author – activist – faculty – mom
Yesterday, Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican-American author Junot Diaz came out as a survivor of sexual trauma in a New Yorker post. But not just any unspecified sexual abuse: he came out as a childhood rape survivor. Sadly, sexual assault on young boys is not the anomaly many would think. But what is unprecedented here is that this is the first time we have seen such a high profile African heritage man go public like this. Not only was he brave enough to tell his story of how he was hurt, he was also able to connect the dots between being violated and his compulsive sexual behavior (sleeping around/cheating) and excessive drinking. In African heritage communities, men’s sexually compulsive behavior and excessive drinking are glamorized as a lifestyle, but Diaz’s testimony relocates them as responses to trauma. Above all, he talks openly about the mask he wore for decades–unwilling to share his trauma with anyone–living in the shadow of the secret, feeling suicidal at times, but never willing to risk the vulnerability that disclosure would bring. Finally–at rock bottom–he told the truth and got help. He also came out as being in therapy.
This is a huge blow to toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity thrives on the lie that to be male is to be born an adult man and made of stone. Toxic masculinity denies men a boyhood and creates an absurd sexual narrative where the male is always in charge, regardless of circumstances:
Was shown pornography as a small child? Precocious!
Had intercourse at eight with a grown woman? A player even then! (Sadly, yes, I mean you, Chris Brown)
Raped by a trusted man as a child. Rape? What rape? That never happened.
There is no room in this narrative for the sexual violation by a man, because it cannot be recast as a conquest. The dominating adult man is clearly calling the shots, so it must be erased, pushed away, denied. Given the levels of incarceration among African heritage men, and rates of sexual violence among men in prison, rape is used as a tool of domination among men. To be raped is to become someone’s “bitch,” to be a punchline, to be a female. In toxic masculinity, consent is irrelevant in any sexual contact between men, the only question is whether one is dominant or submissive. Toxic masculinity is profoundly homophobic, and cannot tolerate any loving connection between men. Men are enemies, competitors, or at best, co-conspirators in a lifestyle based in self-numbing and sexual objectification/exploitation of women. Pursuing women, strip clubs, porn are all approved bonding activities. While the affects of porn for adults are hotly debated, I am convinced that porn exposure for small children is a form of sexual trauma. That’s why it’s called adult entertainment.
Meanwhile, sexual intercourse between adults and children is statutory rape. Children are not able to consent to sex. But when the adult is female and the child is male, toxic masculinity recasts the boy as making the conquest.
When a child is traumatized at the hands of an adult or older child, they learn the experience of being dominated. Toxic masculinity encourages them to a repetition compulsion. They compulsively repeat what was done to them, but with themselves dominating someone else in the victim position. They may make sexual conquests of women in a never-ending quest to change their childhood story. RKelly has spent his entire adult life grooming and abusing black teen girls the way he was groomed and abused by a trusted man in his neighborhood. But you can’t change the past, no matter how many times you compulsively repeat it with a role reversal. Past trauma can’t be fucked away. It has to be revisited and healed.
Shoutout also to JayZ for coming out as being in therapy. A critical mass of high profile men of color are coming out about the need to use healing tools.
And Junot Diaz is showing us how it’s done. He has broken the code of silence among high profile heterosexual men of African heritage. People were wondering what was next for #MeToo. I would argue that this is it. Not that men don’t need to be accountable for what their behavior as a result of their trauma, but because it is both/and. They need to be accountable for what they have done as men, but our culture needs to begin to have compassion for what was done to them as boys. Without that compassion, they will keep the trauma hidden in plain sight: we are looking at their trauma in the ways men mistreat and brutalize women.
Because when men start telling the truth about their early childhood traumas, then we can begin to dismantle the toxic masculinity that gives rise to rape culture. And stop the lie that in male domination, men win. The truth is that in male domination, nobody wins. Because so many men are running around pretending to be winners, when really, deep inside, they are traumatized little boys.
Excellent essay. Succinct and well written. Thank you for putting all those threads together so well.
Powerful message, Aya. Thank you.
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