Jeannie Mai from 'The Real' Opens up about How She Overcame Abuse and Forgiving Her Mom for Not Believing Her
"The Real" co-host Jeannie Mai revealed last year that she was the victim of sexual abuse in the hands of a family member when she was a child. Now, she's opening up about how she managed to overcome the trauma and how she forgave her mom for not believing in her at the start.
A FAMILIAR ABUSER
She was nine at the time the abuse started, and the perpetrator was a teenage family member who was called in by her Vietnamese immigrant parents, Olivia TuTram Mai and James Mai, to babysit her while they were working.
"As a victim of sexual abuse, there are things that I’ll never get back, like my childhood, my innocence." - Jeannie Mai.
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Growing up first gen in the Bay Area, I only knew how to be a hella proud Vietnamese girl. I spoke Vietnamese, I thought in Vietnamese... my loving, goal focused, hard-working household didn't feel any different from the American families around me. It wasn't until I entered kindergarten & struggled speaking English that I noticed I was different. I couldn't understand what the kids were saying, but I could certainly feel their mocking of my Viet language when I defended myself. I ran home to ask my mom why she didn't teach me English. @TheMamaMai told me something in Vietnamese I will never forget... "A foreign accent is the sign of a survivor." It changed the way I heard myself and my family members speak. My mom was right, I eventually learned how to speak English (thx Sesame Street👋🏼) and later I even taught my new friends from school how to speak in Viet. ("Pho is fuh, not foh 😉🍜) All to say, in today's ongoing conversation about minorities, it's mad vital than ever for us to recognize the value behind the accent, the cultures, and the influence we have on this country. I took the #IActOn pledge today with @ceo_action, and am committing to having more conversations around diversity and inclusion. Will you take the #IActOn pledge with me? TAG YO SQUAD! My goal is to contribute 20k pledges. Link in bio babes 💙
The abuse went on until Jeannie was 13, and as she revealed on "The Real," she didn't speak earlier because she was going through a trifecta of fear, anger, and shame.
Fear about what would happen to her family if she spoke, anger about letting it go for so long, and shame because deep down, there was a Stockholm syndrome because her abuser was someone she cared about and was supposed to trust.
PUTTING A STOP TO THE ABUSE
When Jeannie finally got the courage to tell her mother what was happening, Olivia didn't believe her because the boy's character didn't match with what Jeannie was saying he did.
“When I look at the five years that he abused me, I believed him over myself. Then, when I looked to my mom for help, her dismissing of the situation taught me to dismiss my intuition.”
Last May, Jeannie and Olivia sat down to discuss the situation for the first time in years in a YouTube video for her show "Hello Hunnay."
There, Mai explained to her mom that she felt angry when she told her everything her cousin did to her, and Olivia replied with: "I don’t believe you. He wouldn’t do that. That’s your cousin. This is in your head."
"I felt by myself. I even got to a point where I started to ask myself, ‘Did I imagine these things?'" Jeannie continued.
Then, at 16, Jeannie ran away from home and moved to San Francisco, where she started working as a makeup artist at a strip club that paid her $50 a month.
She used to crash at some drag queens' couches, until she landed a job at MAC, and started to get acquainted with celebrities.
Mai became estranged from her family and didn't speak to her mom for eight years.
That's it, until she walked into her doorstep and, once again, relived everything she had told her earlier in life. This time around, Olivia believed her and showing regret for not doing so earlier.
In their YouTube video, Olivia revealed to Jeannie that she had actually gone and confronted her abuser years later, threatening him with taking him to the police.
For Jeannie, hearing that from her mom took a weight off her shoulders.
THE SCARS OF NOT BEING TRUSTED
Even after reconciling with her mother, Jeannie hasn't been able to overcome her social anxiety and trust issues to this day.
She says those feelings stem from not feeling safe at home for so long, and from being disappointed in the people she believed she could trust the most.
Those issues have managed to perm into her work life, and every single one of her relationships and she says she's "sick of it."
Jeannie and Olivia attended therapy together, which was a massive step into healing their bond, considering that in the Vietnamese culture, talking about feelings or going to a psychologist is not a common thing.
The 40-year-old TV host has turned her experience into a tool for helping others and raising awareness about sexual abuse.
She believes there's a reason why she's on television and has a huge platform to share what she's been through.
“As a victim of sexual abuse, there are things that I’ll never get back, like my childhood, my innocence,” she concluded. “My outlet has become having a mission.”
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