Monday, November 18, 2013

On being Haitian and "staying" with rape survivors

One of the questions that has come up several times in book clubs or classroom settings around Fault Line is my choice to make Ben half-Haitian. Even though I've heard this question a bunch, I'm still startled by it. My lens is occasionally so narrow that I forget that not everyone interacts with Haitians on a daily basis like I do.

Usually, my immediate reaction is, "Yes, he's Haitian, why else would he stay?" Which doesn't really answer the question, but it's where I go first. (Note, fwiw: there's also a part of me that thinks Ben being half-Haitian informed his decision not to tell anyone & keep the matter private).

I'm married to a Haitian man. Most of what I know about Haitians comes from my relationship with Julio and his family. He and I have been together for over 15 years (married a few less than that). A few days ago I was talking to my brother- and sister-in-law about the book, and this question of Ben staying came up again. Not from them, obviously, but in me talking about how Ben's cultural background was an important part of his decision-making. That this fierce Haitian loyalty that I've experienced for half my life spilled over into my fiction.

And part of our conversation included a discussion about whether boys would stay, and how much their own backgrounds would inform that decision. For my own part, I didn't tell my story to Julio right away when I met him. It carries so much weight and it's hard for survivors to lay all that bare before they even know if someone is a keeper. But a few months in I told him, and why that was so easy was because I knew that would never be a deal breaker for him.

To the point that I forget it IS a deal breaker for a lot of guys. Especially younger guys. And I wonder if part of that is because they don't know how to talk about it. They feel paralyzed to change something that already happened and so they pull away. Or maybe it's more. Maybe they don't want the drama. Maybe they don't want to have to deal with the work required to be involved with a survivor. Not that it's work, but I do think there's a part of survivors that are always survivors and that partners need to be prepared for that.

But open communication about the issue can go really far in solving this. And the reality is that every time you get in the boat with someone else, you're inheriting their stuff. You're inheriting crazy uncles and dysfunctional family dinners and present-opening on Christmas Day instead of Christmas Eve and movie-talkers and everything else that comes with merging a life with someone. We all have stuff, and it only is insurmountable if we decide it is.

So yes, I will take Haitian loyalty any day of the week, but I don't think it's the only impetus to stay in a relationship with a survivor.

Maybe if there was less of a stigma against being a survivor, and more honest conversation about it, then it would be easier to stay. Maybe it would be less about loyalty and more about compassion and understanding. Maybe it would be easier to get the right help. Maybe the question for the Bens of the world one day won't be "why would he stay?" but "why wouldn't he?"

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Communication is the key. It may be hard for some, but with the right approach, the victims would eventually open up and start to learn more on how to deal with the emotions that they have been hiding deep inside. But one must understand that it takes trust before they start opening up to anyone. This is where becoming open-minded and sensitive to how they feel become imperative.

Vesta Duvall @ The Zalkin Law Firm, P.C.