06/27/2009 04:15 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Gay Man in the Mirror: How Homophobia Cursed and helped to Kill Michael Jackson


Poor once beautiful Michael Jackson, It's fairly certan that many of us will never be able to adaquately say goodbye to him.

Curating the Maysles Cinema Homo-Harlem Film Festival. has had as great an effect on me as it seems to be having on our appreciative audiences.

"I didn't realize Audre Lourde was gay!"

exclaimed one young lesbian at the second day's screening. After the opening, a gay student had said the exact same thing about Billy Strayhorn who wrote the immortal tune Take the A Train. Initially of course, believing the historian's most significant lesson to be learned through opportunities for people to go back into the past to discover themselves , this was just the reaction I'd been seeking. Only after a few days, thinking how most straight young people know even less about gay history than the gay ones who hadn't known about Lourde and Strayhorn, I started to yearn for something more ambitious: I wanted more straight people to become familiar with the high-achievement of lgbt historical Harlemites as well.

Lets face it , if you are from any marginalized group, even now, even with Barack Obama, where are the heroic and affirming references to offer us encouragement? When Michael Jackson and I were growing up, wow were things worse. Raised on unvaried TV offerings of Dennis the Menace, Opie


and Leave it to Beaver, save for one pitiful little black boy on Julia, without a father or a big house , it was easy to become confused about your 'true identity', to be unwittingly seduced into wishing you could become someone else.

So, at the risk of badly discrediting myself, falling headlong into one of the historian's most fatal pitfalls, I'm going to risk saying anyhow that I feel as if pop-wizard Michael Jackson's 'weird' life and tragic untimely death, both, resulted, at least in part , from puritanical American homophobia. How am I qualified to analyze Jackson's, or anyone else's, inner motivations? Naturally, I'm not. But this doesn't stop me from, perhaps rather rashly, risking the opinion that Michael Jackson was essentially homosexual. 2009-06-27-jackson1.gif

My supposition is that he was born black and gay into a family who were Jehovah Witnesses'. Just imagine all the nearly impossible to sustain conservative values this repressive faith entails. Privy to the incessant hyper-masculine sexual exuberance of his brothers, he also had knowledge of the numerous related


flagrant and hypocritical infidelities of their father. Is it any wonder Then that Jackson might have responded by postponing adulthood and grown-up 'normal' sexual expression altogether, preferring instead a Peter Pan existence where sex-play was just that; innocent boyish fun without any serious complications, without burdensome or dreary consequences?

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Many fans would prefer an easier to take, less queasy making assessment. 'Michael,' they insist, as if speaking of their most longstanding friend, 'was just not really into sex, not with anybody, he was just





asexual' they say. But, I at least can't buy this reasoning. Even as a kid, and all throughout his brilliant career, what was it that beguiled us so about his artistry? It was his sexy, tuneful, hopeful and heartfelt entreatments to love and be loved. His passion, anxiety or yearning in performance, is a poignant enunciation of all our mixed emotions too. Real and palpable, even across the airways, these feelings are hardly liable to of been successfully sublimated in mere song and dance.

Even though every indicator suggested Jackson 'was not the marrying kind,' he entered into, not one, but two old-fashioned 'gay marriages', replete with children, reportedly conceived in the conventional way. So insidious and threatening was his fear of family and fans imagining that he was gay, that Jackson helped to perpetuate the very stigma that would curse his chances of enjoying real happiness. It's a dreadful thing , these supposedly religious derived attitudes, that make most gays and blacks have to eventually come to terms with self-loathing. How dire are the unintended consequences of bigotry whatever the source. Despising who you are is a disease that has impacted many others besides Michael Jackson. It's all bound up in the same issue of avoidance and intolerance that have helped to doom all African Americans, irrespective of sexuality, to innumerable unwarranted stresses and the fastest growing incidence of AIDS in the nation.