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essence

I,
The Story She Has Never Told
By Janet Jackson

essence.com may 2012 $3.99

may 2012

Contents

essence
136 I, Janet Pops favorite little sister recounts her journey to self-discovery. As told to David Ritz. 142 Shy? Heres how to shine Find out how to conquer your scaredy-cat gene and get on with getting a life. By Ziba Kashef. 147 Juvenile Injustice: The Tragic Case of Mariam White When a child commits a crime, should she be tried as an adult? By katti Gray. Then, in All Our Children, Asha Bandele explains why we should care and what we can do. 153 Mfon A young photographer captures the power and beauty that her breast cancer could not erase. By Eisa Nefertari Ulen. 159 In Other Words: Beauty In this series by leading writers, Asha Bandeles installment explores the sometimes painful complexity of being beautiful.

essence magazine

features

photo of Janet Jackson by Aitken Jolly

on the cover

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essence magazine

may 2012

We all know the public Janet Jackson, the mega-sucessful superstar who came of age before our very eyes. Now meet the private Janet as she tells us in her own voice whats behind all the hype, how she manages heartache and who she is now.

I, JANET
By Janet Jackson, As told to David Ritz

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may 2012 Women have a hard time processing pain. At least I do. I tend to stuff it, or deny it, or deaden it by working too hard and too long. But Im changing. Im looking for healthy ways to process pain. I do it by sharing with friends the simple truth of where Ive been, where I am and where I want to go. My journey has been marked by twists and turns. The drama has been intense. My challenge, like that of so many of us, is not to judge myself. I tend to take the blame for anything that goes wrong. Im a harsh and cruel self-critic. I long to treat myself gently, but because Ive had privileges in my life, I dont think Im entitled to acknowledge pain or loss. That nasty critic inside me sees that as whining. As the youngest daughter of a family steeped in show business, Im expected to smile. Radiate happiness. Exude optimism and joy. Thats a pressure I both accept and resist. I believe I was born to entertain. Thats the public Janet. The private Janet is another matter. The private Janet likes to listen more than talk. If I go to clubs with friends, I get too embarrassed to dance. I dont think I measure up to the other dancers on the floor. I stay home with my dogs, munch on strawberries and cream, listen to jazz. As a little girl, I clung closely to my mother. Mother was my refuge, my world. My earliest memories are of waiting for my brothers to return from tour. I missed them terribly. When I was 5, the Jackson 5 were at their height, the worlds most popular boy band. Along with everyone else, I watched them on TV, saw them turned into cartoon characters, loved them, even idolized them, but interacted with them infrequently. We were always apart. The great distance between us has never been bridged. The concern for family is there, yet the distance remains. To this day, we havent quite caught up with one another. The nonstop demands of show business threw us in different directions. I was close to Michael because of his sensitivity. His sweetness. The way he sang and danced, the gentleness of his soul, had an enormous influence on me. He gave me his attention. In his relationship to our father--in his fierce resistance to authority--I saw the foreshadowing of my own relationship with the man we call Joseph. The Michael I knew best was teenage Michael. He inspired me. As adults, we rarely meet, but when we do, its not as strangers, but as a loving brother and sister whose knowledge of each other is rooted in the past, not the present. We cherish dear memories; we sympathize over the single missing element of our childhood--the fact that our childhood never existed. What family isnt dysfunctional? What family isnt composed of crazy dreams and demands passed on--or imposed--from parent to child? I see those dreams as gifts. Without them, Id get nowhere. Demands and desire commingled in our household. By desire, I mean drive--the need to succeed at any healthy cost. But early on I also knew that, given so much dysfunction, I wanted out--out of my family and to be on my own. I married when, for all practical purposes, I was still a child, just 18 years old. I wasnt ready. I watched my first husband, James DeBarge, wrestle with his demons. I felt his pain; I understood his pain, but I didnt understand the impact of his pain on his behavior. I wound up in the middle of a horror movie. Brokenhearted, disillusioned, I threw myself into work, into a career that, at first, was still tied to my father. I broke that tie in the name of Control, my third album. That was in 1986, when I was still not essence.com

essence magazine yet 21. Control is a wonderful thing. But control is an illusion. No one but God is in control. That took me a long time--another 14 years--to learn. The more we cling to the notion that we are in control, the greater our delusion. I admit it; I was deluded. I married again, this time in secret to Rene Elizondo, Jr., convinced that privacy would protect the sanctity of our bond. As a wife, I reasoned that the private Janet would have a better chance than the public Janet. Lessons learned at my mothers knee were subconsciously a part of my very being: Stick by your man; loyalty is unquestioned and absolute; never abandon, never give up; tolerate what needs to be tolerated; work it out; understand; let love see you through. It took me more than a decade to see the truth about my relationship with Rene, and it happened on an evening when I thought I was going blind. I was in Lyon, France, in 1998 on the Velvet Rope tour. In two separate accidents--one involved my dog and the other a magazine that grazed my eye--my corneas had been scratched. Somehow I made it through the show, but afterward my eyes were burning so badly that even the lights on the dashboard felt like daggers. The throbbing was excruciating. We went looking for a hospital--it was past midnight--where an impatient nurse applied a salve that only made it worse. Back at the hotel, my eyelids were swollen to the size of lipstick pencils. I cried all night. When morning came, I couldnt see. But where my eyes failed, my heart saw with a clarity I had never before known: I saw my marriage for what it was. It was that simple. My husbands concern was elsewhere. Other things dominated his attention, secret things I had failed or refused to recognize. I wont say what things because they are not mine to reveal. Wed been ensnared in a sad, sick dance. The dance involved hours of therapy but very little sincerity. The sickness was subtle. We had few arguments; there was no physical abuse. But double lives were being led; hidden agendas were being pursued. And I was seeing what I had never wanted to see. Or admit. I dislike admitting it here. Id been played. Millions of women have gone through this. So why is it so hard to admit that Im among them? The public Janet feels obligated to project positive vibes. The private Janet feels obligated to take the blame. I feel I should have known better, seen it coming, been wiser, smarter, shrewder. But you learn what you learn when you learn it. The chains of codependency-where egos are merged and identities confused--are strong. To break them requires real determination. Those chains have been binding us for generations. Our parents patterns, inherited from their parents, can haunt us for a lifetime. Im grateful that my eyes were finally opened and my heart, though broken, is on the mend. I call my latest release All for You. The You is my fans, whove stayed with me and watched me grow; the You is the mysterious force of love thats the source of creativity; and the You is also me. All for You is a suite of songs that helped me move from one emotional level to another. Im the kind of artist who has no choice but to write what I feel. Velvet Rope took me inside my fears and frustrations. All for You has brought me outside, happy on a natural high, convinced that I really can express joy in the face of pain. My moods are ever-changing. If you listen 5

ddy about I feel light and almost gi

untying the knots that were restraining me.

essence magazine to the CD, youll hear what Im going through. Theres anger, hurt, regret, even that familiar vein of severe self-criticism I cant quite shake. (I still cant stand seeing any of my movies or concert tapes; I still cringe when I watch myself act or dance.) Yet theres also confidence. I hope this doesnt sound egotistical, but this time I stood alone and crafted my art according to my heart. I feel free, and theres nothing more wonderful than freedom. Freedom means choices. I chose to explore the sensual side of my personality because thats an essential part of who I am. If the songs are too explicit for some, all I can say is that Im being honest about my own sexuality. I hunger for passion. Im sometimes asked if I mind being called gay. My answer is no. To answer otherwise is to insult gay people. I feel most peoples sexuality is enormously complicated. Thats what it means to be human. Wouldnt it be great if we honored that complexity

may 2012 rather than turn it into gossip or ridicule? Wouldnt it be great if we accepted sexual diversity, in ourselves and others, without condemning it? My closest friends are women. My closest friends are men. My closest friends have seen me through the challenges of these past years. They have become my family. I love men. Im dating for the first time, and Im not especially good at it. Maybe its because I harbor the fear that haunts so many of us: Im afraid Ill be played again. Im okay alone. Im enjoying the absence of major drama. I dont want to sound cold, but the idea of living without a romantic relationship does not frighten me. I can see myself as a single parent. I can see myself handling my life on my own. I simply want to accept Gods will. The last song on All for You is called Better Days. The blindfolds off my eyes, I sing, and now all I see for me is better days. I feel that way. I feel light and almost giddy about untying the knots that were choking me, restraining me, preventing

may 2012 my growth. To me, growth is everything. As an artist, as an entertainer, as a Black woman, Im interested in making strides, taking chances, finding my own way in my own time. I do know that racism still exists. Maybe it always will. Like so many Black people, I have my own stories of being profiled--of being stopped, searched and frisked twice in the same month by cops skeptical about a Black woman driving a fancy car. And you have to think, if the cops stop me, how much worse must it be for others? Yet we go on. We go to our jobs. We do what needs to be done. We struggle to better ourselves. From my people, from my parents, I cherish my priceless inheritance--the energy to work. I used to think such work meant only physical tasks: singing and dancing and putting on a show. But now I realize that the work ethic applies to spiritual tasks as well. The job of discovering who you are, independent of anyone or anything, is perhaps the

essence magazine hardest work of all. Thats the work that interests me most, the work that, with Gods help, is bringing me a deeper sense of satisfaction. Now I see that the pain is worth it. The pain is necessary. Sometimes pain is the teacher we require, a hidden gift of healing and hope.

I hunger for passion.

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