Tyler Perry was on Oprah a while back, talking about his childhood and “the dead years” of his life. He spoke of how his father used to abuse him physically, how he was molested by three different men (including one from church) and how a woman in lingerie locked him in her house and made him find the key inside her vagina. He told Oprah (us) about how he spent his teens and most of his twenties trying to work through the maze of guilt, shame and confusion these situations had given him, a period he calls “the dark years” of his life and how he had to find a way to let go of all of that because it was not his to carry. While Tyler was talking, my friend and I began to discuss the nature of sexual abusers and the effects of abuse on one’s sexuality, especially if one is young. The conversation took a turn for the tears when I said that abusers can usually tell who they can do these things to. That they see something in their victims of choice that makes them soft targets, a weakness or insecurity of sorts. I couldn’t really finish that sentence because I was trying to find a way of saying all this without classifying myself as one of those weak/insecure victims, but my dear friend finished the sentence for me: “they see something in you that let’s them know that they can do this to you.”
Hearing that was, in the words of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, “like taking a bullet”…in the chest. Her words stung and left me quite paralysed. I realised that as much as I was saying this about other victims of sexual violations, I did not want to believe that I was also like “them” in any way. That something in the way I had interacted with Thabiso and Akho (because sometimes rapists have names and beautiful faces and charming personalities) could have somehow led them to believe that they could do that to me. But I was. And they did. “The best thing parents can do for their children is to teach them to love themselves” because children who grow up loving themselves (truthfully), grow up knowing that they deserve better, carry themselves like they deserve better and ultimately, get better. Sexual offenders (and any offenders for that matter) thrive on that doubt that some of us (yes, it still hurts) have. Our insecurities are released when we say yes instead of walking away, when we smile instead of moving on… when we need the attention instead of knowing that we are so much better than that. And these insecurities, in the presence of perversity, say: “Yes, you can do this to me”.
It’s been years since that night and even though there are moments when I find myself back on that futon, I genuinely thought that I was over it. That I had healed…forgiven them even, but I haven’t. During that conversation (somewhere in between the tears) I realised that Thabiso and Akho still have a hold over me and that I have allowed that experience to shape so many of the fears and insecurities I have been carrying with me through my “dark years”. Worse yet, I realised that I had some of these insecurities with me long before that night, and that they contributed to that night turning out the way it did. The great and wise Mr Katt Williams once said, about women who blame men for their low self-esteems, “How the hell you gonna accuse me of fucking up your self-esteem?! It’s the ESTEEM of the SELF bitch!” I know that it’s not the most eloquent of quotes to use, but it makes sense. The truth is, something in me was damaged long before Thabiso and Akho came along. And as painful as it is to admit to myself, that damage was probably one of the reasons why they knew that they could rape me and get away with it. They could have chosen any one of the many young women at Newscafè that night, but they didn’t. They chose me, because I was a soft target. They saw that damage that I couldn’t even aknowledge to myself and they took advantage of it. What they did was wrong and bazakuyixoxa noThixo wabo leyo (They will discuss it with their God), but as Phylicia Rash?d”s character says in For Coloured Girls: “You gonna have to take some responsibility in all’a this…Now how much of it you take is entirely up to you.” And that hurts. A lot!
In all these years, I have realised that I have not been entirely truthful with myself. I have not been willing to admit that, honestly, I don’t love me. Because if I did love me, truthfully, I would treat me with love. I would protect me and defend me and cherish me. I would be enough with me and there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind (stranger or friend) that this woman will not take any form abuse from anyone. If I had been truthful with myself, I would have spent more time working on my self-esteem instead of fussing over the superficial confidences of walking upright and being well-presented. (Not that those things are not important, mind you. They are just symptoms of a far more important root: the “esteem of the self”) In truth, had I loved myself enough, I would not have been a soft target. This isn’t to say that bad things don’t happen to people who love themselves, or that I deserved what those shit-heads did to me, or that Tyler Perry was to blame for all that happened to him. It just means that I would have realised my own strength a lot sooner. I wouldn’t have needed that attention and would therefore probably left with my cousin instead of telling her I’d meet up with her a bit later. And that maybe … just maybe, I wouldn’t have been raped that night.