Rev Irene Monroe

The Queerness of Michael Jackson

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | July 08, 2009 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Al Sharpton, black community, gay entertainers, homophobic behavior, Michael Jackson, pedophilia, skin bleaching

At Michael Jackson's memorial service the Rev. Al Sharpton gave a rousing speech that had the congregation at the Staples Center rise to their feet at times with shouts of "Amen!"

Sharpton made one particular statement in his speech to MJ's three children, addressing the reasons for Jackson's eccentricities when he said, " "I want his children to know there was nothing strange about your daddy; it was strange what your daddy had to deal with, but he dealt with it anyway."

While clearly Sharpton's statement hinted to the racism Michael Jackson endured in the music industry as an African-American entertainer trying to be a crossover success, Sharpton's statement totally ignored, as much as the black community has in their tribute to Jackson, the homophobia too - both from us and the music industry.

Diagnosed with vitiligo, a skin disorder that causes depigmentation in patches of his skin, Jackson bleached his skin, not as a denunciation of his blackness, but rather, as he said, as a way to cosmetically have a more even skin tone.

Just as Michael was black he was also queer because he did not conform to our society's heterosexist norms. And as the man in the mirror faded from black to white so too did his staged gender performances from cute straight boy lead singer of the Jackson 5 to an effeminate male solo artist donning outfits with sequins.

And as the consummate drag performer he was not only a singer and dancer, Jackson was also a shape-shifter.

Jackson's first transitioned himself into looking like Diana Ross and then later into looking like his baby sister Janet. Later he transitioned himself into something, well, as inhumanly ghastly as he became more ghostly looking.

Jackson's gender blending was as transgressive, taboo, and subversive as his skin bleaching.

He wore many masks until the masks became him.

Jackson's costumes and accessories range from various signature wigs to his hypermasculine look with his military/marching band outfits or his classic red (faux) leather look from the "Beat It" to his more softer look with his white nylon socks that were always prominently displayed beneath his black dress pants when he was doing his famous moonwalk.

Whereas Jackson couldn't be on the down low about his skin bleaching he could be - and had to be - on the down low about his sexuality.

With an entertainment industry that forced Rock Hudson, a movie idol, in the closet until his death, and with a black community that still has light years to go in accepting its own lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer population, Jackson concealed his desire to grow up by donning an asexual Peter Pan image.

But while rumors abound, nonetheless, that Jackson was gay so too did rumors that Jackson was a serial pedophile who beguiled young impressionable boys into his bed using the Neverland Ranch as a lure.

Although Jackson was acquitted of all charges, the strangeness Jackson had to deal with that Sharpton did not speak about at Jackson's memorial was homophobic bigotry, a bigotry that's predicated on the stereotype that one's gayness or perceived gayness is not only deviant but it is also innately criminal.

"Every time they knocked Michael down he got back up. Every time they counted him out he got back in, Sharpton said at the tribute.

The child sexual abuse charges not only knocked Jackson down but it shocked his fan base. And with the potential of his multi-million recording industry collapsing under false allegations Jackson had to go into action.

When Jackson first tied the knot with Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis's daughter, in 1994 following the first child molestation charges in 1993 everyone knew that Jackson was in damage control mode. And with his second marriage in 1997 (rumored to be not consummated) to Debbie Rowe, the mother of two of Jackson's three children, you get to see how compulsory heterosexuality exacted a toll on his life.

"We will never understand what he endured ... being judged, ridiculed. How much pain can one take? Maybe now, Michael, they will leave you alone." Marlon Jackson stated at his brother's tribute.

And maybe Marlon is right.

Jackson was unquestionably eccentric, and his masks did not always protect him or liberate him because he always had to don them within the restricted boundaries of both race and sexual discrimination.

Perhaps Jackson's queerness was more a function of society's homophobia than it was his own.

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This is excellent. Thank you for saying this. I've been scouring the internet since MJ died to find an honest consideration of his queerness - de jure or de facto.

Jackson absolutely make this country very nervous, whether he was trying to do that or not, by not upholding gender norms. That breech of the rules escalated from his high pitch and sequins to his faux marriages and (assumed) reproduction.

His wealth and fame made him an easy target for extortion...and so did the charade of his masculinity.

A. J. Lopp | July 8, 2009 2:10 PM
"I want his children to know there was nothing strange about your daddy; it was strange what your daddy had to deal with, but he dealt with it anyway."

Sharpton's remark is dripping with subtext --- it could be interpreted in myriad ways. That's exactly what Sharpton wanted, and that's exactly what the crowd wanted, so that each could hear what he wanted to hear.

I don't know if MJ was gay, minimally straight or maybe asexual; it is only clear he wasn't a natural family man in the "normal" sense. But in the end, the seriousness of the pedophilia charges eclipsed the question whether MJ was gay. Then came propped-up marriages, then came children, and in short order MJ lived in a house of lies bigger than any mansion or glittering estate.

It's too bad the charade went as far as it did. Sharpton is good on GLBT issues, but maintaining the charade prevented him, or anyone at that ceremony, from getting up and saying, "Michael, we loved you if you were straight, we loved you if you were gay --- we loved you, period."

It was reported years ago that Michael Jackson was the first one to demand the word "bizarre" accompany his image. Your posts are always well thought out.

In my most recent blog, I noted the translation of Sharpton's words on a racist forum ( as:

“To Michaels children: Aint nutten strange bout chore daddy, only strange what he had to dealt wif”

The same person also commented on everything from questioning how Jackson could have "three white children" to his use of pain killers.

Please! The man was a genius. Words such as these only heighten the increasing homophobia in this country.

This is most thoughtful and original piece I've read thus far on MJ.

I've been teaching high school since 1984. Kids have admired Michael Jackson's talent all that time. He's just as often been referred to as "faggot", "queer" and "punk" for all that time, especially by the young black men I've taught. It goes all the way back to the 80's and the emergence of his gender non-conformity and his soft voice and started long before the rumors of his sexual activities with boys. Plenty of similar reactins came from celebrities. This constant, unpleasant reaction to Jackson's "strangness" is completely overlooked in the symphony of adulation being heaped on him now by black celebrities. A little introspection and honesty now would be refreshing.