Prince’s alter-ego Camille is an elusive character, not least because they never officially existed. Camille was an album created and test-pressed by Prince between September and November of 1986, which he planned to release without his name attached; all production, writing, and vocals were to be credited to the mysterious and fictional Camille. Though Prince abandoned the Camille album in November 1986, he continued to engage with the character for years afterward, composing more Camille songs, writing Camille into the original draft of Graffiti Bridge, and including Camille in the Lovesexy Tour booklet (1988-1989). Camille as a character is inherently liminal: they had no assigned gender, being referred to as he or she in different mediums; no corporeal body, as they existed only as a pitch-altered voice; and did not exist as an established character, because the Camille album was never officially released.

In this paper, I argue that Prince’s Camille exists as a trans* caricature, meaning the character inhabits multiple stereotypes attributed to trans people, specifically trans women and transfemmes. To do this, I delve into the construction of the character and compare their depiction to an historic trans* caricature, the character Alexina from Oscar Panizza’s short story, “A Scandal at the Convent” (1893), based on real-life White intersex person Herculine Barbin. I compare these characters to show how they were both constructed as trans* caricatures similarly but with crucial differences due to Prince’s and Camille’s Blackness. I argue then that in Camille we can situate an echo of Prince, an unmastered version who is predatory, animalistic, and inhabits transphobic stereotypes, and who, crucially, was then subsumed into Prince’s own canon. By understanding this construction of Camille, we can more fully understand the taboo ways in which Prince queered the boundaries of his performance, and of Black masculinity, throughout his career.

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