While in Search of my Latinidad, an Abuser Found Me
IN THE AFTERMATH: REFLECTIONS BY SURVIVORS OF GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE
This week, Tasteful Rude publishes two reflections that explore the aftermath of gender-based violence. Tasteful Rude is doing so to counter the continued erasure of survivor-centered narratives, especially those concerning life after harm. We also publish these essays in response to the continued glorification of “cancelled celebrities,” in particular men reported for persistent engagement in gender-based violence and harm. For this male demographic, gender-based violence seems a way of life, a manner of toxic masc-craft, a process through which certain masculine persons create, maintain, curate, and propagate their gender. Toxic masc-craft is an element of rape culture or the “environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.”
On November 23, Moira Donegan, a Guardian US columnist, tweeted, “Marilyn Manson and Louis CK were both nominated for Grammies today. A long time ago I used to keep a running document of all the accolades and new jobs that were given to men who had been publicly accused of sexual abuse, but it got too long and became corrosive to my soul.” That same day, the Seattle Times published an article titled “Officer convicted of rape gets home detention after judge determines no ‘psychological injury’ to victim.” This headline glibly gets at the heart of another insidious aspect of rape culture, the denial of the ongoing harm wrought by sexual assault. For many survivors, the initial encounter with a perpetrator of gender-based violence, a moment many call rape, is merely an introduction to a structure that encroaches upon, and in some instances, consumes the victim.
This week’s essays expose the harm done by men who engage in gender-based violence, emphasizing the destruction that gender-based violence leaves in its wake. When such men vanish from a survivor’s day-to-day life, their harm does not vanish. For many victims, surviving sexual assault poses an ongoing challenge that leaves almost no facet of life untouched. Sexual assault is a prolonged and protracted ordeal and its harms may persist for decades. Both of this week’s essays honor the pain wrought by gender-based violence as well as survivors’ attempts at recovery, renewal, and wholeness. The second essay is authored by a writer who wishes to be pseudonymized as Redacted. She continues to experience ongoing abuse.
ESSAY II: “WHILE IN SEARCH OF MY LATINIDAD, AN ABUSER FOUND ME”
“Let’s talk like old friends in The Belle Epoch,” his Tinder message read.
When I first looked him up, his name sounded alien. Consider me philistine, but I didn’t think of Virginia’s Woolf’s titular character, or the Australian actor who plays a platinum-haired Legolas in the film adaptation of Tolkien’s trilogy.
I thought of the city I’d visited as a kid, where it rained torrentially almost every afternoon for at least ten minutes. The only time I visited DisneyWorld. Orlando, Florida.
I thought of my dad’s doppelganger. Whose name we shouted into the crowds when we visited Branson, Missouri, attracting undue attention as obnoxious children. Tony Orlando.
I thought that googling him could function as an unofficial background check. A litmus test of character. I found a stubby Wikipedia page and an archive of photographs from an old article in the New York Times. There were links to academic institutions, prestigious ones where he’d studied and even taught, like Brown University and Washington University in St. Louis. I found various publishing houses that I’d never heard of. These promoted his print-to-order books.
You’ll understand why it confused me when, upon accepting his invitation to meet up with him the following night, he raped me.
I thought he must be a decent person because he was so public. All these lofty institutions hosted him. They sang his praises and had done so since he first set foot on the stolen land we many commonly refer to as the United States of America.
All of this is to say that you’ll understand why it confused me when, upon accepting his invitation to meet up with him the following night, he raped me.
What followed was even more confusing. A toxic, 18 month-long trauma bond, built on gaslighting, coercion, manipulation and all forms of abuse. My ordeal is something I’ve only begun to speak on, thanks to the help of a year’s worth of intensive therapy and the support of my community. I often reflect on how I was never permitted to contemplate what was happening to me as it was happening to me. From the moment he entered my life, his presence suffocated me. His words and actions were calculated like the chess games he adores. I later learned that he used a tactic implemented by narcissists known as “love-bombing.” His world became my living Hell, and I ceased to exist as an individual. Instead, I served as an extension of him.
He hid his real self and fed me only carefully curated fragments. His true form eluded me for the duration of what I mistakenly labeled a “partnership,” and our time together resulted in my child. In addition to being suffocated, I felt blinded. Unable to piece together his character with the parts he had revealed.
He was my abuser. My very own communist dictator. The abuse that he perpetrates is also political.
While I’ve yet to ascertain the depths of his authentic nature, I do know that he was my abuser. My very own communist dictator. The abuse that he perpetrates isn’t only a matter of personal projection, it is also political.
When my abuser came to the US in 2013, he was identified as a “Cuban dissident,” a term I had ignorantly never heard of nor cared about before meeting him. However, it is a title he has desperately clung to for almost a decade. He belongs to a community of Cuban expats who have cultivated a sort of collective narcissism. This fantasy was developed as a psychological shield, a buffer that softens the years of abuse and dehumanization that they experienced under the crumbling Castro regime. Their collectively held delusion justifies the nightmarish existence that was their life on the island and as a first-generation Bolivian-American, I hardly understood the implications of such an identity.
Everything I knew about Latin America was one-generation removed, filtered through my USian existence. When I met him, I was devoted to spirituality and self-improvement. Tending to a recurrent eating disorder triggered by an Adderall addiction, brought on by a misdiagnosis of ADHD from a quack psychiatrist that behaved more like a legal drug-dealer. In hindsight, I recognize I was suffering from years of unhealed trauma, using escapism in every form to hide from the person I was then. I considered myself chaotic. A diasporic and displaced Andean-Midwesterner desperately searching for validation of my “Latinidad,” whatever that means.
I will not bombard you with the horrors of triangulation and terror that occurred during our year and a half long “courtship.” That is for the book I am writing, Other Reasons You Become A Ghost. But I will tell you some of the things I have learned about the dichotomies of my abuser’s nature, and that of the qualities many of his friends and cronies share.
The identity of many Cuban public figures who have left the island, political dissidents or “gusanos” as they are called by their own government, hinges on the notion of a dystopian Cuba. Some Cubans fortunate enough to make it outside the country create successful careers by sharing their experiences. They are offered grants, fellowships, scholarships, and prized positions for revealing the battle scars sustained when they escaped from the island.
In many respects, these privileges are well-deserved. As the daughter of an immigrant whose family fled political instability in the early 1960s after the Bolivian National Revolution, I am empathetic to the cause. Escaping Cuba is no small feat, and I want to be clear that it is not my intent in writing this to belittle or make light of the collective struggle and pain of the Cuban people. The cruelty and corruption of the Cuban Dictatorship is very real. But in some ways, the identity of a “Cuban dissident” has become commodified, transformed into a thriving industry in which an elite few participate. Unsurprisingly, most well-known Cuban dissidents are disproportionately White Europeans of Spanish descent, less than two or three generations removed from their European “conquistador” forefathers. My abuser’s paternal family left the Canary Islands in search of opportunity. They first settled in the US but assimilating to the American way and learning English proved difficult. In response, they retreated to the small, tropical island 90 miles off the coast of Miami. My abuser’s father was born on the island, in Havana.
My abuser often referred to himself as a “shining star,” and he exploits the catastrophes that have befallen the island, using them for personal gain. He stands among “dissidents” who profess their undying love and patriotism for the island, recounting in harrowing detail the injustices at the hands of the Cuban secret police. However, comparatively few “dissidents” venture back to the island to fight alongside their unarmed countrymen and risk imprisonment. Instead, they prefer comfy tenured positions in academic programs around the globe, granting candid interviews in publications and media, accepting invitations to speak at large political forums, like the United Nations. Traveling the world on someone else’s dime, cashing checks in the name of racial capitalism along the way. Championing the words of their problematic founding father, Jose Marti, and praying for the day that they can return to a “Cuba Libre.” All the while they disparage socialist agendas in every form, frequently, and insidiously, asserting that racism does not exist in Cuba because all are equally oppressed under the dictatorship.
This situation begs the question: Who would this coterie be without their failed state?
A free Cuba requires an open society. One that Oswaldo Paya, best known for the Varela Project, ultimately lost his life for while pushing for reforms in freedom of speech, association, religion, and press in the late 1990s. His daughter, and the former partner of my abuser, ”Pink Mary,” took up her father’s aims outside of the country by founding Cuba Decide. She has campaigned around the globe in the name of Cuban Liberation. She was also one of the women in my abuser’s collection of women, what some problematically refer to as the narcissist’s “harem,” that were present in my (unbeknownst to me) “polyamorous” relationship, lorded over me like a ghost by my abuser. She was an untouchable “warrior” and because I was not Cuban, I could never compete. He referred to me as the unfortunate daughter of Luisito the “Indito,” a derogatory term for indigenous people. Coincidentally, my father shares a name with my abuser.
By now you’ll understand the hypocrisy I noticed when, after speaking publicly about the abuse I suffered at the hands of this Cuban dissident, I found myself served with legal notice of a hearing for an ex-parte! My abuser lacked enough evidence to obtain even a temporary restraining order against me. Those motivated by narcissistic personality disorder sometimes pursue “revenge restraining orders,” a gambit employed when victims dare to speak out against their narcissistic abusers. It is a last-ditch effort to maintain control. Because while I have spoken the truth, which is neither libel or defamation, he perceives me as a threat. He views me as dangerous because I have the audacity to call him out for patterns of conduct that have gone unchecked for nearly five decades.
He fears me because I am no longer under his control. Because I am now a force that cannot be contained. Because I have substantial evidence of the sexual assault he committed against me on November 28th, 2018. Because I am the one who filed a report at the Richmond Heights Police Department in St. Louis County, which is currently being reviewed by the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office thanks to the help of advocates at the Crime Victim Center. And while his claims are meritless, he is trying to deprive me of my own civil liberties, my freedom of speech. This is the very same right he fought for in Cuba, used to spin a career, and was extended to him when he became a US citizen on April 26th, 2019. Today, I am the one who risks being deprived of these freedoms, unable to speak his name, guilty for the crime of healing and wanting to prevent others from being subject to his sadism.
Publicly, he wears a facade, behaving as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening, continuing to broadcast his nightly poetry podcast on YouTube. He generates his very own brand of propaganda. Much like when a fellow graduate student filed a Title IX against him in 2018 for stalking and sexual harassment at Washington University. A complaint that was corroborated by multiple students in The Romance Language Department. Or when another victim came forward to me via Instagram DM, three weeks after I started speaking publicly, detailing incidences of abuse that paralleled mine. Since initially speaking out, all these victims have gone mysteriously silent. My fear is that he is employing similar tactics to gag them and how many more victims might there be?
The irony of it all struck me when I realized that the abused has transformed into an abuser. Hurting people is, perhaps, the way he “triumphs” over a past that made him feel small, fragile, and vulnerable. Free speech is the tyrant’s domain. Speech is not the domain of victims.