Prince was sort of an unlikely artist for me to try to emulate. I usually gravitated toward the detached, spaced out robot/alien type vibe – people like Gary Numan and Ian Curtis and Peter Murphy and David Bowie. Prince is sex, right? And, I never felt like I could pull that off. (Also, of course, he’s African American, and I’m not.) Lots of drag kings (or at least the ones I saw) exuded an overtly macho, hyper-sexualized persona. Off stage, they were laid back, just hanging out and smoking on the back patio. I just kept to myself for the most part, feeling too nervous to interact, eating pop-tarts and re-writing lyrics back stage. Incorporating jerky movements into every performance. Falling back on hacky-sack or yo-yo onstage to make things more interesting.
Years later, I was no longer performing at a gay bar – I was doing monthly shows at a community space. It was freeing and also draining. I also did occasional shows elsewhere, like a David Bowie Tribute Night at a bar that’s mainly a music venue. Someone was organizing a Tribute 2 Prince at this same bar, and I think he’d seen my David Bowie performance and thought I’d fit in well with bands doing Prince covers. I immediately agreed and started getting excited. It’s like, I would have never taken on Prince of my own volition, but when someone suggested I do it, I was game.
I probably had about 2 months to get ready, and I really took it to heart – I put a bunch of Prince songs on my iPod and listened every day at work, narrowing down good ideas, learning lyrics, just getting a sense of the breadth of his many types of music. I danced and lip-synched in front of the mirror in the bathroom at work. I started to cull songs that would work well as a medley, and also, separately, I started to have some ideas for the song, “Diamonds and Pearls.” It’s a duet (with New Power Generation member Rosie Gaines), and I had to see if I could enlist my drag king buddy to do it with me. She said sure; we did lots of practicing at her house. (We also did a photo shoot.)
I remember that I scoured thrift stores for cheap diamonds and pearls to no avail. Then, the weekend before the show, my spouse and I were in Philadelphia visiting friends and attending the Philly Trans-Health Conference. We stayed out late one night, so late that we missed our chance to take the subway back to their apartment. We had to get a cab. This is maybe one of 3 or 4 times I’ve ever been in a cab. Our friends said at a certain point, “this is fine, just drop us off here.” We opened the door, and right there, out on the curb with a bunch of junk, was a tangle of a bunch of diamond and pearl necklaces. For real. Right there. I still have them.
Around this time (this was late spring/early summer of 2012), I was sort of questioning/re-exploring my sexuality, and talking about it a lot in therapy. It kind of helped things, to throw myself into emulating Prince, at the time. After the performance, I wrote this to my therapist (amongst a lot more words, haha), “so this was by far the sexiest performance I’ve ever done, and some people were responding to that (I got gyrated on in the bathroom, some people were touching me) yet it does not translate to me feeling like I am a sexual person. It’s just a role.”
Even so, I had a blast! I did 2 sets – the medley I edited, which was “Uptown/When Doves Cry/Gett Off/D.M.S.R.,” and then “Diamonds and Pearls.” It was so fun performing with my drag buddy again, and we totally nailed it. The place was packed, and a lot of people approached me afterward to talk to me / say how much they liked it. I was Prince.