STUDENT VOICES: On Queer Abuse
Through my teen years, I quickly became confident in my identity as a queer person. My sexuality was something hard to label and explain, so for my own comfort, I ditched those concepts and just made sure it was known I wasn’t straight.
Becoming confident in my identity helped me create a sort of safe space, and with that came an internet persona. In this age, social media is a big part of our lives whether we like it or not, so I made the most of it. I interacted with other members of the community, explored writing about my gender and sexuality, and learned about different opinions than the ones I held. With all of this happening it was easy to gain some friendships through mutual followings on social media sites like Twitter.
After many interactions with a follower (who I had shared friends with), our talking began to recede from Twitter direct messages and enter the realm of texting. We quickly graduated to texting daily and dovetailed immediately. We had so many similarities. It had been a long time since I had pursued crushes or relationships, so when they started flirting with me I didn’t know what to do. I was really flattered and felt like they, let’s call them ‘X’, were perfect. We had some disagreements and differing opinions but were really able to connect. They seemed extremely skilled in communication to me, and soon we were making plans to meet up on New Year’s Eve.
Although I thought I had a pretty clear idea of who X was, I didn’t feel comfortable meeting anyone from online alone, so I went with a trusted friend of five years who was not afraid to call out a bad situation when it was happening. I felt extremely nervous and needed her confidence too boost mine. After waiting at a pizza place for a bit on account of arriving early, I saw them walk in, and felt all my fears dissipate. We went on a walk downtown, watching the fireworks, and that night we made our relationship official.
This was something very new to me. Despite being in relationships in the past, I hadn’t seriously dated since my freshman year of high school. I was seventeen and completely inexperienced. When things started to move quickly and I expressed that fact, I was talked out of my concerns by X – they told me things like “this is just what real love feels like” or “we’re in a serious relationship.’ I began to dispatch my doubts before they even got a chance to fully set in.
Looking back, I can now face the fact that X was skilled in making people doubt their gut feelings. They were a master manipulator who was quick to comfort their victims in toxic and vicious ways.
After the first couple of months of our relationship, we had gone on a date. Despite having talked about sexual experiences we wanted to explore, or things we thought we’d be into, I wasn’t ready to have sex. I hadn’t yet felt that needed level of comfort with them or myself. I made sure to explicitly state this a lot. I could never be too safe, and I didn’t want them to think that I was having these discussions as a way of saying that I was ready. X was always quick to make sure I understood that they accepted that I wasn’t yet ready for that step.
During the date I previously mentioned, X had us sitting in the back of a theatre, watching a movie that they clearly weren’t interested in. In the past, they had told me that they wanted to try being in control during exhibitionist sex. As someone who had hardly done anything sexual, I wasn’t ready to even think about doing things in public. After a few kisses, they moved their hand down my shorts and I stopped them. They said that they completely understood, started to kiss me, and put a finger in my mouth to hush me while they went back to my shorts. I was in complete shock. I didn’t know what to do. I sort of just sat there and let it happen until I felt so gross that I pretended to finish. They took their hand away and tried kissing me again. This time I was not responsive. I sat there until the movie ended and went to the bathroom to cry for a minute then wash up.
I had always had issues with sex. Growing up a devout Catholic, I was taught that sex before marriage was a sin that my family might look down on me for, and that queer sex would not be forgiven. The idea of being assaulted by someone I was happy with – someone who said they loved me – was not something that I wanted to face either. I had spent so much of my life dodging statistics, I didn’t want to accept that I had just become one. So I washed my face in that bathroom and put on a smile for the rest of our date.
Sparing most of the details, the remainder of our relationship entailed fights, my developing drinking problem, X keeping me from my friends, X gaslighting me, X leaving and coming back, and my rape.
The day it happened we had planned to have sex. I made it clear that I wanted to get tested, and for the sex to be very vanilla, with a condom. They conveniently couldn’t get a test done in time and thought my version of vanilla was tying me up. The condom was put on then slipped off, due to a ‘mistake.’ It all happened too fast, and my memories still come back in bits and pieces to this day. I can say that I cried, asked to stop, panicked, then lay there letting it happen. I knew by then that they were going to finish what they had started and that this was no longer about me, or us. It was just about them.
I was scared. I was scared to tell anyone. I didn’t want X to get hurt – I had some intense friends who would go to extreme lengths. I was scared people wouldn’t believe me. I was scared that I was to blame. I was scared that this was going to define me. After I was raped, it was clear to them they had me completely in their control. After that, there was no more pretending to be sorry or pretending to love me. They told me that I wouldn’t find anyone like them. I felt trapped. I felt small.
After a month of hiding what happened, I told one friend, sparing details. I still didn’t know how to say I was raped in my head, let alone out loud. My friend convinced me to try and call off things, and I did. I texted X saying I needed a break and they responded with threats of killing themselves. I couldn’t live with myself if I knew I caused someone that pain so, despite my best efforts, we stayed together. It wasn’t until two attempts later that I just said we were done – no break, just a breakup.
Post-breakup, X began to stalk me, and harass me and a close friend, tormenting me through text messages, and tweeting out personal things that I told them about during our relationships for their entire large following to see. I felt like they were in my life even more after we separated than they were when we were together. It wasn’t until around six months later that everything simmered down – if only because of a friend threatening legal action. To this day, notifications, new followers, and mentions still scare me at first.
When you hear about abusive relationships, it’s so easy to think that you’d leave. I considered myself strong and independent, but there was a weakness X saw in me that they used every day and that got me. People wonder why you would stay with someone who could do those things, think it’s ridiculous. I want to help people understand.
Abusers have a method. During my therapy for PTSD (from my relationship with X) I learned this. I learned that I was groomed and manipulated. That trapped feeling wasn’t just metaphorical – it was literal. X was quick to find my insecurities and use them against me. X knew I had trouble admitting when I was hurt and that I would likely excuse the toxic behavior, and that led to my silence. I was sexually assaulted and then told that was how real relationships were. I was raped and then literally silenced. I fought for freedom and I was threatened. When X realized that threatening me wasn’t enough, they targeted my friends. I didn’t want that and would do what I needed to in order to protect them. When that didn’t work, they told strangers on public social media sites deep personal struggles. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. X knew what they were doing from the beginning, and they were not going to stop.
On the other hand, the chances of an afro-latinx, queer, feminine-presenting person being listened to and assisted by the police didn’t seem high. In addition, after months of treatment, I learned how things changed on a chemical level in my brain. The stimulants that would normally be released because of positive experiences in relationships began to dispense because of fights – that’s what X conditioned me to think love was. My mind had no serious past relationship to shape how I felt or saw things. This made me an easy target. This was a calculated plan, and I was X’s project.
After learning about my own experience through therapy, I reached out to a few of X’s exes and realized that a lot of them had a similar, if not identical story. One initially told me things ended amicably until I opened up, and they realized that they could tell me the truth. Another person messaged a friend of mine asking about my experience because X had offered to assist them with a living situation and they felt like X was starting another cycle of abuse. I wasn’t alone in this, and X was not spontaneous – it’s key that you understand that abusers have a plan.
As a queer young adult, I know that there is a 61% chance of me facing sexual assault and that 22% of that chance is the risk of perpetration by an intimate partner. As a black queer young adult, I know that chance increases by almost 50%. I know that my identity puts me at these risks. What I didn’t know was how to recognize that I was part of that statistic. Gut feelings are important, how you feel is important, your comfort is important. There is someone who scrolled through this article and may need help or coming to the realization that there are a lot of similarities between what they’re facing and what I faced.
Today’s danger’s harm us and our community just as much as they did in the past. Find your safe spaces. Call 800-656-4673 for assistance in dealing with sexual assault. Visit https://www.ostem.org/crisis-hotlines for a variety of LGBT+ inclusive crisis hotlines. Trust your friends. Message people willing to help (my Twitter: @CerdaAly). This kind of harm is too common, and harming too many of us. Speak out against it.