You Made Me This Way
Fourth Estate, $34.99 pb, 344 pp
Shannon Molloy’s 2020 memoir, Fourteen, recounted a childhood and adolescence of grisly homophobic violence. Yet many readers of that book – a bestseller, adapted for the stage and optioned for a film production – may find You Made Me This Way noteworthy in part because it reveals what Fourteen left out: the sexual abuse Molloy suffered, beginning at age five, at the hands of an older boy. This omission underscores one of the book’s central theses, that on average male victims of child sexual abuse find it harder than female victims to disclose their experiences. A conditioned reticence with grave implications – ‘[t]here is death in secrecy’. Molloy’s book, a hybrid of autobiography and journalism, takes socially important steps in assessing – and humanising – these implications.
The sociologist Arthur Frank uses the term ‘restitution story’ to describe the dominant Western model for writing about ill-ness, invested in ‘restoring the sick person to the status quo ante’. You Made Me This Way reads, at one level, as such a story. ‘Who can I blame,’ Molloy asks, ‘for being the way I am?’ Elsewhere, referring to male survivors in general: ‘We are this way for a reason. If I know what that reason is, can I somehow figure out a way to heal?’ And again: ‘there’s a new drive to try to fix myself’. Structurally, Molloy frames the book’s interviews with other survivors, its array of evidence affirming the adverse impacts of child sexual abuse in adulthood, and its consultations with experts in several fields as an attempt to alleviate his own psychological suffering. What makes this structure so powerful, and Molloy’s testimony so affecting, is how it reveals the core weakness of the restitution story, and the danger of cleaving to it: an urge to simplify and render static what is, particularly in chronic pain, complex and dynamic.