Triggers and Forgiveness

When I read Selma Hayek’s article in the NYT, to say I was “triggered” would be an understatement. As she spoke about her experience with Weinstein, other stories were coming out about Matt Lauer, Louis CK, and one of my all-time beloved favorites: Garrison Keillor. I was sickened- still am sickened. Sickened for the women who endured. Sickened for myself. Sickened at myself. Almost everything that has happened to these women has happened to me in one form or another. And I have remained, for the most part, silent.

For those of you who know my work in the theatre, you have seen me direct or play strong, sexualized roles. This was not by accident. To heal from my trauma, from my powerlessness, from the disgust I have felt over and over again, I chose to empower myself through the feminine, sex, and violence. After choosing this enough, I began to love and have fun with these roles beyond the healing. And others voiced their “YES” to seeing women empowered through a multitude of avenues: from playing a King to playing a Dominatrix. I have felt, up until now, that my contribution through theatre is “enough.” That I should allow my actions in art speak instead of my words. And I truly hope that they do. But I have been called by something deep within to also speak with my words. I owe this to my peers and to the women who are rising up after me, who will surpass me, and lead us into our better tomorrow.

When I was a young child, I was reprimanded for sitting on a male relative’s lap. I was taken into the bedroom and scolded, “Don’t ever sit on a man’s lap. You don’t know what might happen. And it will be your fault.” The first time I remember being cat-called, I was ten. I was in a car with the windows down and my long blonde hair was flying through the wind. “Hey baby! What’s your name? What’s your number? What’s your bra size? Yeah I’d like to get me some of that!” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I knew enough to know it wasn’t good. I rolled the window up and sweated through the southern heat. It was my fault for getting cat-called. I won’t roll the window down again.

I married young. Before the ceremony, it was customary to be counseled by the preacher. In this case, he was also my father-in-law (yes I married the preacher’s son). He told me, “The bed of marriage is undefiled. It is your duty to satisfy your husband.” I was nineteen. After a few years of me hating sex with my then-husband, he says, “ Are you a lesbian? Just try touching yourself more and maybe you’ll like it better. Why are you punishing me by not having sex?” I said, “I can’t help it. My vagina dries up every time you touch me. Why don’t you just use my blood as lubricant?” He took me up on that suggestion.

After getting divorced, I discovered great things about myself. I LOVE SEX. LOVE IT. And MEN! I LOVE my body in motion. I LOVE being kind and affectionate without being afraid. But now how do I negotiate this? How do I navigate sticky situations, while embracing my sexuality, when I’m told that I was given the scholarship, the role, the good grade because I am sexy. Because I am asking for it when I wear a V neck shirt, those knee-length boots, that red lipstick. As I am mansplained that I really do want his hand on my knee, his tongue in my mouth, his penis in my face. And no, this isn’t one person. My confession is made up of many men who have passed through my life. Most in positions of power over me. Some who assumed positions of power because they are men and I am a woman.

I thought moving out of the South would be better. But no, same wolves just different clothing. In negotiating what they call “macro and micro-aggressions,” I’ve learned to walk the line, to speak out only when necessary, to stay silent as I keep my head above ground and my eye on the prize. Every time I find myself in a precarious position, I draw imaginary lines and make flexible, imaginary rules. “If after the third time I purposely move away from his touch and he does it again, then I’ll say something! Third strike is a good rule, right? But Girl, keep your eyes on the prize. Keep your head up. Don’t let the bullshit bury you. Keep breathing. You belong here.”

I am now in my mid-thirties. I am a teacher, a mentor, a director, a producer of theatre. I have done a lot of work that I am fiercely proud of. I have students who make my heart burst from  their creativity, humanity, and strength. Our next generation is entering a whole new world. One that speaks its mind and tells all of its dirty, horrible secrets. To my peers and future generations, I want you to know all about this movement without ever having to experience the trauma for yourselves. I want you to know that first we’ve got to open the wound and clean out the infection before we can heal. I want you to have hope, and joy, and strength, and courage, and to love each other no matter how one identifies.

I also want you to know that I have tried to fight the good fight. I have tried to be true to myself: a curious, upfront, sexual being full of passion and faults. I want you to know that I was raised in a very specific time and place. I am thankful for the good that I have learned, but I am still unlearning some of the bad.

I want you to know that I am sorry. I am sorry if, when my head was up looking at the prize, I did not always look down. Looking down meant that I would see the groping hands coming my way. Looking down meant that I would have to speak up at every exhausting turn. Looking down could have kept me from my prize. I make no bones that I am GRATEFUL for where I am now. But not looking down also meant that I did not always see you watching. And there were times that you saw me be silent. You witnessed me doing nothing and by doing nothing, I was complicit. I will do better.

“One of the top 50 people who really perform.” NewCity Chicago

“The fearless leader of Chicago’s most dangerously sexy new company, Tosha Fowler has played a significant role in every one of Cor Theatre’s productions thus far. Whether onstage as the psyche-scarring dominatrix in “Love and Human Remains” or directing the nightmarish “A Map of Virtue,” Fowler’s vision of theater as a leather and lace fever dream is hauntingly original. The year ahead suggests even more dark delight with Fowler set to direct the gender bending “Christina, The Girl King,” which promises the trifecta of nudity, violence and blood.”

Players 2016: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago