As a kid I listened to my favorite high-voiced divas croon and trill through lyrics of love and loss and recovery as if I had known that same experience. Not only could I match their range with my pre-pubescent voice, but there is certainly a quality of strength and simultaneously vulnerability in these high pitches, which also explains our love for the male falsetto, or even the castrato in the—circa 1650-1750—castration of boys to preserve that ‘classic’ boyhood soprano. Perhaps this high pitch also allows us to channel castration anxieties, as Freud might have said. Whatever the case, I certainly faced a world that threatened to castrate me, lest I act straight.
Through my family, I was exposed to Patti LaBelle whispering, hollering, then shouting and wailing on “You Are My Friend”. Yet, speaking directly to the video-mesmerized XY generation, as a kid of 11 years old when “All Cried Out” hit Billboard’s #8 position in October 1986, my heart was already all cried out. I listened to these divas shout about how they had invested all of themselves, yell about a betrayal of trust, and holler about the pain of abandonment, neatly pressing the beat and rhythm forward. Indeed, this unique mix of power and vulnerability is shown through the quality of Lisa Lisa’s voice, or even Full Force’s (not to leave Force MD’s out of a mention powerful voices) skirting across the butch and the femme.
This mirrored my process of coming to terms with my sexuality in a time and space were such things were not annunciated, let alone discussed, so I had learned to bury my feelings. This only intensified the anguish of middle school crushes lived out in teen mags, and through heartthrobs like Marvin Gaye, the Gap Band, New Edition, Prince, WHAM!, and those sweet DeBarge boys. Outside of the music, I was silent.
“There you are, holding her hand / I am lost / Dying to understand”, Mariah quailed, gently explaining a similar anguish I felt years later over loosing my first love. I was the first man he had loved, and he was my first love; once we split, he dated a mutual friend. I did not know how to explain the layers of pain I felt, watching him walk around campus holding her hand. And there was no script for all this tenderness.