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Premiere Of Focus Features' "Bad Words" - Arrivals

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April is sexual assault awareness month. With 1 in 5 women being the victim of assault during the course of her lifetime, it’s an issue that deserves our attention. Recently, we had the pleasure of speaking with actress Kimleigh Smith. 

Known for her roles in “Shameless” and the movie “Bad Words,” Smith is also a survivor. And once she came to terms with her sexual violation, she incorporated her experience into her one-woman-show,    “T-O-T-A-L-L-Y.”

In our exclusive interview, Kimleigh spoke about repressing her assault, years of destructive behavior, rape culture,  and how she embraced sex positivity on the other side of healing. 

 

MadameNoire: At what point in your journey did you begin to feel comfortable talking about your experience with sexual assault?

Kimleigh Smith: I repressed my sexual assault for eight years. For eight years right out of college, I didn’t even remember I was sexually assaulted. I’m going around, living life like everything’s beautiful. Then I started having these dreams that were so real. I was in a surreal world. But I started seeing my rapists and I knew this is not a dream. And that’s when I started talking about it.

It took me another decade to really be able to honor that. I thought, ‘It’s all fine. It’s nothing I can do about it. It’s eight years later. I can’t press charges.’ I’m fine. I was working a lot as an actor at the time. So I thought I was fine.

But then I started looking at my relationships with men, my self destructive behavior. When I was working, it was fine. But there was a lack of confidence, security and believing in myself. I felt like I was only worth sex. I really felt like that was it for me because I was a dirty person. It’s a very normal reality for people who have been molested.

I was seventeen and gang-raped by three football players. And this was the guy I loved and thought I was going to be in a relationship with. So I just found myself beating myself up.

Eventually, family and friends encouraged Kimleigh to write a one-woman show. Though she was just an actor at the time and didn’t consider herself a writer, she took on the challenge. But she had some help.

“God literally send me that entire show in a dream. I called my friend and I said, ‘You need to get your video camera, show up to the stage and videotape what I dreamed last night.’

It has morphed and grown since but God was literally like this is what you’re supposed to be doing.

I didn’t write about rape. I wanted to shuck and jive, do a little song and showcase myself, right? And then God was like, ‘No, I got bigger plans for you.’ I just started laughing at God and I said, ‘You a joke and a mess and I’m mad at you forevah.’ We had our little conversation.

But it took 15 years to be able to tell that story. You know how you write beyond yourself? You’re writing further than you are. And right before COVID, I realized, ‘I’m beyond this now.’ I’m still telling the story but I finally reached my ending. I am there. And I just started sobbing. I’ve done all the work to put me here.

 

MadameNoire: Why do you believe your body wanted you to remember this incident after you had suppressed it for so long?

Kimleigh: I believe that I was so innocent when I was gang raped that had I had the memory then, it may have destroyed me. But instead, I was able to finish school, got my degree in psychology,  I went to the Miss Kansas pageant. All of these things were able to come to light because I wasn’t beating myself up with the truth at that point.

I believe all bodies repress things to protect you. I believe God, the universe whatever you believe in said, ‘Okay, let me give her this so when she does remember this, she’ll know what to do with it.’ Because I don’t know if I would have made it.

I was so innocent. I had never had sex yet. I don’t think I could have mentally, physically process it at that young age. I do believe I was being saved and I’m grateful for that.

My best friend at the time told me that these football players said I had a threesome with them. I didn’t even know what a threesome was. So I just thought, you’re lying, they’re lying, everybody’s lying.

I literally had no memory of that. I remember sitting outside their dorm room with blood running down my leg because it was my first sexual experience. I thought, ‘Dang it! I started my period.’ And I went upstairs and started showering.

MadameNoire: You blocked it out that quickly.

Kimleigh: It was deep blocking. I would have never thought that was possible. But it was gone. Not one memory of it. If I would see one of those guys, there would be a visceral response to it. But I didn’t know what they were.

Years later, I noticed in my relationships with men, I was still stuck as that 17-year-old. With women I was fine. With men who I wasn’t romantic with, I was fine But in my romantic relationships, I was still that 17-year-old.

Captial Fringe Festival-Washington, DC

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MadameNoire: How does one become sex positive after an experience with sexual assault?

Kimleigh: I believe as children, there is no such thing as sex positive. It’s just ‘Don’t do it. Don’t do it til you’re married.’ But It’s not realistic because everybody does it. It’s a natural reality. I forgave my rapist because I knew that their only choice was that. They didn’t know better. That’s what boys do. In the healing and forgiveness of those guys—in my soul and spirit—I feel sorry for them because they’ve got to live with this as much as I did. We live in a society where this is what we’re training boys to do and then we expect them to be different. We treat them like children.

So I became sex positive because part of my healing. Even though my initial behaviors around sex were self-destructive, it taught me about my body. And once I reclaimed myself, I was in charge of the interactions that I had. I realized that I could have an orgasm, I could be beautiful. I am sexy. As Black women, we don’t get to be sexy that often. I didn’t see myself as that.

I’m sex positive because we have got to change the way we have conversations around sexuality. Break the taboo. Stop making people feel dirty for anything they do or we’ll never break the cycle. Sexual molestation, assault, harassment are all symptoms of a greater cause. We do not embrace sexuality so most kids and men are learning sex from pornography. And I am not anti-porn. But if all you ever see is men slapping women with d*cks and raping them, what do you think is natural behavior?

Because I got my innocence taken away from me by rape, I can’t get that innocence back. I can’t go back in time and have my first experience again. So all I can do is embrace this beautiful woman who can now honor my body and choose who I give it to and whom I don’t.

 

MadameNoire: Can you tell us about Embrace Your Cape?

Kimleigh: When I was a kid, we all wanted to be a superhero. And we think a superhero are these super humans who turn into something powerful. And if look at the origin stories of most superheroes, they’ve all been birthed out of trauma. Superman lost his entire family. Daredevil loses his eyes to chemicals. Batman watches his parents die in front of him. And it dawned on me, ‘Oh I am a superhero.’

I do embrace my cape because I have been through trauma and I’m on the other side of it, able to still stand, walk, talk and be human.

I really think that our capes really embody everything that makes us. The more we step into our power as women, our power as men and what we’re put on this earth to do, that cape unfurls and unfurls. Then you embrace everything that you are. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t embraced all of my life. The good, the bad and the ugly.

 

Kimleigh Smith is an Actress, Best-selling Author, Internationally Acclaimed Multi-award-winning Solo Performer, Sex Positive, Sexual Assault Awareness Advocate, Speaker, Founder of the “Embrace Your Cape!” philosophy, Singer, Dancer, Creator, Director, Producer, Superhero, Queen, Life Transformer, Life Coach, & Lifelong Cheerleader.

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