In The Other Side: A Memoir, Lacy M. Johnson writes about her escape from the ex-boyfriend who kidnapped and raped her.
How did you find the language to express your emotions so honestly and directly in the book?
Having written two memoirs, my goal is always to write honestly. But in this book, I didn’t want to use euphemisms or shy away from the most difficult subject matter. It wasn’t a matter so much of being honest as of being frank. This was a challenge—it required that I find words to describe an act of violence so horrendous that for 13 years I found it unspeakable. I asked myself: how can I write about something I can’t even say out loud? What you will find in The Other Side is me grappling with that question, and what it means to live with the answer.
How do perceptions of women in our culture reinforce abusive relationships like the one you endured?
On a global scale, women are not valued as individuals, and they are not taught to value themselves. At the same time, paradoxically, women’s bodies are valued. Women are valued for their physical beauty, and as lovers and mothers. Although these forces are experienced differently—one as denigrating, one as affirming—both have the same dehumanizing effect. In my experience, abusive relationships tend to exploit and replicate that larger cultural system: on the one hand, I have no value as a person; on the other hand, this one man somehow loves me anyway. It’s a profoundly powerful trap, and the result is that many women stay in dangerous relationships because they don’t believe they have the option to leave.
When the memoir is published, you’ll be speaking publicly about the kidnapping and rape for the first time. What do you hope that opportunity will provide?
My goal in writing The Other Side was very simple: to change how I think and feel about the events of the past. And now that the book is written, I do feel and think differently. But there’s another part of the process that’s now only just beginning, which is the part that requires me to give readings and to speak publicly about what happened to me and what happens to so many women every day. I imagine this will continue to change the way I think and feel about my own history. But I hope it’s also an opportunity to think publicly about how to change the way that we as a culture think and feel about all forms of violence against women.
Can you imagine becoming a spokeswoman for survivors of physical and emotional abuse?
I advocate for women every day, in every way I know how. Sometimes these are large public ways. Sometimes these are small, private ways. But what I’d prefer to imagine is all women becoming advocates for themselves.