After Kobe Bryant’s passing (as well as his daughter and other passengers), I was having a conversation with one of the best parents I happen to know and something odd happened that I want to share.
I had posted first a joke that called out Kobe’s homophobia and rape allegations and was chastised for being classless. I only reconsidered my post when it was reported that his daughter and others had died in the crash and yet, I left it up because – people are complicated – even our heroes. I removed my original post after receiving a threatening post by someone I didn’t know. I then posted once more as articles were coming out about the mixed feelings other rape survivors were experiencing as well as articles about how challenging it is for black men to grieve a hero.
My friend, the father I mentioned earlier, reached out to me saying that he was thinking of me and all that he had learned from me about being a rape survivor. He then read my posts on Facebook and we started having a conversation about his children mourning their hero. He said that he didn’t want his kids honoring a “bad man.” I thought about River Phoenix and Kurt Cobain and their deaths and how that shaped my childhood and eventually my sense of mortality. Then, I realized how my research of my social justice heroes, Gandhi, MLK, and Mother Teresa, showed me how complicated a hero can really be. I am not a parent. I don’t believe in telling parents how to be parents. And I don’t think it is bad to honor, mourn, grieve, a complicated person. I actually think allowing heroes to be complicated makes our own ability to be someone else’s hero more possible in spite of our limitations.
The truth is finding out that Gandhi, MLK, and Mother Teresa were complicated and frustrating people to work with and also did great things motivated me to do the work that I do. I ran out of excuses that I wasn’t good enough. I am good enough.
With this said, it seems that many don’t realize that it was Kobe Bryant’s rape case that forever changed how victims of sexual assault are addressed in a court of law. The alleged perpetrator is now cared for in a manner that often is at the cost of the victim. This has become the new normal. Kobe apologized for his actions and the case was settled outside of court. He himself is not responsible for how rape survivors are seen in the court of law, and this is a lasting impact of that case.
I have never filed a single police report against any of my perpetrators. I have never gone to court. I did accompany two people, one during college, and one in my hometown just a few years ago, to a rape advocacy center and then through their police interviews. How these two people were treated sealed any possibility that I would ever try to report my experiences, especially the instance that involved a group of police officers. Never. Going. To. Happen. And sexualized violence has happened to me, and others, over and over again.
I haven’t told all of these details to any one person including my partners, husband, or even my shrinks. I find that no one would be able to handle all of this truth so it dribbles out little by little. Every once in a while, I trip over a memory or have to go out of my way to avoid public transportation, playgrounds, certain kinds of public spaces, and even at times waiting for a second elevator because I am triggered by a memory, the hairs on my neck go up on alert, or I am just overwhelmed with my own complicated feelings, present, and past.
I told my friend, that I think his children can mourn a hero and they can also learn, as age-appropriate, that this hero and others can be an excellent husband to a loving wife, good father to daughters, advocate for women in sports, as well as a man that felt entitled to women in manner that also set victim-centered progress in sexualized violent prosecutions, police investigations, and the like back decades. This is all true.
Kirk Douglas recently passed at 103 – he may have exaggerated his role in ending the blacklisting in Hollywood and was also accused of raping a 16-year Natalie Wood.
Does Kirk Douglas fall from grace? Does Kobe Bryant? What about Gandhi who stated in his own journals that it was his lust that was his biggest distraction from doing good work?
I say no, AND, it is important to understand that we are complicated. Victim’s voices matter. If both of these could be held as truth then more people, even I, would come forward with our stories without the fear of repercussions of toppling a hero. The United States has had at least one felon, many adulterers, and multiple accusations of rape and sexualized violence.
What we accept as the standard of hero worthiness is up to us. I vote for complicated and aspire to be true to my moral center. My integrity and character are all that I have and I feel that I am consistent in how I live my life even in hard circumstances. I don’t believe I strive to be a hero and certainly am looked to by some as a leader or role model. I often feel almost criminal that I am not more visible being a survivor, victim advocate while knowing that I have the platform to be heard. I could take advantage of the stage, you the readers, etc., and open doors for others more and create healing spaces for others. I do try occasionally, but there are certain things I deviate from when I know I ought to do to be more self-serving. At times, I too feel entitled to being heard, trusted, witnessed, protected, and I have been disappointed at times in others and myself.
I too am complicated. I mourn the innocent version of myself. I grieve the version of Jessica that felt like a fighter all the time on any subject. I also provide some spaces for me to heal and witness others. It is in these spaces that my complications listen to others and I find myself overwhelmed with emotion.
Attempting to express these complicated emotions and contradictory facts and ideals lead to many people thanking me, others calling me names and questioning my character, and one stranger telling me I deserve to be raped.
This is the world we live in. I think it is better to be honest about the complications so that we can do the hard work of complicated grief and mourn the innocence of simplistic idealism.