What to do with the musical legacy of Michael Jackson? People are taking sides: If you believe he was guilty, his music should be wiped from the face of the earth. If you're a diehard fan (like me!), you’re a tacit collaborator in his abuse.
What if it's not that simple? What if Michael Jackson’s musical legacy is not EITHER/OR--but BOTH/AND? In the HBO doc Leaving Neverland, both of Michael Jackson's accusers report that they loved him EVEN WHILE HE WAS ABUSING THEM. They said that the abuse felt good at the time. Rather than making them see him as a monster, the abuse solidified their feelings of being special, graced with a secret, almost magical relationship.
Leaving Neverland Director Dan Reed on PBS Newshour: “I’d like people to watch this film and be educated about how child sexual abuse and grooming really happens.”
I’m an expert on trauma. Not because I’ve studied the topic, though I have. Not because I’m finishing a training program in Gestalt Therapy, heavy on reading and practice of therapy to heal traumas. I’m an expert because I was sexually abused as a minor by two different adult men. I grew up with direct experiences of sexual abuse, and the repercussions of living with parents who knew, yet refused to acknowledge that anything had happened. I know that children respond to sexual trauma in predictable ways.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse don’t always stop loving their abusers. My first abuser wasn’t any where near as nice to me as Wade Robson claims that Michael Jackson was to him during nights of abuse. My abuser was a visiting relative whom I adored. He gave me affection that was sorely lacking in my own family--Until the attack. It happened very fast, I vomited, I fainted, and I was never the same again. I knew my parents loved me, but I didn’t tell them when it happened, and not for decades. As a kid, I knew I couldn't survive their disbelief--and I knew they'd believe my abuser over me.
Yet in order to survive, I needed the adults around me to be "good," trustworthy. I made myself "wrong." I concluded that I was the defective one—a deep shame I still carry. I held tightly to the illusion of my first abuser as a loving, caring relative. Even decades later when I started therapy, I felt I was still in love with him in a certain sense. That early attachment couldn't be resolved except through a long healing process. Growing up, I maintained a satisfied, attached feeling to him and to my parents, something that all children need in order to survive and become adults.
I am still trying to get my head around the fact that parents can be criminally negligent and still love their children.
The accusations against Michael Jackson don't subtract anything from his musical genius. His towering legacy stands. I don’t have a problem with that. But my fandom has been complicated. I can never hear his music the same way again. Do I believe Wade Robson and James Safechuck? I will say that the relationship they describe in Leaving Neverland echoes my own experience and that of millions of other sexually abused children.