Updated: Apr 3, 2020
*Trigger Warning: this story contains discussion around experiences of sexual assault and harassment*
Name: Keegan Chambers Age: 27 years old Occupation: Actress & Nanny From: Newmarket, Ontario Location: Toronto, Ontario I have a history of sexual assault.
When I agreed to be a part of the play, My Father’s House, I knew it might trigger things for me, but I hadn't anticipated the extent of it.
The play is based on Sylvia Fraser’s memoir which centres around the child sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her father. In order to cope, she had split her personality and as a result, she had no conscious memory of it until later into her adulthood. She had gone through a divorce, had an affair with an older man and experienced suicidal ideation, all before the memories had returned. When the memories belonging to this other self finally returned they trickled in sporadically. Even after the book was released, she continued to have flashbacks and wrote an article about how her father even went to the extent of taking her to a child brothel. She was his ticket to entry.
After I read the play, I read the book and I started to feel like there were so many similarities between some of her life experiences and mine. But, at that point, I would never have said that I had been sexually assaulted as a child. Working through the play and my own thoughts, I did a lot of stream writing. As I typed out the sentence: “But I wasn’t sexually abused as a child," I could hear this voice in my head telling me that that was a lie. Oddly enough, when I recently started looking for a new therapist, the first lady I saw made a comment about what happens when someone is sexualized as a child. Immediately I got defensive. Like, on top of suggesting I take medication after having just expressed that I’m not interested in medicating the problem away, I haven’t mentioned anything about child sexual abuse; “you’re not listening,” I thought. After examining my own history with sexual assault, I came to understand that the older men I was sleeping with at 14 and 16 years old, were grooming me and that I was in fact a child at that time.
At 14 years old, I remember being driven home by a guy I worked with who drove a bright green car. I don’t have any memories of being in the car, but I can tell you that he used to drive me home. Looking for corroboration, I called my mom. She had no memory of this guy driving me home. My sister, on the other hand, remembered instantly. I asked her if it was at all possible that I could have been having sex with this guy; she replied without hesitation: “Oh yea, definitely!” All I could do was cry. “What’s wrong?” she asked, “Wasn’t it consensual?" I mean, maybe it was, but I was also 14. I didn’t even know what consent meant. And, this guy was at least old enough to drive and own his own car so he must have been at the very least 17 or 18 years old.
As a kid, my sister's friends would always tell me how pretty I would grow up to be. I latched onto that label like a baby monkey clinging to its mother’s back. Pretty. That was the ultimate; there was nothing else that offered the same validation. Not intelligence, not comedy, not creativity… and I know that I get validation from male attention. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. It’s all I know. My mom will hate that I brought this up, and mom, I’m not blaming you, but seeing her seek validation from alcoholics, potheads and drug dealers, it does a number on ya. Like mother like daughter, I suppose. I never saw my mom stand up for herself with a man, so I never learned how.
When I was 16, I had a school girl crush on a bartender at the restaurant where I worked as a hostess, he was 26. We used to have sex in his car when he would drive me home from work. Though come to think of it, I have no actual memories of the sexual activities, just the fact itself. So, it would make sense that two years prior I was probably sleeping with the first guy because at that point I had already lost my virginity to my first boyfriend. I was already sexually active. And, even though at that moment it might have been consensual because I wanted to have sex with these older guys, I was still a kid. We never discussed consent. I learned about abstinence in school, but I never truly understood that I had the option to say no. If I said no I’d be called a tease, and they wouldn’t like me. And I wanted people to like me. I wanted guys to like me.
In my early twenties, I moved to Toronto and I went through a phase where I was having a lot of sex. I was working in the hospitality industry and getting blackout wasted every night, having sex with everyone and anyone. I remember going on a date with this one guy. By then I was self-aware, and wanted to change my behaviour, so I tried setting boundaries. I told him that I didn’t want to go back to his place to have a drink because I knew that it would lead to sex and I explicitly said that I didn’t want to sleep with him, at least not on the first date. At the time, I had no idea how to set boundaries, let alone stick to them. Of course, he ended up convincing me to go back to his place and inevitably I ended up having sex with him. I was so disappointed in myself. In retrospect, I can see clearly that he took advantage of my malleable mind and I basically told him exactly what to do to get me into bed. I was trying to say no, but I wasn’t being loud enough. I wasn’t even listening to my own self saying no. A part of me said no, and another said yes. Yes was winning the battle, over and over and over. Ultimately it comes down to the fact that young girls are not empowered to say no. We are conditioning them to be complicit; to learn how to take a compliment; we are teaching them how to please others. We should be teaching them how to please themselves.
Up until a few years ago, I feel like I was just floating through life. That I was doing things without any conscious thought or purpose. My parents split when I was 3, so I would only really see my dad every other weekend until he passed away 8 years later. It’s hard because you want to remember your deceased parent in a positive light but, to be honest, most of my memories of him are not good. When I was really young I would force myself to throw up in the mornings, just to get him out of bed. I remember my pant leg got caught in a bicycle chain once and I was laying in the driveway, helpless, for what felt like hours. I’m sure he was just trying to teach me how to problem solve but when I finally got loose and went inside, everyone had already eaten dinner. I remember because there was no corn on the cob left. Also, there were other things like one morning my siblings and I were being too loud, so we were locked outside; I only had one winter boot on. And, unfortunately, those are the things that I remember. My dad wasn’t a bad father, but I wouldn’t say that we were close. It’s funny because everyone else would say the opposite, like I was his favourite and that I was his little princess but when your 9 years old and you fall off a ladder and your dad - drunk and playing cards with his buddies - looks over and says with a chuckle, “Did you hurt the floor?” It's hard to believe but I’m sure he was just trying to teach me to be tough, right?
When I was 11, the house burnt down while my dad was sleeping inside. That’s how he died. And, it’s weird because it was a freak accident so I never got to say goodbye. I didn’t get any closure either because they wouldn’t let me go to the house to see the ashes, just to know and be able to process that it really happened. I never went to therapy, I never dealt with it. When I think about it logically, I don’t feel responsible for his death but there is a part of me that does. Before the fire, there was talk about me moving in with him full-time, but I didn’t. I know it’s not my fault; I know that if I had moved in, that I would have gone up in smoke just the same. But it doesn’t stop the what if's from surfacing.
After getting a General BA with no designation, I went to college for fashion design and found out that they offered therapy for free. I was stoked! I felt like I could finally deal with all of these things I hadn’t dealt with in the past. That was it. I opened Pandora’s box. I started to get really depressed and all these really dark thoughts and feelings started coming out of me for the first time. I was a booking manager for two of the hottest clubs in Toronto at the time, which meant: free cover, no lineups, and bottomless vodka. I learned to cope by sleeping around. It was male attention that validated my worth. Truthfully, I can’t remember how many times I have woken up in someone else’s bed, not knowing who they were or where I was. It was bad. But I had convinced myself that this is what female power was, that this was my feminist anthem. In the words of Christina Aguilera, “the guy gets all the glory the more he can score, while the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore." It was no secret either. Everyone that knows me knows how I am. I’m considered the Samantha, of the group. My aunt (God bless her soul) was the one who sat me down to tell me that what I was doing wasn’t healthy. I interpreted that as slut-shaming. I didn’t realize it was a negative coping mechanism.
During that time I ended up going to a club in Toronto for an afterparty during Toronto Fashion Week. I had gone to a fashion show with my mom but she went home and I wanted to keep the party going. I was supposed to meet up with some people but I blacked out after my first drink. When I came to - some guy was fucking me from behind in the bathroom. I didn’t know what to do. It was flight, fight or freeze and I just completely froze. I had no idea who this guy was. I had no idea how we got there. Like, did I drag him into the bathroom? I wouldn’t have put it past me because of my history with promiscuity. I ended up telling him to cum on my back because I wasn’t on birth control and I didn’t know whether or not he was wearing a condom. And, afterward, I left.
Going through my phone the next morning, I found a text message telling me to go to booth four. I didn’t think much about it at first, but then I started to feel really off. So, I called my aunt and she flat out told me that I was raped. That I was blackout wasted. That I didn’t know who this man was. And, that in no way shape or form was I in the right state of mind to be able to consent to that. The more I thought about it the more I realized that she was right. I called the police and I told them what happened. They took me to Women’s College Hospital to do a rape kit. It sounds fucked up to say, but if that’s what needed to happen to get me in to see a proper therapist - it was worth it. I felt like for the first time, I was getting the help that I needed. The therapist gave me a book called “The Ethical Slut”, and basically validated that as women it is okay to be sexually active and promiscuous, that there is nothing to be ashamed of, but that it’s important to do it responsibly. To be safe. To be in control.
A few months before my 25th birthday, I met a guy in Vancouver, very casually, and we really hit it off. We never touched, we never kissed, we literally did nothing, but when I was back in Toronto we continued talking. Then, for my 25th birthday, I flew out there to see him and fell completely in love with him. It was the first time that someone had actually taken the time to get to know me as a person before wanting to have sex with me. All I could hear in my head was, “when you meet the right person, you’ll know.” I felt like this was it! My knight in shining armour had finally ridden in on his white horse. A few months later, he flew in to meet my family. Within a few months of knowing each other, I decided to move out there to be with him. The moment I arrived, I was depressed. I knew that I didn’t want to work in the hospitality industry anymore because it was so toxic and triggering from me, but that was the only work experience I had and I was broke. I ended up getting a serving job at Cactus Club and hated every minute of it. We were expected to wear heels and to look a certain way. I felt like the majority of people in Vancouver were very cold and cliquey, so I didn’t make a lot of friends. At one point, while he was away for work, I had a major panic attack and packed up all of my stuff. I wrote a note that said, “you deserve better” and called my aunt to ask if she’d drive across the country with me. She insisted I not give up so soon, encouraged me to express to my boyfriend how I was feeling, and to come home to visit. When I came back to Ontario to visit my family, my nephew looked at me and said, “Tia Kiki can I give you a kiss 'cause I haven’t given you a kiss in a long time.” And, that was it. I was moving home. Having a relationship with my niece and nephew was way more important to me and still is. So, I called my boyfriend and we had the most amicable break up ever. We agreed that I needed to move home and that we both didn’t want to be in a long-distance relationship and that was that.
So, after 6 months of being together, I moved back home and things were kind of better. I was trying to figure it out, going from place to place, couch surfing because I was broke and basically homeless. I was actively not going out a lot and felt like I was going in a different direction - convinced that this time, being in Toronto, it was going to be different. That was until Phoebe Bridgers came to town. I decided that I was going to go to her show. I didn’t care with who, but I was going. I ended up going by myself and the show was sold out, so I went to a bar across the street and was just hanging out there when I ran into a guy I used to know. At that point, I was already pretty drunk. He suggested that we do a shot of whiskey; I told him that I simply couldn’t, that I always get white-girl-wasted when I drink whiskey. “Like, you’re going to have to hold my hair back while I puke if you make me drink that.” Long story short: he orders whiskey, I get peer pressured into taking the shot, and what do you know I’m blackout wasted. As I’m regaining consciousness I realize that he’s taking off my boots. Next thing I know, I’m lying there naked, he’s fully clothed, and he’s taking Snapchats of me. At that point I’m so groggy, I’m so out of it and I’m honestly not even sure if we had sex or not but afterward he dropped me off at home like it was totally normal. I woke up the next morning just thinking like, that was FUCKED, opened my snap chats to find the videos he sent me from the night before. I deleted them instantly. I couldn’t bear to look at them.
I didn’t even know what to do. When I reported it to the police last time after Toronto Fashion Week, they found the guy and brought him in for questioning. The police officer told me that the guy had a video of me telling him to cum on my back, which would be shown in court as “evidence.” I didn’t want anyone to ever see that video, so I decided not to proceed and didn’t end up pressing charges. So now, all of those same feelings were coming back. I felt helpless. Once again it would be his word against mine, and who knows what I could have said in those videos. I felt completely broken and lost. I couldn't believe that I had just let something like that happen to me again and I started to spiral.
I bleached my hair at home, burning my scalp in the process. Even then I knew this was self-harming behaviour. My mom was a hairdresser - I know better than that. Once again I went spiralling down the rabbit hole. To this day, it’s the worst panic attack I’ve ever experienced. It was so bad that I had to pull over on the side of the highway on my way to work. I was balling my eyes out uncontrollably; I was hysterical. A police officer saw me and pulled over. He asked me if I was okay and I straight up told him that I wasn’t. He then radioed in a female officer who was able to calm me down and escorted me to an Emergency Department where I sat, for several hours, waiting for a doctor, only to have him tell me that I had experienced a panic attack and that I should go to therapy, which was especially frustrating because at that point it was like yeah no shit! I had used up all of my sessions at the Women’s College Hospital, and I was broke. I couldn’t afford therapy, but I knew I desperately needed it.
It’s just really frustrating and unsupportive the way young women have been groomed and then treated when it comes to sexual assault or harassment, that’s why I felt like it was important to talk about it. Even recently, there was a man who was following me around in a blue truck. I was terrified - it was only a few weeks after the incident at Yonge and Finch where people were run over in the name of “incel.” I genuinely feared for my life at that moment. Eventually, I was called in to identify the guy and the officer had the audacity to tell me that “pretty” girls like me have to be careful. I interrupted him immediately, cautioning him to be very careful with his next choice of words, which was the first time I’d authentically stood up for myself in a while. The officer proceeded to tell me that I needed to practice personal safety. I told him that I’d been practicing personal safety since I was 12 and that the issue here is that this man needs to know that there are consequences to his actions. As I left, he had the audacity to tell me how much he loved my thigh tattoos. As if this was an ok moment to comment on my body. Like, these are the people who are supposed to serve and protect - but anyways.
I’m back in therapy now - working through a lot of stuff. I’m also doing a lot of research and writing often. I recently released an article on my blog (www.keeganchambers.com) which is where I sorted out all of my feelings about the play, although, truth be told, I’m still working through them. Overall though, I feel like doing this play was meant to be and that everything in my life has culminated to this point. That this is where I need to be right now in order to work through all of the shit that I’ve been through. And, it’s a process - it’s going to be a life-long process. But I know that, and I’m ready for it.