Tai Allen is a multidisciplinary creative—
poet, performer, music and event producer, graphic designer, to name a few of
his many hats. He is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. His recently
published chapbook, No Jewels: A
Biography (of sorts) Writ in Stanzas
, through revelatory poetry
uses his violation and ultimate healing to illuminate the staggering statistic
that one in six
men have experienced sexual abuse or assault and offer hope that “pain and
trauma do not need to be permanent. Love and contentment are better options.”

Long before he grew into commanding presence,
towering height, and manhood, he was preyed upon by rapacious family members
older than he (a male cousin and an undisclosed female relative) who desired
manly acts from a boy with still “hairless parts.” A summer of stolen
innocence: locked-door Saturday baths and illicit midday trysts; what child
should know of these?

While on a multi-city book tour, Allen spoke
to Curly Nikki with guarded frankness about his traumatic experiences, and
using his platform as an artist to give voice to those silenced by fear, shame,
and stigma.

First,
thank you for your willingness to share your difficult story. You were so young
when it all started.
Yes, between nine and ten.
By
being a relative, your abuser had greater access to you than someone who wasn’t
part of the family. Did the person “groom” you for it so to speak?
I’m not sure. If she didn’t groom me before,
she was certainly very active in trying to get me to forget about it. And I did
for a long time. I forgot about it until I was about seventeen– it was like a
eureka moment. She was always so nice to me, lavished me with gifts; I couldn’t
figure out why. One day I just remembered. There were actually two situations;
one with my cousin, but I punched him in the face and fought him off, and that
was the end of that. My female relative was much older, late teens.
Despite
her attempt at normalizing her actions, you always knew that they shouldn’t be
happening? 
Yes, but I didn’t have the language to explain
it. I never did until I got older. She was, I think, bipolar. Abuse is usually
about power, but when it’s someone who’s not too well, it’s power and a level
of insanity.
How did
you handle the unexpected re-emergence of your childhood abuse in your
consciousness during adolescence?
Not very well. [I felt] disrespected.
Betrayed. Angry. Fooled. Gaslighted. Mad. Violent. It took me ten years to
fully reconcile how wack both persons were. They both need therapy. And maybe,
a good smack.
Although
you didn’t undergo therapy, you suggest it for others.
Yes, there is even a number to an agency for
readers in the back of the book. I did not get therapy, but I had compassionate
listeners. Expression and compassion work in unison. 
So, how
did you find healing?
The assumption is that it was art, everyone
assumes that, but it’s not true. I am the son and godson of black militants.
They were big on character and personality building. Ever since I was young, I
was given the tools to deal with white oppression and supremacy and those same
tools work when dealing with personal abuse. More than anything else, they gave
me legacy. They gave me something to believe in. They made sure I had a real
affection for community and the Diaspora.
You may
not have come to rely on your art as therapy, but do think there is some
catharsis through art? 
Hell yes! Sports, hobbies, art, it is about
finding outlets that can return the soul to your center. Finding peace is the
goal. I truly believe holding on to distressing experiences will create
ailments.
Your
experience made you vigilant of your two daughters. How did you teach your
girls to protect themselves when not under a parent’s watchful eye?
The girls require a conversation that reminds
them all people and spaces are not safe. And the danger can come from males who
sheep their intentions. I understand power is also emotional and mental; I pray
I have informed them that sex can be used against them. From abuse to coercion
to faux sympathy. Plus, my daughters are Black. Society is often not fond of
Black women.
Although
No Jewels directly addresses the
experience of a male survivor of sexual abuse, its theme of moving through
trauma, from surviving into thriving is universal.
I wanted to write a book that men—and
others—could use as proof that trauma can be overcome. That proves pain does
not have be wallowed in, no matter how terrible the horror.
Your
poem “very afraid” touches on the specter of the abused becoming an abuser, in
hiding. The book also shares that although many abusers have been victims of
abuse, statistically most survivors do not go on to abuse others.
True, and there should be an acknowledgment
for those who did not become generational predators after being victims. I see
them.
You
offer a downloadable Blues/R&B/Acid Jazz soundtrack to the book. What
inspired it?
I am a multidisciplinary artist. Absorbing the
project in multiple ways can only enhance receiving its message. I wrote the
book using triolet (a French writing
style), senriyu (a Japanese form
close to haiku) and “song” to resemble the African oral tradition.  All three forms scream musicality. I just
listened to the call.

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