“It fucked up my childhood. It fucked up my adolescence. It fucked up my whole life. More than being Dominican, more than being an immigrant, more, even, than being of African descent, my rape defined me. I spent more energy running from it than I did living. I was confused about why I didn’t fight, why I had an erection while I was being raped, what I did to deserve it. And always I was afraid - afraid that the rape had ‘ruined’ me; afraid that I would be ‘found out’; afraid, afraid, afraid. ‘Real’ Dominican men, after all, aren’t raped. And if I wasn’t a ‘real’ Dominican man I wasn’t anything. The rape excluded me from manhood, from love, from everything”.
These poignant words have been pulled from an essay written for New Yorker magazine by Pulitzer prize-winning author Junot Diaz. The essay is addressed to an unnamed reader who once confronted the author and asked him if he had ever been sexually abused. Diaz deflected at the time. Now, a couple of years later, this… Junot Diaz’s #MeToo moment.
Diaz’s essay stirs the pool of masculinity and in stirring, reveals its toxic silt rising below. The author confesses to being raped repeatedly at the age of eight by a male adult whom he trusted. The piece illustrates his experience with painful precision. We are invited into the world of male on male rape, patriarchy, dominance and what it means to be a man, question ones manhood, and be a slave to heteronormativity.
And it is an ugly world. It’s a harmful world. One that is often ignored, silenced and shut out because of entrenched codes of masculinity: “Men cannot be raped”, or rather “real men aren’t raped”.
But they are. And if nothing else, then Diaz’s piece is an obituary to the poisonous touch of patriarchy and the harm it causes to everything it lays hands on. The ripple effect of his rape left Diaz (as he says in his essay) unable to maintain healthy relationships.
To turn to alcohol and sex as weapons, proof rather, of his masculinity. His trauma served as inspiration to conform to the expectations society has of men. Men will. And men can. And so he cheated, slept and drank his way through a list of women in the course of his life to assert and “own” his own manliness.
But while the piece is an important contribution to the discourse of toxic masculinity (which is a starved conversation) and perhaps the #MeToo movement as well (which is something the essay is being pegged to) it still raises some important questions, because who, after all lies in the wake of Junot’s journey to masculinity? Other women.
This is an important fact to keep in the back of your mind, even if only for purposes of this column. And it takes nothing away from Diaz’s bravery. The courage it must have took for him to come forward, reach out a hand, and touch someone else who has probably had the same experience can serve only as balm. How many other men, how many other boys are out there hoping and wishing that someone would talk, listen, share?
Diaz’s piece is undoubtedly one that is emotionally encapsulating, vivid and honest. And necessary. The men in our societies are the boys we raised. Must we continue raising them with these rigid rules of what it means to be a man? Have we not seen the result of this kind of growth? It leaves only destruction in its path.
“I had to lose almost everything and then some. And then some. Before I finally put out my hand,” writes Diaz. “I think of all the years and all the life I lost to the hiding and to the fear and to the pain. The mask got more of me than I ever did. But mostly I think about what it felt like to say the words – to my therapist, all those years ago; to tell my partner, my friends, that I’d been raped. And what it feels like to say the words here, where the whole world – and maybe you – might hear,” he continues.
This is a call for space in the sexual assault and masculinity narrative if ever there was one. Sexual violation by a man on other men is something that cannot be ignored. So often in masculine circles, male on male rape is seen as nothing more than a punch line. The real man of course is the one who is the giver. The taker is resorted to that other sex society so much hates: a “bitch”.
The universe of toxic masculinity is one decorated with intemperance as well as temptation and if we pushed a little harder, just a little harder, we would realise that a lot of these decorations exist because of a lot of trauma. And so men live to exploit women, to sexually objectify them.
They live to pursue them in bars and clubs and work places. In many cultures the aforementioned activities are seen as innocent bonding exercises or “fun” social activities. Often, compulsive sexual behavior by a man is often glamourised and condoned. But, Diaz’s piece proves that these “glamourised” activities can also be born from the sexual trauma experienced as a boy. They can be activities sought to try and gain ones manliness back after a male rapist has “taken” it from them.
But ultimately, Diaz’s identity as a man, and indeed his bravery to come forward as well, is a story that rises from the pain, payment and invisibility of a lot of other women. Without taking away from the reality, hurt, and toxicity of patriarchy on its men (as well as women) we must ask ourselves some deep questions.
Is this piece by Diaz really the next step in the #MeToo movement? Or is that question irrelevant and should we just reach beyond #MeToo and dive deeper into our pockets of what can plainly be called: humanity?
Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on W24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of W24.