Leaving Neverland: We All Must Deal Together
In the house I grew up in, we dissected abusers, rapist, child molesters, pedophiles and narcissistics along with the variety of DSM IV diagnoses, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Every day. This was in part to my mother’s grad studies in psychology, as well as our experience. It was paramount to growing up in a single parent household. The constant message of protection. It was our equivalent to watching Sunday night football. That was how we relaxed when I was growing up. Understanding psychology of abusers and rape culture was my most important takeaway in childhood, really. I call it a gift from Goddess. So of course, in my downtime last week, I watched all four hours of Leaving Neverland and the hour long After Neverland special on HBO with Oprah.
I remember the allegations in the early 90’s about MJ when I was a kid. Ever since, his fame deeply bothered me. As a household, we never played Michael Jackson past Thriller. The Jackson 5 was, however, acceptable and celebrated. (And in adulthood as a working musician I always silently cringed, felt like I was ignoring a deep personal grievance when I had to play later MJ songs in wedding bands, or when felt like I had to sweep it under the rug in conversation amongst other working musicians. Like, yeah sure, yada yada, best all time album in the world, Quincy Jones masterpiece, etc. That conversation over and over. But rarely did it come paired with any mention of his abuse. Day in day out as a musician, it was one of those things you block out, though you may feel without a personal center. This, is one tiny example microcosm of what it has been like to be dialed into this process and experience of trauma, operating at a base professional level while under silence and hidden knowledge.
One night when I was about 10, the subject of MJ's accusers came up at a friend's house. Her father was quick to say they were allegations. I remembered being shocked at his suggestions - I couldn't understand why he needed to say they were "allegations". Why would anyone make false claims about such a thing? Victims have nothing to win coming forward. Not even “money” is a sane argument. Abusers in positions of power keep their power by defaming those who lay claims against them. They don’t even think there is a problem with it.
I believe Wade and James. I don't understand how people couldn't believe victims who come forward. Abusers famous for their arts or talents have coexisted for millennia. I am not shocked really. We have been celebrating art of terrible people FOREVER because history gets written entirely by men in power. So again, the problem of abuse is a human rights issue. The problem of having people in power equally is a human rights issue. Those who don’t understand that, or who are too cut off or disenfranchised to see anyone’s pain other than their own, or to blame others for their lackings, is dangerous for society. People who are afraid to recognize the worst in others because it would shatter their entire conception, or marriage, or love of their favorite pop star or musician or comedian or film director - you need to pull some shit together and learn to open up to the possibilities of both coexisting. It happens every day.
I’m interested in how we can heal this conversational rift in rape culture. Yes, it is entirely possible that MJ is the king of pop, and is also a child abuser. Victims of this type of abuse have been hearing his music - and dancing to it, I might add - while the collective culture sleeps at night, unaware. We collectively need to discuss how to repair these disconnects in male violence, power, and intimacy that allows for such gross abuse and dissociation, and defensiveness of MJ’s fans.
People live in denial because they don’t want to shatter the illusion of their son, their husband, their brother, their father, their favorite artist, someone they love. This is the real unfortunate banality of society that harms victims, children and the vulnerable.
I grew up in this exact hush hush culture - rural America. Family is everything. Women were not believed in the 80s and still aren’t. Courts did not favor women or mothers. These things are not new. People who attack and defend are really just afraid of the loss of their credibility. But when victims have never had credibility, police aren't trained to understand trauma, millions of rape kits sitting in police offices untested. Victims - women, children, are "looked down upon" the whole thing must be upheaved on a global mass level for us to get smart about it. In situations of protecting children who are abused at young ages, many are taught not to speak about it, to protect their chance in life. Today, millions of untested rape kits sit in police custody, while funding goes elsewhere; signaling victims of sexual violence are not worth justice. This is a cry for reform in our system.
That line where James said he was just starting his life in his 20s - he didn't want to deal with coming out about his abuse and take down a giant celebrity. This is exactly why people don’t come out for decades. Facing an elder, a man in power, is a lot of emotional upheaval to put on anyone. His innocence, his own body, his discovery of himself, was completely stolen. The evidence is disgusting and damning. And then, as Oprah said "we're gonna get it” in response to coming forward. And of course the Jackson estate sued.
One article by a black author expressed the back of the mind thought – if the documentary, and all the allegations is a takedown by white people of a black man to destroy his legacy. There is so much pain around what this represents. My initial response is to only feel so sad that this is the legacy of the most famous pop star in the history of the world, and for America, him being a black man, is horrible, especially given the history. And, at the same time, survivors have a right to be seen and heard.
I dream of a world where we can all hear each other without fear. With only love and acceptance, with apology, with healing.
We can deal, culture. White people: support and hear black voices. It's on everyone to do the work. Accept it all. Breathe it in. Don't make judgements on those who share. You are lucky for those who share. Those who come out are gifts to the universe for healing this cultural scourge. If you can't make space for this you will cheat yourselves and humanity of when you could be helping to heal, understand, or cure this scourge. Maybe this is the healing of the world that we actually need more than pop songs, and this is the opportunity to do it and for people to consider it. That legacy is so much more valuable to me. What breaking news over Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Louis CK did for victims of sexual assault at a national level of societal consciousness, I believe the breaking news over Michael Jackson can do for victims of childhood sexual abuse, and particularly male victims young and old.
The lights that are being turned on are so promising right now - about secrecy and shame, #MeToo, and the work of Oprah, Maya Angelou, and more recently, Brene Brown. I thank God everyday I see and hear victims come forward. I thank God for #metoo. I thank God for Tarana Burke. For Larkin Grimm, Kesha, Anita Hill, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work to protect women’s basic rights in the courts. T***p being elected was another deep re-triggering trauma – to see a man elected who does not see women as humans, but as objects to abuse and grab whenever he feels like it, with zero recourse. My mother and I cried on the phone with each other, the weekend after his inauguration, a 30 year old cloud of PTSD hanging over us.
I also feel a deep reconnection I have not felt in a long time watching any other documentary about child abuse (and believe me I have seen them all). Probably because MJ’s music is so personal and has reached us all. It is the one unifying DJ request that can unite any wedding dance floor in the world, and that is saying a lot for a place full of drunk anxious relatives. People just want to feel good about their wedding night, about their family members. That pull is so strong, and yet so dangerous for other people. People want to believe the good in everybody, at a cost to the fraught who have no voice.
People need to feel seen and heard. Hannah Gadsby recently said it was enough for her just to be seen after she came out. “Pull your fucking socks up,” she said addressing men in closing her netflix special Nanette, “I can’t believe you need fashion advice from a lesbian. That is your last joke.”
This just fills my heart. I have a giant crush on Hannah Gadsby. Thank goddess for Hannah Gadsby.
I have an aunt who says, out loud, that women lie about everything and can’t be trusted. It bothers me. My birth state in which said aunt lives, where they re-elected senator Heidi Heitkamp’s competition after she denounced Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. These people are everywhere. They are loved ones. They are co-workers, friends and family. They don’t know what to do about it. They don’t know how to listen. They don’t want to, because they have no other worldview. They have no other way to think about the world, politics, abuse, women’s rights, children’s rights. They uphold men with a steely eye and blame the women because it is easier. They make abuse victims feel unsafe, they make queer people and people of color feel unsafe – and they have no idea that their own existence and way of being does that. It’s the saddest place on Earth to me to see gentle humble people have no backbone, and at the same time, make a daily habit of joking about gender roles in a very regressed way. Amongst them, the most naïve and vulnerable get tossed out. Sometimes it is too much for me to take on every day. In this society live Wade Robson’s mother, James’ mother, the parents of all childhood victims. In this society breeds the baffling naivete of the parents of that little girl in “Abducted in Plain Sight” – the most easily manipulated and walking target family of children we’ve ever seen a full documentary about. And yet my story was set in a similar cultural mindset.
When #MeToo hit, and long before, I spent years by candlelight drawing, painting, reading, and later years playing my piano into oblivion, trying to escape the worry of how trauma in early childhood affected me. I think a lot of my process of my melange of experiences has melded into the musician and thinker I am, and the psychical states that come from the dedication of practicing music certainly has come into my process as a composer. This definitely shows on Enamiĝo Reciprokataj, and my experience of that sixteen year creative process from its conception to its release, with all of its hurts and pains and tests and shocks into delivery of that album as the only woman directing an all male team at the time of recording, while trying to make my own safe space simultaneously. Which, as you can imagine, was very difficult.
The other things that really hit me from James and Wade’s stories were the anxiety, heavy sleeping, anti-social behavior, and depression. I suppose I have always compared my experience (which this article is not about, and alone would require writing several other novels I will safely spare us from here) and the symptoms thereof, to other victim’s experience and symptoms. In the way that psychologists and textbooks summarize us, we so compare each other to ourselves and how we fit. Hearing Wade and James say their experiences, seeing them be asked if they have forgiven themselves, forgiving their parents, to forgiving MJ, was incredible. I am astounded and so lifted by their courage and bravery. How much heart they have to speak out publicly. I also know and can relate to how much pain, dissociation, confusion, and grappling that must have been. I have nothing but pure love and gratitude for sharing with us. All I can revert to about the question of being healed, is “living well is the best revenge”, the one inspiring guitar goddess Viva DeConcini sings often.
Like Oprah and cast said. The documentary was not about MJ. It was about the SURVIVORS.
Shame needs scarcity and silence to survive. But survivors need a whole lot more to recover - in processing, and in coming out. I wish for a world in which we can grow to receive both sides of the coin, with understanding, without “blame” and a divide of people protecting one against the other. We can see it all. You each see it all. Knee-jerk reaction denial is SO BORING.
I wish we could all each, soften our own conception about the words "rape," "sexual abuse", and perhaps use something that is more personal and safer. I agree with how the victims mentioned the word “abuse” did not describe what they thought of their relationship with MJ.
If we could identify a safer language describing these experiences, perhaps we could feel safer to calmly address why in this culture 1 in 4 women are raped, and that 1 in 4 men or less rape those women, without the reaction of pointing the finger. That violence is created by toxic masculinity and isolationism in culture.
We all have to do our part to soften, to listen, to make room and heal. We are all here. Together. On this planet. We have to fucking deal. We have to fucking heal. The world. Of this scourge. I am grateful for this documentary. Truth can heal individuals, and Truth can heal the world about this conversation.