Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Stunning Piece from Junot Diaz

Here's an amazing piece by Junot Diaz in the latest New Yorker.*

Trigger warning that he talks about being the victim of severe sexual abuse as a child, and how he re-enacted many of those same dynamics - only now as the perpetrator - as an adult with his female partners.

I have been thinking about victimhood a lot lately, as a part of the whole #metoo situation, but also because there are parts of my sexual history that, in my opinion and in some of my readers' opinions, fall into a strictly grey area. Places where my relationship with someone perpetuated my own victimhood, and I didn't make a conscious choice to continue that, but somehow I was also choosing to be there and not saying no.

I am struck by this same ambiguity - without evading responsibility - in Diaz's article.

I struggled with Diaz's fiction for a long time. I knew in my heart his male characters' machismos were about more than being players - they had some deeper resonance of disconnection and possibly trauma.

About a year ago, I saw him give a talk at UW Madison, and he blew me out of the water. He was frank, open, direct, and clear. At one point he said something he mentions in this article - he stated directly there is a long legacy of sexual abuse in Dominican families. He says in the article that this was his answer for a long time - a way of pointing to what he experienced without stating it outright. After he said that in the talk, I turned to the friend I was attending with, and we both agreed - he had been abused sexually as a child. We could just feel it.

So it is powerful to have him name it. And I am grateful to that friend, who is Mexican-American, for helping me parse through my white experience of his Dominican-American descriptions of relationships with women, to find deeper, more nuanced understanding past my knee-jerk judgements. It helped me stay open and appreciate his work, even in the middle of discomfort. That openness feels paid off reading this article, where I see validated the understanding that even being a perpetrator is far more complicated than we want to acknowledge.

I hope to see many more stories like this emerge - not as apologies, not as exploitation of having been abusive, but so we can really feel the richness of the legacies of sexual abuse in so many cultures, and start to understand all the ways we inadvertently keep them alive.

*As I wobble my way back into blogging regularly, some weeks I am letting myself lean on posting links to something I have read recently that I think you will appreciate, with just a few comments. I'm trying to find balance and sustainability in blogging - imagine that!

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