The following essay was submitted anonymously by a member of Local 802:
I want to support Camille Thurman for coming forward and speaking her truth in the December issue of Allegro, and I would like to add my voice to the growing chorus of survivors of sexism, sexual harassment and abuse. Thankfully, women are believed more readily now, and there are more often consequences for perpetrators. Still, there is a long way to go.
I have experienced sexism and overt harassment at various times during my musical education and work. For example, a college professor recommended me for babysitting rather than for musical work, and a married contractor in New York City did not hire me again after I declined his request to date him.
When I was in my 20s, training for a career as a professional musician, I was sexually assaulted by two high-profile music teachers. This was a very formative time, and these experiences profoundly changed my life, though not for the better. In one case the assault was reported, though no action was taken against this teacher; he continued to hold his position for decades. Years later, I met another woman who had been sexually assaulted by this man.
The other teacher was an internationally renowned soloist who has since died. He made sexual advances on me while I attended a master class that he presented. He contacted me later and made the excuse that his behavior was the result of his having spent too much time touring. He also told me that I should tell no one about what had happened. Clearly, he was concerned about his reputation.
While I consider myself a survivor – rather than a victim – of these experiences, they have had permanent effects on my life. It has taken a lot of time and resources to work through the anger, betrayal, sense of violation, and shame that result from such events. My therapist has helped me to see that the shame is not mine, but instead belongs to the men who assaulted me. Because this kind of abuse so deeply affects one’s sense of self worth, survivors are particularly vulnerable to making poor choices for themselves. Matters of trust, as well as boundaries, become confusing.
There were many times when I wanted to write to the person with whom I studied, and others, to tell them that their actions created a legacy of lasting damage. But ultimately, I did not want to invite them back into my life even for a moment.
Not long after these events I met and began studying with a brilliant musician of impeccable character and integrity, who became my mentor. He was a source of support, inspiration and friendship for the following 23 years. He saved my life; I would not be here today had I not met him. Years later, when I wanted to apply to study at a small chamber music festival, he let me know that the teacher on staff for my instrument was also a well-known predator, and urged me not to apply. I followed his advice and was spared another potentially damaging ordeal.
I would like to share some hard-won lessons, as well as the things that have been most useful to me in my healing work, in the hope that they might be of help to others.
The first relationship that needs to be healed is the one you have with yourself. All other relationships stem somehow from that inner dynamic, and healing that is the key to your own happiness. Find a good therapist who specializes in the issue of sexual abuse, understands the damage that it causes, and has a vision for a way forward. One of the results of abuse is a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You may be able to learn to avoid triggers, as well as how to manage the experience of being triggered if it can’t be avoided. This is very difficult, but if you have the right person guiding you, things can get better.
Finding a form of exercise that I enjoy helped me to stay grounded while I was working through painful memories. The physical effort lessened my anxiety and reminded me of my own inner strength. Having a good diet and getting enough rest are also crucial.
Reevaluate your friendships and other relationships to be sure that they are healthy and respectful. Find something to be thankful for each day. Do something nice for someone else every day. Cultivate a meditation practice, and work on your spiritual life. You can create peace in your life. Find things that you love to do and do them. Be good to yourself, honor yourself, treasure yourself. Create a safe space for yourself. Volunteer work can also be a joy.
You will come to realize that the sexual assault was not your fault; you did nothing wrong. Nothing that you said, did, or wore justified unwanted sexual advances.
Trust should be earned, not just freely given. Most of all, learn to trust yourself and your instincts. Speak out if you need to for your healing process, or if you think that you can prevent others from being harmed. Take your power back in all these big and small ways.
Though my healing work has been arduous and long, I chose not to give up. I had to make that choice many times. Now, when I see the fruits of my efforts, I am amazed. I am so thankful for my therapist, and for the friends who have remained in my life, listening and supporting, and who are now commenting on my progress. Yes, I would rather have spent that time playing great music. Yes, I still have setbacks from these experiences, as well as others earlier in my life. But I have grown in ways that I would not have had my life been focused only on music. I have also learned that I can be a resource for friends and others in a very deep way. I’m not saying “it’s all good.”
There is nothing good about rape and other forms of sexual assault. I guess I have just tried to make lemonade from lemons, and sometimes lately it has been quite sweet. As Leonard Cohen sang in his 1992 song “Anthem”:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
So, take heart for your own healing and for that of our society, that one day our culture of abuse and complicit silence will be replaced by one built on respect, decency, and equal opportunity.
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