The bittersweetness in Junot Diaz’s #MeToo moment and how men traumatize women on their way to healing
I’d be a footnote in his grand tale of misery, darkness and pain breaking into the light of self-realization, love, healing and growth.
by Briana L. Ureña-Ravelo
Content Warning: This essay mentions of r/pe of a child
I just read Junot Diaz’s essay about his childhood rape and the years of sexual, romantic, and relationship trauma and toxic patriarchal behavior that followed.
I applaud him opening up and owning to some really deep, dark trauma on a significantly large and visible international platform as a Black Caribbean man from the oldest African diaspora. This is no small feat. As a fellow Afro-Dominican, even as someone who has not been the victim of rape, but has survived other types of physical abuse and sexual assault, his narrative was really relatable, raw, honest and compelling.
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And yet, as many Black women have pointed out, it is hard to hear him dissect and discuss the harm he went on to cause towards the nameless Black and Brown women he dated on his journey. While dealing with the effects and aftermath of his assault, women were reduced to objects and now are mere footnotes in his journey, operating as tools to animate and move him forward at a time when he needed life and love and couldn’t make such decisions for himself. Mere testaments, lessons of what his messed up behavior lost him.
I wonder, what were Diaz’s ex partners surviving, both in that relationship and as their own autonomous beings with their own histories? What was it like? How have they healed and moved forward, if they have? Did their families and friends know why their relationships with Diaz ended so abruptly and poorly, or is his piece a rude wake up to the kind of harm the women stomached in silence? What were they feeling and thinking then? What are they feeling and thinking now?
But none of that is the focal point, because it’s Diaz’s narrative, not theirs. Even if they are a significant part of his narrative about himself ruining relationships with people who treated him well, showed him how to have sex, and made him feel good and loved despite his trauma.
Part of me feels like even naming any of this is an asshole move on my part, like I’m dissecting or questioning someone’s really vulnerable and hard-won #MeToo narrative just because it isn’t perfect. It feels kind of like bullshit to be someone who always demands men do more to step up and be upfront about their behavior, feelings, and experiences, only to become critical when one finally does in such a sincere and powerful way.
But then I remember that there’s a reason for that reticence: Black and Brown women, trans and queer included, in families, friendships, and relationships with traumatized and fucked up men are always having to be mules and footnotes, and the main beneficiaries of violence and bullshit in their journey and trajectories.
We’re the scaffolding, light, stage, and financial support for men’s show of suffering, pain, loss, and darkness, and if they’re even on such a path, we make their realizations, learning, healing, and growth possible, too.
Our emotions are constantly dismissed and diminished throughout. We’re taught that we’re the ones in the wrong if we push them towards accountability or healing, or cry out when hurt by their trauma-informed actions.
We’re supposed to accept Struggle Love—complacency, unconditional loyalty faithfulness to our partner, and a “no snitching, nagging, or being too demanding and difficult” philosophy no matter what harm is done to us.
These values are force-fed to Black and Brown women, regardless of sexuality, but especially in relationships with men, even as they wreak havoc on our lives and relationships. We carry the burden of emotional labor, expected to protect men from the world, their memories, their own behaviors and its consequences, and suffer harm for their sake. Our trauma, mental illnesses, struggles, issues, and desires be damned—we’re not extended that much humanity.
Diaz writes that all of his exes are women of color, meaning that they each carry the colonial inter-generational trauma that Diaz himself is known to talk about, along with the impact that living under a white patriarchy. It is completely fair to assume that these women also carry personal histories of romantic, emotional, domestic, and/or sexual trauma and abuse, and to imagine how they might have been triggered by the further trauma that Diaz caused.
I was once involved with a white man who resembles Diaz’s description of himself—brilliant, observant, intelligent, and introspective, but deeply traumatized, mentally-ill, and distorted by that trauma. He was patriarchal, detached, callous, mean, destructive, alcoholic, toxic, cold, and intentionally out of touch with his experiences and emotions and those of others. He punished himself and any person who got close to him, and that generally meant the women he slept with or dated.
A white atheist with interest in LaVeyan satanism (the libertarians of the occult), he considered himself a metaphorical island of a man who didn’t need anyone or anything aside from himself and his whiskey.
At night, he’d text me affectionately with poetry, and then spend his days dismissing those messages, mocking me for deriving any meaning or feeling from them, gas-lighting and ignoring me. His trauma and meanness triggered easily, and would in turn trigger mine.
It goes without saying that that dynamic didn’t last for long, nor was it in any way, shape, or form healthy. I learned a lot about what it’s like to be an Afro-Latina survivor of domestic and emotional violence and abuse and be in relationships with men who only add to the trauma. He spent so much time hiding, gas-lighting, dismissing me, yet extracting from me emotionally, socially, intellectually, sexually.
He is a writer, too, and I always dreaded that he’d grow out if his self-doubt and one day do exactly what Diaz did. I feared that he would come out with his new life and his partner, and tell his story of triumph and growth, centering only himself and perhaps his new partner and only quickly mention the women and relationships he maimed along the way.
I’d be a footnote in his grand tale of misery, darkness and pain breaking into the light of self-realization, love, healing and growth. A corpse on the shadowy road of his tortured journey.
Diaz’s #MeToo coming out is, in many ways, the breaking of a barrier and presumptions about what the typical victim and survivorhood looks like, challenging the the white cis straight womanhood mold. It is necessary and valid and something I don’t want to discount. But I can’t help but feel bitter on behalf of his nameless exes, especially as I see myself in them.
When you are involved with damaged men, you’re expected to put away your own trauma and carry theirs. Watching men like this walk into the light, beyond you or into better relationships in which they are making strides in their healing and getting praised for it honestly hurts.
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Men have the startling ability to specifically hurt every woman around them while they’re hurting or learning to be better, then spinning their own tale to very conveniently save face and keep the ball in their court while skirting accountability.
We deserve more complexity in these narratives. As cliché as the phrase is, it is true that hurt people hurt people.
One can both be a survivor and a perpetuator of harm, especially if their trauma compacts with patriarchy. I would love for more attention, gratitude, credit, agency, and space be given to those women who were hurt by those hurt men on their way to healing, especially Black women. We deserve it.
Briana L. Ureña-Ravelo. Writer. Community organizer. Errant punk. Ne’er do well. Afro-Dominicana. High Hex Femme.
A version of this essay was originally published on her Medium blog.