Yesterday I got a very polite rejection note from a kind and good editor. The article, which I still hope to publish, tells the story of how my step-father abused me.
The editor said the same thing about this piece as she did when I wrote about turning in my youth pastor who was a serial child-molestor, “That is wild!” I never know how to handle such comments because to me they imply that each story of abuse in my personal biography is startling and unusual.
I also think that she was taken aback by the flippant tone of the piece. I called it, “How Purity Culture Turned Me Into My Step-Father’s Fluffer” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “fluffer,” it was coined by the porn industry to describe a person who gets a man erect and ready for sex with another person. In this case, my step-father was using me to get an erection so that he could have sex with my mother.
There are unwritten rules about how we talk about abuse, even if the person doing the writing or talking was the person who suffered it. I am not sure if I know all of the rules, but I am fairly sure that irreverence is one of the no-no’s.
One of my goals in writing about abuse is to decrease the stigma and allow victims to integrate it into their lives’ stories in much the same way as they would a serious accident, a fight with cancer, or divorce. There is nothing wrong with deeply dramatic stories about abuse that help others to understand the pain we have and are enduring, but sometimes I want to write something different.
I want to write articles in which the abuse that I have survived is just one of the many things that I get to laugh at.
I didn’t develop my sense of humor yesterday or after my life got better. I developed it when I was much younger, and I was struck by the utter ridiculousness of my life. I found my mother’s paranoia about being discovered funny, since supposedly I was the one who had done something wrong. When my mother threw out her back while beating me I laughed myself silly thinking, “For once this really does hurt you more than it hurts me.”
Humor, glibness and survival are all threads of the same rope for me. While I would never make fun of someone else’s abuse, I think that I should feel free to make fun of my own, and more importantly to make fun of my abusers. I think that I have earned the right to write stories where I get to call my step-father’s sexual abuse by any term that I want to use, without worrying about what some sanctimonious officer of the Word Police demands that I call it.
Of course I do not find other victims of abuse funny, nor would I ever suggest that abuse itself should be made light of. But abusers really are a ridiculous bunch of people, strutting around with their little napoleonic complexes trying to control something as complex and unpredictable as another person. The ridiculous stuff that comes out of their mouths is often funny, once you get over your queasiness.
And I suppose that queasiness is really why it is hard for people to read glib or humorous accounts from victims. Most people can handle it when we talk about abuse in the ways that they have come to understand it – where it is tragic and above all, rare.
People are not ready to hear stories of how abuse has been part of someone’s every day life, for it to be so common that one person can have a dozen interesting or even humorous stories about the abuse they have experienced.
And yet it is necessary for me to integrate those stories into my self-narrative, the autobiography that I tell myself and others. And integration requires that apply to those stories the same appreciation for the ridiculous that I bring to the rest of my life. I cannot look at my abuse through one set of glasses, and the rest of the world through another. I cannot see all of humanity as ridiculous except abusers. That would give them a special power that I do not want to grant them – the power of being a monster.
So, yes, I understand why it might make other people uncomfortable. I understand where they might find my stories “wild” or even incredible. But as the survivor of some pretty epic abuse, I get to tell my stories with as much humor, pathos, irreverence and craziness as I want.
My stories, my life, my words.