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I was 19 years old when Madonna’s Erotica album was released, 25 years ago this past Friday. I had hair then – bangs, even! I worked part time at a Musicland in a tiny shopping mall and indulged in a consuming obsession with all things Madonna. I had also just experienced my first gay encounter – an awkward episode on a hot August day with my straight best friend in the rec room of his dad’s cozy a-frame lake house. While the first side of Color Me Badd’s first album played in the tape deck, we clumsily fumbled around each other’s sweaty bodies and I knew I’d never be the same. The next few months were incredibly difficult for me. The secret I shared with my straight best friend weighed heavy on our shoulders, grinding our friendship into shambles until he finally turned away, refusing to even acknowledge me as we passed one another in the campus hallways. I was very lonely, confused, angry and heartbroken. Madonna’s Erotica album was brazenly unapologetic, uninhibited and sexy. Sonically, the collection of dance club-driven songs delicately flexed between grimy and lush, somehow perfectly balancing the chaotic concoction of furious scorn and romantic yearning that I was feeling at the time. Erotica was essentially the soundtrack for my coming out. It perfectly encapsulated the devastation and rage of my first big gay heartbreak, but it also instilled in me an undeniable bravery and an empowering shamelessness that helped shape me into the man I am today.