For Queer Women Like Me, Cara Delevingne’s Story Is All Too Familiar

I was so shocked that this was actually happening, that I hadn't trusted my instincts about putting myself in this type of situation.

A few years ago, my younger sister came to visit me in L.A. While I worked during the day, she busied herself hanging out with some friends—most of whom happened to be sons of well-off music and fashion moguls. They were young, straight, rich 20-something men who had a house in the Hollywood Hills that she told me I just had to see. The art! The views! The pool! Would I please come with her that night?

I said no at first—rather emphatically. What did I have in common with these kids? Going to a house in the hills with a bunch of privileged heirs was not my idea of a good time. But I was also protective of my sister, who insisted they were nice, respectful guys.

Despite my gut reaction, I went.

My girlfriend at the time came with us, so my being gay was glaringly obvious—which is how I prefer it. As we chilled in the living room, I turned down their offers of weed and champagne. The topic of conversation turned to how a girl who had just been at the house let them “shoot Molly into her asshole.” She had been in one of the guy’s music videos, who was something of a rapper.

He seemed very proud of himself for getting her to do this, and later regaled with how he’d made another young woman taste her own pussy and describe what it tasted like.

To say I was uncomfortable is an understatement: I felt like a helicopter mom, waiting by as my sister socialized with these men. I wondered if she felt like she had to entertain these stories—or become fodder for a future one. Was this what it was like to be straight—or, at least, straight in L.A? When she jumped in the pool, I became more nervous—the vibes were just off. I was trying to be respectful of their home and give them a chance, but then the rapper asked my girlfriend and me to lick each other’s nipples.

When I refused I was told I was no fun. I was ready to go.

Thankfully, my sister didn’t push me into trying to stay. She went to towel off and I was briefly left alone with the rapper, who referred to my androgynous girlfriend as “my boyfriend” and asked if the whole lesbian thing was “real.” I informed him that yes, it was quite real, and he proceeded to pull his dick out and ask me to look at it. “I just want you to look at it,” he kept saying. I wanted so badly for someone else—my sister or my girlfriend, preferably—to walk in at that moment and see what was going on. But we were alone.

I was so shocked that this was actually happening, that I hadn’t trusted my instincts about putting myself—and my sister—in this type of situation. I immediately blamed myself—even though he was the one questioning and taunting, and pulling his dick out.

But as I turned my glance back toward him, I simply said “I see it. Nothing’s changed.”

Moments later, everyone else came back into the room and said their goodbyes, hugging the rapper on the way out the door. I heard him tell my sister that he was going to “turn me” as we left.

When I read Cara Delevingne’s statement accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexually harassing her, I felt like throwing up. I was immediately back outside that huge house, running to my car—to a safe place where I could tell people who cared about me what had transpired. You never really understand how women can blame themselves in these instances until you find yourself inside of one.

As women, our first instinct is to ask how we could have prevented it. And then secondly, at least for me, there’s a rage against society for instilling that guilt.

When I first started to work as an actress, i was working on a film and I received a call from‎ Harvey Weinstein asking if I had slept with any of the women I was seen out with in the media. It was a very odd and uncomfortable call….i answered none of his questions and hurried off the phone but before I hung up, he said to me that If I was gay or decided to be with a woman especially in public that I'd never get the role of a straight woman or make it as an actress in Hollywood. A year or two later, I went to a meeting with him in the lobby of a hotel with a director about an upcoming film. The director left the meeting and Harvey asked me to stay and chat with him. As soon as we were alone he began to brag about all the actresses he had slept with and how he had made their careers and spoke about other inappropriate things of a sexual nature. He then invited me to his room. I quickly declined and asked his assistant if my car was outside. She said it wasn't and wouldn't be for a bit and I should go to his room. At that moment I felt very powerless and scared but didn't want to act that way hoping that I was wrong about the situation. When I arrived I was relieved to find another woman in his room and thought immediately I was safe. He asked us to kiss and she began some sort of advances upon his direction. I swiftly got up and asked him if he knew that I could sing. And I began to sing….i thought it would make the situation better….more professional….like an audition….i was so nervous. After singing I said again that I had to leave. He walked me to the door and stood in front of it and tried to kiss me on the lips. I stopped him and managed to get out of the room. I still got the part for the film and always thought that he gave it to me because of what happened. Since then I felt awful that I did the movie. I felt like I didn't deserve the part. I was so hesitant about speaking out….I didn't want to hurt his family. I felt guilty as if I did something wrong. I was also terrified that this sort of thing had happened to so many women I know but no one had said anything because of fear.

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While many women are now speaking about their experiences with Weinstein, I related to Delevingne’s on a very basic level: His harassment of her was not just a demonstration of sexism and ownership, but of homophobia. He attempted to use her queerness against her (and for him), trying to take away any agency she had—over herself and her body. He wanted details about women she may have been sleeping with, and then told her she couldn’t be gay or she’d never make it in Hollywood.

Later, she claims, Weinstein asked her to kiss another woman in his hotel room. Delevingne said she was so uncomfortable she started to sing.

“I thought it would make the situation better—more professional, like an audition, I was so nervous,” Delevingne wrote on Instagram. “After singing I said again that I had to leave. He walked me to the door and stood in front of it and tried to kiss me on the lips. I stopped him and managed to get out of the room.”

As women, we’re taught not to be rude. We must be gracious and kind and ladylike. For queer women that impulse can be even stronger, as we’re conditioned to believe we need to apologize for not being “real” women.

When you’re faced with a power dynamic where the harasser thinks you’re there solely for their consumption, it’s hard not to feel powerless. Men like Weinstein believe they have enough power to use your identity as a woman, as a queer person, as a guest in their house (or their hotel room) to orchestrate your every move. And if you’re hoping to land a part in their movie or music video, the pressure is even great. You might not just get the role, you may never work again.

We’re expected to play the game—and if we don’t, we’re bitches, we’re dykes, we asked for it; we’re liars. So the pattern of us shutting up and silently harboring resentment and pain for things we certainly didn’t ask for replays over and over, emerging from its hiding place when we hear stories from other survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

That Hollywood rapper’s power pales in comparison to someone like Weinstein, yet he felt he has the same right to use women. There are thousands more spread across industries throughout the world just like him. If Donald Trump thinks he can grab a woman by the pussy, if Harvey Weinstein can ask Delevingne to engage in lesbian acts for his pleasure; if a rapper can demand I look at his unimpressive dick in his rich friend’s kitchen; then why would any man anywhere think he didn’t have the same right?

Boys will be boys turns into men will be men. Yes, not all men. But enough.

In Hollywood, homophobia and sexism are two sides of the same coin. When straight actresses are cast in lesbian roles, it’s partially because they’re seen as more fuckable by the men holding the purse strings. When male directors are hired to helm lesbian-themed projects, it’s sometimes because they will deliver the male gaze Weinstein and friends are looking for. It’s why lesbians have sex on TV and then they die. It’s what keeps actresses from acknowledging their queerness publicly, and why there are many more successful femme-presenting celesbians than androgynous or masc-presenting ones.

When the Weinsteins of the world are in control, they dictate way too much of how we see ourselves. We can’t allow that to continue.

When confronted with the kind of overt homophobia and sexism I dealt with that night, I often ask myself what I could have done differently—like Delevigne must have surely asked herself, and like others, both those who have stepped forward and those who still haven’t or may never, ask themselves.

There are arguments made that Weinstein is a product of the 1960s, when sexism—and sexual harassment—in the workplace was somehow acceptable. But that ignores how that kind of culture still exists today, and trickles down into the minds of younger men who grow up believing they have just as much right to demand women perform on cue. Now it’s time to take a different cue—one coming from women themselves.

Telling our stories is the most powerful thing we can do, and it’s a power they can’t take away from us. It’s one they’re scared of, because it takes the narrative away from them. We deserve better than a supporting role in someone else’s hyper-masculine hero’s journey. Our womanhood—and our sexuality—are ours and we are owed the right to own those things, not blame, guilt, and shame.

Trish Bendix is a Los Angeles-based writer.
@trishbendix