At the beginning of the eighties, a new force of nature entered my home at a party for my dad, his friends and his soon to be second wife.
Prince Rogers Nelson was in my home dancing in thigh high boots, an open and freely flapping trench coat and yes, horror of horrors, a g-string.
My parents and their libertine friends were horrified.
Was this a man? A transvestite? Was he black? Mixed? On drugs?
God forbid was this creature (lean in for the whisper) gay?
All I knew was that he seemed to be enjoying himself: he let other people wrestle with labeling him and he upset my parents.
As a 13 year old, I was hooked.
I rarely saw my parents get riled up about anything.
Prince got them riled up.
Prince gave me a new definition of black male artistry and masculinity.
If a black man could be this flamboyant and talented then anything was possible.
As a young black kid struggling with identity,oppression and ongoing homophobic assaults, seeing a black male take up space and offer the world the "finger" was needed and welcomed.
Prince let me know that it was ok to be talented and different.
I would need this assurance.
Just around the corner was disease and stigma that would wipe out difference, creativity, passion and talent.
Prince let the world know that through a great hook any subject could be spoken of and to: sex, nuclear war, AIDS, love, obsession, joy.
It is not often that someone this gifted is granted the opportunity to influence the world and pop culture for thirty years.
I can vividly recall where I was and what I was going through when I listen to his catalogue.
Dirty Mind- an eight grader curious and frightened by the world and determined to seek it out anyway.
Purple Rain- I remember my best friend singing "Darling Nikki" during one of our Summer outings and I thought "wow". "Somebody is talking about masturbation on a record ?"
I also remember running to my record player and turning it down when he got to that line.
Purple Rain, the movie, caused major pandemonium when it was released.
Many of my friends bragged about having seen it 10,15 and in some truly bizarre cases, 25 times.
My parents constantly griped about why we needed to see the movie so many times and play his records repeatedly.
That is until they heard a couple of B-sides, namely "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore" and "She's Always in My Hair".
Once they got a load of those ditties, they quit asking why we were so unremittingly under his spell.
In my obsessiveness, nothing the purple one did seemed wrong or a misstep.
What I believed scared and enthralled so many people(regarding his genius) was the ability to not "give a fuck".
Black male musicians were limited to certain forms of expression.
R&B male singers were expected to be smooth, calm, sexy and not too intimidating.
They were expected to be boring and in most cases, predictable.
As an artist who wrote, produced and recorded his own music, Prince provided no predictability.
Having mastered some 40+ instruments, Prince could easily genre hop in ways that no artist has done before or since.
Whether jamming with Chaka Khan until the wee hours of the morning; performing with Miles Davis and Q-Tip from Tribe Called Quest or simply sitting on a stool with a guitar playing an acoustic medley of his and other artists' hits, here was a man that owned his life and determined what it would look like.
As a black male living in this country, musically roaming was another large "no-no" that he ripped through with abandon.
Whether discussing drug addiction, government apathy or violence among our inner city youth, Prince shared with us where we were heading if we didn't make changes.
I urge all artists to step up and be 1/10 the artist he was.
Can you imagine a conversation between Prince and James Baldwin?
While he wasn't for my parents generation, he maintained a relevance and level of productivity that younger generations should wisely adopt.
My parents generation were a group of folks overly concerned with what people thought and most importantly what they said.
My parents were always frightened of any person who brought too much attention to themselves.
Prince teased us with world straddling and caused the older generations much grief.
In my eyes, he was a hero.
Black men were not allowed to rock high heels, be uber talented and not give a shit about what people thought or said about them.
We need black males secure in their manhood who give themselves over to their gifts then self create a sustaining vision of themselves and also rock high heels.
Where are artists and men like Prince Rogers Nelson?
Where are the gutsy, ballsy not giving a fuck artists?
If I see one more nitwit talking about being an artist and then crank out the same shit as everybody else, I will lose it.
As a young closeted queen, I had no black male role models who were as fearless as the Purple One.
I've known black males who either got crushed by White Supremacy (my grandfather) or never got a handle on their genius(my uncle) which means he never fully realized it.
Prince became a symbol of black male genius in its glory- unapologetic, relentless and unrestrained.
Thank god I was introduced to this wonderful bellwether.
I would have never survived high school without his talent and music.
I want the genius with me and I want to believe that this human was more Christ like than any of us will ever know.
When he started rocking the brutally honest and historically troubling word SLAVE across his cheek, I was not yet committed to a life of creativity and the mind.
My naivete allowed me to think that since he was rich and famous and putting out his own music that there weren't people attempting to control him.
As I began producing work and releasing it to the world, his insistence on being free made sense.
Since we now live in a world that encourages us to not take a stand about anything, a man who stood for something was a welcome and invigorating entity.
In the two months since his death, Prince has become more popular than ever. I have loved and admired this man and his talent for 30 years.
While people worldwide mourn his passing and scramble to find a suitable replacement(impossible), my focus is on honoring the legacy of his music and the bravery and courage he possessed.
In a world that requires your soul in exchange for any bit of recognition or attention, Prince showed us how to get and maintain attention based solely on talent and a dedication to craft.
No artist could combine sexuality, redemption, social commentary and religion like this man.
Here are seven reasons Prince will always Rock and Rule.
1. In "Controversy", he forces us to play with identity and the fluidity of how one can change, straddle worlds and do it with no self-consciousness and to a good beat. Am I black or white; am I straight or gay? Do I believe in God, do I believe in me? Some people want to die so they can be free; People call me rude; I wish we all were nude; I wish there were no black and white; I wish there were no rules.
2. "Ronnie, Talk to Russia" is an eighties plea to eliminate Nuclear weapons before we destroy the planet and one another. Ronnie, Talk to Russia- Don't you blow up my world.
3. Purple Rain- the movie, song and album confronts us with an artist struggling with both self actualization and offering a paramour care with the lyrics- I never wanted to see you cry; I only want to see you dancing in the Purple Rain.
4. On the brilliant and way ahead of its time, Around the World in a Day, Prince serves us Middle Eastern influences while urging us in the title track : Open your heart, open your mind a train is leaving all day. A wonderful trip through our time and laughter is all you pay. The entire album is wonderful romp through, sex, forgiveness, redemption and social uplift. "Pop Life" quickly and disturbingly reminds us that "everybody wants a thrill ". In "America", he states: Little sister making minimum wage living in a one-room jungle-monkey cage. Can't get over; she's almost dead. She may not be in the black but she's happy she ain't in the red.
5. "Parade" returned Prince to our movie theaters with two very different and equally sensual songs. "Kiss" brought us funk and longing with a determination to give in to a full relationship complete with surrender and a nod to building relationships beyond superficiality- "you don't have to be rich to rule my world you don't have to be cool to be my girl." "Sometimes it Snows in April" (my personal favorite) is so haunting that it breaks my heart no matter how many times I hear it. A simple arrangement with absolutely stunning vocals, this track reminds us that things in life don't always go our way and the mystery and joy of life is found in places that leave us raw, vulnerable and transformed.
6. "Sign of the Times" is his absolute best. Perfection. Each track on this double slice of heaven was pure magic. Did I mention that like Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life" was a double album. There is no way you can listen to this double disc and not hear the prophetic call that would be the 80's and beyond. Released in 1987 with an accompanying concert video, it begins with the title track- In France a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name. As if this was not enough in the same song he points out that our government can send people to the moon but we can't figure out how to have enough for everyone to eat. He adds a wink to lust and the chance at monogamy when he tells a paramour in "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"- that he may be qualified for a one night affair but he could never take the place of her man. What about his usual blend of sensuality, sexuality and religion- "Adore": If God struck me blind your beauty I'd still see.
7. "He believed young people could change the world." This statement was given by Van Jones the co-founder of the YesWeCode initiative (an organization dedicated to ensuring that 100,000 low income youth learn to write code). Prince began supporting this initiative in an effort to create a generation of self sufficient youth ready to lead and create in the 21st century.
Yesterday, my man beat me...Again. In Scrabble.
The final portion of creating a successful relationship is the ability to learn from each other daily.
Many couples meet and silently agree that neither will change no matter the amount of time spent together or the circumstances that would invite and encourage change.
If you want the relationship to breathe and have life then it is imperative that you each learn and teach one another daily.
The lessons needn't be huge, life changing or mind boggling. Small bits of learning can have the same effect over long periods of time as gigantic paradigm shifting insights.
Whenever there is a showdown in my house via the Scrabble board, I learn a better more strategic way of playing and at least two new words.
Many times I have had conversations with friends that resulted in learning something about myself and also gave me a fresh perspective on how I think.
This comes in handy when taken back to the primary love relationship and utilized as a means to bring a richer more insightful you into the fold.
Being mentally and intellectually challenged is a great aphrodisiac and often leads to greater intimacy both sexually and otherwise.
When the brain is stimulated because it is taking in new information and processing it, the body generally follows.
When I incorporate something new, I often get an electric spine-tingling surge of energy.
When I am presented with something new, I often get a psychological gut punch which lets me know something new is happening.
As a young queer, I often longed for the teaching of an older, wiser paramour.
In my 40's, I often stated : no man has anything to teach me; older doesn't mean wiser and I hope when I'm in my 40's and beyond that I have utilized my mind and years well and have something to share.
While arrogance and pure idiocy kept me alive, it didn't do much for my learning curve (books and great films took care of that).
Part of the arrogance was based in the reality that I didn't know to look for this attribute in men and didn't know how to make it a part of my "must have" list.
At 31, a surge leading to a case of happy pants was enough to get the party started.
At 40, it came to me: you love conversation and learning. Find someone who is a sparkling conversationalist and brilliant.
Not a buffoon full of hot air who likes to hear himself speak.
I used this self knowledge to seek an individual interested in both an exchange of ideas and what someone else's viewpoint might entail.
How do you find this very elusive and tantalizing attribute ?
Look for a man who is committed to growth.
If you have the same conversation more than once does he provide a slightly evolved point of view ?
Is he willing to try something that may or may not work ?
Does he welcome ideas and innovative ideas that are not his ?
Does he invite you to disagree ?
Does he still make you laugh ? I haven't seen him naked lately... Dorothy Zbornak, The Golden Girls
More than a year ago, I wrote about my insane need for comedy and laughter and even wrote a formal invitation for the brilliant Margaret Cho to marry me (Cho you missed out; I'm hitched).
After writing this post and continuing with my insane obsession with what makes love work, I stumbled upon a great insight.
I looked at my most fulfilling and uplifting relationships and realized this is one area that consistently presented itself.
Much like the primary secret of successful relationships (shared values), comedy and the ability to find humor in things as a couple is what is needed. Like values, comedy is individual and personal. What I am referring to here is the ability as a couple to create shared joy via comedic interaction with the environment.
Couples often design their own comedy "bits" based on what they find mutually amusing and downright hysterical.
For years, I stated that my closest allies made me laugh and learn something in every conversation.
With humor as my guide, I began searching for different types of love.
My man needs to be funny as hell. Period.
Living in this country and in this world can be scary, frustrating and at times downright fucked (up). You better have a "ride or die" soldier at your side who can point out things that are ridiculous and comical.
My man does incredible characters and voices (Brooklyn hood rat, British society maven, Irish brogue, Maine and everything in between) there is never a shortage of character driven humor and insight in my home.
By constructing the ability to delight one another, we have made a place to retreat when things occur that leave us frustrated.
Having been in relationships that had no humor taught me that this is not the type of interaction that I either require nor can accept.
As a black man who dates white men and has to deal with classism, racism both internal and external, community upset and social interaction on a daily basis, it is wise to have something that will allow for safe and ongoing navigation.
A shared sense of humor is one thing that will allow for continual victory when facing the aforementioned destructive variables.
So what do you and your man joke about ? Find hysterical and ridiculous ?
Many gay men wrongly assume that sexual attraction means relationship (material).
What is not understood is how to create wonderful relationships.
Often times those of us who have created something wonderful go underground.
We make it difficult to provide tangible, visible proof of what two men who are in love the right way can create. Most of us not only don't know how to date but also bring these simplistic types of interaction to our attempts to design relationships.
When we are limited to less than stellar relationship resources, we can only recreate more of what doesn't work.
Spending damn near three decades and unmentionable failures trying to make love work, there are three things that repeatedly show up when successful relationships are the topic.
Incidentally, these are the same three things that can be utilized in developing incredible friendships.
For a very long time, it was a goal of mine to be in a loving relationship that would assuage all past mishaps.
While I had no idea how to do this, it never was clear until a friend pointed it out, that nothing substantial could be created without a similar /identical set of values.
Like many of my misguided brothers, my assumption was sexual attraction equals relationship (see the wonderful Bethany Marshall for a clearer understanding of the limited thinking this provides). When these colossal flops presented themselves one time too many, my focus became finding a man with similar values.
Often times you can ask a person directly what they find important and although many either don't know or feign ignorance, simply watching a potential paramour will yield some honest and clear indicators.
My brilliant acting coach Colette Duvall always taught us that the subconscious always reads.
Another way to view this philosophy : watch what a person gives their time and attention to.
If your date claims exclusivity but is spending a whole lot of time at the bathhouse, it is time to rethink the relationship if your goal is monogamy.
If you are interested in saving money and the new paramour finds ways to not only refuse to look for work but finds ways to spend the agreed upon mutual savings, he is not interested in honoring you or your finances.
After agreeing to support your decision to attend school, does the "potential" mate find ways to create chaos when you should be preparing for a major exam ?
If so, take a look at your values and determine if this is the man for you.
You can't really get anyone to change their values or necessarily adopt yours.
In the same fashion, you've both shared the desire to protect the relationship and the home you share and as a result neither of you invite psychos into your home for any reason this is also a shared value.
If the term "values" seems to airy fairy or clinical think : what does this person find important and what do I find important ? If there is a match differences can and should be examined and worked through.
Do you know the values of your latest love interest ? Do you have an agreed upon definition of monogamy ? Open relationship ? The way you spend your time ?
Here are few wonderful insights from the aforementioned Dr. Bethany Marshall which should be memorized when we are attempting to fall in love and want to desperately build a lasting successful relationship.
Healthy relationships are founded on mutuality (both of you are equally invested in the relationship), honesty(you never walk away from a conversation feeling confused) and generativity (each conversation generates a new experience, a new understanding and a new way of being with each other).
If these factors are there, then consider falling in love !
Most of my young life, I dreamt of a large family with many children screaming, playfully terrorizing one another and basically providing loads of love and energy in a semi large contained space.
There were only two problems : I am gay and I could not find another suitable individual who had done the emotional and psychological work that would allow us to co-parent from a position of love and guidance and not neediness.
The more I longed for young ones and fought to become and stay emotionally healthy, the fewer men I encountered who were healthy enough to raise or consider guiding young people.
I have always loved and valued children.
My commitment to children is also a commitment to community.
As a young boy, I had the distinct and memorable experience of being raised in many intergenerational situations.
Whether it was an uncle teaching us the latest dance steps or an aunt sneaking us into Richard Pryor's concert film and performing Macbeth in the living room, we had many and varied influences who all influenced and loved us in very different ways.
When my parents could not tolerate my daydreams and basement, standing room only performances, my sister and I would head down the street to an always eager audience (our grandparents).
When raising children certain realities will present themselves.
At some point, adults lose their patience. They will say or do something stupid or insensitive.
Bad parenting and making a bad choice are not one in the same.
Many parents, including my own, are obsessively concerned with being perceived as a good or bad parent.
The parenting gestapo is not concerned with supporting parents and communities dedicated to rearing children.
When parents accept the good/bad parent title, they've lost the parenting battle and have limited their ability to think and make amends.
We all get seduced into the lies that say everyone is more capable, organized and loving than we are.
When the silent voice of defeat constantly whispers we are losers and have no business raising children, many of us react by criticizing, controlling and frantically attempting to dominate every aspect of our children's young lives.
We no longer do what's best for our children.
We do what's best for us and hope that this lack of thought and future planning will not cause any severe and psychological upset.
The trick to creating new parenting strategies is not focusing on whether a parent is good or bad.
Using our community as a source of support, tough love and inumerable ways to interact with young people, we are able to create new strategies for loving and guiding our young people and give up the concept of good/bad parenting.
Lee Daniels, Oprah and their very entertaining movie (The Butler) are having quite a moment.
It always amazes me that the very large and in many ways predictable white power structure makes a decision to "anoint" certain people authorities and makes the decision to silence others.
As a result of Mr. Daniels and Ms. Winfrey's second pairing and obvious grab for the Oscar, it seemed a great time to allow Daniels to not only publicly "come out" but also to spew his brilliance regarding why a "majority" of black gay/bi men stay in the closet.
While I am thrilled that he has publicly acknowledged his sexuality which can only enhance and embolden his work, this business about not "coming out" and allowing himself to be "silenced" so that he could work is troubling and weak.
Many times I have been offered the chance to play the game: Switch pronouns, refer to folks as buddies, gain advice on how to handle love and a lack of communication between myself and the man I was currently dating.
All of the game playing was created by denying who I was and the real nature of my complicated and highly annoying "relationships" with other men.
After growing a pair and hitting my mid 20's, I knew it was time for something else and some very different ways of being.
I started doing my homework and looking for some models of unadulterated courage.
I found one who kicked me in the gut and gave me permission to be my full and present self.
James Baldwin has inspired me for more than twenty years.
Mr. Baldwin was speaking to the "establishment" and creating from a place of honesty and fearlessness fifty years ago. He wrote of gay love, longing and anguish while simultaneously combining it with the "black struggle". Nobody (the black intelligentsia, the government or other artists) could silence him.
When I hear Mr. Daniels describe the struggle of wanting to work, I hear the need to belong.
I hear the need for acceptance and permission to create that only comes, or so we are told, if we don't allow ourselves to be placed in certain boxes.
When I was closeted, I couldn't create shit.
All of my genius and talent was devoted to keeping up a facade.
There was no time or need to develop elaborate, layered characters (via my acting and writing) when my existence was one crowd-pleasing performance after another.
Once I ingested Baldwin's brilliance and boldness and made it my own, amazing things began to happen.
Ten years ago, I wrote and performed a ballsy, brave, one man show:Knucklebones.
My brave instructor, Gretchen Cryer, had given me permission to write about the scary dark places we all possess.
Talking about male rape, addiction, abandonment, betrayal, teen homosexual longing for love, hurt and redemption, there was no way to unflinchingly explore and create insightful, gutsy analysis without speaking in a multitude of voices and tenses.
As I approach the new year and hurdle towards my fifties, I find myself asking :what happened to that emotionally brave theater soldier?
It is time to stop asking permission and struggling to explain and move into taking charge by tapping into those reservoirs of courage, power, initiative and creativity.
I will create a great year by taking on the following three tasks. Creating as if I don't give a shit and have nothing to lose; welcoming opportunities to be honest and confrontational when it is needed and finally, understanding that there might be a better way of doing things that I have yet to discover.
I want to encourage people to be brave in 2016 and beyond. My act of bravery for the year-publishing my anthology, Ain't I A Man and a collection of Sci Fi Short stories.
While creating sci fi may sound like a blast to create, it may require more than one confrontation.
My students often feel that confrontation is a bad thing.
They feel that actively seeking out and highlighting differences is negative and to be avoided. When I point out that an honest discussion (seen as confrontation) can and often does lead to growth and a severe creative outburst, they seem confused.
We are often taught to avoid honest and passionate discourse and dissent for fear that we will upset someone and eliminate a friendship.
Being bold in 2016 means I must develop a spirit that will allow me to be an outsider, a person who goes against the grain and doesn't die a slow death as a result.
Being honest with myself also means confronting my fears surrounding being misunderstood or put "into a box" to make others comfortable. When I allow others to define me, I become angry and feel the need to disengage and cease creating from a position of boldness and self definition.
A healthy confrontation will mean nothing if my ego and love of being right undermines the process of change that could occur.
Most of us want change if and when we have instituted it.
In order to have a big bold life, it is imperative that we welcome change and don't freak out when it appears.
Finding people we can trust who also are committed to "doing it differently" is required if change is to be welcomed and not shunned. It usually means widening your social circle and seeking out folks who are also yearning for something bolder.
People who want big, bold lives are not afraid to think and look at things via a very different lens.
Most people will never get it.
It is not our job to cajole, teach and manipulate those around us who are content with the way things are and have no use for change and the fear it engenders.
Look to folks who are already on the path to developing change and ushering in a new way of thinking and behaving.
It is never to late to take on change and improvement.