Essay:Michael Jackson: Secrets

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Michael Jackson: Secrets

A critique of Michael Jackson's boy love, and how things can be different.

22/04/23 ◆ Nocturne

The love Michael and James once shared. Photoshoot from the 'Bad' era.

I did something a couple days ago I’ve been avoiding for about 4 years. Simply put, I felt it was time I finished hiding from something that portrays the most famous MAP in the modern era, which is the Leaving Neverland documentary on Michael Jackson’s sexual relationships with James Safechuck and Wade Robson.

It’s obvious to me why I avoided this documentary for so long. When it first came out, I was much less comfortable with my own budding feelings of being a MAP, and confronting a documentary that tackles my exact attraction (boy love) head-on felt too painful. Even seeing the articles and videos related to Leaving Neverland years on still make me anxious. At the time, I put a filter on Facebook to block all posts related to it.

It was multifaceted. I avoided it not only as a MAP, but also as a kid who has sex with an adult at 7. I questioned, would the film change my perception, or worse, encourage self-hatred? Additionally, I had occasionally peeked at the comments section under some of the Leaving Neverland posts, and it would often ruin my entire day. I would imagine people saying those horrible, barbaric things (often involving descriptions of torture) about the man I once loved. This was greatly distressing. Finally, I convinced myself to watch the film because of the insight it may provide, as I heard the two men were open about the feelings they had at the time. I thought, at least, I would get that out of it.

Well, to answer the question, after watching Leaving Neverland yesterday, I’ve been a nervous wreck for the past 24 hours. The movie brought up past anxieties in ways I didn’t expect, especially relating to how secrets eat us alive. Looking at the "Man in the Mirror" in the film, I see myself staring back in many ways.

There is a lot of detail in the documentary, and I won't discuss everything. However, I will cover the important aspects. First of all, both Wade and James enjoyed the sex they had with Michael. They reiterated that he was gentle, and they never felt it was odd or unusual. At one point in the documentary, James Safechuck discusses how Michael bought wedding rings for the pair to become married to each other. It really felt like there was true, radiating love in both instances. Here are some excerpts:

James Safechuck: "I was just like fully... in love at that time. When I wasn't with him, I was always thinking about him. Just feels like the greatest thing when he calls. He'd come over and we'd spend the day shopping and hang out and he'd spend the night."
James Safechuck: "In Paris, he introduced me to masturbation, and that's how it started. Michael and I were in his room. He set it up like: I'm gonna show you something that everybody does, and you'll really enjoy it. Like he is teaching you something new. Then I remember... my penis swelling up cause I did it so much that first time ... I must have done it a few times. And so I remember dipping my penis in warm water, Michael filled a cup up with water, so I could pee - it was hard to pee. I don't have any unpleasant memories... other than not be able to pee. It felt like you were bonding, in a way. The tour was the start of the sexual like, couple relationship."
Wade Robson: "First day at Neverland, was Michael making physical contact with me. like his hand on my thigh, um, hugs, you know. It felt great. And out of ALL the kids in the world, he choose me to be his friend and he's holding my hand. Within the context of what was going on, it seemed normal, you know." 
Wade Robson: "Fondling my penis over the top of my pants, and then, his hands went underneath my pants, and uhh, started touching my penis underneath my pants and, you know, there was nothing aggressive about it. Nothing abrasive. I never felt, uh, scared or anything like that. It just ... didn't seem that strange, and then him guiding me to do the same thing with him. So moving my hands, um, to touch his penis. um, which, you know was, erect."
Wade Robson: [Talking about his reaction to Michael being acquitted, when Wade was in his 20's] "I remember feeling happy, for sure, that he was acquitted. That he wasn't going to jail. I didn't believe or understand.. that the sexual stuff that happened between Michael and I was abuse. I didn't feel like I was hurt by it, that it was anything bad that happened to me. At that point, it was: I loved Michael, Michael loved me."

In 'The way you make me feel', written around the time of his relationship with James, Michael sang "Ain't nobody's business but mine and my baby". For years, this was the case for the two boys' relationships with Michael. At least until 2013, when they both filed lawsuits against MJ's company, alleging they were not properly protected from sexual abuse.

So, where did things go wrong for James and Wade? I believe there are a several key points:

  • Michael replaced them with other boys, leaving them feeling severely abandoned, and lied to, as a result. His interest in the boys only seemed to increase again when he needed them to save him in 1993 and 2005.
  • He pressured them to testify on his behalf in his two trials, which they did the first time. The second time, James didn’t, and Michael got really mean and nasty towards him.
  • The biggest one was the secrecy. The feelings of anxiety and depression seemed to bottle up in them from having to lie and keep all these secrets. If these were accepted relationships, this would not be an aspect. Michael also contributed to this too, by lying that they would both go to jail if they were caught. In many ways, their stories mirror the takeaways of Susan Clancy’s The Trauma Myth, which stated that trauma and feelings of shame generally manifest later in life from sex as a child due to lies and deception (either told by the adult to the child, or ones the child has to maintain).
  • Michael was not conscientious, or did not care, that he ripped Wade Robson's family apart. Ultimately, his mom made the decision to move from Australia to Los Angeles for her son's career, but it seems Michael's reasons were selfish for pressuring her to do so. He did not even properly care for the Robsons once they did reach America, because Michael had found another favorite boy.
  • Both seemed to have some kind of breakdown when their sons were born, commenting that they would “kill” anyone who did that to their sons at their age, but they didn’t feel the same way about the experience they had as kids, as it felt like love to them. It seems their newfound parental instincts caused a reconceptualization of the previous love they had. Like the adults who watch Leaving Neverland and are disgusted by the two men saying how much they loved the sex as children, it seems their adult feelings were retroactively projected onto their childhood experiences at this moment.

So, overall, his largest deliberate sins were tossing boys aside after about 12 months (not even due to puberty or aging, it seems), lying about the idea that the boys could also be imprisoned if the sex was discovered to encourage secrecy, and his lack of concern for Wade Robson's family. In my opinion, Michael Jackson was very irresponsible towards these boys and their feelings. From his compartmentalization of the boys to prevent them from talking to each other about what went down, isolation from their families, to the lies, Michael prioritized his own safety over the mental health of the boys.

That being said, the reason for secrecy, which seemed to truly be traumatic for the men, was caused by societal pressure. Both men expressed that they loved Michael, so they chose to lie for him at both the 1993 civil proceedings and the 2005 FBI-backed trial.[1] It seemed to deeply hurt them to keep these secrets. I think we can relate to this.

As MAPs, we have to keep a lot of secrets. There are few people in our real life that we can openly talk about our attraction with. These feelings bottle up, and erode our personal lives and our ability to connect with people. I've felt it first hand myself. It eats you alive.

In addition, I'm also in the same position as James and Wade, albeit on a much smaller scale. As I mentioned, I also has a positive sexual experience with an adult as a young boy. But this is a secret I will have to take to my grave, at least outside of anonymous circles. Something that is so foundational in my life can never be mentioned in therapy, for example, as it would trigger a mandatory reporting process that I have no desire to go through. Thus, I remain trapped in secrets perpetually.

Ultimately, Michael Jackson was a complex person. For one, he was likely transage. He spoke on his desire to never grow up, and much of his plastic surgery was seemingly modeled after Peter Pan. Beyond this, his humanitarian efforts involving impoverished children totals in the hundreds of millions,[2][3] and he is ranked in Guinness as one of the most prolific humanitarians.[4] He effectively defined what it means to be a humanitarian as a performer. It's hard to argue that the harm Michael directly caused outweighed his other incredible contributions, from a consequentialist standpoint.

That being said... This movie has further cemented my view that child-adult sexual relationships are very unlikely to have positive outcomes in 2023. For me, pro-C means waiting until the societal barriers to positive outcomes have been lifted, and prioritizing the happiness of children. There is simply too much pressure to conform to how you're supposed to feel as a victim, for one, and the need for constant unrelenting secrecy to protect your former lover. In fact, regardless of how consensual these interactions were with regards to enthusiastic consent (saying yes and liking it), there was a clear lack of informed consent. These boys most certainly did not know how society would view the acts they were undertaking. Michael was a practically godlike figure in the 1980s. It was not fair that Michael Jackson, one of the most powerful people in the world, forced the two middle class boys carry such a heavy burden in a society that was not even accepting of gay people yet. After watching Leaving Neverland, I feel sorry for everyone involved. It's sad all around.

Michael was a victim of society, and also his fame in his early childhood. His two boyfriends were also victims of society. Their consensual relationships were forced into secrecy, and they were compelled to testify twice to save their friend. They were also subjected to bad behavior directly by Michael, like dropping them for new boys. These actions do not make him a monster: He is simply a flawed human, as we all are in other ways.

Look at MJ's hand on Jonathan's thigh. Does that look like a normal friendship?

Finally, to the MJ superfans out there: It's cruel to the people that have told their stories to deny that Michael Jackson was a boylover. It is also okay to still love him both a person and as an artist, despite his sexual orientation. He was obsessed with boyhood, slept with boys hundreds if not thousands of times,[5][6] and was photographed being intimate with boys at the very least. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply creating a ridiculous narrative that he had to relive his childhood by hanging around and sleeping with, specifically, 7-14 year old angelic white and Latino boys. He was probably also reliving his childhood, but it was not asexual in motivation. A nude photo of Jonathan Spence, one of the boys he was frequently seen with in the early to mid 1980s, was discovered by the police in the 1993 police investigations.[7] The evidence was inadmissible because Jonathan has denied that MJ had sex with him, despite the obvious signs that he did. Additionally, the image was not sexual in nature, so it was not illegal in and of itself. Even after Michael's death, Jonathan continues to defend his old friend and the love they shared.

Regardless, the love Michael had with these boys was beautiful. It was nearly impossible for things to end well. Michael's life and career was effectively ruined by being a boy lover, and the men feel genuine trauma today from these secrets they kept. Their feelings are real and valid, and we should not blame them for the actions they are taking now. I hope one day, the story doesn't have to end like how it did. We can do better, as a society. End the secrets. Legalize love.