April 19, 2010, I was able to catch most of The Oprah Show, on which the mother, father and brother of Oscar-winning actress, comedienne and talk show host Monique appeared. They sat down to peel back the layers of the sexual abuse and molestation she, on more than one occasion (on the Oprah Show, in an interview with Essence Magazine and in talks with Barbara Walters), says occurred at the hands of her elder brother, Gerald.
In telling his story, Gerald says: “I’m here today to first acknowledge what I’ve been in denial for 37 years, and that is I did assault and inappropriately touch my sister in manners that were uncomfortable for her. And for that, I apologize and I’m humbly sorry that those actions had taken place.”
Monique has compared her brother and his actions to that of a “monster.” In fact, she says tapping into that darkness is what enabled her to pull off the vile role of the mother in the film Precious. “I knew very well who that monster was. I knew Mary Jones,” Mo’Nique told Oprah. “So when [the director] would say, ‘Action,’ that’s the monster that I became.”
Unfortunately, getting touched “down there,” inappropriately kissed or suggestively approached by relatives and authority figures is not as uncommon as we probably hope or pretend it is. According to child abuse organization Darkness to Light, one in four girls and one in six boys is sexually molested before the age of 18. Moreover, according to the organization, about 39 million adults who have survived childhood sexual abuse exist today.
I am among them. But as I watched the excuses, denials and refusals to come to terms with the toll of what really happened on behalf of Monique’s parents and even her brother, I felt like it all came back.
Here’s what Monique’s mother said about her daughter’s public disclosure: “I only hope with doing this, this can cleanse her heart. This can make her feel better about herself. Okay, it took until she was 42 to do this. I don’t care how long it took. I’m just happy it happened.”
She also talked about feeling embarrassed, exposed and “hurt.” When Monique told her mother about her brother’s advances years after it had stopped, her mother made him leave the house for two weeks, only to unceremoniously allow him back in. “It was just like we were mad yesterday but today we’re not,” she said on the show.
Wow. Just wow. But like Oprah said, that’s what so many survivors of sexual abuse do. They act normal, as if nothing seismic has happened and keep the beat going on. You see, from around the ages of 5-8, an older male cousin touched and kissed me like I was a grown woman and as if we weren’t related by blood. And I also know that I am not the only one among us who was so treated by him. I was also approached by substitute teachers during my middle and high school years.
It wasn’t until I was around 18 that I realized why I was the way I was, why I made some of the choices I had, why I was so seemingly provocatively open and inclined. It all went back to those formative years when the innocence of my very foundation developed untold cracks and vulnerabilities. What else could have made a 12-year-old seek acceptance by no means other than sex, only to end up raped when she changed her mind? What else could have made a girl who was smart and came from stability by all appearances act out in defiance and dismissiveness, only to use that same body that was violated as a tool to feel wanted, desired, accepted, on some level?
I remember, like Monique, years later telling my mother what had happened. She was very nonchalant about it, even making excuses for my cousin because he was “slow” or developmentally delayed. As if that’s an excuse. Like I, as a five-year-old, had a clue about what that meant and should have exercised a sense of agency in preventing it from happening. As if an elder touching a child can be excused by pretending they didn’t know any better.
If he didn’t know it was wrong, he would not have always done it when no one was around, always peeking around corners and through bushes.
Today, I cannot stand to be around or look at him. And for years, I tolerated his presence at family gatherings and such. But like Monique, I think I’m going to cut that cord and just bounce (that is, leave, for non-urbanely inclined) whenever he appears. I cannot bear his visual and even more so cannot stand my children even being in his vicinity.
Today, I don’t blame my mother for her response. I believe it’s rooted in the same ignorance that makes so many black folks believe things like we can’t be gay, don’t get AIDS, never have psychological issues and can be spiritually redeemed even if we sin all week, as long as we go to church on Sunday.
I lover her, but I will always hate the way she responded, and my parents’ failure to connect the dots between that series of events and later ones that occurred.
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