'One thing I can do now to heal is tell my story'
“I’ve had several different sexual abuse and harassment experiences that range from ages 8 to 33,” said local artist Casey Promise who identifies as a queer woman. “I was preyed on by high school teachers, friends of my parents, family, a cop, former employers, two doctors, and friends. All were men and all but one was heterosexual. I seemed to be a magnet: a shy and vulnerable piece of meat for sick men.”
These experiences have influenced the way she relates to her sexuality. “My parents joked about how much of a tomboy I was at an early age. Sometimes I wonder if I would’ve been bisexual,” she added, “if I hadn’t had so much sexual trauma with men starting so young. I started dating women in 1996, but did try dating a couple of men in the last twenty years. However, it never felt right sexually or emotionally.”
“Also, I had a hard time standing up for myself against men because of the abuse,” she added. “My mother was a gay rights activist, Sociology teacher and worked for Nashville Cares in the early 90’s. She took my brother and I to Short Mountain when we were only kids. Her best friends were gay men and my first gay bar was The World’s End … at 12 years old! I’d always been comfortable with men if they defined themselves as gay because they were non-threatening. I had a very different childhood than most...”
“I can’t really give a definitive answer to [how this has shaped my relationships with men] because there was so much pain, adventure, chaos and acceptance. I can say that I’m still afraid of straight men in authoritative positions and with that comes the feeling of safety in being in the presence of women. Who would I be without everything I’ve experienced? I don’t know.”
“Men taught me to be scared of them, to be submissive. And, for a long time, I thought that was just how the world worked for women. I felt ashamed and dirty. I did once out a former employer to the owner of his company. He only laughed and mocked me and said, ‘How dare you accuse my best store manager of harassment.’ I also outed a friend of the family, but sometimes think my parents were in denial about it.”
“I haven’t outed anyone specific to the public. One of the doctors was a real psychopath. I used to live with him in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He would sneak into my room at night. He collected my hairs in Ziploc bags and labeled them. He said they were my demons. That’s someone you don’t go after through the courts. I honestly think he would’ve killed me.”
“I just know that the one thing I can do now to heal is tell my story. That’s how I cope with it,” she concluded. “Writing you all of this, in this moment, is a way of coping. It’s the best my heart can do right now.”
Casey also shared a direct narrative and a piece of visual art she made to accompany it, and they follow.
I was only 16 when his narrow and pulsating dick pressed against my backside through two layers of denim and a shroud of shame and temptation. He placed his calloused hands on my rigid shoulders. His breath caught the small hairs at the base of my neck. I reached for my books and scurried away past the empty desks and into a herd of high school students in the hallway.
He taught history and coached football. I wore a flannel shirt and blue Doc Martin’s untied and scuffed.
It was 1997 and Mr. Levi was aggressively balding and nearing 70 years old.
I always hated my breasts. It wasn’t just that they grew out saggy and already had hair around the nipples by the time I was just 14, it was that they felt like two large targets. Two large beacons signaling like lighthouses to the seas of arrogant men who preyed on girls who walked with their heads facing the ground. The girls who spoke softly and who showed an obvious display of insecurity.
I never said “no” to the men who touched me when I was young. I only scuffled away with a nervous laugh and strands of greasy hair in my face. By 18, I assumed that this happened to all girls. That this was the way of man. The way of my world.
It all began at age 8. There was an older boy that lived across the street named Aaron. He was the son of my mother’s employer who was also named Aaron. My little brother, Dylan, was playing with a talking bear in the stark white room that was Aaron Jr.’s. The floor was littered with Star Wars characters and Legos. The air smelled of cheap potpourri and lemon disinfectant. Aaron took me by the hand, and with his other, he opened the closet door.
“I want to try something with you”, he said as he pushed aside his church clothes and clip-on ties.
Dylan never even noticed us two quietly disappearing into the corner and behind closed doors. Aaron unbuttoned his pants and exposed his briefs.
[Description of non-consensual sexual activity redacted.]
“I don’t like this. Stop it,” I whispered it so that my brother couldn’t hear.
He didn’t stop… [Afterwards] I followed his instructions and hurriedly put my clothes back on.
Aaron drew the door open and immediately exited out the left and into the carpeted hallway. I stepped outside and saw my brother sitting at the edge of the bed with a look of confusion and a storm trooper in his left hand. I shut the closet door, knelt to the floor, took a handful of Legos … and began to play.