In a powerful and gut-wrenching essay for the New Yorker, award winning Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz has revealed how he was raped as a child.
The writer describes being raped twice, at the age of eight, and the lifelong devastation the assault wrought on his relationships and mental health.
"It f##d up my childhood. It f##d up my adolescence. It f##d up my whole life. More than being Dominican, more than being an immigrant, more, even, than being of African descent, my rape defined me. I spent more energy running from it than I did living. I was confused about why I didn’t fight, why I had an erection while I was being raped, what I did to deserve it. And always I was afraid—afraid that the rape had “ruined” me; afraid that I would be “found out”; afraid afraid afraid. “Real” Dominican men, after all, aren’t raped. And if I wasn’t a “real” Dominican man I wasn’t anything. The rape excluded me from manhood, from love, from everything," he wrotes.
The author of the Pulitzer prize winning The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, begins the piece by recounting an experience with a reader who approached him at a book signing and asked him whether the abuse experienced by his fictional characters mirrored his own experiences.
“I responded with some evasive bullshit.”—and that “I ran the way I’ve always run.”
Diaz recounts suicide attempts and a relationship breakdown that ensued as he struggled to deal with the impact of the assault as an adult. It's a journey mirrored in the semi-autobiographical This is How You Lose Her, where a fictional protagonist copes with past trauma by serially cheating on the woman he loves.
Diaz ends the piece by talking about how therapy and disclosing his abuse in his new relationship and with family and friends has helped him in the journey to recovery.
"In the treatment world, they say that often you have to hit rock bottom before you finally seek help. It doesn’t always work that way, but that sure is how it was for me. I had to lose almost everything and then some. And then some. Before I finally put out my hand."
"I’m even in a relationship, and she knows everything about my past. I told her about what happened to me. I’ve told her, and I’ve told my friends. Even the toughest of my boys. I told them all, f##k the consequences. Something I never thought possible."
Diaz will be appearing at the Sydney Writer's Festival between 30 April and 6 May.