I wrote this as a response for a fellowship application (that I didn’t end up getting). There have been more revelations exposed about Diaz in the past week. His abuse of women breaks my heart because when I found his books, he showed me a space in literature that I didn’t know existed. I will post that update later.
I read two essays/articles with connected themes that I would recommend to a friend, author Junot Diaz’s “The Legacy of Childhood Trauma,” published in The New Yorker and The New York Times, “Who’s A Good Boy?” I often think about how difficult it is to perform masculinity. It’s so fragile, delicate, unruly, mandated, broken and, solid–all at the same time. Yet, all clothing and colors can be seen as feminine, to a degree. Women before me had to fight for it to be this way, for my liberation and I thank the Katherine Hepburns of society.
Diaz’s essay is triggered by his lack of acknowledgement of a fan at a book signing who clearly felt invisible but could see themselves in Diaz’s work. This fan, who Diaz names “X”, found the confidence to ask Diaz if he has ever been sexually assaulted. Part of the essay is an apology to X. The other part is Diaz revealing his own trauma, that he has never shared with anyone besides a therapist, of being raped at eight years old by a trusted adult, trying to kill himself at eighteen, and the destructive behavior that followed his assault. By demystifying and exploring the consequences that suppressing his assault had done, he exposed what elements of his novels and short stories were biographical. I have always the details of Drown, for example, to be so specific, he must have breathed those experiences in some capacity.
This essay implicitly explores how masculinity is imprisoning. He felt he could tell no one about his experience. His rapist silenced him and he felt there was nowhere else to turn. In African-American and Hispanic communities, mental health issues are a shadow that can be answer by prayer or ignorance and, sexual assault is something you bury in your closet to hide your shame. I wonder how many years of destructive behavior Diaz could have been spared if the adults in his life knew how to communicate with him so he could feel that his experiences and voice are valid. The New York Times article discusses how to communicate with boys and make them feel like the line of communication is open with you. In a world where boys are constantly being told to sit down, be quiet, or be medicated, this is important. A sample and developmental age used in the article is eight. The same age Diaz was repeatedly raped. The same age as my nephew who I wonder if, he has ever felt silenced. We as a society need to learn how to talk to boys so they can become the freely expressive, productive, feminist members of society we so desperately want them to be.