This is one of two essays on rape culture in the Toronto arts scene. I am sharing my story with you so we can begin this journey together. Here, I am reclaiming my power and reminding you that you can do the same. This is a call in and a resource. This is an act of care. (See part two here!)
For years, rage was kindling within me. Pain was fuel to its flames, which became so immense they threatened to consume me.
Audre Lorde said there are uses for anger. For a while, I didn’t know what to do with mine. But I think I’ve figured it out.
My name is Daysha. This is my story.
As a teen, I was a girl in pain. I went to one of the top art high schools in Toronto, but I was rarely there. Instead, I was roaming the city, often with other artists.
As time passed, misadventures began to spiral out of control. At the age of fifteen, I was stumbling into a very dark side of the Toronto arts scene. I was lost, and some of the artists I found myself involved with could see that. They took advantage of it. I was used as a party favour. Arm candy. During this time, I suffered a great deal of sexual violence. But I was lucky. My family worked together to remove me from the environment. They saved me.
Now, you should know that I have always been a writer. In grade two, the stories I wrote on lined paper were put on the class bookshelf. For a long time, my family couldn’t afford cable or the internet; reading and writing was everything for me. It was my comfort. My purpose. My power.
So when I returned to Toronto after living abroad for several years, I was writing. Mostly about upcoming artists in the city. I began to notice that the men who assaulted me were supported by major publications. Publications I once wanted to write for.
As a journalist, I knew writing about my experience might be tricky. It could be considered too subjective or worse, I could be sued for defamation if I didn’t have “proof”. I could be targeted or face retaliation for speaking up.
I also knew there’s not much protection out there for journalists, or survivors, or for Black women. Especially for Black women. And I am all three. As a racialized person, I know the police won’t keep us safe. But within our artistic communities, do we?
The ‘art scene’ is huge and under its umbrella are many different communities. We’re all interconnected. We depend on one another. We create and sustain these communities through networking opportunities, like events or parties. Eventually, the communities we’re a part of become a part of us, according to cultural identity theory.
I began to wonder: how much of the culture of our community is internalised within ourselves, becoming part of our identity? How much do we, in turn, perpetuate what we’ve internalised in our community?
I once went to an artist’s release party. Men were assaulting women there openly, including my friend and I. Later that same night, a girl came up to me and told me another guy following us around the party was also an abuser.
After a gathering that included many of the city’s upcoming artists, a friend and I met some other artists at a bar. One of the people there was present when I was harmed many years ago. He was intoxicated and talking about women in a derogatory way. When I asked my friend why he didn’t speak up, he said he didn’t really know them and besides, that guy was “just drunk.”
This is rape culture. This is how it is constructed and performed in everyday interactions. Normalisation-Degradation-Assault. These incidents aren’t small or isolated; they reinforce and excuse an escalation of harm.
We all play a role. We all need some work and healing. We are all moving in fear, shame and guilt. So it goes– bystanders do not want to take action and hold others accountable. Survivors endure harm. They worry about their reputations and safety if they speak out. Perpetrators are not held accountable for their actions; they run, they hide, they double-down.
There was once a music artist I met at an event hosted by a filmmaker. He hurt me. Unsurprisingly, his name was on a list of abusers shared on social media. But I was unaware of this because I didn’t have access to the list. He also created a new artistic identity for himself. So when I mentioned him to people, they had no idea who I was talking about. It wasn’t until we went to an event together that I found out about his past. The list didn’t help me.
Nevertheless, I understand that the document is, at least, something to do when nothing is being done, and there’s no one to protect you. Not the government, or the police.
When there’s no one to save us, what can we do about it? We have to save ourselves. We have to care for ourselves.
We can shape change or maintain the status quo. You have the power. You are a creator. What do you want to manifest, as an artist? I challenge you to think deeply and let your imagination run wild.
I envision a transformative effort that doesn’t perpetuate the very institutions we seek to abolish. The ones that do not keep us safe or help us heal. But in order to do that, the foundations of the future we’re building can not be constructed of the same material. It can’t be made of fear, punishment, shame, or guilt. Those are tools of oppression. Don’t you want to be free?
We have to nurture the world we want to grow from the ashes of the old one. I think the arts community, which is innovative and revolutionary, can be an incubator for creating what we want to see. Yes, this will take a collective effort. But that starts with the individual, with you.
Are you ready to help build a new world? In my next piece, I draw from the survey responses I received from women and femme-presenting folks in our community to explore options sexual violence prevention. I also interviewed Sedina Fiati, the Artist-Activist in Residence at Nightwood Theater. We speak about how we can reduce harm, promote healing, and implement safety practices in the arts scene.
Thank you for listening to me. I hope my words help you learn how to wield the fire burning inside of you.
Check out Part 2 of this essay here: https://www.artsunite.ca/safety-in-the-scene/