Michael Jackson: The King of Queer

6.24.2010

By Stephanie Fairyington

Man or Woman?

Jackson's post-op face has been the subject of ridicule for decades. The combination of his ghostly skin, his innumerable plastic surgeries, and his soft, feminine voice has generated numerous punch lines, one of the most famous being that he wanted to show the world that "even a poor black man could grow up to be a rich white woman." There were even jokes, you might remember, that Janet and Michael were the same person. In many black circles, the reconstructed angular jawline, the cleft chin, the thinned-out nose, the plumper cheekbones, all pointed to racial self-hatred and dysmorphia. But according to Jackson's dermatologist, Jackson saw his own face 'as a work of art' and truth be told, he didn't look quite like a woman or a man -- he looked post-human. Because he was most comfortable on the stage, looking beyond human was probably another way to keep the public's gaze upon him eternally.

I'm not suggesting that Jackson's skin and facial transformations don't signify some form of self-loathing. I'm saying that it's simplistic and just plain wrong to read such a complex, brilliant, multidimensional man with a one dimensional interpretation -- and that the mockery he endured says more about us as a culture than it does about him.

In fact, I believe that Jackson was turned into a punch line (and sometimes a punching bag) in an effort to defuse the threat he posed to stable notions of gender and sexuality, or more broadly, normalcy. As the quintessential icon of queerness, the King of Queer embodied all of our social anxieties with the ways he blurred the lines between black and white, femininity and masculinity, fantasy and reality, adult- and childlike behavior, hetero and homo sexualities. He was the butt of endless jokes and the subject of contempt and pity. The 'pity' part is the thing I truly don't understand. It's remarkable to me how often words like sad, tragic, troubled, sick, sorry, and unhealthy stand in such close proximity to his name. Michael Jackson lived a spectacular life, not a sad one. Artistic and material successes aside, in interviews from the '80s and '90s, Jackson's often seen joking and laughing. A glow and lightness emanates from him. Surely, the molestation trials took their toll and sadness may have had a greater presence in his life in the end, but to call his life sad or tragic says more about our discomfort with the ways his life existed outside social norms -- (as if normality insures a greater quality of life!)

Asymmetries with the status quo, on the contrary, are often the measure of a great life -- and yes, even a happy and healthy one. Today, that's the way we ought to remember him.

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