Elvis Presley had his quirks—secret meetings with Nixon, shooting at television sets, and of course, drug abuse. But these did not compare with Michael Jackson's bizarre physical appearance, abetted by untold plastic surgeries; child-like speech; enjoyment in sleeping with (and perhaps "sleeping with") boys; obsession with Peter Pan; and of course, drug abuse.
Jackson's weirdness, unlike Presley's, was publicized for years before his death. So it is disappointing to read the banal psychological interpretations of his behavior. The most common thread is that Jackson's cruel and ambitious father robbed Michael of his childhood.
Slate's Jacob Weisberg wrote, back in 2005: "Almost everything that seems freakish about him can be explained by his poignant, doomed effort to get his stolen childhood back."
Really? How many musicians, athletes, and actors have had overbearing parents who made their childhoods miserable? How many of these resemble Jackson in any way whatsoever: the freakish surgically altered face, the affected voice, Neverland, llamas and chimps, and sleeping with pubescent boys?
A unique person like Michael Jackson requires a unique explanation. Furthermore, Jackson's weirdness was so multifaceted that it presents both a challenge and an opportunity. An hypothesis that explains only one unusual fact is not so useful. One that can explain several is much more so.
I propose an explanation of Michael Jackson that, if true, can explain several seemingly unrelated things: the molestation accusations and interest in children, the obsession with Peter Pan, and the facial surgeries. I think that Michael Jackson had an erotic identity disorder.
What was Michael Jackson's sexual orientation? He was married twice to women and may or may not have fathered three children. Still, his sexuality was the subject of considerable speculation. I recall hearing him speak for the first time during the 1983 Motown 25 special and concluding that he was probably gay.
Other people must have had the same impression because his mother protested around that time: "Michael isn't gay. It's against his religion. It's against God. The Bible speaks against it." I wasn't convinced. In a recent story printed in the British press, a reporter claimed to have met two of Michael's gay lovers.
Now, even if these reports are true, I don't think that Michael Jackson was gay—although my reasons are different than his mother's. To be sure, some gay men marry women, and there are surely many famous heterosexually married performers whose private sexuality is homosexual. But in important ways, gay men do not behave like Michael Jackson did. They do not get elaborate facial surgery that makes them look freakish, for example. They try to maximize their desirability to other gay men, and gay men enjoy conventionally handsome and masculine faces.
When I thought Jackson was gay, it was because of his unusual manner of speech. Since then, I've studied gay speech and learned that I was wrong. Although there is a gay accent prevalent in many gay American men, Jackson didn't have it. And gay men don't raise the pitch of their voice the way that Jackson did.
Nor do gay men seek the company of pubescent boys, especially to share their beds with. As everyone knows, Michael Jackson was twice legally accused of sexually interacting with boys. The first boy was 12 when the alleged molestation began in 1992. The second was 13 when the alleged abuse occurred in 2003. (A third accusation, involving a somewhat younger boy, was settled out of court for $2 million in 1996.) I do not know anything more about these incidents than is available in the public record. Unsurprisingly, Michael Jackson denied committing any offense. He was never put on trial for the first accusation and was found not guilty of the second. I have no reason to question that verdict, but keep in mind that criminal convictions require certainty "beyond reasonable doubt."
There is certainly a reasonable doubt about Jackson's guilt, at least in my mind.
Still, if I had to bet on what is most likely, I would bet that he did molest a boy, at least the one from 1992. In that case, the criminal charges were dropped, and Jackson settled with the boy's family, reportedly for $20 million. Jackson insisted that he wanted to pursue the matter in court but that the insurance company made him settle. (With unintended irony, he later said: "I didn't want to do a long drawn-out thing on TV like O.J. and all that stupid stuff.") The idea that an insurance company forced him to settle a nuisance claim for millions of dollars seems unlikely, both to me and to the lawyers I consulted. To be sure, there was also evidence in both cases that the families were financially motivated. But with Jackson's financial assets supporting the best lawyers and publicists, it is unsurprising that his team managed to raise significant doubts.
Though inconclusive, the repeated molestation charges and rumors were worrisome. And even Michael Jackson admitted that he loved to sleep in the same bed as children. (It seems that he preferred boys to girls.) That's what precipitated the criminal investigation in 2005. Neither several accusations of sexual abuse of boys nor his admission that he loved sharing his bed with boys necessarily meant that Jackson was sexually attracted to boys. But it is a reasonable hypothesis—arguably, the most reasonable hypothesis—that he was.
So for now, let's assume that Michael Jackson was sexually attracted to the boys he was accused of molesting. What was his sexual orientation? Jackson was sometimes accused of being a pedophile. "Pedophilia" refers to the sexual preference for children who have not yet entered puberty. The word "pedophilia" is used too imprecisely these days, sometimes to refer even to teachers who have sex with their 16 years old students. That is an incorrect usage, because 16 years old students are usually sexually mature. Those teachers have bad judgment but are not pedophiles.
Jackson's alleged victims were in an age range intermediate between biological children (who have not entered puberty) and sexually mature individuals (who are well into, or beyond, puberty). Although we can't know for sure, without a medical exam from the time of the alleged abuse, it seems most likely that Jackson's alleged victims were pubescent, meaning that they were in the early stages of puberty. Such children have some pubic hair development, and some breast budding if they are girls, but are otherwise quite physically immature. I have seen pictures of naked pubescent children. (They are used by Canadian scientists to assess sexual preferences in sex offenders and are legal for that use there.) I believe that most normal men would find those images to be strange looking and much less appealing than images of more sexually mature women.
The word for sexual attraction to pubescent children is "hebephilia" (pronounced "heebuhfeelia"). Hebephilia appears to be a distinct sexual orientation from pedophilia, and it is somewhat more common. If the rumors and accusations are true, then Jackson appears to have preferred pubescent boys, and so would have been a homosexual hebephile.
Homosexual hebephiles and pedophiles are not gay. Gay men are sexually attracted to physically mature men and are no more aroused by male children than straight men are by female children. Furthermore, unlike gay men, homosexual hebephiles and pedophiles did not tend to start out as feminine boys. (As far as we can tell, all hebephiles and pedophiles are men. The rare woman who molests children is more likely to have a mental illness than a stable sexual preference for children.)
Some hebephiles have some flexibility in their sexuality. Sometimes they are attracted to children below their ideal age. Sometimes they are attracted to adults above their ideal age. But their ideal partner's age is still 11-14, and their ideal partner's body is pubescent.
Hebephilia and pedophilia are sexual orientations, just like normal heterosexuality and homosexuality. Also like normal sexualities, they are not just sexual. Not only do straight men have sex with women, they also fall in love with them, court them, bond with them, and sleep in the same bed with them, often without anything overtly sexual occurring. There is no reason why hebephiles and pedophiles would not also have feelings of love and attachment, as well as sexual attraction, towards children.
To reiterate, I do not know if Michael Jackson molested any boys. But I think he might have, and if he did, he was probably a homosexual hebephile. If he was, it can help explain other aspects of his strange persona. Before I say how, I need to take another sexual detour, this one an inversion.
Pedophilia and hebephilia are specific examples of a general class of sexual disorders called paraphilias. Other paraphilias include sexual masochism and sadism, exhibitionism, zoophilia (sexual attraction to nonhuman animals), and fetishism (sexual excitement for nonhuman objects). No one knows what causes paraphilias, although I strongly suspect that they are inborn errors of brain development. For some reason, paraphilias occur almost exclusively in men, and not uncommonly, they co-occur in the same person.
One paraphilia that may be relevant, in a general way, to understanding Michael Jackson is autogynephilia. Men with autogynephilia are sexually aroused by the idea of themselves as women. Thus the name: auto (self) gyne (woman) philia (love). Males with autogynephilia most often discover during puberty that it turns them on to dress in women's clothing, especially lingerie.
They go through a stage where cross dressing in private is intensely sexual. Some men with autogynephilia have sexual fantasies about having female genitalia, and many of these men acquire them. Autogynephilia is probably the most common motivation in the United States for sex reassignment surgery among males becoming female.
Autogynephilia is a special kind of paraphilia because it represents an inversion of the desired object inside the self. Autogynephilic men are like straight men—they love women—except that the woman an autogynephile loves most is the woman he creates inside himself. I know, I know, this is a strange and difficult concept. It might help to provide an additional example. The most extreme autogynephile I have ever known did not only cross dress but would at some other times would glue (yes glue!) fake vulvas over his penis, wear fake breasts, and film himself (as a pseudo-woman) engaging in pornographic acts with a male dummy. This was highly erotic to him. This person eventually got surgery and is now living as a woman.
Do not confuse autogynephiles with individuals such as gay drag queens or homosexual males who decide to become women. Homosexual drag queens and transsexuals are exclusively and unambiguously attracted to men, and they do not cross dress or behave like women, or imagine that they have female genitalia, in order to excite themselves sexually.
I refer to paraphilias such as autogynephilia as "erotic identity disorders." Autogynephilia isn't the only erotic identity disorder, but it is the most common one. This is because heterosexuality is the most common sexual orientation. So if an inversion error happens, it is most likely to happen in an otherwise heterosexual man. Most autogynephiles retain some ability to be attracted to real women, that is, women who live outside themselves. In erotic identity disorders, the kind of person a man desires to become is identical to the kind of real, external person he is most attracted to.
A much rarer erotic identity disorder is the sexually-motivated desire to become an amputee. A subset of men are erotically driven to have particular limbs amputated (usually, but not always, one of their legs). These men often admit sexual fantasies about being amputees, and tellingly, they are usually very attracted to amputees—just as autogynephiles (who want to be women) are usually very attracted to women. This erotic identity disorder (technical name: apotemnophilia) is much rarer than autogynephilia, presumably because attraction to amputees is much rarer than attraction to women. Apotemnophilia is an erotic identity disorder because sexual desire for amputees has been inverted to the self, causing a sexual desire for oneself as an amputee.
Michael Jackson probably did not have autogynephilia, and he certainly did not have apotemnophilia, but he may have had something similar, another erotic identity disorder.
And we'll discuss that in part 2.