Michael Jackson’s memorial service the Rev. Al Sharpton gave a rousing
speech that had the congregation at the Staple Center rise to their
feet at times with shouts of Amen.
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.”
clearly Sharpton’s statement hinted to the racism Michael Jackson
ensued 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, from us and the music industry.
with vitiligo, a skin disorder that causes de-pigmentation 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.
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 performance
from cute straight boy lead singer of the Jackson 5 to an effeminate
male solo artist donning outfits in sequins.
as the consummate drag performer he was not only a singer and dancer,
Jackson was also a shape-shifter.
transitioned himself first into looking like Diana Ross and then
later into looking like his baby sister Janet and then later he
transitioned himself into something, well, as inhumanly ghastly
as he became more ghostly looking.
gender blending was as transgressive, tabooed, and subversive as
his skin bleaching.
wore many masks until the masks became him.
costumes and accessories range from various signature wigs to his
hyper-masculine 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’s doing his famous
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.
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.
when 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.
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.
time they knocked Michael down he got back up. Every time they counted
him out he got back in", Sharpton said at the tribute.
child sexual abuse charges not only knocked Jackson down but it
shocked his fan base. And with the potential of his multimillion
recording industry collapsing under false allegations Jackson had
to go into action.
Jackson tied the knot, first 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 his second marriage,
in 1997, to Debbie Rowe, who is the mother of two of Jackson’s three
children, was rumored to be not consummated. You get to see how
compulsory heterosexuality exacted a toll on his life.
will never understand what he endured ... being judged, ridiculed.
How much pain cans one take? Maybe, now, Michael, they will leave
you alone.” Marlon Jackson stated at his brother’s tribute.
maybe Marlon is right.
was unquestionably eccentric, and his masks did not always protect
him or liberated him because he always had to don them within the
restricted boundaries of both race and sexual discrimination.
Jackson’s queerness was more a function of society’s homophobia
than it was his own?
Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist,
theologian, and public speaker. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe
is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary
at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American
church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate
as a Ford Fellow. Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible
Prayers for Not-So-Everyday Moments. As an African American
feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that is
frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com.
to contact the Rev. Monroe.