Pulitzer Prize Winner Michael R. Jackson Talks Choosing Black Gay Love, Tyler Perry, HIV Stigma
Openly gay writer/composer Michael R. Jackson continues to drop gems on his longtime fans and those who have recently discovered his brilliance after his recent Pulitzer Prize win for drama for his Off-Broadway musical "A Strange Loop." Jackson is one of two openly gay Black men to receive the Pulitzer Prize this year. Atlanta based poet Jericho Brown also received the award for poetry. You can read our coverage here.
Jackson recently sat down for an interview with Juan Michael Porter II at The Body, where he discussed being intentional about choosing another Black gay man as a life partner, his experience with HIV/AIDS stigma as a HIV negative person, and how he hopes his work can be a vehicle in eradicating said stigma in the African-American community.
JMPII: ...This is the only musical I know of that engages with mental health in a real way. Does that dynamic come from your real life?
MRJ: I’ve definitely dealt with self-hatred, intimately. But something I have to keep telling people is that A Strange Loop is self-referential, not autobiographical, though I have felt everything Usher felt in the piece. [Like the lead character, Usher], I came from a very Black background. I’m from Detroit; I grew up in a Black family, I went to Black churches, I went to Black schools, the first boys I kissed were Black, the first dicks I sucked were Black. Everything was Black. And then I moved to New York City, and the world turned upside down. I had to really reorient myself to a white gay context, and that was a struggle for many years because I didn’t see a lot of other Black gay men or have Black friends, frankly, that I could be involved with.
That has changed over the years. Now I have many Black gay friends, and I’ve come to understand that I want Black gay male affection in my life. I don’t want to seek out white partners. That’s no shade related to white partners. I have been known to throw shade at interracial relationships from time to time, but it’s only because those relationships are often highlighted as progress in ways that Black queer relationships are not. It’s a subtle undermining of Black love. Something I’ve come to realize, that was helpful for my mental health, was realizing that I wanted Black lives and that there was nothing wrong with pursuing that or explicitly saying, “That’s what I want.” I have lots of friends in interracial relationships, and I have nothing against that, but this culture has a really strange anti-Black thing that I have a problem with.
Jackson on including HIV/AIDS into the plot of his award-winning musical "A Strange Loop:"
JMPII: Yes! Another thing that I loved was how the show accurately captured the fear that contracting HIV was a preordained eventuality for gay men.
MRJ: As a kid, I heard those messages—that “AIDS was God’s punishment,” and that I was going to get HIV if I was sexually active. I struggle with that even to this day. I’m not a prude per se, but there is an aspect of my sexuality that has not fully expressed itself in the way that a lot of my peers have: experimenting, testing my boundaries, or wondering what it would mean to go to a sex club or an orgy; all the things that everyone does.
I resisted a lot of that for quite a long time, because it was wrapped up in HIV panic. But the other thing that is true is that I didn’t know anyone who was HIV positive other than a relative who I was always warned about as a kid.
JMPII: Is that what inspired you to introduce HIV into the show?
MRJ: On one level, yes. Another level was finding out that a friend of mine was HIV positive. That changed the landscape of our relationship, because then I found out that other people around me were HIV positive, and that ran counter to this message about Truvada and AIDS being over. Another level was seeing the movie Confessions of a Marriage Counselor by Tyler Perry, who just called me on the phone today. So that’s a whole other thing. I was enraged with the way that he depicted AIDS in that movie, because he has had such an impact on the Black community, and I couldn’t believe that he was depicting it in such an irresponsible way and having this sort of “AIDS is God’s punishment” tone to it. The song, “AIDS is God’s punishment,” literally came as a direct response to the images and narratives in that movie, with AIDS as an indictment of homophobia and the church’s demonization of sexuality in a satirical sense.
We highly recommend that you read the entire interview here.