As It Happened: When #MeToo hit the Nashville LGBTQ community

Photo by James Barr on Unsplash

There was a time when John Lasiter convinced himself that he was complicit, that he somehow consented to the encounter.

Because it wasn’t a violent attack. A monster didn’t jump out of the bushes.

“I had a construction business, aside from my full-time job, and he hired me, hired my company, to work for him at his house, painting. That’s where it happened, at his house.”

“It was about 10:30 in the morning and I was hungry early for lunch and my co-worker went to go get us food. I was washing out paint brushes in the sink when I felt him come up behind me and just start kissing my neck.”

Even as he described the situation, after all the time that has passed, John couldn’t help but smooth out the edges of his attack. He didn’t seem to realize he was doing it, in fact.

“I honestly not once thought of him that way,” he said. “I was dating someone at the time and, let me tell you, at twenty years old I was so like that perfect angel where I’d never even think about kissing somebody else, let alone anything further than that. It was not even on my mind in any way.”

“I’m gonna be honest,” he said. “I think this is something that most people go through in this situation. I thought… I’ll just go along with it. Even though I was seriously sick to my stomach, I decided to stall him. Let’s go brush our teeth, I said. Because his breath was so bad. I wanted to stall, and so that’s what we did. We went to the bathroom. I put toothpaste in my mouth, thinking the whole time how do I get out of here?! That’s how intense it was. Like, as soon as I was alone he pounced.”

According to John, from there they moved back into the kitchen, where he had been painting. Still in a panic, he hoped that enough time had gone by, that they could perhaps agree that the moment had passed and move on with the work.

“So I started walking toward the kitchen where I was painting and grabbed a brush,” he said, “because that was my next idea, like, alright, thanks so much… that was… whatever it was. I’m going back to paint now and I remember shaking. It was the worst feeling, it was like my whole body was on fire because I just wanted to be out of there.”

“But when I got into the kitchen he grabbed my arm, not forcefully at all, it was very flirtatious — and I want to be careful and say there was no violence — but it still felt forceful, very forceful and that’s why I have to make sure that I don’t describe it as violence but it felt like I didn’t have a choice. It was light as a feather but felt like a chain that pulled me toward the couch, that was facing the kitchen because we’d moved it away to paint, and there he just started going frantically all over the place on me. And I remember thinking, this is the worst experience I’ve ever had. This is the worst sexual experience ever. Ever. And it really was and it still is.”

“He reached down into my pants, very forcefully,” he said. “I remember it hurt. Which added to my discomfort. I clearly was not into it, not even looking at him, I said ‘I wanna get back to work,’ at that time thinking, well maybe he’ll think that I’m professional. He’ll think ‘oh he’s really trying to do his job. I gotta leave him alone to do his job.’ But then he stood up and looked at me like… I felt like… it was horrible. I felt like I’d done something wrong. That’s where the switch happened, like a hatred, almost instantly. He turned his back and walked away, went back into the yard, started working, and my co-worker came in five minutes later and he was like ‘What are you doing?!’ I was still sitting on the couch, in a stupor.”

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

“All this time I was like ‘What did I do? What did I do.’”

Fourteen years have passed and, despite his best effort to put it behind him, John continued to relive the moment and battled internally the anger and resentment that would result.

Until the Harvey Weinstein news broke. Until we learned more about Kevin Spacey. And then Jeffrey Tambor. Brett Ratner. Louis C.K. (The list really does go on and on.)

A common reaction to undiagnosed trauma, he tried to avoid acknowledging it until he couldn’t suppress it any longer. The more he read about the high profile sexual assault cases from Hollywood, the statements of the victims especially, the more he recognized his own situation.

“When I heard other people coming out and saying the same things [on the news reports], it seems so cliché but it really is true,” he said. “I was like oh, this is a pattern that I’m seeing and this is a characteristic of these situations, and that’s exactly how I felt.

John realized wasn’t complicit at all. He was violated.

The comedian Louis C.K., while accepting responsibility for his sexual misconduct, expressed an ambiguity in his culpability. “When you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question,” he said in an official statement. “It’s a predicament for them.”

“It seems so simple,” John said, “but it really is what turned the lightbulb on for me.”

And it’s complicated, too, because even though the gay community in Nashville has grown in tandem with the city proper, it remains small enough that you can’t avoid certain people. Especially if you want to.

“I continued to work with him for a year after that, at the other place” he said. “He was one of the managers at my full-time job, and I basically felt helpless because he so confidently treated me horribly. I drank too much at a holiday party later that year and he somehow convinced me that I did stuff that, especially at the time when I was that young, I just broke down and started crying in front of him, and that motherfucker comforted me! He said, it’s ok, John. Everybody’s a whore at one point in their life. I thought that he was telling me because he cared.

And I was like ‘I don’t remember doing that’ and then one of the owners of the company later told me, he was like ‘No you did not! You went and grabbed some Rice Krispie treats and sat in a corner by yourself.” But he [the perpetrator] literally told me that I gave… and named names and situations and said, ‘you went around and gave everybody head.’ It was horrible. It was horrible to think that it was true. Several people have told me that none of it is true.”

A close personal friend of John’s verified the incident, that John spoke of it almost immediately after it happened in 2003, and she verified as well the discomfort it brought him through the ensuing years. “I remember that John always didn’t like him going forward, and that person had caused him a lot of trouble. Any time he came up or we saw him anywhere, John always said to me something like, ‘I can’t stand that guy.” That sort of thing. It was ongoing from that time

More recently John said he was excited and honored a few years ago when he was asked to contribute to a local committee, until he showed up to the first meeting and realized his assailant was asked to join the committee as well.

“Part of me is thinking that even though it’s weighed on me for fifteen years, maybe it hasn’t even phased him,” he said, “but apparently it has enough to where these attacks continue with the defamation. And it’s really nasty stuff that he’s telling people. I haven’t touched drugs, or any kind of drug, in well over a decade, and that kind of stuff is being said and it just absolutely breaks my heart. It’s another form of abuse.”

“I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘what is your issue with this individual?’ I would say that I don’t have an issue and then they would go on to tell me that he was saying some very damaging and untrue things. The thing about it is… he forced himself on me, I pushed back, I resisted, and I’m being attacked again?!”

Still, John’s reason for talking now isn’t to settle any scores. He refused to tell me the name of his attacker. What he wants is a conversation in this community about sexual misconduct. It may seem a topic that’s beyond the pale, given our community’s historical connections to sexual liberation in general, flirtation and bar culture specifically. But the professional fall of famed Nashville publicist Kirt Webster proves two things about sexual assault: it isn’t confined to straight people and it happens right here in our own backyard.

“I know mine is not a big, fantastic story,” he said. “It’s just one of the millions that I can only imagine. But it’s worse than a fantastic story because it’s this emotion that you don’t even know how to cope with it.”

“It doesn’t have to be a violent attack,” he said. “It can be something that seems subtle and insignificant but the fact that it lingers in your mind and it turns out that it actually is a trauma for fifteen years is what the conversation needs to be now.”

“Because a violation is a violation.”

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