By Tanya Steele | Shadow and Act February 3, 2014 at 4:53PM
Recently, I read “An Open Letter From Dylan Farrow’ in the New York Times. Immediately, I posted it on my social networking accounts. I stopped paying to see Woody Allen movies when I learned of his marriage to Mia Farrow’s daughter, Soon-Yi. The fact that he married his lover’s child was enough to disgust me.
I was not aware of the other allegations until Ronan Farrow’s Tweet the night of the Golden Globes: “Missed the Woody Allen tribute - did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?” Honestly, I thought he was referring to Soon-Yi. However, when I discovered he was referring to his other sister, I was not surprised. Offenders have patterns.
I am a former counselor to victims & survivors of incest. I also counseled sex offenders. At a very young age, I was trained to understand the culture that is created around sexual violence, how sexual violence is enacted and how victims/survivors respond. I was also trained to understand how perpetrators respond. Because of this, I try not to become too involved in discussions about sexual violence. Who did what? Did he actually do it? Is it a rush to judgment? Usually, from looking at the patterns of someone’s life, professionals can identify a sexual predator. As a rule, I choose to believe the accuser.
I try not to become involved in discussions on these topics because the public is not trained to understand the dynamics of abuse, sexual violence or predatory behavior. And, people who are in denial about their own abuse, people who are predators or may be, unconsciously, acting in defense of a predator, in their own life, are also a part of the discussion. So, these discussions get stalled with word play, tempers, “you weren’t there” type accusations. For me, it’s best to avoid them.
Sexual violence happens in secret. It can happen to a child (includes teenagers); a girl or a boy. It also happens, primarily, to women and, yes, men. In this piece, I am not going to explain the dynamics of abuse. I will not explain why I believe Dylan Farrow and how I came to that decision. What I will do is try and help you find another way to approach the very complex terrain that surfaces when an Artist that you admire is labeled a perpetrator.
I was not aware that Marvin Gaye was involved with a 16 year old girl when he recorded the album ‘Let’s Get It On’. Mind you, I learned this, casually, as I sat with a friend who is a musician. She said, “did you know that he is singing to a 16 year old?”. Stunned. The first reaction was guttural. No. No. Just no. I did the research. Yes. Wow. Okay. Breathe. That is one of my favorite albums. What was I to do? Marvin Gaye had already entered the most intimate aspects of my life with that album. I had grown to love Marvin through that album (clearly, never knowing him). But, the gentle, tender way that he sang his love was arresting. Not to mention the genius with which it was constructed and delivered. As an Artist, I admired the craftsmanship. As a woman, I admired the sentiment. I have been listening to that album since I was a child. Marvin Gaye’s music was apart of me.
How was I to reconcile my beliefs with attachment to this music? Simply, I was not aware of his actions when I allowed the music into my spirit, into my soul. Marvin Gaye had firmly situated himself in my heart and mind long before I knew the transgressions in his life. This is not a question of my right and wrong, the issue is more complex. Marvin did not sing, “I am a 33 year old man molesting a 16 year old girl.” I had no knowledge of that. So, I won’t allow myself to feel like I am in any way complicit with his actions. I did not cause them. I did not give consent to them.
He reached that place in me, that Artists do, the crevices of my being. They come into your life and situate themselves in your interior, sometimes, more than friends can. Music, film, painting, literature, we form connections to these Artists. They sing our life. They help us to understand what love is. How to express it. They even assist us while loving our beloved. I am aware of that. And, I respect that my relationship with them was formed before my knowledge of their personal behavior. One cannot take these connections for granted. They are very deep and personal.
For the longest time, I couldn’t listen to the album. I couldn’t. One day, a song from the album came on my Spotify station. I sang along. At the end, I realized, holy crap, what did I just do? I stopped. I forgave myself. Look, I did not molest and form a relationship with someone under age, he did. I am not, in any way, complicit with his behavior. Although, it is easy to get caught up in the ‘right and wrong’ argument. I understand that Marvin Gaye was in my heart long before I knew what he did. I had to develop a way to reconcile these two worlds. So, what I do now is say, at this time, I choose to honor the 16 year old girl. So, I will not listen to the album. Slowly, this takes away my desire to engage with the Art. If I should listen, I make sure I’m consciously aware of the choice I’m making.
Similarly, as a filmmaker, I was influenced by Woody Allen long before I was aware of any of his behaviors. I stopped going to Woody Allen films when I learned that he married Soon-Yi. That was my choice. But, before this, he inspired me. There is one film of his that I love- “Broadway Danny Rose”. And, as a filmmaker, it is a reference source for me. “Broadway Danny Rose” made such an impression that I don’t have to revisit it. I fell in love with that film long before I knew about Soon-Yi or the molestation allegations. The imprint of that film is in me and influences me. I can’t feel guilty about that. I acknowledge it. And, I don’t let it interfere with my support for his accuser.
I have not listened to R. Kelly for over a decade. If I am in a club or environment where he is played, I go and stand or sit in silence. I choose to honor the victims. And, that is what I say when I no longer listen to Marvin or watch Woody or, or, or. I simply say, right now, I am honoring the victim. It is a way to bring compassion to the victim. It is a way to relax that muscle that wants to flex in resistance because someone tells you you’re wrong for listening to or admiring the work of an Artist you loved before their truth surfaced. It is a way for family members to not get caught in the web of deciding whether or not to continue a relationship with a family member who abused another relative.
As a child, I was best friends with my grandfather. He taught me many things. I loved sitting on the bathroom sink and watching him shave as I popped the peanut M&M’s that he gave me. I loved my grandfather. Later in life, I learned that he beat my grandmother and molested children in the family. How in the hell am I supposed to reconcile that? He never harmed me in any way. Immediately, a burden is placed at my feet that I did not create. I have fond my memories of my grandfather. I hold them a little less dear because I honor the victims in my family. I give space to understanding the wreckage that he caused. When I’m in the presence of someone he abused, I do not mention him. I allow the survivor to speak in any way they choose to and I respect that. Their pain trumps anything in that moment. My memories of him will be what they are. I have enough space in me to allow their to grief to take center stage. My love is expansive enough to honor their pain.
Predators create a vortex. When it’s a celebrity, we are invited into that vortex. They commit their violations in private and then create a web of confusion. They blame the victim, speak of being the victim and create smoke & mirrors to divert from the truth. Predators are cagey and tricky individuals. They only show their demon side to the child or adult that they violate. They make a conscious choice to enact their violence in private. And, on the most vulnerable among us- children. Silence protects them. If it comes to light, the rest of us are asked to side with or against them. The same choices we are presented with in the discussions around Farrow vs. Allen, are the same choices that are thrust upon us in our families. It is the other level of horror that the abuser creates. Choose. Choose your family or me. Choose my financial contribution to your life or lose it. Choose to believe a “fickle” child or me. Choose to engage with my Art or lose it.
Honor the victim. I understand the complex nature of abuse. The dynamics that are created. Most importantly, I understand the insurmountable pain it causes in the victim. I am the person who honors the victim. And, if I could erase the artistic contributions of the perpetrator to ease the pain of the victim- I would. The perpetrator has infected the life of the victim. The perpetrator, as Artist, infects, in a different way, our lives, too. I cannot erase the footprints that were laid long before the truth of an individual is revealed.
What can I do? Certainly, I can sacrifice a song or movie, in protest, as an offer of peace to another human being. I can stand with the victim. The culture has been terribly lacking in support of victims when it comes to celebrity. Why is this happening? I don’t know. I think people are defending against the guilt they may feel for appreciating an Artist’s work. I let go of that guilt. The artwork is not the act of molestation. But, it is created by the individual who did great harm to another human being. So, I close my senses and pocketbook to the Artist as a form of protest. And, I open my heart to the victim. It’s the least I can do.
I do not want this piece to devolve into the right and wrong. What is true or not. I want this to promote understanding and healing for victims who live with a pain that is unfathomable. Certainly, we can figure out ways to honor victims without throwing them under the bus in defense of Art. In that vein, I ask you, how do you show support to strangers who are victims of sexual violence? How do you show support to your loved ones who are victims of sexual violence? How do you show support for yourself as a victim of sexual violence?