For the Record: An Act of Sexual Aggression Remembered

I remember being excited Sonic Youth was coming to Memphis because the bands I liked always skipped my city entirely and went to Nashville instead. I wasn’t even from Memphis really but a small town outside of there, about as uncool as you could be: pale and skinny, not even 100 pounds soaking wet, as they say. My hair might have been purple, or maybe black or bright orange. I might have worn my combat boots, but they hurt my feet, so probably it was Vans. Vans and overalls and a baggy t-shirt. Or my boyfriend’s navy band jacket, all torn up and vaguely military looking, with maybe a black dress underneath, maybe jeans. I was a teenager, and that’s what I wore on the nights when I went out.

Extremely shy, I hardly talked at shows. I felt like all eyes, watching everything, observing but not participating, too shy to dance to even my favorite songs as they played over the loudspeaker before the real music started. But I loved being out.

At that point in my life, I had never had a drink. My father had been a recovering alcoholic until the moment he died from cancer, and we’d lived in a booze-free home my entire growing up. I remember he used to say that if you had even one drink a day and depended on it, you might be an alcoholic. That scared me, so I never drank at all back then.

I knew the opening band was called The Jesus Lizard, but I didn’t Google them because this was in the 1990s before computers. Here’s what I knew for sure: Guys that I thought were cool thought The Jesus Lizard was cool. So even though I was there to see Sonic Youth, I would have wanted to like them.

When The Jesus Lizard began, my boyfriend and I were standing close to the stage, maybe right up against it because we wanted to be in the best spot for when Sonic Youth played. I might have had my hands or my elbows right on the stage. It’s possible I talked to my boyfriend instead of paying full attention. I wouldn’t have been rushing the stage, but I might have been pressed up against it.

I was out with my boyfriend, our curfew was midnight, and we were having a good time—until we weren’t.

The next thing that happened remains embarrassing to talk about, and I hope you’ll forgive me if I make you feel uncomfortable. During the set, the singer, David Yow, opened his pants, pulled out his testicles, grabbed me by the back of my head, and squashed my face into his testicles. I felt the hot sting of tears and struggled to free my head from his body and grasp. This lasted for probably less than a minute, and then it was done.

The worst for me was the reaction of the people who surrounded me, who watched and laughed and didn’t try to help. They treated me like the butt of a joke. I remember my boyfriend’s arms flailing as he tried to land a punch. I felt shock, shame, and embarrassment. I’m crying as I type this, all these years later.

I remember wondering why me. Had David Yow seen something ridiculous in me? Did he see me as the poseur from the small town in Tennessee that I was? Did he do it because I didn’t seem interested enough in the music? What had I done to cause this?

Certainly it had something to do with my proximity to the stage. And maybe it also had to do with the fact I was a woman.

Years passed, and I tried not to think about it. Whenever I did, I was back there in that moment. And it had been a small thing, a blip in time, no big deal in the grand scheme of things. Worse things had happened, bigger and more significant. I didn’t know why it was so hard for me to get over certain things. It seemed like a character flaw on my part.

Then, late last year, the Harvey Weinstein story broke and all the other stories and this one bobbed back up, and suddenly, I wanted David Yow to know how his actions had made me feel all those years ago. So I looked him up on Facebook, and I sent him this message:

 

I wrote a couple friends to let them know how nervous I felt about the whole thing. The ones who had heard of the band replied with stories of their own about how he had regularly groped women or exposed himself as part of his stage antics back in the day.

A Google search let me know he’d gone on to have a family in Chicago and a successful career in marketing. The Jesus Lizard had broken up, but would be going on a reunion tour soon.

When they tour, I thought, he’ll look more like somebody’s grandpa than someone who might harm you.

I found an old article about the band from Rolling Stone magazine. Apparently, “the testicle thing” was normal for them, and as the writer claims, people liked it.

My anxiety rose as I checked for new messages. I worried he’d make fun of me, deny it, tell me to go somewhere, or ignore the message entirely. Instead he sent this reply:

 

It was good of him to reply and apologize, and I appreciated it.

The fact he doesn’t remember when I can’t forget continues to bother me. But I’m glad I said something, and I’m glad I’m telling you now.

Betsy Taylor, who wrote this post, is an employee at Canvas Health.

 

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