These past couple of days have reminded me of the many reasons why I took down my original blog post about Junot Diaz more than 10 years ago. The horrendous backlash and attacks that come when you stand up for yourself as a woman, the “slut” shaming that goes on if you admit to having had sex at all, the anger. I had managed to build a peaceful, small life for myself in the past couple of years, a life where, no, I wasn’t in the spotlight as a writer anymore, and that was okay. It was nice, actually. It was really nice not to have the adrenaline of anger bubbling up whenever someone who did not know me misunderstood me and attacked me, which is what happens when you’re “famous” I guess. It sucks. People fucking suck. Not all of them. A lot of you are cool. But the ones who aren’t cool are goddamned dangerous.
A few of you have lashed out at me because of your interpretation of something I wrote in my original post. That’s probably partly my fault, because when the Washington Post mentioned the piece I wrote they also made the same assumption. Maybe I was in such a rush to get the piece out that I didn’t word it in a way that fucking idiots would be incapable of misinterpreting in the worst possible way. But probably not.
So I am going to clarify what I meant.
When I met Junot, he and I were equals and he was in no position to help me and I was not then, or ever, the kind of woman who thought she needed help and certainly not the kind who would fuck someone for a favor.
Let me repeat that. Just in case some of you dumbasses read that and somehow heard “Alisa fucked Junot for her career.” When I met Junot, he and I were equals and he was in no position to help me and I was not then, or ever, the kind of woman who thought she needed help and certainly not the kind who would fuck someone for a favor.
I did not meet Junot last year. Or 10 years ago. I met him 22 years ago, in 1996. To understand my story without fucking it up you have to imagine Junot before he was a fucking star.
We were equals. I was actually the one helping him, by writing about him in a major newspaper, and it wasn’t done for sex.
It was 1996. His first collection of short stories had just come out. He was not famous. I was not famous. I was the youngest writer ever hired on staff at the Boston Globe, and I had been hired directly into a coveted position as a longform literary nonfiction feature writer. I was a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, where I had been thought of as a gifted literary writer, referred to in recommendations by one professor as “a pugilist whose mind gives off sparks like flint on steel.” Upon graduating from J-School I had job offers from the Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald and Boston Globe. By the time I was 28, I was named the No. 1 magazine essayist in the nation by the Sunday Magazine Editors Association.
Many of you seem to think I am narcissistically bragging when I mention facts about my writing career. I’m pretty sure none of you do the same for an egotist like Junot Diaz. But, you know, penis.
I’m not fucking bragging. I’m REPORTING FACTS. I’m happy to honestly list all of the ways in which I suck as a person. I can’t draw. I’m not good at laundry. I curse in front of children. I overeat. I cancel plans at the last minute because even though I wish I were the kind of person who likes hanging out with other people, I mostly prefer hanging out at home with my dog and my cat and my garden, and this is mostly because people far too often suck. Including me. I suck at lots of things. I’m really crap at just about everything.
I am a good fucking writer. I was a good fucking writer when I was a child. And I’m a good fucking writer now, as a middle aged woman. If it makes you angry that I feel entitled to acknowledge a thing about myself that is true, if me saying I’m a good writer when I’m actually a good writer makes you feel uncomfortable, if me saying I’m a good writer inspires you to send me an email or to comment on this blog telling me to pipe down and be modest and stop being a narcissist, here is what I have to tell you: Fuck off. You don’t like confident women, and that’s your fucking problem. For decades I was bullied by people like you, into minimizing myself, into taking up less space so YOU would be comfortable. For decades I gave away my power and doubted myself and felt scared and insecure and questioned my own interpretation of reality. I will not let you invalidate me anymore. I will not make myself smaller in public just to make you comfortable. Your comfort means shit to me now. Now, I am 49 and I don’t need you to like me.
In 1996, Junot Diaz was not the Pulitzer winner. He was a nerdy dude from New York who was on book tour. A press release came across my desk. The paper was not even going to write about him at all. I had to convince editors he mattered. I had to convince editors he wrote in English. And I did this because his book caught my eye for its Spanish surname, and I read it, and he was great. If I hadn’t been at the paper, there would not have been a Boston Globe piece about that book at all. I was part of the early media coverage that helped him eventually become well-known enough to be nominated for the Pulitzer at all.
So, no, I did not see him, then, as someone who could or would help my career. My career at the time was better than his. I was doing just fucking fine.
I fell in love with Junot’s writing, and I felt him to be a kindred spirit. That’s all that happened. I wasn’t some young thing hoping he’d help me. He wasn’t some super powerful man on the prowl. Not in 1996. I was his equal. That was how I saw it, and that was how I thought he saw it. When I told him I was interested in transitioning at some point to fiction writing, it was as a well-known literary feature writer for one of the top newspapers on earth – and I was only 26 years old. I had been working on a novel. I told him about it. He said he’d love to read it. I believed him. He came over. I thought he was coming to read my book. And while he didn’t force himself on me, I had not expected him to seduce me. I was flattered when he did, because I had a crush on him. End of story.
When I mentioned Junot asking to have sex with me, and, later, gently offering in the way friends do, to introduce me to people at The New Yorker, it was to show two things.
- One: That I THOUGHT I was involved with someone I thought was my boyfriend and that he, like many boyfriends, was being supportive, and that he was being supportive because he liked my writing. That’s how I took that whole situation.
- Two: It took me a while to understand that this was not Junot’s reality about the situation, at all. In time, I understood he saw me the way too fucking many of YOU idiots see me, which is that he thought he was worth more than I was, and assumed I agreed, and his offer wasn’t supportive, it was intended to be coercive, so he could feel powerful and dominate me.
Both realities were true. Mine was true for me. His was true for him.
I am lucky to have been raised by a feminist father. A feminist Cuban father, who was my greatest champion. My dad is a professor of Latin American sociology and history, and New Mexico history and sociology. It had never even occurred to me, at 26, that a man could or would think as Junot did – or as you fucking idiots who think I “exchanged sex for literary favors” do.
I have NEVER doubted my writing ability and I never FUCKING NEEDED Junot to do me any favors.
When I say he never had any intention of doing as he said, with regards to introducing me to his editor at the New Yorker, it was not in a tone of disappointment – I was NOT saying “I fucked him and he didn’t even get me published wah wah wah.” OH MY FUCKING GOD. I was saying, and read this next part slowly so you really understand it, that Junot thinks women think he’s a king who will dole out favors and he therefore promises favors to get women into bed and then doesn’t follow through.
One thing about writing fiction is that you must be able to take on the perspective of different characters. The idiots who think I fucked Junot Diaz for my career are incapable of taking my perspective at that time. They only see his. Too simplistic.
From my perspective I was a writer, he was a writer. We were both really good at writing. I was excited to be dating a man who I thought was my equal. I did not know he thought any differently about it until I had known him long enough to realize he was full of shit and using me. I never, ever, ever thought loving Junot Diaz would “help” my career, nor did I think I needed help. Then, as now, I believed myself to be a badass who would succeed all on her own. And I did.
The worst part about speaking out publicly about being used by people like this is the judgment from idiots. To get through it, I go back to one of the many wise things my father always tells me: “People can only understand what you’re saying, to the level of their own evolution.”
And while I am grateful for the kind responses I’ve gotten here, I am dismayed by how many of you are still dismally un-evolved, incapable of comprehending what actually went down. Dismayed, by not surprised.
What a fucking world.