The Queer And Complicated Life Of Little Richard (1932-2020)
The world lost a musical giant over the weekend with the passing of Little Richard, 87, from bone cancer. The architect of rock and roll, Richard was the pioneer of a sound that would influence some of the world's greatest musical talents—James Brown, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Prince, to name a few. Richard's flamboyant queerness endeared him to audiences of all races during a time when it was not only socially unacceptable to be queer, but also illegal.
Richard led a very public life, and also struggled publicly with his sexual orientation—often denouncing homosexuality in the final decade of his life.
"In a 2017 interview on the Christian-oriented Three Angels Broadcasting Network, Richard reiterated a belief that homosexuality is "unnatural" while simultaneously reaffirming his strong Christian faith that has followed him for most of his life. "Anybody that comes in show business, they gon' say you gay or straight," he said. "God made men, men and women, women... You've got to live the way God wants you to live... He can save you."
"In addition to his homosexual activity, he became involved in voyeurism in his 20s, paying men to let him watch them have sex with women, sometimes forcibly. "My whole gay activities were really into masturbation," he said. "I'd always be mad after I finished. Be mad at myself, don't want to talk about it, don't wanna answer no questions." His voyeuristic escapades eventually led to him being jailed for sexual misconduct after being found with a couple in a car in a Macon gas station."
For many Black queer artists, the totality of their identity is often sanitized in death and replaced with a socially conservative version that is palpable for the masses. Thankfully, this has not been the case in the days following Richard's passing.
Take a look at how journalists are memorializing the rock and roll icon:
"In 1995, he proudly told Penthouse,"I've been gay all my life and I know God is a God of love, not of hate." In a 2012profile in GQ, he candidly discussed partaking in orgies with both men and women, and described himself as "omnisexual": "We are all both male and female. Sex to me is like a smörgåsbord. Whatever I feel like, I go for."-Billboard
"The reason why we see these risings of people who employ queerness in their performance and appearance again and again and again is because Little Richard created the mold for such things to happen again and again and again. Because a queer person played a huge role in creating the bedrock of American youth culture, which is rock 'n' rolll, is why we see these queer expressions resurrect routinely in the culture." -Vice
"Little Richard’s style was a reckoning between the sweaty southern Baptist church revivals he witnessed as a child, and the raw sensuality that characterized jazz and blues. He bridged and made sense of the flamboyance and theatricality of the black church, and fed it to millions of hungry consumers. And he did it all while embracing a femininity that can be directly traced to his queerness."-The NY Times
Richard's queerness often landed him on the receiving end of physical abuse from his father.
In a 2000 interview on the Donny and Marie Osmond show, "Richard describes the bloody beatings his father would give him while naked and tied up. Richard breaks down in tears."
In the twilight of his life, Little Richard is still that child being dominated by the toxic masculine force that attempted to beat the queerness out of him as a child. He relinquished his legacy and denied himself the fullness of who he is in order to not only look worthy in his God's eye, but in the eyes of his abusive father that rejected him and caused him to cry on national television at the age of 67.
WATCH: The Counter Narrative Project: Honoring The Life of Little Richard