Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Talking With My Childhood Self About Bill Cosby

Photo by my Uncle Steve

Before I get to the soul searching, I want to say that I think Hannibal Buress is a hero for bringing the reality Bill Cosby’s victims into the public consciousness, but I really wish that women were taken as seriously on the same set of topics—Jen Kirkman has been censored and Julie Klausner vilified for pointing out similar allegations  and hypocrisies, (about Louis C. K. and R. Kelly respectively) and I would very much like to live in a world that isn’t trained to dismiss women’s point of view, especially on this particular matter.

For a lot of my adult life, I’ve been a trusting, open, jump-in-with-both-feet kind of person. I made friends and became devoted to them instantly (okay, I still do that) got crushes on poets and wrote reams about them, greeted nearly every person and new situation wholeheartedly.  I’ve never been afraid to walk alone at night and I’m still not, but in the past few years, I’ve ended up seeing the world through rape-colored glasses, seeing facets of coercion and exploitation everywhere. The problem with this lens is not that it isn’t true, but that it isn’t helpful; it’s not taking me where I want to go.

I want to slay those dragons and really start to live knowing I have agency and hope. The personal reasons that I tend to see the world this way are well-documented; they’re private and complex, but the psychological impact, the pulling-the-rug out-from-under-me that Cosby-as-rapist has wrought matters.

Like probably so many little girls, I LOVED Bill Cosby. This is not an overstatement like “Oh, I love Netflix,” but real, abject human love of a child for an adult man who seemed more than deserving of that love. My dad had all of his records and my brother and sister and I listened to them so much that it was almost like we were the siblings in those stories.

But The Cosby Show. It was one of the few shows we were allowed to watch—somehow that Thursday night block was highbrow enough for my dad (who before long would give into the slippery slope of Growing Pains and Perfect Strangers) (Mike Seaver didn’t do much in the not-letting-me-down department either, did he?) so we watched it as a family every Thursday night, like everyone.

Was there ever a more appealing paragon of manhood than Cliff Huxtable? He danced with his wife. He goofed around with the kids. He lovingly and hilariously laid down the law when necessary. And sometimes, as I think was pointed out once on Community, an entire episode could be about making a sandwich with his daughter. He was a perfect picture of what it means to be a man in a family, exactly the beautiful grownup my ten-year-old self needed.

There are a lot of factors that combine to make me generally skittish, but the shift from what I felt about Cosby then to what I know now exacerbates the feeling I have sometimes that if I relax for one second, if I trust for one second, the world will turn upside down and I will be completely fucked. But I certainly don’t want to approach the world that way.


Dear Little Self,

What you loved was a story, and that story is still true. Everywhere there are families with singing and laughing—you’ve lived in one for a long time. Everywhere there are men, dads and brothers and friends and strangers who wish you and everyone nothing but love, safety and happiness.

You can grieve for Cliff Huxtable and be mad that Kurt Cobain was such a creep to that girl in high school and still be pretty peeved about that one episode of Buffy. I will always be mad with you and on your behalf. I will always be on your side.

But let’s look for other, better examples, and allow them to be true. I’ll do my best to keep you safe, if you’ll do your best to let it go. Take all the time you need.


Grownup You

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