect our family was a part of that when every member of that family continually flouted the doctrines of the Seventh Day Adventist church she chastised them by saying, “We may as well just be Baptist, then.” Although I would not become a bad person, what did my worship of this raunchy, gender-bending musician mean I was going to become?

She had reasonable cause for concern.

I had heard the song before I saw the movie. I don’t remember how I heard it or who placed their headphones over my ears and demanded, “You have got to check this out.” I do know that somewhere in my mid to late teens, someone told me about this guy who had released this song that was in this movie a few years back. When I heard this song, it made me question further what well-meaning adults at my church and its affiliate school were trying to convince me of: There was something my gender precluded me from deeply desiring in its purest form. With no prettied up side orders. Just this delectable entrée.


In this guy’s song a woman wanted sex. She was not nasty about it. She was not ashamed of it. She saw this guy in a hotel. She invited him to her house. She prepared him for what he was about to experience and got his consent. In writing. She had sex with him. Even thanked him for the evening.

This guy did not sing about this experience with any special message on either the shaming side or encouraging side. The same way Anita Baker nonchalantly sang about the sweetness of love this guy sang about this regular woman who took part in the pleasure of the flesh and then left.

As if this was what women did.

As if this were normal.

This guy had no idea how much that simple story blew my mind. Made me have to face the recurring desire I had for a rotating number of boys with whom I was in passionate fantasy relationships.

In my church, the message was: Sex was not necessarily a bad thing. Sexuality was perfectly normal. We just had to control it. It was best explored with a person to whom you were legally married. (Or at the very least, committed enough to that marriage was likely in the near future.) To do otherwise, left you, as a young woman, susceptible to broken heartedness, wasted child bearing years and a continued cycle of “being used up” by men who did not think enough of you to give you more than an orgasm. “But will they give you their last name?,” I remember one of those upstanding church ladies asking the group of girls who were sleeping over at her house after an A.Y. meeting.

This message often left me feeling defeated. Even though I was completely sure I liked boys, I was unsure if I wanted a grown one living up in my house 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (And I was leaning towards a won’t-you-just-stay-here-from-Saturday-til- Tuesday compromise even by 10th grade actually.) I was absolutely certain I did not care about wasted child bearing years because the mere premise of changing the diapers of, feeding and trying to rock soothingly to sleep crying, ever-present babies struck me as a ridiculously ill-fitting dress to wear just to show off my womanhood. Even without trying on that lifestyle, I knew it mismatched the adulthood I envisioned for myself.

Where did this leave me and these feelings I was having for the Lorenzos and Johns and Larrys who kept popping up in my fantasies? Was I supposed to not remotely consider exploring this thing that God supposedly made a natural part of me since I would not likely marry them or any other boy?

And here was this guy, winking at girls like me and boys like him behind curly bangs, eyes trimmed with the smoky black lining of a skilled make up artist’s mascara pencil. Saying these things about his body and all the pleasures he treated it to. Lacing the music itself with sounds that would come to mirror, for me, the type of smiling fatigue one experienced post-sex, only to prove his manhood by adding those lyrics to finish off the deal.

At one point, this guy even had the audacity to say to my face, “I know you ain’t getting none. And I know you want to.”

It would be years after I began my obsession with him that I would try to be as bold as the woman in that song. By then, I had left behind the Christian church and was able to at least identify the layers of shame and guilt it wrapped around me even if I were still too young to effectively address the unraveling of those layers.

I called a man who I had been attracted to for what felt like centuries. I was tired of wanting him and not having him. I invited him to my apartment. Much like the guy who sang that song, this man eagerly came over.

We were both in our early 20s. So, of course this man never called me back after our night together.

I distinctly remember waiting for the shame and the sadness that were supposed to follow this experience of “being used.” I do not have memories of either. I do recall feelings of regret. We would never do more of what we had done that night? Had I known, I would have been more like the woman in that guy’s song and suggested we do other things, too. Things a young, inexperienced version of that woman would not have developed the courage to initiate just yet. It would take me another decade to be that kind of bold, but I knew then. I knew that the raw desire I felt and had satiated that night was, indeed, normal. As normal as that guy kept making it out to be in each subsequent song he released. I knew that giving into that desire could be as fulfilling when you had it a la carte as when it was paired with committed partnership.

To say we lost an icon seems trite now.

It hasn’t even been a full week yet and the count of tribute pieces is up to the hundreds…or more.

They all pretty much say the same thing: This is inadequate. I don’t have the right words. The ones I offer you are not even as good as his worst album. I should stop writing now. And you should stop reading. Because it is all insufficient.

Mine is no different.

I am now 40.

He was 57.

I never knew that when I was forced to think about why he had such a profound impact on me, the words you just read would come out.

So, you can stop reading now.

I, too, now admit the 1300 words you just ingested are inadequate, possibly incoherent and not even as good as Kiss.

4 Responses

  1. Well said, and not pathetic at all! I suspect many, many of us felt exactly like that 🙂

  2. I want to ‘like’ it but this PC’s not showing the button for it.

  3. OK now it is.

  4. Word. I’ve always felt a bit tingly after hearing “Darling Nikki,” especially since my name in Nikki. His name is Prince, and he (still) is funky.

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