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December 19, 2012

Disclaimer: I write about sexy things, sexy people and sexuality in this post. #sorrynotsorry

In 2002, I was in eighth grade; and on January 30th I saw Janet Jackson in concert during her All For You Tour at the VanAndel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I went down with my friend since elementary school, Lauren, her mom and a couple of her mom’s friends.

The show was amazing: the dance choreography was on point, athletic and sexy; the staging was colorful, extravagant and different with nearly every song; and Miss J was exquisite, sweaty and engaged the crowd. It was, in a word, magical. Since this was my first attendance at the concert of a major star, I have held all subsequent shows to Janet’s standard. As one can expect, I have since had many disappointments.

Janet Jackson puts out more than just great pop music. There is no other way to put this: Janet Jackson is a sex goddess. Now, I just want to say that I recognize that there are many forces at work in this world objectifying women and women’s bodies and that debasing someone down to their function as an agent of sex is at best crass and at worse violent. But, for me, saying that Janet Jackson is a sex goddess is nothing more than a testament, an homage to her perceived powers as a sexual being, an openly sexual woman, at least in character and on stage; and I find that to be either shallow nor dismissive of her other qualities as a human being. So when I refer to “Janet Jackson” in this post, I am referencing that aspect of her – not Janet, writ large, because I don’t know the lady.

Her status among the upper echelons of modern-day Mount Olympus of sex goddesses and gods was made official with her 1986 release of her album Control, which included such tracks as “Nasty” and “The Pleasure Principle.” But, for me, that title, and my subsequent admiration, came on a frosty day in a steamy arena wen I was in eighth grade. If you do not watch this video of what I saw that night then this post will make no sense. Therefore, watch it now:

Janet Jackson performs “Would You Mind”

Growing up in white, middle-class, small town, conservative America, I think that the reaction of most of the adults (probably even most of the liberals) in my life would have been laced with outrage and calls for censorship. “She’s too young! It’s far too racy! That woman should be ashamed!”

But my reaction then is the same as it is now: “That.. was awesome.” Aside from the buzz of soft-core porn playing out live in front of me, I saw a woman (a character, yes, but a woman nonetheless) who was in total control of not just the writhing man-fan attached to the table but also of her own body and sexuality. It was entirely empowering for me as a young female coming of age in a society that expects women to be sexually subservient to men. Might Miss Jackson’s on-stage performances be a facade? Perhaps. But the experience of seeing a woman in power in that setting was nonetheless significant. With all the images we consume, and all the images I had already consumed as an eighth grader, of the normative male-female dynamic, I found this scene to be, dare I say.. Healthy and refreshing? Sexy and affirming? Yes, and yes. Janet has also never been afraid of queering her music, photographs and shows either, as you could see in the video (with the two men caressing the lucky fan).

I can pinpoint an exact date and scene when my ideas on sexuality, sexiness and what I can expect pivoted. And, as a sex-positive person (i.e. view sexual expression as essentially good and healthy), I am proud of that.

The photo below is taken of the promotional magazine I picked up at the show. Yes, I still have it, and yes, it is still hawt.

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