READ IT! HOW GAY WAS M.J.? "Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson" Book Review


     This past June on Gay Pride Day in New York City, a drunk mess of a Pridefest volunteer was going around spreading a rumor, which she absolutely, genuinely believed to be true: that Michael Jackson was confirmed to be the Surprise Guest Artist at the annual Dance on the Pier that year– but he died on June 25th, just three days before the event. This was total bullshit, of course, but it was juicily believable: After all, M.J. was planning a musical return. What better way for a “straight” star to launch their comeback, to gain some much needed “street cred”, and show how oh-so-2009 they are than to come out in support of the GLBT community, especially at one of New York City’s best-kept-secret events?  
     It seems like Michael Jackson’s sexuality has been a fascination with the media ever since the singer hit puberty. Did he like men? Women? Boys? Or was he asexual, as some claim? Only the man in Michael’s mirror knew for sure. Celebrities of all varieties always complain that both their fans and the press alike often tend to have more interest in their personal lives rather than their artistic achievements. But with Michael Jackson, focusing on his music in his later years was pretty hard to do, especially with his criminal charges crossing the barrier from tabloid filler to “legitimate” news. Released only weeks after the singer’s death, Ian Halperin’s book “Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson” provides a lively, reader-friendly, and detail-packed survey of the eccentric star’s years of decline, with almost all of the 273 pages devoted to the two child molestation trials and their effects on both Jackson personally and on his public image. In addition, the book confidently claims the star had gay relationships with adult men, as well as a fondness for cross-dressing. Halperin states that he spoke with two of Jackson’s lovers: one a waiter, the other an actor “who has given solid but uninspiring film parts”. The actor stated to Halperin, “He (Michael)was very shy, but when he started to have sex, he was insatiable. He was a bottom, but he was so thin, I worried that I would break him.” More squeamish details follow. Halperin also speaks of a “burly, half-Asian” construction worker who was M.J.’s boyfriend when the singer lived in Las Vegas. Of course, the lovers remain unidentified. Halperin seems to be a credible source. Throughout the book, he gives the readers well-documented facts and his own research rather than relying extensively on hearsay or unidentified sources– although of course we get a few of those. Halperin, in fact, eerily predicted in December 2008 that Jackson would be dead in six months. Later on, the author describ es meeting the dethroned King in person and having the singer quickly become a bit to, shall we say, overly friendly: “At one point during our conversation at the pizza joint, Jackson put his hand over mine. I was wondering if the singer was hitting on me…. He made me extremely nervous. I had visions in my mind of Michael leaning over and kissing me on the lips. Thank God he didn’t. It was one of the most intense moments I have ever experienced looking into another man’s eyes. I felt Michael’s sexual energy from the get-go.” The author claims that he spent “the next few weeks” wondering if M.J. was really making a pass at him or not that day. Poor guy… Overall, “Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson” is a fascinating read, although Jacko remains just as much of an enigma even after you’ve finished the last page.
     Curiously, GLBT’s have always been cautious about claiming Jackson as one of our own, and have been slow to jump on Halperin’s revelations about M.J.’s possible homosexuality– despite our community’s fascination with celebrity gossip and with whether or not a star “is” or “isn’t”. The reasons seem clear to me at least: M.J.’s artistic achievements and talent notwithstanding, our community doesn’t, well… “want” Michael to be gay.  On one end of the spectrum, Jackson lost his cool factor years ago, and aybe just wasn’t cutting-edge or fabulous enough for our community, who’s always looking for the next big thing. One wonders that maybe if Jackson wasn’t seemingly so much of a legend in his own mind, and wasn’t so distanced from the public (and, arguably, pop culture in general), he could have emerged as a cult fave. But that never happened.  On the other end, there were those accusations about Michael liking boys.  Gay men have fought for years against the unproven, hateful association of homosexuality with pedophilia.  Embracing this Jackson as a gay icon, whether he was gay or not himself, was just to unsettling for a lot of us.
      So, the (ahem…) bottom line is: If someone asked me if M.J. was gay, I’d say, “Sorry, you’ll have to ask him yourself”.  Unfortunately, you can’t ask M.J anything anymore…
Jed Ryan


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