I started writing this post around Valentine’s Day.
It all started with Dylan Farrow’s open letter from February 1st. You’re probably aware of it and Woody Allen’s response and you may even have an opinion about who is telling the truth and who is lying. I do too, but that’s not what this is about either.
It’s about something I never talk about – my family doesn’t talk about it – that happened to me when I was a kid. From the age of seven to about the age of ten, I was molested by my cousin. My brother and sister were as well and my sister’s courageous attempt to actually do something about it led to the three of us being pulled out of public school to be “home schooled” by our mother, who was as qualified to educate us as I am to build rockets.
Being a survivor of sexual abuse is part of my identity, but it’s part that I don’t often share. It’s hard to – you can’t walk up to people at parties and say, “Hi, my name’s Matt and I was molested by my cousin. Pass the dip.” But Dylan Farrow’s letter has stuck with me because it reminded me that my sister tried to tell the truth and was forced to tell an attorney that she made the whole thing up even though she didn’t. The message was loud and clear for all of us (as it is for many victims of abuse): “No one will believe you.”
But it happened. For years.
I know there are people out there who are inclined to ask why victims seem to recall or at least talk about childhood sex abuse years after the event. As I mentioned above, one reason is probably the feeling that you will not be believed – certain (former) members of my family made sure to cultivate that feeling in me, my brother and my sister. There are probably lots of reasons people wait to speak out and I’m not going to pretend my reasons are universal. The most obvious one that comes to mind: when you’re a kid, you don’t have the vocabulary to say, “Hey, by the way, cousin Billy is molesting me.” I didn’t learn until much later how to talk about what my cousin did to me. Two things about that: 1) I’m still learning how to talk about it and 2) I’m really fucking lucky; some of us never develop the ability to speak about our abuse and that can lead folks (human beings, deserving of love and happiness) to pretty dark places. My brother has struggled most of his adult life with what happened to us (this is how we talk about it – “what happened to us” or sometimes just “what happened”) and I know he’s often felt unworthy of love and dignity because of the abuse he suffered – abuse that our mother and her family covered up.
I’ve tried to write about this before, with very little success. For one thing, it’s really goddamn difficult – I started writing this 2 months ago and have doubted ever since that I would ever actually publish it (I actually sat down at my computer tonight to play the new X-Com DLC, but started doing this instead). I’m talking about a part of my life when I had no control and only one person (who is now dead) was brave enough to speak the truth. My dad believed my sister and, for his trouble, he was treated like shit by my biological mom’s family (and they in turn commanded my siblings and me to treat him like shit, which we did. I try not to treat my dad like shit now and I’d like to think I do an okay job, but that’s for Dad to judge).
So why bring all this up now?
It’s important for me to speak up now because I can speak up now. Because I’ve managed to beat back enough of the shame and anger to articulate the facts. Because if I talk about it, maybe it will help my brother (or anyone else who sees this) talk about it. I’m not worried about being called a liar; I long ago stopped talking to those most likely to call me one. I’m a person who values the truth more than I value being comfortable or popular and the truth is that I was molested, I survived it (mind you, not without some serious issues about my own body and the unique ability to become massively freaked out about the power dynamics of sexual desire) and it wasn’t my fault. There are thousands of people like me and my brother and sister all over this country and some of them are probably feeling the same awkwardness about saying the truth out loud that I’m feeling even as I type this. Thousands. How many were called liars? How many have famous, beloved abusers?
This is hard to think about. It’s hard to write about and it’s really fucking hard to talk about. But it’s time to start talking and this is as good a place as any.