(Editor’s note: Brave Andrea Constand’s testimony against Bill Cosby and trans survivor Harper Jean’s comments at a #BelieveSurvivors rally highlight the fact that the #MeToo movement also impacts the LGBT community. To encourage more discussion, we are coming out with our stories, too. – Troy Masters and Karen Ocamb)
As a very young child growing up in 1970s Nashville, it was no secret I was gay. Not at all.
I adored my mother and grandmothers; loved Princess, my German Shepard; treasured my action figure dolls; worshiped David Cassidy; and ran home every day from school to watch Dr. Smith protect himself with Will Robinson on “Lost In Space.” I had a gallery of the latest male teen heartthrob Tiger Beat posters above my bed. If there was a beauty pageant on TV, I was making cardboard crowns and dressing my sister up to make her the winner.
I was also adventurous and trusting, loved talking to adults about current events, art and music. For most people at that time, the presumption might have been that I was precocious rather than gay. But being gay was something I had already, though privately, embraced as my own truth.
When I was 14 or 15 years old I traveled alone for the first time in my life, taking “The Floridian” from Dothan, Ala., where I had spent my summer, returning home to my family in Nashville.
I was not at all afraid.
On that train, I remember the first time I saw the maitre’d of the Amtrak dining car. “He’s gay like me,” I thought. It was my first independent encounter with another person like me, unshielded by family.
And, yes, I accepted his attention. I needed the very private affirmation of his glances. It wasn’t sexual attraction, at least not for me, but I was overjoyed to be able to interact, unmonitored with someone else like me.
But that day has impacted me in the most profound ways, ways that I am still comprehending.
The maitre’d, after my meal, found me in another car on the train and invited me on a tour that eventually led to his private cabin, behind a locked door and into his bed.
What I thought was innocent and flirtatious affection quickly turned sexual and into a full-fledged rape. I panicked as he undressed me, unable to yell out and frozen by fear. I was falling into a deepening shame that was almost like a dissociation, something I found myself doing in moments of childhood stress from that moment on. Occasionally, even now.
Eventually I was able to cry. But instead of relenting, he placed a pillow over my face and continued, pressing himself ever harder, more aggressively as I screamed and tried to get away.
He did give up and he let me go.
I ran back to my seat and found an elderly woman who I sat next to, thinking she would protect me. He came back and he charmed her, inviting us both back to the dining car and to my horror she wanted to go. So we did and it turned out she was the sister of House Judiciary Committee chair Peter Rodino.
Our conversation that day saved my life and she listened to my crazy fantastic tales and dreams, helping me avoid focusing on the trauma I had just experienced.
But it was a formative sexual experience that over the years has never fully left me. It robbed me of innocence, disrupted my enjoyment of sex, and slowed the development of my confidence. It blurred my focus and made trust an extremely difficult prospect for me. Even into my adulthood it has made me vulnerable, sometimes accepting bad bargains rather than negotiating to put my best interests forward.
I have not used it as a crutch. I honestly haven’t given the experience much thought over the years. I spent so much energy as a child, after all, not letting on that anything had happened.
There was no safe person to tell. While I knew without a doubt that I was gay, telling anyone about the rape would not only have outed me (and I was not prepared for that), it would have forced me to deal with anger and hatred toward gays I was already trying to avoid at home.
What authority would believe a gay kid in 1975?
In writing this article, I shared it first with my mother and sister, neither of whom have any memory of me traveling alone. My memory of these events is as bright as sun but I can understand their resistance. For my mom, I think, it just felt jarringly out of her parental playbook that I would ever be allowed to travel alone. My sister may have been too young to remember. I can allow them that; we have an extraordinary and loving relationship that was never affected in anyway. But this memory is seared in my brain.
I completely understand why these incidents go unreported. Rapists are gifted opportunists, looking for people in situations they can exploit.
#MeToo is a complex movement that seeks an even more complex variable of justice. But it is not a subterfuge of due process, as some have argued, unqualified by the lens of trauma and time or lack of evidence.
Victims should be believed and those accused should face their accusers. Very few are ever accused.
I cannot imagine that Brett Kavanaugh sees himself as Dr. Ford’s rapist. I’m sure my rapist, who I hope is dead and rotting in hell, would never have seen himself as my rapist.
LGBT people are part of a vanguard movement that has made it possible for gay youth to report rape and find justice. And the Women’s Movement has made it possible for women like Dr. Ford to fight back.
But the forces that seek to shunt aside the allegations against Kavanaugh—devil-be-damned—are the same forces that support a president who brags about sexually harassing women.
By refusing to stay silent anymore, by refusing to let that rapist claim space in my head, by coming out as a survivor of sexual assault, I proudly stand with others as part of the #MeToo movement.