Monday, June 25, 2007

I HAD TO SAY SOMETHING—The Evening Class Interview With Mike Jones

According to Wikipedia, the word hypocrisy derives from the Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means "acting out"; the word hypocrite is from the Greek word ὑποκρίτης (hypokrites), the agentive noun associated with hypokrisis, i.e. "actor." Both derive from the verb κρίνω, "judge, assess," presumably because the performance of a dramatic text by an actor was to involve a degree of interpretation, or assessment, of that text.

Nevertheless, whereas hypokrisis applied to any sort of public performance (including the art of rhetoric), hypokrites was a technical term for a stage actor and was not considered an appropriate role for a public figure. In Athens in the 4th Century BC, for example, the great orator Demosthenes ridiculed his rival Aeschines, who had been a successful actor before taking up politics, as a hypokrites whose skill at impersonating characters on stage made him an untrustworthy politician. This negative view of the hypokrites, perhaps combined with the Roman disdain for actors, later shaded into the originally neutral hypokrisis. It is this later sense of hypokrisis as "play-acting," i.e. the assumption of a counterfeit persona, that gives the modern word hypocrisy its negative connotation. In all this, we do not find the modern idea that the hypocrite is unaware of that his performance or argument stands in contradiction with his self: on the contrary, a hypocrite in antiquity was someone who intentionally tried to deceive others.

Michael F. "Mike" Jones is an author, personal trainer and a former escort and masseur who gained notoriety when he came forward with allegations that he had had a three-year affair with Ted Arthur Haggard, an American evangelical preacher and founder of the New Life Church. The timeline of those events are well-documented through any Google search and have now been rendered from the inside out in lean, straightforward language in Mike Jones' book I Had To Say Something, co-written with Samuel Gallegos, and recently published by Seven Stories Press. Mike will be appearing in San Francisco on Wednesday, June 27, at Books, Inc., 2275 Market Street, at 7:30PM.

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Michael Guillén: Mike, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today regarding the Seven Stories Press publication of I Had To Say Something. My interest in interviewing you came about because of a recent interview you granted Deborah Solomon for The New York Times Magazine. Although I'll grant her interview is great publicity for the book—and I hope it helps to sell the book—something about it didn't sit well with me. I didn't think she treated you respectfully, especially when she said that—despite the fact that millions of people appreciate that you spoke up—"you're hardly a shining exemplar of gay accomplishment." That truly bothered me.

Mike Jones: Thank you, I think. [Chuckles.]

Guillén: What is that like for you, to deal with press who are not sympathetic to your experience?

Mike Jones: Not only some of the press; but, you have to understand, there's a large segment of the gay community that has really treated me crappy. It did bother me for many months when the story broke. I guess I'm dealing with it much better now. I was just flabbergasted that no gay groups were calling me when the story was breaking—particularly when I needed help—that none were offering any kind of assistance or even just checking up on me to see if I was okay.

Guillén: That saddened me when I read that fact in various interviews you've granted and in hearing it from you now. But you were given a lifetime achievement award from San Francisco's Harvey Milk Club as recently as a month ago, isn't that so?

Mike Jone: That is so. Which was incredible.

Guillén: And well-deserved, Mike.

Mike Jones: Thank you so much. It really meant a lot to me. Back in January the Gay and Lesbian Task Force in New York City flew me out to New York to be a speaker at their event, which also meant a lot to me. I guess what I'm saying more than anything is that back in November when the story broke, November and December passed without even a return phone call from the Human Rights Campaign ("HRC") just to check up on me, y'know? I wasn't angry, but I was disappointed.

Guillén: I can understand your disappointment. When I first heard about the story as it broke last Fall, and then as I was doing research to interview you today, I was struck by how the whole incident has emphasized hypocrisy, not only in the specific situation with Ted Haggard, but in how certain factions of the gay community have responded.

Mike Jones: Absolutely. What's really sad and what I have really discovered through this whole ordeal is how divided we are in our own community. We're not as cohesive as people may think we are. We have these splinter groups and factions within ourselves and it's kind of sad when you see that. Sometimes I think, "No wonder we can't get things accomplished. We can't seem to come together."

Guillén: I know what you're saying. When I first came to San Francisco from Idaho in the mid-70s, one of the first things I remember writing in my journals was that the meanest men I had ever met were gay men.

Mike Jones: [Chuckles.] They can be pretty vicious.

Guillén: And I do think a lot of that stems from internalized homophobia, from shame and not growing up with positive self-images that causes us to act out with each other.

Mike Jones: Well, most gay men have issues. We all have baggage. There's no doubt about it. But for a lot of gay men, they've never come to grips because—as gay men a lot of times—we do put up with a lot of crap. We have to [jump] hurdles to be who we are. I think sometimes since we haven't resolved a lot of the issues within ourselves, we're not quite sure how to react to certain situations. I think that has kind of happened with me. Are people happy that I exposed [Ted Haggard]? Yes. Are they happy that it was me who did it? I think a lot of them feel not. What's happened, even with HRC, is they're looking too hard at me as a person than what I did as a person to expose this man. They're looking too much at the escorting part and not at what I accomplished.

Guillén: It also underscores how little we understand our own prurience. If you stop and think about—let's say, the gay porno video industry—and just how much money it rakes in, you have to wonder who's buying or renting all this porno and why it's so adulated? Why is there no issue with that? And yet when someone like yourself anguishes over a difficult decision, it's deminimized because you're a male escort. Prurience is being used for different purposes and there's a lack of parity. That's one of the reasons I was motivated to talk to you today. I don't have a huge readership but I do have one and I wanted to offer you a vote of respect, thanks and support during Pride Month.

Mike Jones: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.

Guillén: All that being said about the gay community, though, some of them did step up to help you out last Fall, didn't they? I know you were having difficulty paying your bills when your livelihood was disrupted?

Mike Jones: Let me say this, a couple of bloggers—Joe My God and Dan Savage's The Stranger—did help me out. They both came through and said, "Hey. Mike Jones took it upon himself to do this." Because what people are forgetting is I exposed myself too. I had death threats. I had the risk of being arrested. I lost all my massage business, my personal training, I got fired from the art schools and then they were trying to kick me out of my apartment complex. I had all those issues going on at the same time I was trying to deal with the media. It was overwhelming and I had no one to help me through all that. Now with the financial part, those two bloggers did help me out because a few people did send me some money and I appreciate that so much. It was a lifesaver for me. I didn't know what I was going to do. So, yes, on that level it was nice. The reason I wanted HRC to help me was I was so inundated with the media from around the world. They were beating down my door and I didn't know how to handle it. I needed help and I figured [the HRC] had media people who could maybe help me out; but, they never returned my phone calls so I ended up dealing with it all myself.

Guillén: So you made an effort to contact the HRC?

Mike Jones: I called the national number and said, "This is Mike Jones with the Ted Haggard story. I need someone to call me back or get a hold of me somehow. I need help." And nobody did.

Guillén: I'm very sorry to hear that. One thing that comes across in your book—and why I think the book is a good read in terms of helping folks understand your personal anguish—is I remember years back when my partner passed of AIDS, I was a person like yourself: it was very difficult to ask for help. It wasn't in my nature. I imagine in retrospect you wish it would have been easier for you to ask for help.

Mike Jones: Absolutely.

Guillén: Or that you might have structured how you came out with this information in a different way so that you wouldn't have had to take the full brunt of the disclosure.

Mike Jones: But let me say this, perhaps I would have done things a little bit different if I had known the way it was going to turn out. I simply thought Ted Haggard would admit it, apologize, ask for redemption, and continue. I had no idea it was going to turn out the way it did.

Guillén: Yeaaaaah. [We both laugh.] It really steamrolled.

Mike Jones: Listen, if I would have known that, I would have had a book deal signed before I even did it.

Guillén: Well, I'm glad you got this book deal. Let's focus on that. How did this deal come about and how did Sam Gallegos become involved? What was his contribution?

Mike Jones: He's been a friend of mine for years. I knew he had done some writing in the past, newspaper columns and [such], so I asked him, I said, "I think I have a book deal." This publisher—who was the first publisher to contact me—they took it right away within an hour and I needed someone to help me. Even though all of it was in my head, I didn't know how to put it down on paper. I could have just used Sam as a ghost writer, but Sam has always wanted to do a book and I said, "Well, I'll put your name on it if you want to work with me." He said yes.

Guillén: So what was your working method? Did you record things and he would transcribe them?

Mike Jones: No, we never recorded anything. We got together and talked. I wrote a lot of stuff too and he would go through and clean it up a little bit. It was a collaboration, but again it's my life so it's all my words basically.

Guillén: What I was glad to see in the book, Mike, was that—obviously you're a manly guy and all that—but, what I appreciated reading was that you come across as a kindhearted spirit, a sweet person actually.

Mike Jones: Thank you. I am emotional. There's no doubt about it.

Guillén: For myself, I've long been fascinated with this strange, conflicted attitude towards the whole escorting phenomenon; what some call the oldest profession of culture. I'm also an aficionado of early Christianity and have extensively studied the role of Mary Magadalen in Christ's ministry. [Mike laughs.] Hear me out. Your defense of your services as a male escort strikes me as monumentally Magdalenian. You've had powers that be that have sought to diminimize what you've done by foisting a tainted definition of your services like so many smoke and mirrors, comparable to how Magdalen was deminimized by being labeled a prostitute.

Mike Jones: I was trying in my book to educate people that may have never known [about male escorting]. There was this one radio host in Minneapolis who said, "Y'know, Mike. I learned so much reading your book about what an escort does and what they may do." He goes, "That's why I use the word 'prostitute' also." And I go, "Well, I wanted to try to educate people also that there is much more to it than just sex. There's a lot of emotions and a lot of compassion that goes on in that business." It [was] for me anyway. I had men who just wanted to be held. That's what I think is the difference between prostitution and escorting.

Guillén: That was actually one of my objections to Deborah Solomon's piece—here you corrected her about the term—but she insisted on using it again.

Mike Jones: It's because it makes headlines.

Guillén: I know; but, I didn't like that. It bothered me.

Mike Jones: The problem with giving interviews like that is that they cut and choose what they want. When I mentioned in the column that I voted for Bush, I gave her the reasons why and I told her, "Listen, if I could take it back, I would, okay? I think he's a really lousy President. But everything happens in that moment in time and—at that moment in time—my head was somewhere else regarding what was going on in the country." But she never printed the rest. She just printed that I voted for Bush and some gay people really got mad at me about that. I gave an explanation with it and she never printed that and that kind of bothered me a little bit.

Guillén: I think, again, it's this dominance of what's prurient and what people are sniggeringly interested in. You have, however, made that work for you. I read that earlier this year you listed your massage table on Ebay and made some good charity money for Project Angel Heart.

Mike Jones: That's correct.

Guillén: I thought that was cool. Was getting rid of the table a way of getting rid of that phase of your life?

Mike Jones: I really didn't want it anymore. Could I have used the money? Sure. But I didn't want to appear like I'm this greedy person trying to capitalize on it and Project Angel Heart is one of my favorite charities so I wanted to give them the money. But people are forgetting because—one of [the] criticisms I'm receiving, of course, on my road appearances—is I'm exploiting money. My response is Haggard exploited the gay community for years to make money so don't give me that crap. I could have blackmailed the guy from the very beginning. I could have my private life still intact with money in the bank and probably on the church payroll actually; but, I didn't do that either. People need to give me a break. I've done the best I could at that moment in time. I didn't consult anybody else. Some people are just so harsh and that's why I can't read blogs to be honest with you because some of them are so nasty. I used to cry when I would read some of them so I just stay away from them now.

Guillén: Again, I'm very sorry to hear that. When I was reading your comments about how gays have treated you in the gay community, I wanted to confirm that that's not what you think of yourself? You don't internalize those negative comments, do you?

Mike Jones: Like I said, months ago I used to cry a lot when all these things were being said about me because I knew that was not the type of person I was. Especially in Denver, there was a huge jealousy factor because people knew who I was and they were just so jealous that I was getting all this attention and limelight. God, it was just nasty and I was like, "I don't know what to do for you people." I stick my neck out on the line for the gay community and then I get all this backlash. I still haven't understood it all and I guess maybe it's not meant to be that I understand.

Guillén: Are you worried at all about bringing all this back up through the publication of the book and the book tour?

Mike Jones: No. I needed to do it. When I wrote that book, I broke down many times reliving it all. It's almost like I needed to write it. I really wanted people to hear the full story and hear my story because all people really saw were headlines and the headlines were "PROSTITUTE DRUG DEALER" basically. And I was not that at all.

Guillén: Well, I have to admit I'm a bit concerned for you because you will be making book store appearances, this remains a polarized issue, and you're so sensitive to this reaction that I worry for you a little bit. But you're up to it, eh?

Mike Jones: I'm a lot better than I was, you have to understand. I'm able to let a lot of the comments roll off my shoulders now where four months ago I was not like that. I'm much better. I've been through so much by myself that I can deal with it. I always seem to pull out of it; but, thank you for your concern.

Guillén: What is the extent of the book tour? I know you're going to be in San Francisco at Books, Inc. on Wednesday, June 27. Do you go on from there?

Mike Jones: Oh, yeah, my God, I'm going 'til July 25. I started in New York and I went to Atlanta and Denver. Denver was good. Denver, 150 people showed up. Then I did Minneapolis and now I'm in L.A. tonight. Then I fly from L.A. to Portland and Portland to San Fran and San Fran to Seattle. [Laughs.] Then I go home to Denver. Then I go to Miami Beach. I'm actually going down to Colorado Springs, believe it or not, because the three bookstores down there turned me away. Two of the chains—Borders and Barnes & Noble—turned me down and the third independent bookstore down there—the guy's a liberal who owns it—turned me down, saying it was poorly written and he wouldn't carry it. He caved in. He's caving in to the whole group down there. That made news down there, of course. But all of a sudden now the Gay and Lesbian Community Center and a bar in Colorado Springs both got a whole independent booksigning for me so I ended up down there afterall.

Guillén: Congratulations on achieving that. I'm glad to hear that the local community backed you up.

Mike Jones: Down there they did. Finally! Finally someone came through.

Guillén: I don't want to dwell too much on the actual incident with Haggard because you've articulated what's happened, how it happened, and the timeline; but, there were a couple of things I wanted to ask you about.

Mike Jones: Sure.

Guillén: Have you ever heard of the psychological concept of the "tao of synchronicity"?

Mike Jones: No.

Guillén: It's fostered by a Jungian analyst named Jean Shinoda Bolen. She says that whenever there's a major conflict in the psyche, something in the environment mirrors it and pushes it to resolution. I felt that with regard to you, in how you came to identify Ted Haggard; first, that you saw the segment on the History Channel regarding the AntiChrist and then that the following morning at your gym he showed up on a televised broadcast. Did that not strike you as weird?

Mike Jones: It was meant to be. I always refer to that as—when you hear religious people say they had a calling from God?—that's what I would say: I had a calling from God. Because how ironic for 2½ years not ever seeing him [like that] and then boom boom like that. [Laughs.]

Guillén: Another thing I liked in the book, Mike—as someone intrigued by the religiosity of memory—is how after your mom passed, you prayed to her via memory. I think that's lovely and it reveals to me that you have a spiritual center and that you do communicate with the Invisible World.

Mike Jones: Thank you so much. I do pray to the Universe. I just have to say I don't know exactly who I'm praying to; but, I do pray. I always feel that if we don't have some kind of hope, what do we have? I think praying sometimes is almost like talking to someone. You just have to release and let go and that's how I look at my spirituality.

Guillén: I know there's no way for you to know—you've had your lifestyle disrupted so much by this courageous act of yours—but I read somewhere that you wanted to do some theater work. What do you think you'll be doing from hereon in?

Mike Jones: I wish I could say for sure. I don't really even know where my life has taken me to be honest with you at this point. But one of the things I've been talking about the last couple of booksignings—and it just kind of came to me through talking to some other people, particularly when I received the Harvey Milk award—and that is when I told some younger gay people about the Harvey Milk award, they go, "Harvey who?" And I thought, "You know what? The more I think about it, these young people have no idea about gay history." I was thinking—you know what might be kind of cool?—after I'm done with this book tour, I might investigate getting some people together to work on a program where we could travel around to the different cities and present gay history. Because I think it's really sad and I think it's important that they know some battles we've been through and why they're so able to enjoy being so out and open the way they are today.

Guillén: Well, Mike, I'm going to let you go and I just want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I look forward to meeting you when you're here in San Francisco to have you sign my copy of your book.

Mike Jones: I'm so flattered and thank you for calling me and it was nice talking to you.


Anonymous said...

I too was disheartened to hear how Mike Jones was ostracized (in many ways even more than Haggard was) from his community due to the community's unreconciled feelings about sex workers (in all their various formations, respecting Jones' self-label of 'escort') among us when I heard him mention this in Rachel Maddow's interview with him. Thanks for the post, Michael; thanks for your efforts to mutate the meme towards a greater truth rather than false story the mainstream media demands.

Michael Guillen said...

Thank you, Adam. You know how much your continuing encouragement means to me. It was great to meet Mike Jones, to have him clasp my hands, and thank me eye-to-eye for my support.

Anonymous said...

From the very first time I became aware of Mike Jones, I considered him a man of integrity and a hero. My respect for him keeps growing as I hear him speak and read his words in interviews. He is gentle, thoughtful, articulate, spirited and conscientious. I wish him success in every endeavor he chooses to pursue, whether it is on the stage or as a gay historian. I sincerely believe the world would benefit from more people like Mike. Count me in as one of his wholehearted supporters.