In the summer of 2016 while I was interning at a comedy theater in LA, I matched with one the theater’s performers on Tinder. I had first seen him on TV, so I couldn’t believe we matched. He was handsome, hilarious. I was so nervous when he messaged me. I remember drafting my responses carefully — funny enough that he’d want to meet, but not so funny that I’d seem like I was trying too hard.
After we exchanged numbers, he suggested I come over to his place, which I understood to be code for sex. I said no, that I’d rather do something more date-y, and we landed on the most typical Los Angeles date idea: a hike at Griffith Park. I remember texting my girl friends in the comedy community, keeping them apprised of how things were going. They couldn’t believe I was going out with him, and I couldn’t either.
We met near Griffith Park and got food and hiked and talked. I tried to be myself and bring up his career just enough. I wanted to show that I was aware of who he was, but not in a creepy way. The date seemed to go well, and at the end, he asked me to come inside his place, which I understood to be code for sex. I was not ready for that, but I did need to use the bathroom, so I went. Before I left, we kissed, and it was nice.
Arranging date number two immediately proved more difficult. He asked me to go over to his place again, and I felt stuck. If I said no, it would be my third time rejecting his advances. I knew I wasn’t ready to have sex with him, but he didn’t seem interested in any of my other date suggestions, and I didn’t want to give up on what I thought could be the perfect guy. So I went over.
It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes into the movie Pride & Prejudice & Zombies that we started making out, and I remember feeling comfortable then. After a little while, he said we should go to his room, and I said I wanted to stay on the couch. So we stayed there, for a while, but then gradually things moved to his room. Our clothes started to come off. I felt so uncomfortable. I couldn’t stay hard, and I remember he didn’t seem to have any problem with that.
A few minutes in, I put my clothes back on and said we should move back to the couch where we started watching the movie again. And then the same process happened again: making out on the couch, moving to his room, us taking our clothes off, him enjoying himself, and me, uncomfortable and nervous, not getting hard, and finally putting my clothes back on.
I left that night, giving some excuse for why I wasn’t aroused and devastated by the whole experience. I was so embarrassed. This wasn’t just a hook-up. This was someone I looked up to who presumably had sway at the theater where I was an intern. I remember feeling like it was all my fault, so I started Snapchatting dirty things to him, desperate for his approval.
When I finally decided to end things, he did not take it well. I felt terrible hurting him and was terrified about its implications for my growth as a comedian. At my intern shifts at the theater, I’d see him around and get texts from him commenting on how I looked. I remember feeling pinched, as if I rejected him too hard, my own path and reputation in the comedy community would be tarnished.
I remember analyzing who his friends were, and if they were teachers or coaches, I would avoid them because they surely wouldn’t be rooting for me. Every rejection I experienced came with added “what ifs” of the political process behind the scenes: how much of a did role he or people he shared this story with play in the rooms decisions get made? To this day, those fears have not subsided, however irrational they may be.
Shortly thereafter, a friend in the comedy community asked me on a date. I was honest and told him I was not in the right headspace for dating, but I was craving queer friends. He seemed cool with that, and we met for lunch, and it was a ton of fun. We went back to his place because I needed to borrow a wig for a show I was doing, and there, we smoked a bowl and checked out his costume collection. On my way out, he tried to kiss me, which I dodged and then — for lack of knowing a better way to handle it — ran away and didn’t talk to him again for years. I couldn’t believe that even after I had said no, he still made a move. It was a violation of our friendship.
In the years since, I have barely dated in the comedy community out of fear of what might happen. I have said no to guys I’m interested in. I have ignored my own impulses because I’m scared. What if my “no” is ignored again?
Recently, I’ve begun to piece together my story and why it’s important. No, the incidents I’ve shared here do not constitute rape or sexual assault. I have been groped by strangers at bars. I have been penetrated against my will. I know the pain of sexual assault, and it is vastly different from what I’m writing about.
I am choosing to talk about this other pain because I’ve learned enthusiastic consent is the only appropriate way to approach intimacy, and I believe that it remains a massive problem in queer culture. My heart has been broken after I’ve told these stories to queer men who have replied, “…is that something you should be mad about?” Others have reacted as if my story were the latest gossip. I believe this reflects a normalization of problematic sexual behavior in queer spaces. I cannot tell you how many gay and bisexual friends have also been grabbed at bars, if not worse. If my story can prevent one non-consensual ass-grab at The Abbey, it will be worth it.
Furthermore, when both of these incidents occurred, I identified as bisexual, and I often think about how relentlessly bisexuals are understood to want to have sex with anyone, at any time — and how that misperception might have played into my experiences. Far too many gay men who I’ve rejected sexually have accused me of harboring latent homophobia or said something to the effect of, “Let me know when you’re gay.” And I’ve believed them. I’ve spent countless hours in therapy scouring and scrubbing my soul. I sometimes self-identify as gay now because I know it’ll invite less bitterness from some folks.
But as my dad taught me, “Don’t let the behavior of idiots affect yours,” and I know I’ve let these experiences bring me down. I’ve been cold to some people. I’ve been distant to others. I’ve floated in and out of comedy circles, holding onto my anger. Worst of all, I’ve self-isolated, which I’ve recognized years later only hurts myself. I’ve passed up the promise of happiness because of these old fears.
And I am so over it!
As terrified as I am to share my story and perspective, I know doing so is a crucial step on my journey of healing. I also know my story is not unique. It’s possible me sharing my experience will help someone else grow past their own trauma. Countless brave women have stood up to powers much greater than the ones I’ve written about here, and they paved the way for me. I hope my story can serve that purpose for someone else.
So, to anyone who is still holding onto your own story: remember that your scars are not who you are. You are how you decide to heal.