Lord y'all. Where do I begin?
Like a lot of you, I sat down last night and watched the first two episodes of the six-part docuseries of Lifetime's Surviving R. Kelly. However, I'm not so sure my reasons behind doing it are like most.
My friends and even my (marriage life coaching) clients know that I'm the type of person who isn't nearly as interested in "the tree" (the way a person appears to be or even currently is) as I am in the "the roots" (what's going on underneath it all and the history that led them to where they are).
And so, as a sexual abuse and assault survivor myself, while I was a mixture of saddened, horrified, and empathetic with the various women that R. Kelly has manipulated, controlled, and abused over the span of his entire career (some of us should really let that sink in), it was honestly the first 30 minutes of the first episode that really stuck with me.
But let me lay the foundation for where I'm going with this first.
I was a freshman in college in 1992. R. Kelly and Public Announcement were already out and it was in the late fall of the following year when his solo LP debuted. March of 1993 is when I had sex with my first official boyfriend (I was molested by a family member before that time, but my first love is who I would've chosen to give my virginity to…had I had the chance to choose). The song that was playing in the background was "Honey Love". By winter, "It Seems Like You're Ready" was like a staple in my relationship (and sex life). A girl never forgets her first time so yes, ironically, for better or for worse, R. Kelly will be forever etched into one of the most impactful sexual and emotional experiences I've ever had.
Because of that, I think there is a weird connection I've always had towards him. I didn't just like his songs, they moved me. "Dedicated". "Sex Me". "Your Body's Callin'". "I Can't Sleep". "I Wish". "Just Like That". "When a Woman's Fed Up". "Strip for You". "The Greatest Sex". "R&B Thug". "I'm Your Angel". Y'all already know I could go on…and on…and on. Because no matter how sick he is — and Robert Kelly is indeed not well — it's irrefutable that he's a musical genius. And therein was my conflict.
Maybe that's why, several years ago, when The Boondocks did the oh-so-classic episode of how R. Kelly basically entertained his way through his court proceedings and got off because of it, I found it to be profound but also quite funny. He had already not-so-allegedly urinated in a child's mouth on video tape. And just like writer Jamilah Lemieux asked in the doc-series, "Where was Essence? Where was Ebony? Why didn't the culture say that something's wrong?" At the time, the animated character (who usually had more sense than most of the adults on the cartoon) Huey stood before the court and said, "What the hell is wrong with you people?! Every famous n*gga that gets arrested is not Nelson Mandela." #facts
And really…what is wrong with us? How could things get so far that there is now a six-part documentary series with woman after woman sobbing about the nothing-short-of-torture they've been through at the hands of someone so many of us are still in conflict about?
This is where "the roots" that I referred to earlier come in.
As someone who was molested by a family member for years and then sexually-assaulted in high school by two young men while at the school, only to have family members and then an entire school administration try and figure out how to do everything but what should've been done (which was notify the police so that all three perpetrators could be arrested), it triggered me. How is it that there are people whom are following the R. Kelly situation say things like "Why are they just saying something now?", "If they didn't want it to happen to them, they should've just left" or "Clearly they liked it…they kept doing it." Unless you've been mentally controlled and emotionally traumatized by a sexual predator, you have no idea the kind of hell it can put you through. How confusing, complex, degrading, and baffling it all can be. And then, on top of that, to have people who can't relate re-victimize survivors by telling them how and when they should handle their own violations?! From the very bottom of my heart, anyone like that, please kindly just shut up.
Yet, as I was listening to these women, something hit me.
The first episode opened up with R. Kelly's childhood. People who knew him said that he was quiet, shy, and gifted. He couldn't read (and apparently, based on what his ex-wife Andrea said, he is still illiterate as an adult). He was great at music. He was quite awkward. And he had been molested, by family members, from the ages of 7-14.
From the famous Tavis Smiley interview where R. Kelly spoke of the abuse while saying that he didn't think it was appropriate to uncover his victimizers, to his music teacher and mentor Dr. Lena McLin saying that she could tell things were wrong at home because it came out in his music, to several of his victims saying that he demanded they call him "daddy" while using lines like, "If you really love me, you'll [do what I ask]" (which is exactly what a lot of predators of children say), to his brother Bruce who was also molested describing R. Kelly's desire for younger women to be a "preference", to R. Kelly saying himself that he was a man who performed in order to lure young children (eh hem, that is what a Pied Piper is) — what came to my mind was something that I once read (and firmly believe) while I was processing how my own molester could do what he did. Someone who also grew up quiet, shy, and gifted.
There are plenty of scientific studies to support that at whatever age a child has been traumatized, they emotionally remain that way until they receive therapy (check out "Childhood Abuse May Stunt Growth of Part of Brain Involved in Emotions"). As some of the people from the beginning days of R. Kelly spoke of him repeatedly seducing 14-year-olds, that theory kept repeating in my mind.
Someone who had his own power taken away at 14 is now, as an adult, making it his mission to do the same thing to 14-year-olds. Y'all, this isn't about sex. Like most sexual offenders, it's about power. He's not "sexin'" these women, he's doing to them what was done to him. He's violating them. He's hurting them. Like his music mentor said, whether he thinks he's so-called protecting his abusers or not, R. Kelly is taking out what was done to him on countless women. I personally believe that he's either rationalizing it or denying it because "childhood abuse stunts emotional development". In other words, a part of me thinks he's right where he was when he was 14. At least emotionally. Because he never got help for his own abuse.
Putting all of this together in my own mind, aside from what these women's bravery is doing in order to heal themselves and be a voice to those who are not yet ready to speak up about their own victimization, whether they recognize it or not, they are also sounding the horn to something that we overlook far too much — the sexual abuse that happens to many young boys and men. Statistically speaking, 1 in 6 have reported experiencing sexual abuse or assault (with the operative word being "reported").
What R. Kelly has reportedly done is beyond sickening, it's criminal. Full stop. But so is what happened to him back when he was the same age as some of the young women he's pursued. And boy, does it bring new meaning to "hurt people, hurt people". Again, what he's doing isn't about sex. It's about unresolved pain.
A couple of weeks ago, R&B singer Jacquees had us all in an uproar about who is the current king of R&B. Understandably, R. Kelly's name was thrown into the ring. But out of all of the blogs and vlogs that I saw on the topic, Diddy's definition stayed with me the most:
"Let's get to the topic of R&B: we talking about rhythm and blues, we talking about sharing your soul, and making love through your music. We're talking about adoring a woman. Not just putting it down or talking about how you just want to smash her, I'm talking about adoring her. So in order to be the king of R&B you first gotta start making some R&B, you have to be vulnerable, you have to be speaking about love, you have to be able to affect women in a positive way and your ass has to be able to sing."
R&B is about adoring a woman.
Between the docuseries and this definition, none of us should be in conflict about if R. Kelly, the self-professed Pied Piper, is "the king" or not.
It's becoming more and more apparent that R. Kelly doesn't adore or even like women, healthy sexuality (one woman said sex with him felt "not natural"), or even himself (how could he?). And that alone totally taints how much of a musical genius he is. That alone leaves a residue of filth and conflict in every song he's written or performed (because if you watched the doc, you peeped the inspiration behind Michael Jackson's hit "You Are Not Alone"...right?).
This alone should make us all want to stop listening to his music (not just until the doc is over but PERIOD) and then do what he requested years ago in "I Wish" — pray for a brother — while still supporting these women in however they want justice to be sought and served. Because whether R. Kelly realizes it or not, he is caught up in a vicious a cycle of victimization and self-victimization. Not one or the other. Both.
Bottom line, no matter what R. Kelly's "tree" has accomplished, his "roots" reveal that he was introduced to sex in a very demented way. The way he's living his life — in the studio booth, on stage, and in his own compound…I mean, home — is a constant reminder of this very fact.
It's not sexy. It's painful. Very. And that is nothing short of sad and tragic.
And how can any sane person slow drag or have sex to a narrative like that?
Surviving R. Kelly – Survivors Speak Out (Part 1) | Lifetime youtu.be
Featured image by Rolling Stone via @lifetimetv.