I have been hesitant to discuss this subject for a while and with good reason. Even though few other fans have touched on this topic I would like to give my own opinions and observations about Michael’s sexuality and religious views. Please note that I am not claiming to have known MJ, nor am I claiming to know what he believed or thought at a particular moment in his life. I can only go based off of what he said while he was alive. I do not claim to be a feminist or womanist (I don’t really care for labels), although I do agree with a majority of their views. I know you just rolled your eyes at me.
Firstly, I believe that Michael was not hyper masculine* and he became more and more non gender conforming, or “androgynous **” as he got older. I do believe he was comfortable with his sexuality (obviously heterosexual and cis-gendered ***) and tolerant and respectful towards his LGBT fans and friends. I think he gained a better understanding of other people’s experiences by surrounding himself with people in the LGBT community, however he was not incapable of saying things that may be interpreted as ignorant, whether he meant it that way or not. He was very intelligent and aware of a lot of issues that even I do not know about. I think his work requires constant examination and analysis. The only appropriate critique of Michael’s work comes from fans who can be objective while understanding him as a person and the actual message behind his music.
Before I get into this I want to address a situation that happened a day ago on Twitter. It’s part of the reason why I decided to go ahead and dust off the draft for the post I’ve been afraid to publish since last year. Some fans (as usual) have misconstrued what I said and blown it entirely out of proportion. This topic has always been a source of conflict within this fandom. For some reason fans like to call Michael “perfectly imperfect” yet when you critique some questionable things he’s said they attack you. “MJ has enough bad publicity!” they’d complain. As if a couple of fans honestly discussing the fact that he was imperfect is an attack on his incredible integrity and character. Please. Pointing out some (possibly) sexist things he did in the past does not mean I’m pulling a 180 on MJ as a fan. As someone who will always admire and respect him, I do not believe he is exempt from critique. I will never bash him.
HIS RELIGIOUS VIEWS
Excerpt from a poem in Dancing the Dream. Notice how he keeps switching pronouns for God.
It seems as if during the time MJ was disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witness religion that he began to question his own views (this struggle was revealed in his books Moonwalker and Dancing the Dream.). His lack of a childhood may have had a hand in this, among other things. As someone who grew up in a Witness household I can identify with struggling with my personal views and not being able to celebrate holidays or birthdays. I never cared for holidays but would occasionally wonder what it was like to celebrate. Some aspects of Christianity are…interesting. You are not supposed to celebrate “polytheistic” holidays anyway but let’s not get off topic.
Michael grew up in a strict, abusive authoritarian religious household. It seems his only relief from this was performing and bonding with his mother and siblings. I am not saying the Witness religion is strict and authoritarian because it’s not.
The source of yesterday’s conflict started when a fan said that Michael could be sexist sometimes and another fan (along with myself) agreed, citing his conversation with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. I do not condone buying anything from that crooked man because as far as I am concerned he is just as bad as Martin Bashir. I do not give credibility to any of his books about Michael however some fans (and myself) examined a statement MJ made on tape about modesty and also cross dressing. I simply stated that the way he said “I didn’t want to go to a gay bar (with Madonna) where they cross dressed” sounded like he was being close minded.
That’s when the fandom erupted and I’m surprised an argument could last so long.
Many of you do not understand what misogyny is, and that just like there are different levels of racism, there are different levels of homophobia and sexism. It can be the very least-which, in Michael’s case, he was one of the least problematic people (which is true)- or it can be extreme hatred for women and anyone who doesn’t conform to hyper masculinity and being straight. We all have had or still have slight traces of internalized misogyny/sexism and even some other “-isms”. Just because someone displays ignorance about a topic does not make them a bad or unintelligent person. No one is 100% knowledgeable about every single thing. I never said I expected Michael to know everything and it is not bashing him to acknowledge that he could be wrong sometimes. I don’t even act like I know everything. I was only examining two things he said. Literally. How fans got me saying he hated women and was a flat out homophobe out of that is amazing.
It has always been my belief that if Michael did not grow up with respect for his mother he wouldn’t have been so in touch with his own emotions, or respectful of women in general. Joseph was not giving his children (imo) the emotional support that they needed because his own father had been that way. Michael seemed to be very modest about his interactions with women and songs like Dirty Diana are proof of this. Some would say Dirty Diana is shaming groupies or making them out to appear “dirty” but I don’t think so. I think because Michael was raised around this kind of club lifestyle he had a distaste for women who only wanted him for one thing. That, and his religion taught him this kind of modesty. There is nothing wrong with modesty and MJ had a right to state what made him uncomfortable, personally. Like unwanted sexual advances from fans **stares at Shana Mangatal**. Also, it is interesting how Michael would always say “I don’t like using the term “groupies”.” Because he knew that word had a negative connotation to it and wanted to remain respectful. He had difficulty finding another word to replace it.
Michael saw how his brothers and father treated “groupies” and I also think that shaped how he interacted with women. He was surrounded by an adult atmosphere from a young age, which is really not appropriate. Hate to bring this up again but his brothers did have sex in the room while he was there “asleep”. So naturally he would not like the “club” life or going to strip clubs, etc, which is probably why he said “I didn’t want to go to a gay bar (with Madonna) where they cross dressed“.
Now, I did explain on Twitter that there is nothing wrong with a straight man not being interested in going to a gay bar or strip club if that’s not what he is interested in. That doesn’t make him a homophobe. I just stated that the way he said “where they cross dressed” kind of rubbed me the wrong way. It could have easily been interpreted as a micro aggression even if he did not intend for it to come off as “I’m not comfortable around people who cross dress.”
Also, these statements were taken at a time where MJ was unguarded so I have to take that into consideration. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach really did record Michael and twist his words in a Bashir-like fashion. He made MJ out to be some woman hating egotistical narcissist. He even hinted that Michael was delusional and had the same self righteous attitude towards MJ as Martin Bashir, praising him in one moment and saying another thing “off camera”.
Now, back to my statement earlier where I said Michael sounded like he was being close minded and saying micro aggressions. I said it only sounded like he was saying he was not comfortable around people who cross dressed, which to be honest can be interpreted in different ways. Even If MJ was simply describing the gay strip bar his statement still sounded a bit…loaded. But that’s just my opinion. The important thing to remember is that he was coming out of some views he had as a Witness as he got older.
Another thing that I said that fans had a problem with, is that I brought up the fact that Michael wrote songs about premarital sex yet watched porn. He was a complex human being. I understand that Superfly Sister is obviously from a narrative point of view but it could have easily reflected his past views. Obviously Michael still believed in being a modest gentleman but didn’t seem to hold on to shame from coming into his own sexual “awakening and freedom” around the Dangerous era. However I was simply stating that it’s contradictory to preach about how men and women should be modest while viewing porn. That is all. And I said it rather jokingly, not even in a serious manner, yet fans were so up in arms about what I said. One or two ass hats actually interpreted my tweets as me saying that Michael was automatically sexist and disrespected women just because he watched porn. Then the same idiot (for lack of a better word) started preaching about how the porn industry was BUILT to respect women. I almost died laughing.
***Trigger warning: mention of R*pe. ***
How is your white ass (excuse my french) going to go on a supposed rant about women’s empowerment under a screen shot of my tweet and say that the porn industry is a not a sexist atmosphere for women, especially women of color? That is beyond illogical and has nothing to do with Michael. That is another topic entirely. I am still not knowledgeable about everything sex workers go through but common sense is knowing that women of color are fetishized in porn, raped, and disrespected. If the industry was not so male centered this would not happen and women could be more sexually liberated. A lot of people watch porn and it gives them unrealistic expectations towards sex. I am not claiming that MJ fetishized or disrespected women by looking at porn, nor will I kink shame anyone viewing it. It’s just the fact that a lot of people are oblivious to what sex workers go through as they watch it. I am not saying all women are raped and disrespected either but it is a male centered industry.
And that’s NOT ALL. NO, the same fans said that I was being sexist because I thought that since MJ wanted to preach about modesty and watch X rated films at the same time, I was being sexist against my own gender? Two plus ninety equals roller skate. That’s how bad these fans were reaching. I know, doesn’t make sense.
Fans took my statements out of context and applied their simple minded logic and snarky responses because they were itching for drama to jump onto. It was a discussion they had a right to see and partake in, but I am not obligated to entertain anyone who is disrespectful or that put words in my mouth. I have no respect for people like that. This whole discussion escalated into full blown homophobic statements from MJ fans on the timeline. Disgustin’.
Some said “well MJ had a right to privately disagree with homosexuality!” He sure did and you do too! But just because you have a negative opinion of someone’s “lifestyle” does not mean it can’t be a harmful opinion. I said this exact thing on Twitter and fans started complaining about being forced to accept homosexuality (LOL). It got that deep. Any belief that triggers an ugly response like that when challenged is not something I want to believe in. Y’all have fun over there with that. By the way, I am not claiming to know what Michael agreed and disagreed with. I am just saying that if he disagreed privately (because I didn’t know him) he had a right to do so. As long as he wasn’t saying it to his gay friends, which I highly doubt he would do something like that.
I know it’s not true, so it doesn’t bother me. I’m sure we must have plenty of fans who are gay. That doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but I’m not gay.
Michael Jackson in an interview with Steven Ivory, 1978
MJ did have many friends in the LGBT community. His designers and backup dancers were gay. I think he learned a lot from them and unlearned a lot of things he was taught in the past. I’m not going to list his friends here because I’m just lazy right now. Look it up. Anyway, moving on…
At this time I would like to acknowledge Ms. Janet Damita Jo Jackson. Feminist icon and sister to Michael. Why am I suddenly talking about Janet? Well, simply because I think I know why some people might be able to identify with Janet’s music a little more than Michael’s. Janet was more open about sexuality and liberation. The content of her songs are more diverse when it comes to that subject. No I am not saying “this sibling is better”, I’m just appreciating their differences. Michael was reserved about sexuality around strangers. I wish he would have opened up a little more because he seemed to be growing in a more “open” direction. The public really did try to beat him down into something they could understand and he always became larger than that expectation. I understand why it would be hard for him to be so open, because the press was dedicated to twisting his words and intentions.
Michael was subtle with his sexuality, you could see in the way he dressed. He experimented with makeup even beyond what was necessary for covering his vitiligo (see: Arno Bani photo shoot). I don’t think he believed wearing makeup and sequins made you any less of a man. He was very much in touch with himself and I can appreciate that. Michael was a fashion icon, okay? He shopped for clothing women would normally wear and gave no fucks. That eyeliner was on fleek. Them brows were arched better than McDonald’s arches fam. He liked letting his hair down and being a carefree black man and it just made me root for him even more.
MORE MESSAGES IN HIS MUSIC
Michael often said that not everything in his songs was about him, however a majority of his music, whether he wrote it or not, reflected his over all message as an artist. He enjoyed singing about love and venting feelings of mistrust and heartbreak. Loved him some ballads. I want to examine a couple of songs from the Dangerous Era that have caught my attention
First song, one of my favorites: Superfly Sister.
“love ain’t what it used to be…that is what they’re telling me…push it in stick it out…that ain’t what it’s all about!”
“That is what they’re telling me!” Sounds an entire abstinence talk someone is having with a young adult. You know those scenarios where religious parents are too uncomfortable to talk to their kids about sex so they just say “no girls/boys until ___”? Well, I’m not saying Katherine did that but how did Michael find out about girls and be able to educate Janet about sex if according to them, Katherine didn’t like discussing it? I think he did some exploring of his own.
“Mother’s preaching Abraham…Brothers, they don’t give a damn!”
Sounds like mama Katherine, or somebody religious was not giving them the right talk about sex so the “brothers” went out and found out about it themselves. The narrator of this song sounds a bit accusatory and angry at the brothers for not listening to mother and waiting to have sex.
As similar theme is reflected in Monkey Business. Note that both songs have a sensual beat, opposite to what the actual lyrics say. Monkey Business sounds like the narrator (presumably MJ) had seen too much promiscuity going on in the family and he threatened to “tell”. Maybe other fans have a different interpretation?
Dangerous era is very interesting. It’s like an internal battle he had with what his mother may have taught him about sex and religion, and what his own personal morals developed into. By the mid 90s I believe Michael was shooting Blood on the Dancefloor, a short film that is set in a gay club. In the film you can see guys and women as couples and they all kind of exist in this harmony because they’re presumably just having a good time at a club. It is a very different picture from the lyrics to BOTDF. “Susie” is still the main subject but I could not help but notice if there were any symbolism to this? Again, maybe other fans have more input on this underrated short film. Let’s move on to the last song (finally!).
IN THE CLOSET
“It’s just a feelin‘..you have to soothe it. You can’t neglect it…you can’t abuse it. It’s just desire and you cannot waste it. So if you want it, why don’t you TASTE it?”
I love this short film for…reasons. The bold text in the quote above are worth thinking about because it seems like the narrator (or Michael) is speaking to himself almost, trying to reason with himself that it’s okay to be freely sexual and seek out beautiful women. He has a wedding ring on in the film and I think it doesn’t symbolize cheating or a secret marriage, but his lingering “morals”. Comparing songs like Superfly Sister to In the Closet, I could see how each song juxtaposes each other and sits together in a sort of chaos of the mind. Thoughts moving around in your head about your identity, even parts of yourself that still clash. I am not sure if MJ planned it this way but I smell brilliance. If you look at the overall tone of the Dangerous album you will get a central theme of religion, introspection, sexuality, and also you can’t have a Michael Jackson album without some kind of world peace anthem.
His childhood shaped him for better or worse. The abuse and colorism he suffered led him to be a children’s rights activist and to love a community that seemed to want to push him away and “other” him, even harder. This is the discussion I was trying to have on the Twitter timeline but I’ll just wait for his fans to grow up and stop acting like Michael was incapable of offending anyone, ever. He had his moments but the whole point of this is to say they did not define him as a whole. I’m glad to say I can view MJ in a much more human light and stop spazzing out over every critique of him that I dislike. Unless of course, it’s slander.
TERMS TA KNOW:
*Androgynous: having both male and female characteristics or qualities, or dressing in a gender neutral way (a masculine and feminine side).
**Cis-gendered: someone who identifies with the sex they were born with
*** Hypermasculinity: exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior, such as an emphasis on physical strength, aggression, and sexuality. Many men who are hypermasculine do not like to show physical affection or cry, in order to not be perceived as “weak” or feminine.