“There’s a necessity for us as a community to better understand the issue of abuse so that we can respond to it when it happens but moreso so we can work to prevent it from happening in the first place,” says Lilada Gee, who has spent a lifetime dedicating herself to helping girls and women who are victims of child sexual abuse.
Gee’s edgy and inspirational 2006 book I Can’t Live Like This Anymore will come to life at the Overture Center Saturday, Sept. 12, as she revisits her painful past and unwraps her intense journey with immense passion, incredible honesty, and amazing courage. It’s a rare chance for Madison to get up close and personal to see a black woman’s story and journey delivered in an edgy one-woman show.
“It’s not something that you would normally see at the Overture [Center]. It’s rare to see a black woman headliner anywhere in Madison,” Gee tells Madison365. “As we move to create a more inclusive community, I think we have to have it reflected everywhere. I agree with the piece you wrote that Madison is not showing its diversity and I feel like we definitely are not doing it in the arts. So, I’m very happy to be given this opportunity.”
I Can’t Live Like This Anymore will contain some mature content and some bad words, so Gee recommends that audience members be 16 years old and up. “It’s going to be a heavy conversation. This is the real deal,” says Gee, who is ordained minister, with extensive experience in education and social services. “I feel like I’m really going to bring it and leave it all out on the stage.
“I tell people, ‘If you’ve read my book and you’ve heard me preach, but you’ve never heard me cuss … come out to the show,’” she adds with a laugh.
But it will be funny, too. “I think that laughter can help in the healing process … although many things aren’t funny,” Gee says. “Part of the process can be.”
Gee was first abused by an adult member of her family at age 6, but she didn’t tell her mother until she was 11 years old. She was sworn to secrecy at that age and didn’t tell anybody again until she told her brother, Alex, at age 15. “The first time I publically shared it was at church and it was really hard,” Gee remembers. “I planned on taking this with me to the grave without telling people like many black women do. It was very difficult, but my church was very supportive. After I shared my story, many other black women and girls started to share their stories. They actually started to show up in my living room to talk about it.”
Through the years, Gee struggled with issues stemming from her sexual abuse that included clinical depression, post-traumatic stress, and low self-esteem.
“Even many years afterwards, for victims there is still the self-blame: If I had done this or I had done that or I should have done this or if I was better, prettier, smarter it wouldn’t have happened to me. It makes you feel like something is wrong with you,” Gee says.
Now, as an adult, Gee is committed to helping girls and women who are victims of child sexual abuse.
“One thing I tell young people is to tell …. And keep on telling until somebody does the right thing,” Gee says. “That’s one of the strongest messages I can give. Sometimes you tell the right person and they should do the right thing, but they don’t.
“I want young people to know that there is hope. Life can get better,” she adds. “I thought I would never feel better and that I would never love myself. But there is hope and things do get better.”
Profits from the theatrical performance of I Can’t Live Like This Anymore will go to benefit the healing work done by Lilada’s Livingroom, a non-profit (originally called Women of Worth) that was created by Gee in 2000 to inspire and equip individuals, families, organizations, and communities with tools to prevent, interrupt, and heal the sexual abuse of women and children. Lilada’s Livingroom is devoted to helping create safe environments for women and girls, and to empowering people to make better choices for themselves to avoid becoming victims. “Lilada’s Livingroom focuses on prevention and early intervention – we do a lot of outreach to youth,” Gee says. “We are also able to intervene and give them the support and protection that they need early on. We help with the healing and with the education and awareness.”
“If you’ve been raped, the officer that comes to your house is going to be white, the advocate is going to be white, the nurse that examines you is going to be white, the doctor is going to be white, the D.A. [district attorney] is going to be white, the judge is going to be white, all of the jury is likely going to be white. And if you feel uncomfortable with that, it’s kinda like, ‘Well, too bad for you!’”
The stigma about sexual abuse that has caused so many young women to remain silent has changed since Gee was a kid. But not nearly enough.
“People still don’t want to talk about it,” Gee says. “We talk about abuse more than we did, but for it to be as pervasive as it is, it’s still is the world’s biggest secret. And you have people who are literally going to the grave with their secret.”
And it’s worse for African-American girls.
“A study that came out a few years ago estimated that 50-65 percent of black girls will be sexually abused by the age 18,” Gee says. “At first when I heard that statistic I thought to myself, ‘Here we go again … pathologizing black people.’ But then I started to do more personal and historical research in my own family and I realized that one thing that has not been discussed in this arena is the impact of historical trauma on the black community.
“Sexual abuse in slavery was not only legal but encouraged, rewarded, and expected,” Gee adds. “When you look at any group of people who have been subjected to hundreds of years of sexual oppression, there’s going to be some deviance and there’s going to be some trauma that’s pushed forward. I think that’s what pushing those numbers.”
At the same time, Gee says, the help centers that work in the abuse arena are pretty darn white. “I’ve worked in social services for 30 years now and I don’t think there’s ever been a black person who’s worked in Oasis [Project],” Gee says. “There are not many, if any, black therapists and counselors. There are no black sexual assault advocates that work in any of the state agencies. So what that means is that if a black woman or girl has a need to heal through a cultural lens, that’s not afforded to them. And it also means that some people might not report [sexual assault/abuse].”
The result is that there are a lot of black girls and black women walking around traumatized with no healthy outlet.
“If you’ve been raped,” Gee says, “the officer that comes to your house is going to be white, the advocate is going to be white, the nurse that examines you is going to be white, the doctor is going to be white, the D.A. [district attorney] is going to be white, the judge is going to be white, all of the jury is likely going to be white. And if you feel uncomfortable with that, it’s kinda like, ‘Well, too bad for you!’”
Gee hopes that her unique one-woman show I Can’t Live Like This Anymore will help girls and women to be more comfortable talking about sexual abuse. In the nonprofit world of galas and golf outings, this is an interesting and exciting type of fundraiser that Gee hopes she can do more of in future.
“This is definitely a different way of doing things and I’m hoping I’ll be able to do this at other places,” Gee says. “I’m looking forward to see what people’s reaction and response is to the show. I’m hoping that it is opening up a door for me to do more theatrical presentations that encapsulate the healing process and inspire healing in others.
“Who knows who I might be able to touch in that audience. The reason I’m doing this is to raise awareness. This event will give me an opportunity to reach out to a different audience that I haven’t tapped into yet,” she adds. “We can use it as a healing vehicle. I’m hoping there will be survivors of abuse in the audience and people who love the survivors of abuse and want to better understand their story and how they can support them.”
I Can’t Live Like This Anymore will take place at the Overture Center on Saturday, Sept. 12. Tickets are $30 and $50 and will benefit Lilada’s Livingroom. This performance contains mature content and is recommended for audiences 16 years and older.
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