Zoe’s Story: No one will shame me for this

Zoe’s Story: No one will shame me for this

Amid all of the #metoo conversations, many have wondered what took these women so long to come forward. I remember last year when over 50 accusations of sexual misconduct, drugging, and rape came out against one of my beloved comedic icons. I remember what I thought…why did these women take so long to come forward? Why are they trying to ruin this family man? This black man? One of us who made it! I identified so much more with the race of one person than I did with myself as a woman. I felt badly for him, not the hers, even though I was a her, a survive-her.

I’ve had conversations with men about Harvey Weinstein and other notable Hollywood men who have been exposed during the reckoning. I’ve listened and freely shared my own experience…you know, of being a woman. But as the allegations continue to come forward and the discussion continues to be so forthright, I realize that I too have a story to share.

I’ve spent most of my life very sheltered. I was taught to dress modestly. I didn’t kiss a boy until I went to college. And to be honest, I didn’t quite understand sexual nature, as I hadn’t had any experiences.

I guess you could say that I dodged a lot of mess by remaining abstinent for my 20s. I decided at a very young age that I was not going to have sex until I was married. I had this idea that I would meet a special man of my dreams and we would be so in love that a magical cloud would carry us into marital sexual pleasure. I decided to wait, and I was okay with that, really. I knew that I had the power of deciding with whom I would allow to “deflower” me. And I feel like I walked around with a sense of purity. As a result, my dating game was not very strong. I’ve had men literally…and I do mean, literally, laugh in my face and run in circles down the street, like a mad man, only to return to me, out of breath, asking me to clarify my sexual state of virginity. I’ve had men just stop talking to me or try to “play the role” of the understanding, sensitive, metrosexual only to then try and Jedi-mind trick me into sleeping with them or providing them with some sort of sexual pleasure. I had something to learn from them, and they were willing to be the teacher, while I was the student.

I started to realize that my understanding of sex was an anomaly. I seemed to never cross paths with anyone who saw it the same as I did.

When it happened to me, I didn’t know that it happened to me, but it did. And I share it with you, four years later, to show that even if someone is a survive-her, she still may not recognize that she is. It’s easier to go along with being OKAY, than it is to say your truth.

I met him at a training. It was a national training for a literacy program for underprivileged kids. We had similar interests, he looked just like Common (the rapper), and he lived in LA (the city that was going to change my life!) So I was a bit more open to experiences than before. We spent a night hanging out, had a drink together, talked and shared stories. I honestly think I was blinded by his MBA and Common looks.

So I moved to LA where I thought my Common-like friend and I would go out on dates and eventually have a relationship. I began texting him and he responded with sexual questions. I even visited his work and brought him LUNCH! We went jogging on the beach one morning and then communicated from then on out. In hindsight, I wish I would have had more experience with men, because I would have understood that this guy…this one who looked like Common, had an MBA, and worked with the youth, wasn’t as good as I thought he was! He wasn’t the catch! And he certainly wasn’t the one I would ride off on a magical cloud with!

One night, as my life was falling apart in LA (typical newbie LA moment!) I reached out to him for comfort for the evening. I asked if I could stay the night, as my living situation was becoming problematic. He was okay with me crashing for the night, even though I made it very clear that I was not ready for anything sexual. I comfortably got into bed with him, and we went to sleep. No problem, right?

You see, this evening should have been simple, however, it was nothing of the sorts. It turned out to be a horror story and an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Fast forward to me on the ground…him taking my clothes off…me expressing how he could. Not. Go. Inside. Of. Me. Him stating that he didn’t think he would get another chance after that night. Me saying no. Him holding my arms down. Me saying stop. Him telling me that I was almost 30 and I should have done this by now. Me…disappearing. Him not finishing and getting off of me. Him asking me to finish him off. Me sitting on the ground in the corner trying to figure out how to leave. Me asking him to walk me to my car. Me…driving home, wondering what happened.

The next morning, I sent him a message asking if he was okay. He asked me if I was okay and he said he was sorry. I, of course, being the (too) nice person that I am, told him I was fine…no worries.

The truth was that I was not fine. I took that night and buried it deep, deep, deep down, in no man’s land. Literally. I went on being happy, go lucky, not worrying about myself kind of girl. Everything was fine!

It wasn’t until I was in my acting class, and my dear coach gave me a sexual exercise. He wanted me to get up on stage and be blatantly sexual in front of a room full of people. Now before you lose it, this exercise is to help release the sexual tension in your body. It’s just you, being sexual. It’s not anything crazy or ridiculous. It’s to stretch you, and I needed to be stretched.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I stood there, frozen. Literally, frozen. I couldn’t move. My coach pushed me to complete the exercise (clearly he saw something that needed to be freed as it was affecting my work.) He told me that if I didn’t do the exercise, I would have to be open and honest about why I was reluctant to complete the task.

I was just standing there and I felt like my body was not mine. I felt heavy and afraid. I was afraid of what everyone would think of me if I told them that I had only had sex one time and it was forced by a man with an MBA and Common looks. I was afraid to tell them that I, the cool, smart, talented, SMART woman that stood in front of them week after week…the one they thought was strong and grounded, had been raped.

I opened my mouth, eyes filled with all the tears I had never cried, and told them what happened. That the pressure to submit to the sexual exercise reminded me of the night I was forced to have sex. That I was penetrated by someone whom I told no. That my voice and my strength collapsed when faced with tribulation. That the power I thought I had, in that moment, didn’t exist. That I didn’t scream, punch, scratch, but that I said no three times, and pushed up once, and then went and hid inside of myself. That I didn’t press charges or go to the police, and that the thought never crossed my mind. That the morning after it happened, I checked on him. That after it happened I tried to see him again to have sex, because I felt so confused. That he turned me down and asked me what was wrong because I didn’t sound like myself. That it damaged me so badly, that I would burst into tears if a man tried to get close to me sexually (even if I liked him, and wanted to.) That my dream of meeting a man who wanted me the way that I wanted him had burst into flames. That I couldn’t and didn’t tell my family because I thought they wouldn’t be able to handle it. That I just kept on trying to go forward with this big ole secret. That I thought I would be labeled a slut or asked what I was wearing or why I was there if I didn’t want to have sex. That I had just been really stupid and I should have listened to my gut feeling that told me to leave once I got there. That I had been carrying this around with me for so long and the release of telling others made me feel a little bit more like myself. That I can understand why all of these women didn’t say a word.

I eventually found some light through my art. I got together with a group of women to work on The Vagina Monologues. I remember one night at rehearsal we all just started talking about the abuse we had all gone through; some when they were little girls, others as teens and adults. I looked around at all of these different women. I mean, we were an inter-generational, inter-racial, intercontinental cast, but we all had this one thing in common…we had all been violated in a sexual manner. That was the one thing that we all shared. In that moment, I realized that it is the norm. That every woman I encounter, at one point in her life, shares this experience.

So when I hear someone come forward. I listen. Why? Because it’s really hard to share that in a world that automatically brands the woman as ‘asking for it.’ In a world that questions a woman’s actions as opposed to a man’s. In a world where women are bought and sold. In a world of swiping for sex.

I understand women who take pride in their strong sexual desires. I also understand women who choose to be modest, but the truth of the matter is, both are likely to be sexual harassed, assaulted, or raped. Simply being a woman puts you at risk. No matter your pay grade, education, neighborhood, status. No matter if you’re with a group or alone, married or single, black/white/brown/pink/purple/green. If you have a vagina, you are at risk of being raped.

But the amazing thing about a woman is her strength. I am stronger than ever…I made it through and am healing. I’ve gone through therapy, prayer, life coaching, and more. My art and my writing seem to be a good outlet to move forward and I 100% forgive myself! No one will shame me for this. No. one.



When You're Ready.org is a community for survivors of sexual violence to share their stories.



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