"I let him because I didn't want to embarrass him."
WARNING: Some of the content of this article is graphic and nature.
Over the past couple of days, "#metoo" has exploded on social media with women and men from all over the world speaking up and sharing their experiences with sexual assault and harassment. The result has been both appalling and powerful. Reading the stories on my own newsfeed, I am equally disgusted with the way women have been treated and also proud of their bravery to share their stories. I've also seen that the stories have been coming from not only women but men as well.
I need to make it clear that the purpose of this column isn't in anyway an attempt to co-opt the conversation. I believe that the core of the #metoo movement is to shine a glaring light on men's abuse of women and girls. At the same time, we all know that men, especially gay men are preyed upon as well and they need to know they aren't alone. Which is why I want to share Balendin and Emory's stories.
Two performers, whose names I have changed, reached out to me and wanted to share their stories to help expose the sexual assault and harassment gay men experience in the theatre industry.
Nearly half of bisexual men and four in ten gay men have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime.
"Once, as a young actor, I was hit on by a middle-aged choreographer during a Valentine's Day cast party.
He sat next to me on a couch and intertwined his fingers into mine, put his hands on my legs and tried to get me alone all night. We were in an apartment full of people. Everyone saw what was happening. Then, in front of several cast mates, he told me how awful my audition had been and how I should feel very lucky because he and the director had given me a chance.
"You looked like you didn't even want to be there, but we wanted you here." Whatever the fuck that meant.
When he finally managed to get me alone in the parking lot after the party, he kissed me. I let him because I didn't want to embarrass him. And it was quick and he wasn't aggressive about it.
Over the next few days, he tried to convince me we should "give it a shot" when we got back to the city. I said I didn't want to be "that chorus boy" who sleeps with the choreographer. When I finally flat out rejected his advances, he got so angry with me that he made the rest of the production hell. (He was also in the show.) From getting other cast mates to literally point and laugh as I walked by, to not answering my professional questions then faulting me for it, to refusing to be in pictures with me closing night. Thankfully, it was only a three-week run.
Months later, in another show we were both in (again he was choreographer and dance captain), much closer to the city, he continued to harbor such anger that one day before an understudy rehearsal, he literally cornered me in our dressing room and berated me for 10 minutes about how I had mistreated him, how it was "his turn", how I had made a fool of him and he wouldn't stand for it, and how I was the one who led him on and should leave the show. Our stage manager had to physically remove him from the dressing room. I then had to rehearse with him for two hours. The next day he had his own dressing room for the rest of the 3-month run, converted from a supply closet in the wings stage right.
He has never apologized.
I reported it to the HR department/producer at the theater. A more established cast mate tried to speak to our director about his behavior but was scolded herself. No action was taken - other than his private dressing room. I was never hired back. At all future auditions for that theater and that director, I was immediately cut. He continued to work there for years."
"To this day I still can't walk into the Shubert, which really sucks because I want to see Hello Dolly! so badly, but I just know that the moment I step inside that theatre, the pain comes back. The pain of being knowing that I was raped, knowing that the man who did it used his position of power to prey on me, knowing that I wasted years of my life denying it, rationalizing it and trying to forget. But it never works. It doesn't matter if I'm looking in the mirror of a dressing room, putting on black shoes or being intimate with anyone, it just keeps coming back.
I was 22, fresh out of college, ready to take the Broadway industry head-on. I was also recently out. I mean, everyone who knew me knew I was gay, but I didn't say anything until the winter before I graduated.
About six months after moving to a small apartment in Astoria, I found myself in an audition for a big Broadway show. I was asked to stick around which I thought meant something good. One of the other dancers, let's call him Sanders, I guess took a liking to me. He stood near me and dropped lines like,
"You should know that I'm pretty good friends with the director, I'm almost positive I'll be in this."
And the classic,
"I could put in a good word for you if you want."
Being young, inexperienced with professional auditions and with me, I pretty much went along with everything. From accepting offers for extra help sessions to dinner that night to coming back to his apartment afterward.
I should have seen what was going to happen. He said to me,
"I'm what's known as being the "faculty advisor". It seems everyone young man I help out makes it huge. I think I can be of some help to you."
"That would be amazing", I replied.
"I think you and me are going to be a good fit", he said as he cornered me against his cold brick wall.".
I wish we as humans, had the ability for us to leave our bodies for moments at a time. Then I wouldn't have had to feel him force his tongue down my throat. Push my head down to perform oral sex. Force me against the wall as he raped me. I wish I had a voice to say something but every time I was going to, I just kept thinking,
"It will be worth it."
After he was done, I started to gather my clothes. He sat on the couch and said, "Where are you going? That was just round one honey, I've got some more in me".
He then took my black shoes from my hand and threw them across the room before pushing me onto the couch and raping me a second time.
"It will be worth it."
It wasn't. I never spoke to him after that. I didn't get the part and but he did, in a show in the Shubert.
I have a hard time being alone with men now, both professionally and privately. I made my boyfriend wait almost a year before we had sex. What I hate the most is that the memories of that night creep into my head at the most random and sometimes intimate moments.
I'd like to say I'm getting better at dealing with it, but I'm probably lying to myself."
If you have been a victim of sexual assault or harassment, there are ways you can report it and ask for help. You are not alone.
Oh and I chose the names "Balendin" and "Emory" because they both mean brave. To everyone who is sharing their "#metoo" experiences, you have more courage than I will ever know.
National Sexual Assault Hotline – can also refer you to a local rape crisis center
1-800-656-HOPE (4673) 24/7 or
Online Counseling at https://ohl.rainn.org/online/
Love is Respect Hotline
1-866-331-99474 (24/7) or Text “loveis” 22522