DJ and Activist Zeke Thomas Describes his Journey as a Survivor of Sexual Assault
Which word is harder to say: ‘rape’ or ‘love’? This was the first question that DJ and social activist Zeke Thomas posed to an intimate crowd in Freeman Auditorium on Wednesday night. Thomas first had audience members stand and say each word allowed before asking which was harder. “Rape,” the crowd answered unanimously.
Thomas went on to describe his experiences not only as a gay black man but also as a survivor of sexual assault. The event was a part of Penn State’s National Coming Out Week sponsored by the LGBTQA Student Resource Center.
Thomas began by discussing his decision to publicly talk about being raped in an interview that aired on Good Morning America. “I had a little bit of a platform,” Thomas said. “I wanted to get the story out my way, rather than have someone else tell my story.”
Thomas achieved that platform well before he began his career as a renowned DJ. Being the son of hall of fame basketball player Isiah Thomas, Zeke Thomas talked about having a celebrity as a father. “Growing up, I didn’t have to want for anything at all,” Thomas said. “But there are different things that come with being the son of a celebrity.” Thomas was arrested twice, once for underage drinking and getting into a fight with his college roommate. Both were highly publicized due to his father’s stardom. “Even when I didn’t decide to be public,” Thomas said, “the microscope was on me.” Despite his father’s stature, however, Thomas still experienced discrimination as a gay person of color. “It does not mean that, at the end of the day, I am not gay; I am not black,” Thomas said. “Bad s— happens to minorities.”
Thomas described many of his experiences trying to find himself growing up, including imitating supermodel Naomi Campbell by wearing high heels around the house, and sneaking into a gay bar at the age of 16.“There is no manual for being a black gay man,” Thomas said. “It’s not healthy to have to deal with that amount of pressure, to have to hide who you are.”
Thomas was raped for the first time at the age of 12 when some of his teammates forced him to perform oral sex. “I remember that moment didn’t make sense, it didn’t compute,” Thomas said. “This was something that I didn’t process fully until I was raped again at 27.”
Thomas’s second experience with sexual assault came from a stranger that he met on the dating app Grindr. On their second date, Thomas was drugged and woke up to the fact in his own bed.
“I did not move from my bed for two days,” Thomas said. Thomas then turned to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. “It’s scary to think that your friends, the people you love the most…No one reached out,” Thomas said. “No one said ‘hey what’s going on.’”
Seven months later, Thomas attempted suicide by injecting methamphetamine into his arm. However, Thomas survived and eventually told his family about his trauma. He later began therapy.
“We all have s— going on that we need to unload and it’s ok to unload it,” Thomas said.
He said that people can help support victims and survivors by reaching out to friends, or even people you see going through a hard time.
“The message that I want to instill in you is what’s easier to say: love,” Thomas said. “I want all of you to know the problem can be fixed if we put love first…”
Thomas then opened the floor up to Q-and-A, which continued on for the next 30 minutes.
Ileana Aguado, a senior psychology major, who was in attendance, admired Thomas for his openness and honesty regarding sexual assault. “It was interesting to hear it from someone else’s perspective since you…normally just hear it from women,” Aguado said. “I think his biggest point was just be there for others…just support and love.”
Stephanie Polinak, a senior print journalism major, talked about the importance of awareness in regards to sexual assault. “I think because Penn State’s such a big campus,” Polinak said, “we do get notifications of sexual assault sometimes. But I think it’s definitely more than we know. And I think raising awareness of it will help victims be more comfortable and to come out and share their stories.”
Penn State Coming Out Week continues on Thursday as Penn State’s Queer and Trans People of Color will host Gender Expression and Body Positivity at 6:30 p.m. in 260 Willard Building