Junot Díaz, who, in a recent issue of the New Yorker, wrote openly for the first time about the ongoing effects of his being raped twice when he was eight, has now been reportedly accused by women of sexual aggression.
What makes this different from other, equally valid, #metoo reports is that, for his entire celebrated career, Diaz has written about sex abuse and an ongoing inability to maintain “normal” sexual behavior. He’s also written about substance abuse derived from self-medicating to bury past sexual trauma.
So it seems his creative career is based on the kind of behavior he’s being accused of doing.
So do these accusations confirm that the devastating effects of sexual abuse continue to spread like a cancer, which is essentially the message of Diaz’s entire writing career, or do his actions negate his work, even if that work is about his decades of suffering and shame and habitual abuse of others due to his rape?
This is a particularly cruel question about the source of creativity.
Here is a writer celebrated for bravely writing with evolving clarity about the struggle to overcome abuse and cultural macho expectations, and psychological need to compensate for both, and while being celebrated for documenting that struggle, his ongoing battle with it has reportedly done significant damage to others.
The cycle continues, as it has for generations, or more correctly, throughout human history.
How do we break the cycle, heal the suffering, progress as a race?
I don’t know.
Should Díaz get a pass because he wrote about abuse and fessed up about mistreating women while he was still mistreating women? The obvious answer is no, but then what did we celebrate? Why did we honor his writing as brave and healing and culturally significant and as shedding light on the ongoing effects of sexual abuse?
Here’s a person who was published with much fanfare for writing about still struggling with those rapes and their cataclysmic impact on his life; is he now going to get ostracized for still succumbing to what he wrote about and condemned himself for and struggle with in his writing as we cheered?
The victims of his unwanted advances are right, of course. One hundred percent. But it is worth noting that Diaz’s entire writing life documented his struggle to overcome sexual abuse, and to stop sexually abusing others as part of his often losing battle with his trauma.
Unlike others revealed as sex offenders, Díaz never hid what he was, in fact, he became famous for writing about it, not in a bragging, “grab them by the *****” way, but as in “what the hell is wrong with me?”
My point here is that sexual abuse is painful for all its victims, and often spreads like a disease, making the victim an offender, and while no one should get a pass, dealing with sex abuse is, by its nature, complicated and painful and unique to each victim. This doesn’t seem exactly like The cases of Weinstein or Cosby; Diaz made his career examining his problems.
In that context, bookstore reps saying they will no longer carry his books seems hypocritical; did they not know what they were selling all these years?
I would ask the same question of colleges who are considering severing ties with Diaz; what exactly got you interested in having him teach at your institutions if not his writing about sexual abuse?
And yet, abuse was inflicted. Women were hurt. Attention must be paid.
So what is the proper response when a public victim and offender keeps offending after fame? And what part does that battle between victimization and cultural expectation to “be a man” (meaning a lover of women) Diaz consistently wrote about play in all this? And how do we square worshipping the successful writer with condemning the experiences said writer succeeded by writing about?
I don’t know.
Can we benefit from art that examines the wounds in our culture while condemning the artist for still living with those wounds?
I don’t know.
Where is the line drawn for Junior Diaz, and in turn, for our whole broken, victimized, overcompensating, angry, confused society?
I don’t know.
But I think we all need to have a long, thoughtful, respectful discussion ….
Beautifully written, Chris. Provocative questions. Points well made. The “cruel question about the source of creativity” in particular, gave me pause. I’m sure many creative beings find comfort and healing in their work. To all of your questions, I don’t know either. Very sad. Many victims.