"I'm not a woman; I'm not a man; I am something that you'll never understand." —Prince, "I Would Die 4 U"
"Am I black or white?; Am I straight or gay?" —Prince, "Controversy"
These are some of my favorite lyrics of our dearly departed Prince, words written and broadcast in the 1980s, the decade of Reagan and AIDS and Jerry Falwell. These are the words I choose to remember him by, along with those attached to some of the most exuberant pop music of the late 20th century; songs like "Raspberry Beret," "Diamonds and Pearls," "Little Red Corvette," "1999," "7," "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man," and on and on and on.
Most of us are still nursing our wounds over losing this singular, gender-bending artist, who changed the way male artists looked and acted, upending gender in the days when masculine-presenting Bruce Springsteen epitomized rock-star sexiness.
Not all of us are grieving, though.
Here's a small sampling of comments left on The Advocate's recent Prince articles:
"Prince was an unapologetic hypocritical homophobe, end of story."
"Yup! He was an outspoken hate monger and a homophobic bigot. But he's dead now....so everyone has forgotten that. It's more fun to flood FB with his music and vids to be trendy cool like everyone else."
"Prince ended up being to [sic] freaky religious and a gay hater."
"Too bad he was a homophobic bigot. Why does the Advocate insist on trying to cover that up? Pretty fishy…."
"Why is The Adovocate [sic] wasting time on this known hate-filled homophobe. His 'Jehovah God' works in mysterious ways ... perhaps he was called away to a homophobic conference in the sky. LOL"
The source of some of this scourge: a disputed article from eight years ago. Speaking with The New Yorker, Prince allegedly declared his opposition to same-sex marriage, saying, “God came to Earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, 'Enough.'”
After the interview, people from Prince's camp insisted he was misquoted and denied his opposition to marriage equality. Even if they were wrong, this quote is not proof he's a "hatemonger" or a "gay hater." Nor is it enough to erase all the contributions he made toward blurring the harsh lines of the gender binary or chipping away at our puritanical sex shame.
Did Prince speak of marriage equality publicly — or demean gays — since 2008? No. Even if he was opposed to same-sex marriage in 2008 (disputed) and he didn't evolve his views in the eight years before his death (we have no idea), he kept his trap shut and didn't use his platform to undermine our cause.
If LGBT folk think all their friends and relatives are on the marriage train or down with trans rights because they haven't pulled a Kim Davis or made some public proclamation, they're wrong. Some people — older folks, religious folks — are going to take some time to get with the program. But it's bad form to hate people for harboring opinions they keep to themselves.
Let's think of it another way. I have feelings about organized religion, but I don't voice them in front of my boyfriend's devout mother. She likely knows how I feel, but should she hate me just because I have opinions? I don't discredit her beliefs vocally or make it my mission to deny her right to observe, but I would still be a "hateful bigot" by the same logic of the anti-Prince camp.
The gay vitriol that followed Prince's death is less about a hazy interview and more about the star's fervent embrace of religion. Prince was constantly referencing a higher power and searching for spiritual meaning in his music — from songs as varied as "God" and "Let's Go Crazy." After becoming a Jehovah's Witness in 1997, Prince knocked on doors and passed out copies of the Watchtower (really). Jehovah's Witnesses aren't pro-gay marriage (or pro-gay sex), but they're also against birthday parties. I don't believe they hate kids who blow out candles at Chuck E. Cheese; it's just not that simple.
I sincerely understand why so many LGBT people are gun-shy about religion, but it's not fair to label everyone a hateful bigot who goes to church or is steadfast in their devotion. Prince may not have been loudly advocating for LGBT rights, but he was by no means working against us. In 2008, the same year Prince gave that infamous interview, Barack Obama didn't support same-sex marriage. A sane person would not categorize the then-senator as a "gay hater."
As more icons of the 20th century leave us, we'll need to add context to their obituaries. We can't forget the past, but we can't stubbornly hold the deceased to today's more enlightened standards. It's playing to our darker impulses to search for things to hate someone for, especially someone as complicated as Prince, a flamboyant black musical genius operating in a racist, sexist culture.
So let's reserve the grave-spitting for real enemies — people like Antonin Scalia, who not only held views about us in private but made that hate so tangible it will reverberate for generations.
NEAL BROVERMAN is the executive editor of The Advocate.