Tuesday, October 24, 2017

#MeToo: The Day James Toback Sexually Assaulted Me

Hopefully, Harvey Weinstein will just be the first name in a long list now.

Women are feeling the courage to stand up and state—#metoo.

My sexual assault by James Toback, the legendary “pickup artist,” reads much like the other accounts I am hearing. I was a struggling New York City actress who fell for his line of making me a star in his next film.

Yes, even though red flags kept waving in my mind, I kept squelching them because of who he was.
So, as the flashing signs became brighter, my mind continually told me that what I thought was happening, must be wrong. This was someone I could trust.

It was not until he stripped all his clothes off and slammed me up against a wall that I knew I was in trouble.

After I escaped his apartment, I was beyond embarrassed and hurt. I felt betrayed and ridiculous.
I was unable to speak about the experience because I knew what people would say: you asked for it; you walked right into it; no one made you go to his apartment.

But does any of that make me guilty for his actions?

I was hurrying to catch a train at Grand Central Station in the summer of 1992 when a big bearded man asked me, “Are you an actress?” I had been pounding the pavement all afternoon with no luck. Here was James Toback, a well-known director with a new movie out that thought I looked perfect to star in his next film. I couldn’t believe my luck or how funny it was that I was getting my big break at a train station.

We went to an indoor café in Manhattan and he thrilled me with the details of my soon to be starring role. My entire life finally made sense, all my perseverance was about to pay off. He excused himself to make a phone call and as soon as he stepped away from the table there was a woman at my side grabbing my arm.

“You have to get away from that man. He is who he says he is, but he’s dangerous. You’ve got to listen to me. He’s promising you all kinds of things, right?” I stared at this woman who had appeared from the crowd.

“Who are you?”

“It doesn’t matter who I am. You just need to trust me and leave right now. If you don’t, I can tell you exactly what’s going to happen; he’s going to get you back to his apartment and try to rape you.” Her hand tugged at my shirt, like she was trying to pull me from my chair. “You must believe me. I have to go now, he’s coming back.”

I turned to watch where she was going, but she was already gone. Lost in the crowd of bustling New Yorkers. I felt numb when the director sat back down. I listened to him with a cautious ear instead of an all-adoring naiveté. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the woman going up the escalator looking back at me.

My desire to be a movie star fought harder than my urge to run after her though. I knew I could take care of myself. Toback asked me to meet him at his apartment later that week to discuss the film further with him. My immediate intuition was one of dread. He explained that he had a screening room and I could watch his past films to get an idea of his style. I felt a war going on inside of me…wanting the role so bad, but wanting to heed that woman with her message. I heard myself agree to be there.

A maid let me into the apartment and I felt great relief that I wouldn’t be alone there. Then I saw him. He was leaning against a hallway door dressed in baggy pants and a sweaty polo shirt. He hugged me against his big flabby stomach and shooed his maid away with a clicking sound he made with his tongue. I followed him into his bedroom, which turned out to be the screening room. I felt hesitant, but still I went because he was famous. He must be harmless.

We relaxed on the bed while he began discussing his new film vision with me. I was drifting away on my own famous and glamorous cloud when he began discussing how important it was for him to be close to his leading lady. He had always had affairs with his actresses because of the intimacy that was required to make good films. I knew that he was implying that I would need to be that close to him too. He leaned over to me and brushed the hair from out of my face. I was ready to run.

“It would help me work on the script if I could see you naked. I need to know the best angles to shoot you from.” I couldn’t believe he was using such a corny line to get me naked, or that I was still feeling like I should go along with it if I wanted to be a star. I didn’t want to believe the “casting couch” still existed in the nineties.

I was at the time also working as a stripper and a nude model, so I was used to being nude and didn’t have an automatic shut off alarm when I needed to undress for certain roles.

I stood up on the far side of the bed and stepped out of my dress. I remember sitting on the very edge of the bed awkwardly.

“You don’t understand,” he panted as he edged closer to me on the bed. “I have to masturbate at least three times a day. I’m such a sexual person.”

He had started to rub himself through his pants. His hot breath panted against my neck.

“I need to have you,” he said as he ran his hand along my thigh. “I have to sleep with all my leading ladies. It’s the only way I can be close enough to really understand them.”

He was dripping with sweat and moved his other hand toward my opposite thigh.

“The role I have in mind for you is of a young woman discovering herself sexually. She’s young—eighteen. She’s an innocent—a virgin. You’ll need to let all your hair grow—pubic, armpit, legs.”

At this point, I was shaking and practically falling off the edge of the bed. He lunged to jump on me and I stood up quickly.

“Let me just go to the ladies’ room first.” I dashed to the bathroom grabbing my dress on the way.

When I looked in the big bathroom mirror I saw little beads of sweat drip down my face even though the air-conditioned room caused goosebumps to travel down my spine. I had to decide what to do when I went back out there.

I opened the door to find he had turned off all the lights and drawn the shades. “Hello?” I slipped out into the shadowy room. From the right side I heard a whoosh and I felt a push up against the wall. Toback, nude, pinned me against the wall. He panted, moaned and pushed his erection against me. As if in a dream, I felt calm and sure. I let my legs loosen so I could slide down out of his grip. I simply ducked through his arm and slid down the wall.

He didn’t try to stop me physically at that point. My legs carried me even though they had turned into jelly.

I blindly felt for the bedroom door and heaved open the door. I ran out to the now empty apartment, grabbed my purse as he called my name after me. I fumbled with the apartment door and ran down the hallway, stabbing at the elevator door.

I kept looking back, expecting him to run after me. I remember questioning my choice. Why hadn’t I let him have what he wanted? What if that could have been my big break?

The elevator arrived, and I stepped inside. Both afraid, disappointed and confused. Had I just made the biggest mistake of my acting career by throwing away an opportunity to be a star? And what did that say about my own beliefs, desires and vulnerabilities?

And here I am, twenty-five years later, finally able to call him out.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to Make Commitments: One Day at a Time

I have not been posting on my blog for a long time. Working full-time while also parenting and freelance writing takes up most of my days. I also try to work on some larger writing projects too, although with no big chunks of time, this has proven difficult.

To get anything done, I have found that making small daily commitments works best for me.

On my Instagram account, @sheilamhageman, for example, I have committed to #OneYogaPoseADay, posing and posting one yoga pose a day. This is the biggest commitment that I can comfortably make to yoga right now, but at least it keeps me active in yoga and creativity in a tiny way.

I also have committed to sending out one pitch a day during the work week to make sure I am constantly pitching freelance essays. This has been doable and is keeping me writing everyday.

Another commitment I tried to make was editing at least one page of a large work-in-progress or writing at least one page of one my larger projects. I didn't succeed fully on this one yet. I have been giving in to sleep!

I won't be hard on myself though, I will try again, starting today. (Always start today, not tomorrow, with a new commitment!)

So, back to the drawing board...or writing board, or laptop, that is!

Why don't you give it a try?

Make one tiny commitment that will move a project forward. Make it very small to begin...

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

How to Understand Someone Who Is Depressed

I guess I understand why people don't want to know the truth and don't share the truth. Sometimes the real truth is too true; it's too raw; it's too real.

There's that fear that people who don't know what it's like to be depressed will freak out by what you say.

If I were to be truthful right now, I would say the thought that is going through my head on a loop is—I want to kill myself.

But I know you know you can't say that. You can't share a sentence like that in front of people who don't know depression.

You don't want the police showing up at your door in five minutes.

Just because the thought is there, haunting you, it doesn't mean you're actually going to kill yourself; it just means you're preoccupied by the thought.

But some people may question, Well, how do I know if she is serious or not?

For many people who deal with depression, it's when he or she says I am going to kill myself that one should worry, not I want to kill myself.

It is not semantics; there is a big difference. One is a haunting viral thread running through your brain and the other is an act you're about to commit.

I am not about to kill myself, but the loop is playing and it's hard to escape and it makes me sad if I can’t express it and let it out.

Sometimes I just yearn to be understood and to be loved just the way I am.  

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Stripper Mom Saves The World

Well, that's not actually true. A Stripper Mom did not save the world.

That's just a headline that would be nice to see. Unfortunately, when you see the words "Stripper Mom" in the title of an article, the words following it are usually not good.

Just this week, 2-Year Old Dies in Apartment Fire After She Was Left Home Alone By Stripper Mom to Party With Friends.

That headline says it all.

A quick Google search shows these gems from years past...

Stripper mom of missing girl hangs up on cops, says she ‘had to get on stage’

Stripper mom who left her children, two and six, starving in a bedroom while she worked as an escort is jailed for 20 years

Stripper mom 'solicited son, 17, and his friend to strangle to death' fiance after he proposed to her at topless bar and drained his 401k to buy her lavish gifts  

Stripper mom arrested at work, accused of child neglect

The only somewhat non-negative news items I can find are actress Minka Kelly talking about her Stripper Mom:

Minka Kelly: My Stripper Mom Was the Best

Minka Kelly on her 'gorgeous' stripper mom: 'She got along on that as long as she could'

So, moral of the story is that being a mom and a stripper at the same time is often kind of rough.

I would love to be proven wrong though.

Let me know if you find any positive Stripper Mom news items, please!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Donald Trump and "Sexism"

Thank you, Dean Obeidallah of CNN, for writing Donald Trump doesn't understand what 'sexism' is.

He gives a ton of examples where Trump displays his ignorance. And this is the man that a whole bunch of Americans would like to see run our country.
Trump about fellow GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina: "Carly -- look at that face. Would anybody vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?" Conversely, saying a women isn't qualified for a job because she isn't pretty enough is again textbook sexism.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised that there are people out there who hear statements like this and think he would make good presidential material.

I keep waiting to get pinched, wake up and realize it's all a big joke.

Go on...somebody pinch me.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Looking to the Individual

A hospital in Italy that would not accept a stripper's blood donation illustrates how strongly the belief is embedded that strippers are prostitutes.

Martin Whitmore Image
Even after explaining her monogamous situation to the hospital, they refused her donation because they still believed she posed an STI risk.
“It is not clear in this case what risk the woman posed. She was in a formal and stable relationship," Agitalia was reported as saying in Corriere della Sera. "Even if her job could be seen as 'immoral' or 'unorthodox', it cannot be seen as an STI risk.” 
We are so quick to judge people based on the cultural beliefs about groups of people.

In no situation is it correct to stereotype people, whether it be because of race, gender, sexual preference, or occupation.

We need to base our opinions of people on the individual. On the person standing in front of us.

No one person is an ethnicity, color, job, or anything.

We are all individuals.

Let's start treating each other with the assumption of uniqueness and goodness.