Both his music and his presence were all over my childhood. He was just there, being compelling musically and fascinating in the media (*flashes on the reports of his burn injury while filming the Pepsi commercial*). I almost certainly learned of "Weird Al" Yankovic, one of my longest music fandoms (seriously), via his "Beat It" parody "Eat It." The thing is, sometimes I didn't realize it was Michael Jackson. (That's happened other times. I'd never knew that "My Sweet Lord" was a George Harrison song until 2001, when a KINK FM DJ finally identified it as such on the air. Thank you, KINK, for actually saying what the songs and who the singers are.)
Jackson's Paul McCartney collaboration "The Girl Is Mine" was released in fall 1982, when I was a third-grader in Virginia Beach, VA. And it caused my mind to go slightly tilt because while I recognized Paul -- the radio in our house was often tuned to a Sixties rock station heavy on both early and Abbey Road-era Beatles -- I took half of forever to figure out it was Michael.
So third-grade me was confused by this girl-like voice declaring "I'm a lover, not a fighter." At some level I was thinking A guy and a girl are fighting over a girl?
Come to think of it, that may really have been my first exposure to the concept of sexualities different than mine.
(I was about to write "alternative sexualities," but I've come to dislike that term a bit. They aren't alternative to the people who have them. They'd be alternative to me, but that's because I'm not wired to be anything other than a straight male. My joking about "transitioning" to "Christina" notwithstanding.)
I was already noticing girls by that point, so I was showing signs of sexuality. And I could notice that love songs were about, well, love, and about people hooking up with each other. I knew kisses were important, that they meant something. I had no way of knowing yet that love could go further than that, but that takes a while for everybody to figure out. (It started to dawn on me in fifth or sixth grade, in time for my first crush, on a girl named Nicka.) It took me longer to notice other people's sexuality. I couldn't really tell who in my junior high was gay or bi; I started to sense that slightly better come high school. To this day, my so-called "gaydar" is awful, but I haven't needed it for dates, because of what I said one paragraph ago. It hasn't needed developing.
I'm pretty sure I confused people into thinking I was non-straight. Not dating in high school was probably the big reason: I just didn't feel ready. Crushes happened, definitely -- especially my fellow high school newspaper writers Kathryn and Carmen -- and
Still...I feel seeds had been planted, that I'd grow to become a gay-friendly person. Odd that one of those seeds was a guy who sounded like a girl, but I think there's something to that thought.
I joke about being a lesbian in a woman's body (it would explain a lot of my taste in women, apparently (heh)), but I really do have a lot of women in my life, including my favorite cousin, who are gay or bi. I admit I know, or know of, fewer men in my life who are gay or bi -- one cousin and one friend/former co-worker come to mind immediately -- and I know I should work on that. Be more open, so I can understand them better. If ever I knew how important understanding is, it's in this weird, struggling time.
I'm dumb about some stuff. A quote that's been on my mind the past few days is Lukas Kendall's succinct "When I was 16, I didn't know shit, because I was 16." I knew some stuff then; I know more stuff now; and I know I was reacting to Michael Jackson's music in a way that he probably didn't intend.
And that's obliquely about Michael Jackson.