The idea behind erotic identity disorders—that sometimes the sexual object can be inverted into the self—was first proposed by two important Canadian sexual scientists, Kurt Freund and Ray Blanchard. In their seminal paper, they focused on a series of real cases of pedophilic sex offenders who each appeared to be erotically aroused by the idea that they were children. Two of the pedophiles enjoyed putting on boys' gym clothes and pretending to be boys, while masturbating. Another fantasized about being a 10 year old boy whenever he fondled children. Another requested a consultation with a plastic surgeon in order to make his penis look more childlike. These men might be called "autopedophiles." Like autogynephiles (who want to become women and are attracted to women) and apotemnophiles (who want to become amputees and are attracted to amputees), autopedophiles have the sexual desire to become what they love, namely children.
Freund and Blanchard noted that none of the pedophiles they studied had erotic identity disorders as intense as typical autogynephiles do. They speculated that perhaps "aspirations of paedophiles who wish that they could be children are simply more limited by surgical realities."
The night of Michael Jackson's death, one television news show focused briefly on Jackson's nose. A commentator speculated that the evolution of Michael Jackson's nose was unconsciously motivated to reduce physical similarity with his father's. In its final form the disastrous nose was indeed very different from his father's (and his own, original) nose, but that speculation ignores the equally odd remainder of Michael's face. I am not expert enough in plastic surgery to speculate about the precise procedures that Jackson had, but one only has to look at a chronicle of the evolution of his face to be convinced that the surgeries were vast. Indeed, his autopsy report declared that he had had at least 13 plastic surgeries.
Normal people would hate to look like Michael Jackson did near the end of his life, and so normal people tend to assume that the surgeries were a series of big, compounded mistakes that Jackson must have regretted. Bad plastic surgery surely happens. But when it does, it is generally recognizable as a poor rendition of an aesthetically pleasing goal. Not so, Michael Jackson's face, which resembled nothing in the actual human, living world. Moreover, it has seemed to me that there was something coherent about the redesign of his face—coherent, not normal—suggesting that there was method in his madness. If so, the 13 surgeries may be explained by something other than 13 different errors of judgment.
Even if Michael Jackson's face had never seen a scalpel, even if one were simply to listen to an audiotape of him talking (not singing), one would have to conclude that he was one strange dude. The high, breathy voice with the hyper-sincere tone was not his natural manner of speech. Reportedly, when he got mad or surprised, he manifested a "big deep voice." This suggests that the former, his public voice, was an affectation.
The face and the voice were both unnatural, and he went to a lot of trouble to have them. What was he trying to say and show with them? He told us, quite directly, the most likely answer.
"I am Peter Pan," he said, more than once. He lived in Neverland. His second wife, Debbie Rowe, said that in order to get in the mood to have sex with her, Jackson dressed up as Peter Pan and danced around the bedroom. She said: "It made him feel romantic."
Jackson and I are about the same age, and I remember the Disney cartoon Peter Pan quite vividly. According to Wikipedia, in the Disney cartoon "Peter appears to be in late childhood, between 10 and 13 years old." I recently reexamined the cartoon version of Peter Pan, and sure enough, some of the facial features matched: the nose, for example. Peter Pan had pointed ears. Sure enough, a photograph of Jackson exists showing an ear that was described as "mangled by plastic surgery" but looks like it just might be a surgeon's attempt at pointy.
Some things don't quite match between Michael and Peter, however. Cartoon Peter Pan's voice was more masculine than Jackson's public voice. (Jackson's voice is more similar to Mary Martin's, the woman who played Peter Pan on Broadway and in a television special.) And Jackson's long hair—apparently a wig over a nearly bald scalp—is a clear non-match.
Am I suggesting Michael Jackson was a homosexual autohebephile? I sure am
Am I seriously suggesting that Michael Jackson was a homosexual autohebephile whose erotic goals included resembling Peter Pan and having sex with pubescent boys? I sure am. If I am right, then somewhere there are images of Peter Pan that Michael Jackson brought to a plastic surgeon. There are also computer-generated images of the surgeon's plans for Jackson's face. But I am less certain that Peter Pan is the inspiration of Michael Jackson's plastic surgeon than about the general idea that Jackson was trying to be a pubescent male.
If my theory is right, what was Michael Jackson's inner life like? Paraphilias usually reveal themselves—at least to those who have them—during adolescence. If I am right about his sexuality, then Jackson certainly had crushes on pubescent boys during puberty, perhaps when he himself was pubescent. But he grew up, and the boys he was attracted to didn't.
If he was attracted to pubescent boys, he undoubtedly felt great shame about it, due to both homophobia and the near-universal loathing of child molesters.
If he was erotically aroused by the idea that he was a pubescent boy (Peter Pan or not), then he probably suffered as his body became a man's. Analogously, autogynephilic males often experience intense gender dysphoria, longing to possess feminine bodies, and loathing their male bodies.
Because he became rich, Michael Jackson had an opportunity that would have eluded others with similar desires. He could remake himself, physically and behaviorally, into the boy he wanted. In some sense, he may have actually believed that he was a boy.
But whatever joy such delusions may have brought him would have been repeatedly interrupted by entirely adult concerns like the criminal accusation and trial, his financial difficulties, and the realization that talent fades with disuse.
Does my theory say anything about the origins of Michael Jackson's tremendous talent? There are some correlations between sexuality and abilities. For example, gay men are vastly overrepresented among professional dancers and fashion designers. This may reflect their increased interest in and dedication to dance and fashion, rather than natural talent per se. Autogynephiles tend to be gifted in technical, mathematical, and scientific pursuits, with computer scientist being the prototypic autogynephilic occupation. But we don't really know anything about the occupational interests of hebephiles, much less autohebephiles. Although there have been rock stars accused of child molestation, it doesn't seem as if there has been an excess of such accusations (in the way, say, that a disproportionate number of figure skaters died during the AIDS epidemic, presumably because they were gay).
It seems plausible that an adolescent Jackson might have sublimated his forbidden urges into work and musical ambition. But even before he was eight years old, Jackson was a phenomenon in his hometown of Gary, Indiana, and he was only nine when he led the Jackson 5 to win Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater. I don't think my theory, or any available theory, has much to say about why he was one of the greatest performers ever. Whether or not my theory is correct, there will never be another Michael Jackson.
Michael Jackson was one of the most talented performers who ever lived. He also may have been sexually attracted to young boys, and if so, he probably molested at least one. His demons led him to do bizarre things that might still be comprehensible in light of my hypothesis. If any of us had been born with those demons, we might well have done the same or worse. His greatness led to many wonderful things, including the joy of many children. To appreciate his legacy we will have to accept that people are complex, with admirable and problematic aspects frequently—usually—coexisting. If Michael Jackson's life helps us to understand that, it may well be his most important gift to us.