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“Sexual assault is a human issue…”

Zeke Thomas on music and life after #MeToo

Zeke Thomas. Photo:​ ​Sam McKnight. S​tylists: Krysti K + D’Shaunte

I caught up with Zeke Thomas to talk about his music and the hidden pain of male sexual assault.

You began talking about your experience of sexual assault in early 2017. Since then the #MeToo movement has emerged​, has that helped to amplify stories such as yours?

Truthfully, no. Before #​M​eT​oo, hardly any sexual assault stories were being covered. New York Magazine and Robin Roberts on Good Morning America took a huge risk in sharing a male sexual assault story from a black, gay male in the entertainment industry from a celebrity sports family. There​ were a lot of publications and media outlets who outright refused to cover my story because it was ‘too much’ for their audience.

Fast forward to late-2017 and you see #​Me​Too — is it great for sexual assault awareness as a whole?​ Absolutely. But #Me​T​oo has taken so much oxygen to the bully pulpit of angrily saying ‘Me too!’ My message has been — ‘Okay, what’s next?’

#M​eT​oo has primarily been for women, and only gained traction when white women got angry. LGBTQ people are assaulted at a higher rate than any other part of the community — Trans people are most at risk. Sexual Assault is a human issue — not black or white, and certainly not male or female.

The Centers for Disease Control report that 1-in-6 men in the US have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact at some point in their lives. Given how many men have experienced sexual violence, are you surprised that we don’t hear more about the stories of men who have been victims of sexual violence?

1-in-6 — and that number is probably under reported. For females it’s 1-in-4. For both male and female victims, admitting that you lost your power is extremely difficult. Men are taught to be strong, that nothing can harm us​,​ but we’re not invincible. 1-in-10 men actually report the ass​a​ult — that’s the statistic that’s scary to me. We are letting horrible people get away with this every day — it has to stop.

What sort of response or feedback have you received since you began speaking publicly about what happened to you?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I communicate daily with other activists, survivors, and trauma victims through social media. My Instagram account is my primary source of communication, I welcome anyone to send me a direct message. Speaking publicly about it is both therapeutic and helps keep me in check — I’m not the most diligent with keeping up with my own therapy regimen.​

​I continue to use mediation, medication, diet, exercise, and my public speaking as therapy. There’s always room to improve, and trauma is a life-long battle. I’m not perfect, but the other survivors out there know that just getting out of bed every day and living is a win.

​The attack against you was in February 2016. What’s dating been like for you since then?

Dating has been interesting. I fell in love with a wonderful and beautiful man, however​​ I wasn’t ready — dealing with my trauma brought our relationship down.

I was born with a saviour complex, so I’ve gotten into some relationships I shouldn’t be in, and I’ve missed some dating chances because I wasn’t ready.

I’m hopeful for someone to sweep me off my feet. When you know,​ you know, right?​ I’m hopeful. I’m currently dating, and open to seeing what happens.

I have become more guarded, but I always fall back on ​the belief that ​there are more good people in this world than bad people. You have to believe that as a survivor, otherwise I feel that you’re allowing yourself to be broken.

​Have you used Grindr or other dating or hook-up apps since the attack?

I don’t blame Grindr for my attack, but dating apps have to take responsibility in being able to locate these individuals. I’m actively on Grindr, Tinder, Scruff, Raya, and Chappy. Ultimately, anyone on these apps is looking for love. It​’​s human nature to connect​.

​Where is your focus currently in terms of raising awareness of sexual assault against men?

My current focus is just increasing the conversation, especially among college students and gay men. Fraternity and sports culture has to change.

When I speak, I point to a lesson from my father, Isiah Thomas. My dad won championships at every level he competed at, and he always loved to say — ‘It’s very interesting how the media chooses to highlight the losers​..​.’ Rarely do championship teams have issues. You may have an odd-ball or eccentric teammate you may have to real​-​in from time to time,​ be it a Dennis Rodman or Deion Sanders​,​ but they win. It​’​s the loosing teams that have issues.

I try to remind young men of this, because the media loves to highlight the losers, and losers love to say that a ring or a championship doesn’t mean anything,​ I’m still great. In men, we need to rethink who we’re putting on the pedestal of great, because we have a lot of losers taking up a lot of oxygen.

​In your case, the use of a date-rape drug makes the issue of consent pretty clear — there wasn’t consent. Where it gets confusing is in the PnP or chemsex scene where drugs are involved and people’s ability to give consent becomes impaired, or it’s not clear what they have consented to and what they haven’t consent to, and they don’t want to report anything because there were drugs involved. Is that something that you’re addressing through your advocacy work?

Rape is Rape and Sexual Assault is Sexual Assault.​ I was intentionally drugged by my rapist in order to rape me. Just because someone participates in PnP or chemsex doesn’t mean that they’re volunteering to get raped. People want to have a good time — I’m not here to judge that. I’ve gotten high and had sex. I’ve never made the choice to get high and get raped.

​How has music helped you to process the assault that you experienced and move forward with your life?

Music is my salvation and has always been my first love. You have to find an outlet for any kind of expression, and music is mine.

​What music are you currently working on?

Being able to team up with COACH on my latest single Love Me Sober, and working with the amazing LéArt, is a blessing. LéArt has an amazing production, writing, or artist career to step into. But the message we’re sharing about trauma, and it’s a blessing that COACH teamed up with us to fully amplify and get it out. The video is amazing, but the song is just as powerful.

What are some of your priorities for 2018?

To continue to grow — not just as an artist, but as a person. I’ve been able to leave my anger behind me. I have some great friends who have been able to help me when I’m down and be there to celebrate me. I want to continue to support survivors, and continue to bring awareness to male sexual assault. Also, I want to DJ — any clubs that want me to rock, I’m open for business!

Follow Zeke Thomas on Twitter

Listen to Love Me Sober on SoundCloud:

Zeke Thomas. Photo:​ ​Sam McKnight. S​tylists: Krysti K + D’Shaunte
Zeke Thomas. Photo:​ ​Sam McKnight. S​tylists: Krysti K + D’Shaunte

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