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Amid the growing onslaught of allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and other prominent figures, one thing is certain: there isn’t a right or wrong way to respond after experiencing sexual assault. We also know that it’s something that affects people across all demographics. Zeke Thomas, musician, DJ, and son of NBA great, Isaiah Thomas, knows this firsthand. I interviewed Thomas on my podcast, LGBTQ&A, on October 17th. In our conversation, he discussed how prevalent sexual assault is in the gay community, why he waited so long to tell anyone after his own experience, and why we need to stop shaming people who use Grindr.
Jeffrey Masters: Intellectually, I know that sexual assault and violence affects everybody – all types of people, all demographics – and yet it’s still surprising to see someone like you talk about it.
Zeke Thomas: It definitely affects all groups of people, social demographics, races, creeds, everything. Being the first gay male to talk about it, and specifically as it relates to our community is something that I’ve taken on. I talked to Ebro on Hot 97. He’s like 6’4″ and big and he goes, “If that would have happened to me, I would have fucked them up.” But that can’t happen when you’re drugged.
JM: And this affects one in six men.
ZT: One in six men have been sexually assaulted in their life. Literally, it’s all around you at all times. It’s something that men don’t like to talk about. I may look like an athlete, but it’s something that all types of men deal with. No matter your size or shape, you don’t know that moment when you literally just have your whole essence taken away from you.
JM: That’s why it’s likely under-reported, right?
ZT: Definitely. A lot of people get ashamed. Mine was more so fear of media attention. I can remember growing up in a celebrity household and when I would get arrested for underage drinking, that would be a story. Myself being raped would have been a story, and I definitely regret not reporting it because many people don’t have the opportunity to face their accuser.
JM: How long was it before you told somebody?
ZT: Before I told somebody, it was months. It was months. I told people in passing when I was high or drunk, but it wasn’t a setting where it was believable, so to speak. When somebody says something powerful like that, you shouldn’t take it lightly. You shouldn’t take it as a joke, but we all do these things in joking matters. Many survivors have said to me, “I said it and then quickly backed away from it, and then nobody really followed up on it.” It was that person who said, “I believe you,” and did some investigating that really turned my life around.
JM: There’s just not a correct or incorrect way to respond.
ZT: There’s not. It’s a shocking thing. Even as I sit here today and I deal with this every day. It’s something I’ve been able to move on from, but at the same time, I’m fighting to prevent.
JM: Is it hard to discuss with someone you’re dating or you’re intimate with?
ZT: When you talk about these things, whether it’s someone you’re dating or a friend, it’s not that people are wrong for reacting the way they react, it’s just so many people haven’t heard these stories. That’s something I want to change because we talk about murders, and we talk about gun violence and drinking, we talk about drugs, we talk about addiction. We talk about all these things in our community very openly, but sexual assault and rape is something that’s very prevalent and unfortunately, in our community, it’s something that we have kind of just accepted.
There is no manual for being gay and going out. When you walk into your first gay bar, you kind of just learn it as you’re going. We have to be the people who say that this isn’t correct behavior.
JM: I watched you speak to Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. Sexual assault aside, I thought it was radical to hear a gay man talking about sex, the ways we meet and how that experience has changed. You were talking about Grindr on Good Morning America. I felt like you were spilling all of our secrets.
ZT: We need to stop being ashamed. People shame people who are on Grindr, and yet my straight friends use Tinder to have sex just as much as gay people use Grindr to have sex. We have to stop Grindr-shaming.
JM: And if we aren’t talking about the ways we have sex and the ways that we meet up, then we can’t have a conversation about consent.
JM: I was really happy to hear you say, “I’ve met really nice people on Grindr.” It had nothing to do with Grindr.
ZT: It didn’t. Me being raped, honestly, it had nothing to do with me being on Grindr. And really, I tried to even keep the name Grindr out of my interview, because it wasn’t their fault. It’s not their problem. There are bad people in the world.
JM: Does it get exhausting to talk about sexual assault in so many interviews?
ZT: It doesn’t get exhausting . . . What gets me tired talking about is people saying, “Why? Why does this happen?” It happens because there are sick people in this world and we need to be more diligent about putting them on blast.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Listen to the full interview with Zeke on LGBTQ&A.