I loathe to talk about Chris Brown, but if the most recent story about him is going to be a story it’s important that we discuss it correctly. What Brown describes in his interview with the Guardian is rape. There is no escaping that. Look at the words on the page:
He lost his virginity when he was eight years old, to a local girl who was 14 or 15. Seriously? “Yeah, really. Uh-huh.” He grins and chuckles. “It’s different in the country.” Brown grew up with a great gang of boy cousins, and they watched so much porn that he was raring to go. “By that point, we were already kind of like hot to trot, you know what I’m saying? Like, girls, we weren’t afraid to talk to them; I wasn’t afraid. So, at eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it. You can be the best at it.” (Now 24, he doesn’t want to say how many women he’s slept with: “But you know how Prince had a lot of girls back in the day? Prince was, like, the guy. I’m just that, today. But most women won’t have any complaints if they’ve been with me. They can’t really complain. It’s all good.”)
That is an assault. An eight year-old can not engage in consensual sex with a 14 year-old. Gender is irrelevant. It is not, as Jezebel writer Doug Barry put it, a “vaguely traumatic incident from his childhood.” This is rape.
What gets Barry’s ire is that Brown seems to be bragging about “losing his virginity” at eight the way men often brag about their sexual “conquests.” In some respect, he isn’t wrong. Brown does seem proud of this fact. What Barry neglects to address is why Brown may feel pride about an assault instead of naming it as such.
I understand not wanting to feel sympathy for Chris Brown, as his actions have become a go-to example of gendered violence over the last few years. He viciously attacked Rihanna in 2009 and has since shown little to no remorse, often drawing negative attention through more violent public stunts. But allowing that to cloud our judgment of his revelation does a disservice to young boys who, like Brown, have experienced an assault and don’t know how to talk about it.
I once worked with a guy who told me (these are his words): “I was molested when I was six, but it was by a bitch so it was OK. That’s why I’m a freak today.” We are raising boys to believe that their manhood rests in their ability to have sex with women as early and often as possible, to the point they believe any sexual encounter is simply a right of passage. Even if they know it’s wrong, they don’t admit to it because they believe this is expected of them. They are supposed to want it. And when they are assaulted, instead of speaking about the trauma they revel in the “success,” often masking the hurt and confusion.
What Barry sees as off-putting bragging coming from Brown is actually him coping with the assault by placing it in a context of a version of masculinity that allows him to feel better about the situation. In Brown’s mind, it was all just a part of growing up. That’s what boys are supposed to do. He really wanted to because he had watched so much porn. It prepared him to have sex with many women throughout his life and be able to please them. I’m sure he believes all of that to be true and in a society that places a premium on expression of male heterosexuality, he is bragging.
But he was raped. No matter how much you hate Chris Brown, that doesn’t change.