The life and career of Michael Jackson was so intense, and so entwined with pop culture, that the finer details of it are still being debated a decade after his death. There were a lot of unanswered questions, after all. Now somebody close to the King of Pop has come forward with a new revelation about him, one that provides a foundation for even more debate.
Jackson’s moniker of The King of Pop was very well earned indeed. Some would say that almost nobody in the music world has ever held a candle to him at the height of his fame. Throughout his life, he received 13 Grammy Awards, 24 American Music Awards and a “Most Successful Entertainer of All Time” Guinness World Record. And, of course, he invented the moonwalk.
But his personal life was always the subject of some controversy. Jackson’s life growing up was a strange one, and it would shape his adulthood to a huge extent. As members of the Jackson 5, Jackson and his siblings would perform in strip clubs and bars. Jackson was exposed to the sex industry at just nine years old, something his religious mother did not know about.
This had a knock-on effect on the rest of his life. According to biographers, an older member of Jackson’s family once sent the teenage Jackson prostitutes, and he turned them down, sitting with them and reading them the Bible instead. People (including Brooke Shields, who was close to him) have speculated that the adult Jackson was actually more or less asexual.
Everything about Jackson got even more confusing, and much more troublesome, when he was accused of child molestation throughout the ’90s and ’00s. He was never found guilty in the end, but his public image took a serious knock. The fact that his parenting of his three children was sometimes criticized – he was once photographed dangling his baby son over a balcony rail – didn’t help either.
One of the people who stood by Jackson during his trials was Harrison Funk, the pop star’s personal photographer. The two men had met at the New York nightclub Studio 54, and Jackson had employed Funk to photograph the 1984 Jacksons’ Victory Tour. They became close friends, and Funk remained by the pop star’s side right up until Jackson’s death.
In 2018 Funk gave an in-depth interview to The Guardian about Jackson and the time they had spent together. He made sure to note his anger about Jackson’s 2003 molestation case. “All the accusations and crap he went through,” he said. “What is a better way to ruin someone who is going to make massive positive changes to the children of the world than to discredit them?”
He also discussed the circumstances of Jackson’s death. In 2009, the singer had been found dead of a cardiac arrest: it was later determined that it had been caused by acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication. Jackson’s personal doctor, Conrad Murray, ended up being convicted of involuntary manslaughter for providing Jackson with the pills.
“As much as I don’t like talking about the end, I will say he got destroyed by people who only had their own financial interests at heart,” Funk told the newspaper. Jackson died less than a month before his This Is It tour was set to open. “I can tell you that a big part of his plans following the This Is It tour was to do charity work and use his influence to better mankind,” Funk said.
But perhaps the most important thing Funk explained in the interview was about how Jackson allegedly viewed his gender. Jackson enjoyed putting on makeup during the Victory tour, Funk said. And he went on, “It wasn’t so much femininity on Michael’s part as androgyny – he was fluid around gender. Michael had no interest in assigning a gender to anybody.”
During the Victory tour in the ’80s, Funk said, Jackson “didn’t overtly identify as one particular gender.” However, when he became a father to Paris, Prince and Bigi (a.k.a. Blanket), Jackson “became a strong man in that sense.” It was a fascinating tidbit, especially to people who had theorized for a long time about how exactly Jackson identified.
In 2009 the website Pride published an article titled, “Was Michael Jackson Trans?” It went into depth about how the singer was perceived. “In life, some people were so confused by Jackson’s appearance and gender presentation they turned to online answer sites, asking, ‘What Was Michael Jackson’s Gender?’” the article read.
On the subject of gender fluidity, Wikipedia states, “A person who is genderfluid prefers to remain flexible about their gender identity rather than committing to a single gender. They may fluctuate between genders or express multiple genders at the same time.”
This is different to being a transgender person, where, again according to Wikipedia, “People have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex.” Some transgender people may choose to have surgery to correct their sexual presentation or have hormone replacement therapy.
Comments about the article were skeptical. “Michael always referred to himself as a man,” one person wrote on Reddit. “He was pretty fluid with the way he would express himself, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t identify as a man. I don’t think it’s really anyone’s place to make a call like this on something so personal.”
“All you have to do is look up Prince and Paris’s childhood photos to see that Michael, did in fact ‘assign gender’ to people. He dressed Paris like a girl, and Prince like a boy,” someone else wrote. However, there are rumors that Paris too might be genderfluid and even more rumors that she isn’t straight.
Paris has a tattoo that seems to indicate she’s not too bothered about gender roles. In 2017 she and her brother Prince got matching ones. “We have one on my other leg of the yin and yang tattoo. So she has the masculine and I have the feminine,” Prince told E! at the time. And as for Paris’s sexuality, she was spotted kissing actress Cara Delevingne in March 2018.
She may end up discussing it in interviews if and when she’s ready. Her father, however, will never get to go on record about his gender or sexuality. Yet Michael Jackson’s gender presentation has actually inspired genderfluid people, such as singer-songwriter Lawrence Rothman, who uses gender-neutral pronouns.
“Michael Jackson—I know he didn’t blur gender, but I always thought that’s what he was doing when I was little,” they said to the website Pitchfork. “There’s no stubble on his face. When I was eight years old, I thought he was trans. I didn’t know.” Based on the sheer amount of speculation about him, it seems a lot of people didn’t know.
But it seems that Harrison Funk would have accepted him however he was. In The Guardian interview he spoke very fondly about his photography subject and friend. “He was like a big kid,” he reminisced. It’s a shame that although Jackson was one of the most famous and talked-about people in the world, some things about him will never be known for certain.