The last thing I expected to do on the morning of my birthday was cry. But the tears of Joy were not tears of joy but tears of pain and sadness. I couldn’t stop thinking of my mother. I’d never thought about her on any of my birthdays, in all these years. My birthday had always been about me and how great it was for me to be living my life. I’d never thought about the woman who gave me that life, the woman who birthed me into this world on that day. That was no joyous day for her but a sign of hurt to come.
The recent outing of Harvey Weinstein has been shocking in its gross criminality yet not surprising in its existence. Women have long been victimized by the evil that men do, especially men in power. Men who rule with iron fists, limp dicks, and egos as big as the sky.
To see woman after woman lift up her voice in a #MeToo clarion call of solidarity and acknowledgment of the pervasive abuse that we’ve experienced is liberating on the one hand and sobering on the other. It’s comforting to know that you’re not alone. But goddamn — who hasn’t been abused, harassed, assaulted, or traumatized?
So it was on my birthday morn when I watched an interview with Tarana Burke on Democracy Now. Tarana, a black woman and community activist, started the Me Too movement more than ten years ago to give voice to survivors of sexual violence, particularly women of color — women left without the resources to deal with the trauma of their experiences. By “empowerment through empathy,” they could connect with one another and know that they are not alone. And while #MeToo has taken off in ways Tarana hadn’t anticipated, she said in the interview, “It’s not a hashtag, it’s not a moment. This is a movement.” And there’s hard work that needs to be done to eradicate this “pandemic” of sexual violence against women, especially those who are not famous.
I thought about my own experiences of abuse, assault, and harassment, pre-fame and post-fame. The male babysitter when I was five, the male photographer in my early twenties, the male studio executive a few years ago. Yeah, me too.
And in my acknowledgment of common cause with the countless women coming forward in Hollywood and beyond, I thought about my mother, Joyce. Yeah, her too.
On October 18, 1974, Joyce gave birth to me, not in love but in shame, after hiding her pregnancy from my grandmother for six months. I am the product of a fifteen-year-old girl and an older man she knew. It doesn’t matter how or why or when. It happened, and with both my mother and my father dead, I’ll never know the specifics. What matters is that no one protected her before or after. What matters is that my mother was the one who was shamed. What matters is that my father ruined her life just as it was blossoming. What matters is she was trapped in a trauma she could never escape, a trauma that prevented her from being the mother I needed her to be. What matters is that she didn’t matter. And because she didn’t matter, I didn’t matter to her.
For most of my life, I’ve been too wrapped up in my own pain to ever acknowledge hers. Part of that is due to the fact that there was so much I didn’t know, so much that was kept from me, like my father’s identity, for one. But it was also due to my own righteous victimhood. What could be worse than being the recipient of her resentment, abandonment, anger, and disregard? I had no idea. I was well into my adult years when I learned who my father really was, and even then I couldn’t see past my own pain.