As a woman who has transitioned out of adult entertainment, I understood why Michael walked around with his face covered and was so soft spoken while of the stage. I like Michael Jackson’s music but I wouldn’t consider myself a fan because I wouldn’t scream, cry or attempt to touch him if I ever saw him. We have so much in common as entertainers, it was mandatory for me to write a review of Searching for Neverland, as this film confirmed my initial comparison. At one of my lowest points, I would wear a ski mask (even in the summer) when I left the house. I always thought of Michael Jackson when I got the curious stares and even the comments.
The movie is told from the point of view of the man in charge of keeping Michael Jackson and his children safe as his bodyguard. He was being questioned about how the King of Pop died. As he sat in the hot seat answering questions, I began to think of my own experiences as an entertainer. As a transition coach to women who are attempting to transition out of adult entertainment lifestyle, I saw this movie with empathetic eyes. I understand there are very few people who are close to you and your ability to trust people becomes more and more tainted with each disappointment in friendship or even business relationship. Michael was a single parent to 3 children whom he seemed to love very much. He would go on lavish shopping sprees and shut stores down. He was protective of his children and loved to see them smile.
He had not done a show in a few years and his agent and others were attempting to apply pressure to him to sign papers that would require him to do another show. He dreaded going back up on stage because of what it costed him. Michael definately gave his all during his performances and he was well aware that his age and stamina is not what it used to be. But with the bills piling up, the pressure for him to perform again sent him into a downward spiral of depression and feeling trapped. His reputation had suffered tremendously from the scandal at his old home, Neverland, which accused him of molesting a young boy.
As I watched Neverland, I began to reflect on how my relationship with my love of dance and newly discovered outlet (the strip club) began to deteriorate. Michael had a heart for people; especially children. I believe this was his way of mourning the loss of his own childhood, the one irreplaceable thing that the music industry took from him. As a dancer, turned stripper, I felt Michael’s pain. To turn someone’s absolute love for something against them is cruel, confusing, depressing and degrading. My reputation as an exotic dancer made me feel like a laughing stock and an outcast. I was stereotyped when people did learn of what I did for a living but I was nothing like how they thought. I began to hate people. All people. Because of the disdain people felt about my occupation, I began to be uncomfortable with myself and hated to socialize. I became a recluse and only left the house to work, under the cover of darkness.
The loneliness Michael Jackson lived through was like a loud ringing silence. Through the shopping sprees and grand homes were not enough for people to come around. The hate mail kept rolling in and made him even more isolated. He wasn’t getting any sleep and drank lots of wine. His phone never rang with someone calling to chat or check on him and the kids. I remembered sitting in the house like a hermit, hoping someone would call me. Then I thought of how I didn’t really want to talk. I just wanted someone to care. My mom and sisters would call me some time but I was never free to talk to them about my nights at the club. I was trapped in my own life. I didn’t fit anywhere. I loved dancing but hated interacting with people who assumed they could say certain things to me (without me being offended). I hated how people always wanted more and more of me. I hated how I felt when I had to find a nice way to turn down a disrespectful proposal. I worked very hard a few times a month so I wouldn’t have to keep going to that dreadful place.
My love for dance never died but my anxiety over the stress of working in this environment where I was constantly propositioned for prostitution and I could feel my innocence being stripped away became too much for a 20-yr-old young woman to handle. The irony to the way I was feeling about my newfound life was, financially speaking, the lifestyle was very easy to live. I did not worry about bills or money. One of the hardest things about transitioning for me was to adjust my spending habits and getting on a good sleep schedule. Michael triggered me a few times in the film but nothing got to me as much as when he became upset about being presented with the paperwork that would lock him in a contract to put on another show. He agreed but name it the “This Is It!” tour. In the movie, there came a time when months went by without him paying the security men because Michael could not afford to pay. But they still came to work each day because they realized that Michael had NO ONE but his children and the nanny.
Everytime I had to go back inside the club to earn a living, I would declare the same thing. “This is IT! I’m not getting another permit for another club after this!” (Dancers have to purchase permits to work as strippers that last for 1 year) But the anxiety and depression I endured hurt me so bad when I had to go to work due to lack of funds. The mental strain was unbearable; not to mention the pain I knew I would suffer after dancing my heart out each night. At 12 years old, I was diagnosed with idiopathic adolescent scoliosis. I had to live with this debilitating pain 24/7. Compounding this with the sore muscles I knew were coming from the 8-hour aerobics in 6 inch stillettos was like a death sentence. Dread does not even begin to describe how I felt about going back into the club.
When it was announced that Michael was in the hospital in the movie, I totally broke down. I remember the feeling of being trapped between the strip club and mainstream society. Micheal had a total meltdown once he understood that it was necessary and mandatory for him to perform. He was planning to purchase a new home and be free from the contracts that owned him. When he died, I cried like I was at a funeral. His decision to die instead of performing was the most triggering thing for me. I’m not sure I believe a doctor killed him but I am sure that the entertainment industry will consume you. Making a transition out of the lifestyle is hard enough but I could not imagine it being compounded with the flashing lights of the cameras brought on by worldwide fame and the inability to be a human being. I hope people can learn that even famous people are actual people with hearts, minds and feelings too. Rest In Heaven, Michael Jackson. We love and miss you.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED SAYURI SMITH