Loud-mouthed liberal feminist. Anarchist knitter. Tequila-drinking artsy-smartsy fat chick. Bluesy folk-rock singer-songwriter. Rebel with too many causes. Quirky eclectic pagan poet. Paradoxical intuitive smartass. Sarcastic brainiac insomniac. You know, for starters.

9.30.2009

Why reading about Polanski sucks for me, in particular.

The phrase "child rapist" is being used a lot lately, and it's starting to really get to me (and not just because its current ubiquity in the feminist blogosphere is getting to be kinda triggery for me). Roman Polanski is, obviously, a convicted rapist who would very likely be years out of prison, had he served his sentence instead of fleeing the country and using his wealth and fame to evade justice. His choices are clearly despicable and it is pretty sad to me that so many public figures are leaping to his defense.

Unfortunately, though, I can understand a little bit of where that's coming from. See, my younger brother is currently incarcerated for a similar crime.

When I first heard of the accusations against my brother, I didn't want to believe them. My brother is certainly no angel, but I just couldn't wrap my head around the possibility that he would rape a thirteen year old. Lie about tons of shit, steal, cheat, get involved with drugs or fistfights with his wife....I can see all that. But to rape a girl who's only barely a teenager? I had trouble even calling it rape at the time, and it's still hard now.

Ironic, actually, since you'd think my own personal experience with childhood rape would make it pretty fucking black and white.

And yeah, it does in some ways...I know that what my brother did, regardless of the level of violence or "consent" or whatever allegedly mitigating circumstances exist, will unquestionably mess with how that girl relates to sex and men and power dynamics and intimacy and a whole host of other seemingly unrelated things. I am consistently surprised by how often I have to face yet another shadow of The Ordeal, even now, more than ten years after I started actively acknowledging it and working on healing some of the damage (and well over twenty years after the actual incident). I have no doubts that my brother's actions have done incredible harm to that little girl - not to mention the present and future impacts to his two young daughters, his (now ex-) wife, and his family and friends (plus, you know, the way he's pretty much fucked his own future prospects).

When I finally got to a place where I accepted that he'd actually done it...I lost the ability to sort out how I felt about him and what he'd done. No, that's not true - I condemn what he did with every fiber of my being, and when I think about it, it makes me so angry I want to hurt him. I want to hurt him for what he's done himself, and in proxy for the sonuvabuitch who did it to me, and in proxy for all of the motherfuckers that do shit like this to people, who have such unconscionable blindness to the way their instantly gratified urges wreak havoc and pain and misery on others. It makes me furious.

But this is my brother. I know he's imperfect, and that he has many flaws....but I love him anyway. We have almost the same face. I spent most of my childhood getting in trouble for shit he started, like happens with little brothers. He can be incredibly sweet and surprisingly smart and genuinely accepting and kind. For as many times as he's hurt me directly, and done things I find despicable, and used me or our family members...I can't not love him. I don't know how to stop that.

And that's maybe what I'm most angry about. If he were anyone else, I wouldn't have a problem condemning him and his actions and not wasting another iota of my energy on it. But I love him, and I believe that what he's going through in prison is awful and inhumane in many ways (since I believe that the whole prison-industrial complex is inherently awful and inhumane, for lots of people besides my brother). I can't just write him off, and so I have a lot of trouble reconciling my love for my brother and my hatred of what he's done. So much trouble, in fact, that I have spoken to him only twice in the two years he's been locked up, and still agonize over whether and how to maintain our connection. It's easier to avoid thinking about it, to get lost in my own life stuff and pretend that I'm not the sister of a rapist.

I'm not even going to get into the fact that he, by all accounts, still doesn't think he's done anything wrong.

So, yeah, I guess I can understand why so many people are jumping to Polanski's defense...it's really tough to grapple with the idea that a person you love has done something so categorically wrong, has left behind a devastated human being who will likely spend the rest of her life trying to overcome the aftereffects, has committed a heinous crime. The difference I see between my brother and Roman Polanski? My brother's in jail, going through rehab, and suffering the consequences of his prosecution. I'm not saying it makes him the better man, I'm saying it makes him the one who's serving justice.

And now I am going to do my best to stop reading about Polanski.

ETA: All good intentions set aside, I am really not interested in getting feedback on how I have chosen to deal with my brother's circumstances. This post is more about acknowledging the complexities of rape, and how it affects victims, perpetrators, and the people close to them.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this with us Tari and in quite a bit of detail so that we can follow your struggle to acknowledge and try to understand your brother.

There seems to be a little understanding in the fact that you are determined to state that you still love your brother. This does show progress in your thinking and although it is none of my business, I am proud of you for making this statment.

Can I encourage you to find a way of communicating with him a little more. I know that 'walking the talk' is hard - but this would be an expression of your love for him - and that you are standing with him.

Perhaps communicating with him in other ways than visiting him which I completely understand is the hardest.

Cards, short letters & gifts sent to him will remain with him - and remind him that you are his sister.

Why am I encouraging this? Well - I have a friend whose brother had a similar conviction, is now out of jail and unfortunately is now dead. Impossible to know if it was a drug overdose as a suicide, or murder. This was a year or so ago now and her main pain about it is that she didn't communicate enough to him. She would say the same thing as you - she is acknowledging his actions but still loves him as he is her brother. She did communicate a little - but.....

Anyway - can I leave this with you.

When you look at me on twitter, you will see that I am a Christian blah blah blah. This is true - but please still read my post in the spirit that I left it.

I read your story, can feel your pain a little and wanted to share about my friend.

OK - I'm off now. Bye, Wendy

Tari said...

Wendy....thanks for your comment. I'm going to be honest with you, I am not really looking for feedback or advice about the choices I am making in dealing with my brother's situation and my relationship with him. The point of my post was really about me working through why hearing so much about Roman Polanski has left me struggling with a lot of conflicting thoughts this week. And, furthermore, as much as I wish I felt able to put my brother's well being ahead of my own, in this particular case, I have chosen not to.

heavyart said...

Tari,

I too thank you for sharing this. I'm getting a bit worn out by reading all the Polanski stuff. But I just really appreciated this- as someone who was sexually abused by someone close in my family.

It is a host of conflicting feelings when someone you are supposed to love and care for, and who presumably does have good qualities, does something like this.

But I think the good in your analysis is to point out that people who rape aren't monsters. Monsters aren't fictional. People who rape are people and we try and deal with them as though they were not. Which isn't logical, if the intent is to prevent the violation of rape from happening.

I will definitely be checking out more on your blog. This is the first entry I have read, came here from SP.

Thanks again for speaking up.

-Elaina

heavyart said...

Sorry to over-post, but the above should have read "monsters *are fictional," not monsters "aren't" fictional. Oopsies!

Kyla said...

great post, I read it, I'm listening, wanted to tell you that. I also want to back you up in your response to Wendy. I don't think it's right for anyone to give you unsolicited advice in this situation. Anyway, I won't continue, because you said you don't want analysis on your relationship with him. But thanks for sharing your story and complex thoughts. It's a much needed voice.

Tari said...

Hey, many thanks to those sharing comments. I wish I was in a place to really respond in the thoughtful way I would like to, and have a conversation about the complications related to my own and others' experiences....but right now I really do not have the emotional energy to engage that way.

Sarah said...

thanks for writing this. it's so hard for the general public to see rapists as people - and still consider them rapists. but they are both.

Jordan said...

Tari,

Wow that was an amazing post. I really dig your writing style, and the way you were able to use your own experiences to help people think through an issue is brilliant.

With issues as complex as the ones you've written about, i don't think i have an opinion to offer so much as a thanks and an expression of solidarity to you for being willing to put this out there. I'm a budding blogger who has a hard time sharing personal stories, so i really really respect folks who are able to do this. I also respect that you set boundaries for this post and reminded your commenters to stick to them.

I found the link to your post on www.illdoctrine.com by Jay Smooth, a vlogger who is also excellent at sharing his personal feelings.

Thanks again