This is our truth, tell us yours
This is only my story, and others will feel differently, or have had different experiences. Make of it what you will.
Desmond Tutu wrote, today, with force and style about forgiveness in the Guardian.
It brought to mind this article about Clarissa Dickson Wright, the extraordinary woman who became the culinary equivalent of John McCririck.
Part of the power of Tutu’s writing is in the implicit acknowledgement of the complexity of human behaviour – no-one is just an abuser and no behaviour can be stripped of its context. Despite all he did, and all he said, the archbishop’s father is still his father,and still loved by a son who refused to be defined by his own anger.
Although I think some of my family suspect something happened to me in my childhood that changed me, I have not and I would never disclose the names of those who would be labelled my ‘abusers’ by the press. There are two reasons.
One is because, like Desmond Tutu, I have come to realise that forgiveness is something I do for my benefit, not as an act of charity towards the offender. I no longer have the energy or the time to consume myself with anger or the search for retribution.
The second reason though is that I understand now, more than I did previously, that I am not responsible for changing the behaviour of the men who did what they did. It is possible that some of them are still active, but unlikely-in at least one case the man in question is dead, and in other cases they’re probably too old to be a threat to anyone else. In either case, it’s not my responsbility.
I can already hear the counter-argument, that if I do not name those men, they might abuse others. If I had reported them at the time, they might have been prevented from abusing others. It is not my job to prevent others from being abused – I did not learn some special powers as a consequence of my experiences that make me more responsible for preventing abuse than the rest of society.
A significant confession here. I am uncomfortable with the word, ‘abuse’. I know that the behaviour of those involved was wrong, and that any consent I gave was invalid because of my immaturity, but the complexity of the experience was more than just that. The men involved were every bit as complex as Desmond Tutu’s father, or Clarissa Dickson Wright’s; it is not my job to mitigate their offences, but in at least one case I can remember the good deeds and charitable work of a man who genuinely believed that by fucking me as a youth, repeating his own experiences, he was doing no harm. Seeing him as more than just an abuser, more than just the things he did to me, is an essential component of forgiving him and understanding him.
Seeing him as being more than just his sexual interest in me is also an essential part of understanding my own desire for his attention. I need to understand that, not to mitigate his offence, but to understand me, to be able to recognize the way that the same desires to be approved of, and liked, and desired, shape my life even now. And herein lies the root of my problem. Those men who fucked me, also shaped me, and I like who I am. There may be other worlds in which that youth grew up a virgin until a legal age, and grew up to be someone different to who I am now. That speculation is no help to me now – I like who I am, and knowing that I might have been someone else is no more use than regretting the first time I got drunk and picked a stupid row with a lover or the couple of years when we tried to make it work, her in a cocktail skirt and me in a suit, ignoring the dishonesty deeply embedded in the relationship and my drinking.
Every time I read of someone else labelling those who offend as abusers I wonder about the realities, the complexity, and the power that label might give the offender. By forgiving and embracing what I know about those mens’ shaping of my life I have taken away all the power they might otherwise have over me.