It’s become devastatingly clear in the last week that sexual assault is pervasive in our community, as it is everywhere else. The women who come forward with allegations against powerful men are exceedingly brave, and in putting their names to their accusations and demanding legal action, they’re doing something important. Their experiences are just a few examples of a big and a systemic and an insidious problem. It’s estimated that less than 35 percent of sexual assaults are reported to police; many people stay silent because they fear harm to the jobs they need to pay their bills, or because they don’t want to relive the trauma of an attack. For every victim who comes forward, there are dozens more who won’t or can’t speak out publicly. There are literally thousands of those stories. But we can continue to tell them, and share them, and give the power back to the victims. This is one of those stories.
A white piece of paper with a large black line across it. Tarnished. Damaged goods.
That is how I described myself to my therapist when I told her.
I am a woman. I am a young, queer woman who loves the arts. I’ve never wanted to do anything with my life but spend it creating and performing. So I do it. I am lucky and I know this.
A little over two years ago, I found myself working at a theatre in Toronto as “the help” (by this I mean I was doing a service job as opposed to working as an artistic or creative team member). We all have rent to pay, so I thought I might as well spend my “joe job” time in a theatre.
There was a man in one of the shows. A very friendly, charming, smart man who would come by and start conversations with me. This often happens. We’re in a very social community and working in a theatre can lead to wonderful relationships.
One night he asked if we could have a chat after the show. I agreed. I hung around for an extra half hour or so, doing some work. We met afterwards and spoke briefly. About what, I can’t quite remember. Likely something about how much we both loved theatre and how lucky we were to be part of this community. We continued to spend time together over the course of the run, and it was nice to have a new friend. Flirtations arose and a few innocent kisses were exchanged.
The night of the second-to-last show, he had another performance, a late-night set at a bar. He invited me and I gladly went. The show ended after midnight, and the bars were open late, so we stayed out for a while and enjoyed the night. We danced and laughed and drank. I had three gin and sodas. I’ve had three drinks in a night before, but I have never lost most of my memories as a result.
At some point after the last drink, which I didn’t order myself, I got a ride home with some people I’d met. The majority of it is a blur of images. The next thing I can remember is stumbling on a sidewalk near a park, no clue where I was, filled with the strange sensation of being unable hold myself upright. I felt like a newborn calf that didn’t yet know how to walk. I’d lost control of basic motor functions in a way that three drinks just doesn’t do.
Eventually, I got home. I am not sure how. And then he got to my home. Even after I’d left him that night, he showed up at my apartment.
Then morning came. I lay in my bed next to this man, who turned to me and said, “You were such a delirious mess last night.” I responded with a half smile. He left. He did his final show. Then he left town. And I left my body, paralyzed in that bed.
I slept on the couch in the living room for the next few nights, giving my roommates excuses for why I was more comfortable there. Eventually I had to switch rooms. Then I moved altogether. The relief that came from sleeping in my new home was unparalleled.
I wrote him a message in regards to what happened a few weeks later. I never received a response. I found out that he’d had a girlfriend the entire time I’d known him, and I wrote her. She asked questions, and it broke my heart to answer her, but I did, in a vague way. I never heard from either of them again.
I stayed at the job for a little over a year longer, ignoring the stress it brought me to be in that building. Eventually I heard he might be coming back to do another show. I asked my manager about it, and told her what had happened. She looked at me with sad eyes and said she was sorry. We never discussed it again. I quit that job.
He has continued to work at that theatre, in successful shows no less. I continue to avoid that part of town. I made it easy for him to come back. I left, he stayed. I was replaceable, he was not. I was the help. He was the artist. He had the upper hand.
When you don’t have a name, a secured position, how much do you have to lose?
A friend of mine sent me a New York Times article that outlines the many levels of vulnerability that come with an imbalanced power dynamic. The piece sums up the difficulty of being the person at a disadvantage: having to keep a good reputation at work, and what that can cost. This kind of situation isn’t something that just happens between established actors and directors or producers or writers. We need to remember it is happening to the people who are still trying to get their foot in the door. It happens every single day.
Mine is but one of countless stories. For each one shared, there are many still hidden, and understandably so. We are in an industry that is inherently archaic. Performers still fear speaking up because of the worry of being seen as difficult, the fear that their careers will be put in jeopardy. It’s just too easy for those in power to never hire someone again if they don’t want to. But no one should feel they have to sacrifice themselves or put themselves on the line in seeking justice.
I’ve listened to others and supported this ongoing movement feeling like a hypocrite because I hadn’t come forward and shared my experiences. But I am tired of feeling like I am losing. The more people speak out, the more powerful this is. We need each other more than ever. The time for change is now and it is the responsibility of everyone.