“… informative, original and humorous – yes humorous – commentary concerning a subject most of us feel uncomfortable about… quirky, well written, impeccably researched… Give it a try. You are NOT being disloyal to Michael by doing so.”
(Hill Top House – Amazon)
“… a profound cultural critique of received assumptions about childhood innocence, pedophilic ‘power’, and parental goodwill.”
– Thomas K Hubbard, classicist
“His vivid and insightful commentary is a joy to read.”
(DJ West, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Criminology, Cambridge University)
The story so far…
…in part 1 of this interview Tom spoke of his developing interest in Jackson as an icon of boy love, and of how he went about researching the book.
Tom then started an account of the highs and lows of getting his project published, the enthusiastic response from Harrington Press (a publisher of radical books), and how that enthusiasm failed to bear fruit because of the death of the commissioning editor at Harrington, and the project being interrupted by a spell in prison for Tom.
Consequently, Tom decided to self-publish. Despite a campaign against the book conducted by Jackson fans, things looked promising, with the book getting excellent reviews and ratings.
But then, to quote Tom ‘it all went pear-shaped…’
* * *
Leonard Sisyphus Mann
Why? What went wrong?
Troubador caved in under the pressure, withdrawing the title and threatening to have the copies in their warehouse pulped. Only the threat of legal action on my part prevented them. I got a settlement under which they would deliver the books to me and I would be able to handle the distribution myself through my own company, Dangerous Books Ltd. Apt name, wouldn’t you say? In due course I re-launched the title, putting out a press release that capitalized on the controversy. By this time an American professor had generously described the book as an unjustly sabotaged “work of genius”, which looked great in the headline I gave for the release – so good, in fact, that the Sunday Times emailed PDQ to say all the hullaballoo had piqued their interest and they were thinking of running an extract from the book in their colour magazine! But they were so keen to get some action it seems they neglected to check me out first, as the Jackson fans had. When they found out who I was they backed off even quicker than they came in.
In a phone call, I said, “But I thought you were interested in doing controversial stuff”.
I was told, “Yes, but this is controversial for the wrong reasons.”
It sounded like one of those pathetic excuses for late trains: wrong kind of leaves on the line! But it was much the same story all around: just as I had originally feared, the media didn’t want to know.
That must have been quite a roller-coaster ride for you: you came so close to publishing a best-selling book promoting enlightened ideas about child-adult intimacy, only to have that snatched away from you at the last moment.
Did you ever consider taking a different approach when writing the book – maintaining the cover of your pseudonym? being less overt in your questioning of the dominant narrative round child-adult sexuality?
Yes, it was a crushing disappointment. Generally, I can ride the punches pretty well: my default setting is cheerful. But this was really hard to take, so near and yet so far. I experienced stress-induced psycho-somatic symptoms that lasted many months and didn’t leave me until I underwent medical tests and the magical “laying on of hands” by a consultant surgeon, who successfully assured me nothing fundamental was wrong with my physical constitution. My anxiety eased and the symptoms were cast out, like demons in an exorcism.
I should have been under deeper cover, for sure. But, no, for me there was only one reason for writing the book and that was, as you say, to challenge the dominant narrative. Being less overt might have helped but it would probably have needed a different writer. I’m not good at disguising what I think, or soft-pedalling.
The book gives us a good example of how certain insights and discoveries are available only to those who can evaluate the evidence with the appropriate conceptual tools.
Someone who understood child-adult sexuality purely in terms of the dominant narrative would find Jackson’s relationships with boys (and the continued loyalty of nearly all of those boys to their ‘abuser’, even once grown up) profoundly confusing. But that confusion resolves quite readily when the evidence is evaluated through a radical understanding of paedophilia and child sexuality.
And this is why I think you could not have done otherwise than be bold and explicit in your presentation of the ideas behind radical paedophilia. You had to educate the reader – otherwise he would not have been able to follow you on your journey towards your findings. A book that ‘soft-pedaled’ on the controversial stuff would be ‘spineless’ – it would lack the conceptual structure necessary to support its conclusions.
You said earlier “pretty much right from the start it seemed Michael could become a poster boy for Boy Love”.
Do you feel Jackson lived up to that hope?
Glad you feel I got the presentation right. Quite a lot of sales have been to women, by the way. Unlike male BLs, these buyers would probably have discovered MJ’s Dangerous Liaisons through their interest in Jackson rather than sexual politics, reflecting the nature of the pre-publication publicity. Some might have bought the book for the dubious pleasure of being shocked and appalled but there are open-minded fans too: female fans are among those who have posted enthusiastic reviews on Amazon.
As for whether Jackson lived up to my hopes, I suppose we have to ask what is generally expected of a poster boy. Mainly, I think, it’s just about being famous and fascinating to millions of people, so that the cause in question is put in the spotlight and gets talked about. In other respects the bar doesn’t have to be set all that high. Saintliness is definitely not a requirement because it is boring. And whatever else he is, Michael is never that.
Sure, he was a flawed character in ways that made him a less than ideal advertisement for boy love, but I never expected a paragon. We are all flawed, after all. Put under the kind of intense scrutiny to which Michael has been subjected, we would all be seen to have feet of clay, including apparently irreproachable husbands and fathers. Overall, I’d still unhesitatingly say Michael Jackson’s life as a BL had strongly positive elements and is just as worthy of attention as his artistic creativity. Above all, he gives boy love a human face – or faces, if we count the plastic surgery!
I agree that there was much to admire about Jackson as a BL.
But his paedophilia left a series of broken families in its wake. Of course Jackson was no ordinary paedophile and it could be argued that a lot of the problems that families such as the Chandlers experienced were more a result of his enormous power, wealth and charisma rather than of his love.
Moreover the Chandlers undoubtedly could have responded to the situation more wisely – but the ‘fog of battle’ must have been particularly dense and stifling for them, given that the battle was taking place on such uncharted territory.
I find the case of Evan Chandler particularly poignant: I really can’t think of him as the villain of the story. His actions seem to be those of a desperate, out-maneuvered man watching his son’s love being taken away from him. If paedophiles are sometimes driven to recklessness by their love of a child, can we find it so unforgivable that a parent might be too?
Indeed, at the outset, Evan had some very enlightened attitudes round child-adult sexuality: you write that “Evan was not particularly worried about a sexual relationship developing between man and boy…He even showed no sign of the great age difference between Michael and Jordie being a problem for him…” and that he told Jordie’s step-father “Well, you know, age in and of itself is not a harmful thing. “ (all p281)
There’s an understandable tendency for we paedophiles to either ignore parents, or to consider them as obstacles that, out of ignorance and prejudice, hinder the course of true love; we can even come to consider parents as ‘the enemy’.
But the Jackson case reminds us that parents are rarely bit-players when it comes to child-adult love, and that we can not write them out of the script, no matter how convenient it would be for us to do so.
You’re right, Michael behaved very badly towards Evan and got his come-uppance when Evan went nuclear in response. What a disaster! What a tragedy for all concerned!
But it wasn’t just about an unfortunate clash between larger-than-life characters whose behavior was less than ideal. That is just what first catches the eye because it is the immediate, visible spark that sets off the conflagration. But background conditions are also extremely important. Sticking with my analogy, a single spark might easily set off a huge forest fire in a bone-dry Californian summer, but not in the steamy dampness of the Amazon rain forest. In a different sort of forest, as it were, or cultural environment, lasting friendships are possible between parents and child-lovers – and I couldn’t agree more as to their immense desirability.
We need not look far to see this positive potential played out in reality. We don’t have to go back to Ancient Greece or off to a remote hunter-gather tribe up the Orinoco. We don’t even have to go beyond famous musicians of modern times. Michael Jackson, a superstar of pop, has a counterpart in Benjamin Britten, a superstar of classical music not that long ago. Both were boy lovers, but Ben Britten had a big advantage: his artistic, intellectual social circle was “bohemian” in its embrace of unconventional lifestyles; so Ben felt able to tell his friends Ronald and Rose Marie Duncan about his affection for their pre-teen son Roger, and apparently did nothing to deny its erotic nature. That didn’t stop the couple from seeing him as a positive influence in Roger’s life, far from it: the relationship was welcome; it deepened his connection with the family. Admittedly, though, Ben’s reputation for being rather puritanical and sexually inhibited would have helped allay any parental fear he might be a “predator”.
As for Evan, he seems to have been just as liberal as the Duncans, perhaps more so, but Michael was not well placed to discover that, or to trust him. His own family, to be sure, had been very “broad-minded”, but only when it came to “broads”: his father was a womaniser and so were his older brothers. So instead of leveling with Evan, and making him a real friend, Michael tragically felt he had to resort to deceiving the guy and cutting him out of Jordie’s life.
It’s quite a thought that if Jackson had leveled with Evan all the subsequent troubles could have been averted.
But to pursue the Britten-Duncan story a little… I wonder to what extent the Duncans’ easy-going attitude towards their son’s relationship with Britten was a product of the boarding school system (I think Ronald Duncan, and know Britten, went to boarding school – as probably did all the males in their circle).
A boarding school is an environment where the taboos violated by a child expressing their sexuality are lesser ones than the incest taboo violated by a child expressing their sexuality within the nuclear family. This might make it easier for the parents of children at boarding schools to think of them as ‘sexual’.
I think we can maybe identify similar attitudes in other alumni of boarding schools such as Stephen Fry, Brian Sewell, Simon Gray and A.N. Wilson.
To return to Jackson – do you think that there may have existed similar understandings between Jackson and the parents (either explicit or implicit) in the happier relationships Jackson had with boys. I’m thinking of ones such as with Macaulay Culkin. Is there any evidence of there having been sexual intimacy between Culkin and Jackson?
If so, do you think that maybe Culkin’s family life, because of his work and fame, was sufficiently atypical and non-nuclear for his parents to be able to acknowledge him as a sexual being, and therefore be more accepting of him having a consensual relationship with Jackson?
Fascinating thought there on the incest taboo although I don’t know enough about Ronald Duncan and the others to take it any further.
As for Mac’s parents, Kit and Pat, they were sophisticated people, so it is tempting to see their relaxed attitude to finding Mac and Michael in bed together as indicating a liberal view of boy-love. But were they taken in by Michael’s self-promoted image of himself as just a big kid? Maybe, to start with. Perhaps they took their cue from Mac’s own behavior: he was relaxed and happy with Michael, so Michael cannot have been assaulting him or hurting him, and surely not – to use Evan Chandler’s language – fucking the kid up the ass. They did take precautions, though, if Michael’s sacked publicist Bob Jones is to be believed. He tells us Mac was assigned a chaperone to make sure the boy didn’t sleep with Michael when the pair were on holiday in Bermuda together.
Was there actually a sexual relationship? I guess it depends what is meant by sexual. Mac was definitely Michael’s type, and there is testimony that Michael “interfered” with him in the video arcade at Neverland. I think it’s probably true. But there is no sign Mac needed the sexual side. He was relaxed about it, but really just loved Michael’s company as a fun guy to be with.
Of the other parents, Brett Barnes’s must surely have been aware of Michael’s sexuality and indeed Brett’s own. Brett’s sister Karlee let slip in her testimony at Michael’s trial that Michael and Brett, then aged 10, shared a bed for more than a year and that her brother wanted it. This happened with parental permission in what appears to have been an ordinary nuclear family – albeit a distinctly star-struck one in the case of the mother.
I think that added to being star-struck there may have been another factor that came into play to explain their permissiveness: that paedophilia, when respectful and consensual, does not look like what people are led by the media to expect: something predatory, seedy and disturbing to children. The interaction between an adult and a child who love each other, provided maybe that it’s not too overt, can be very beautiful, even to those who have fully bought into the dominant narrative.
An example of this is the relationship between Alexander Skarsgård and Onata Aprile – two lead actors from the film ‘What Maisie Knew’. I’ve no reason to think Skarsgård is a paedophile, but in the following clip, he interacts with Onata in a way that is hardly distinguishable from that of a paedophile.
Could you also say something about what happened after publication? How has the book been received?
Any other book garnering so many rave reviews would probably have sold scores of thousands of copies and been a serious contender for a top prize in biography – a Costa in the UK, say, or a Pulitzer had it been an American publication.
For that kind of success, though, you need to generate a buzz, with hype in the right places, including chat show interviews here in Britain with the likes of Graham Norton or Newsnight’s Stephen Smith, and maybe The Daily Show in the US and (back then) Larry King Live.
That sort of publicity was a real possibility right up until I was outed as a “convicted paedophile”, which of course cut off all mainstream media potential like switching off a light. It meant that the excellent reviews, of which there were many, were confined to obscure places, such as pre-publication endorsements on the book’s own cover. These endorsements were great but were only ever seen by those who had already heard about the book. The five professors who gave the thumbs up in this way included real heavyweights such as the internationally renowned cultural commentator James Kincaid and a couple of guys who were huge in launching gay liberation – Donald West, who brought out what may have been the first influential book of modern times arguing for a more tolerant view of homosexuality, back in 1955, and Richard Green, a leading psychiatrist who was a key figure in getting homosexuality delisted as a mental illness. Big names, but their enthusiastic comments were not seen by many potential buyers, sadly.
Same goes for the post-publication reviews. They were really good, and often lengthy, doing full justice to the case I presented. But where did they appear? Places like the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Sexualities , and Sexuality & Culture – obscure academic journals, in other words, where it usually takes a year or two for the review to appear, so the effect on sales is minimal.
Don’t get me wrong, though, I am hugely proud of those reviews, especially one by the research psychologist J Michael Bailey for the Archives. There’s a great quote in it saying the idea that paedophilic relationships can be harmless or even beneficial to children is one he finds disturbing but he admits there is a “lack of scientific evidence” to justify his unease, and he adds that “O’Carroll argues against my intuitions and he argues well.” I wouldn’t mind that chiseled on my tombstone!
It has also been very gratifying to make converts among, as I said, the more open-minded among Michael Jackson’s fans. It is easy to preach to the Kind choir, and I welcome the warm reception my book has enjoyed among BLs and GLs, but winning people over from neutral or antagonistic positions was always the aim and it’s great when it happens.
Starved of the oxygen of publicity, though, sales have been less than stellar – enough to cover production costs that just about reached five figures in US dollar terms but with nothing to show for all my writing work. I don’t mind that but I would dearly love to have more readers – so thank you, LSM, for giving the esteemed readers of your excellent blog (grovel, grovel 😉 ) a big hint!
“Toms tells the story… in all its larger-than-life drama and tragedy, with the pace of a natural storyteller. This book kept me gripped throughout… a nuanced, thoughtful analysis, backed by thorough research, and at the same time a roaringly good read.”
(Vitaly – Amazon)
“It’s been many years since I carried a book with me, anxious to read it over everything else in my life…destined to be a classic in the field of sexuality, along with Krafft-Ebing, Freud, Kinsey, and Masters/Johnson…”
(Sally Miller – Synergy Press)
“The most engaging, informed, and generous-hearted book we have on the subject or are likely ever to have. I recommend this book strongly.”
(Professor James R Kincaid, University of Southern California)
How to Order your Special Offer
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