The intersections of disability, queerness and domestic violence
October is a hard month for me.
It is both domestic violence awareness month and this upcoming week is national coming out day. These intersections of trauma, queerness, transness and disability are already inherent to my experiences
Last year around this time I shared my domestic abuse story, but I have left a lot out and I left out my abusive partners that came after. Perhaps because it is easier to talk about an abusive relationship when you no longer have any connection to that person.
I have also been thinking over the language we use and how we conceptualize romantic relationships. Words like “toxic” and “abusive” are being used more frequently, potentially in a useful way, potentially in a way that still doesn’t address the problem.
What defines toxic? What about abusive?
What do you mean by manipulative?
Why do I feel exhausted every time I hear “emotional labor”?
Who gets to claim these words and who is getting the space to use them?
Monogamous “heterosexual” relationships taught me to feel jealous, to feel inadequate, to feel too boring, to feel the need to perform. Compulsive heterosexuality pressured me into feeling like I needed to be in a relationship to be valid. Taught me that my value was only worth what we conveyed on social media. “we accept the love we think we deserve” bullshit. As if I didn’t cry about not feeling loved, or wanted, or cared for. Taught me the fragility of cisgender men. Fragility turned violent, turned dangerous, turned threatening.
Being in an abusive relationship taught me how scared people are to speak up. Taught me that people don’t want the illusion to be shattered. That people don’t like to stop talking to your abusive ex. That people won’t intervene when someone is screaming at you or pushing you. That your friends and family will become bored and exhausted of hearing you talk about it. It taught me to turn inwards again. That sympathy and “checking-in messages” have a shelf-life. That people love performing allyship only in ways they are comfortable and not in ways that you need. That you will always lose friends due to trauma.
Being a “victim/survivor” taught me that people think you have healed when you stop talking about it. It taught me that people will always be shocked when I tell my stories. Taught me that I guess I don’t fit what they envision when you say you were in domestically abusive relationships. That people continuously categorize my experiences as “horrible” but are finished hearing to me talk as soon as I have fulfilled what they need in order to talk about my experience somewhere else, to someone else.
I learned that people feel like they deserve to know my trauma. Like we can’t be close friends or in any sort of relationship unless I openly share my feelings whenever they want to hear them.
That I am a “toxic” person if I don’t comply.
I am tired of speaking only when other people want me to.
I am tired of feeling scared of talking about certain experiences.
I’m not done talking yet.
I want to tell a more complete story.
October 19, 2017
Cw: descriptions of sexual, physical and emotional abuse and violence. Scroll to the next photo if you cannot read this.
October is domestic violence awareness month and I just wanted to share my story and to be visible for those who can't be.
I met my first partner at a Halloween party my freshman year. He gave me his number and we made plans to go on a date a week or two later. The night of the date he was about an hour late and I was going to cancel, but then he showed up. I wish I had cancelled.
He was very sweet, polite and wasn't demanding of my time. However, when we "made it official" around Christmas time it seemed as though his entire behavior changed. He started demanding that I answer all his calls on the first ring, I had to send him pictures of where I was at to "prove" it, he told me I needed to change how I dressed, that I needed to lose/gain weight, he only would make time for me very late at night even though I was a student. Then he started going through my phone and deleting any "male" contacts and people on my facebook.
After a month or so of dating he raped me in a mall parking lot despite my crying and explicitly telling him to stop. This led to him raping me on several more occasions while we were dating. Most notably, when I came out to him that I was bisexual he physically and sexually assaulted me and said, “I always knew you were a fucking dyke.” I had opened up to him that I had been raped my summer after high school and he told me that I was lying because I was a slut anyway and continued to tell me how he had raped women in the past. And distinctly that he said people who have been raped are better partners because they will do whatever you say.
He would often make me tell him who I had slept with and then gaslight me by saying I had said a different number before. Or say that because I had slept with more people than him that he deserved to be able to sleep with someone else. For the rest of the school year we would continuously fight, and he would threaten to leave, but at that point my self worth and confidence was so low that I begged him to stay. I distinctly remember him telling me that I was too “broken” and that no one else would ever want me. At this point I was restricting my eating, I wasn’t socializing with my friends, and I began self-harming again.
Once the school year was over I had the "choice" of moving back to my hometown where I would likely see my rapist and people from my highschool that hated me, or to move in with my abusive partner. I moved in with him. He wouldn't let me unpack my things or even let me move things in his apartment. Often he would kick me out for hours during the day so he could do "business" and he would forcibly make me have sex with him in public places or would grab me inappropriately. This summer was arguably the worst few months of my life. I was having panic attacks almost daily, I rapidly lost weight on top of going to summer classes and working. I was exhausted and terrified all the time.
I felt like I was just constantly trying to not provoke a fight. We continued fighting, breaking up, getting back together that summer. Most of it was emotional and sexual abuse, however he started physically abusing me as well. Most notably when he choked me and slammed my head into the car window, and then accused me of making him do that so that other people would notice and make him look like a bad guy. However he would often shove, push or hit me in public, and leave me stranded in places when he was mad. Cars still scare me because he would drive too fast, too reckless, and often drive while he was blackout drunk.
That summer he also began demanding that I needed to get pregnant and he wanted to get married. He tried convincing me to stop taking my birth control, and later resorted to trying to throw it out. I am continually thankful that I never became pregnant. I also learned that summer that he had lied to me about his real age, and that he was nearly twice my age at the time. He tried to convince me that I always knew his age and I was lying. I still can’t comprehend that his friends didn’t find it weird that someone in their mid-thirties was dating an 18 year old. Further he started making me pay for many things despite the fact that I was only working part time and I also had to pay my school fees.
Then, on the fourth of July he was out of the country again on "business." Again he took contention with a male friend I had on facebook, and stated that I had slept with him. It was a student I worked with in Uruguay in high school, and had not even been in contact with since then. He continued to pick fights with me the rest of the night, and I kept having to make excuses to my friends that he just wanted to talk etc etc. And finally one of my friends asked me "why do you let him treat you like that?" I didn't have an answer. Our fight escalated to him threatening to hurt my family and I broke. These threats seemed so real because he had told me he had killed someone before and that he had access to guns. I will never know if any of this is true or if it was lies to scare me.
I told him we were officially done and spent the night at a friend's house. My parents drove down in the morning to help me pack up my things and I moved into my grandparents house. After that he showed up both at my grandparents’ house and at work, I tried calling the police but I only received a response that I should have already filed a restraining order and that if there were no deadly weapons known that it wasn't an emergency. I had to change my phone number, I had to block him on all media. I am glad I never told him where I was living with my friends the next year.
I lost more weight, most days I don't remember I was so numb and sad, I felt like a failure. I cried every day, I slept with the lights on and pepper spray and a knife next to my bed. I stopped socializing. I was embarrassed and lost most of the friends I had at the time.
I am sharing this so that people can learn warning signs and so you know that even someone who “seems fine” can be going through fucking hell. I only wish that I would have been able to tell my friends and family about everything sooner, but again shame and embarrassment kept me silent. I tried going to a therapist that fall, who ultimately diagnosed me with PTSD and anxiety—but insurance didn’t cover my sessions and it was too expensive to keep going. Additionally, I don’t think I was ready at all to discuss what had happened.
It has taken me nearly six years to publicly share this story so specifically, and it’s been six years of having to hear microaggressions and judgments about being in a domestically abusive relationship. That people were shocked because I “seemed so strong”, or because I was a feminist, or that I need to just get over it so I can stop giving my energy to him etc etc victim blaming bullshit. I also want to share this because I know so many other strong people who have been in abusive relationships, and that abuse takes MANY forms (physical, sexual, emotional, financial). I rationalized much of what he did to me because I wasn’t physically abused until months into the relationship, when there were so many other abusive behaviors before that—many which have been much more scarring than the physical abuse I experienced in my opinion. That I am constantly still second-guessing what happened and trying to determine if it is real. The constant gas-lighting and lies made it so hard to understand what was reality, and has impacted my ability to have a healthy relationship. I constantly feel like everyone hates me, I cry when I hear loud noises or when someone startles me, I still have nightmares that he is going to find me.
So please, reach out to your friends and listen to them. Don’t try and tell them what they should do and DON’T just tell them to leave, they need support not your moral judgment.
To all my victim/survivors, I see you and I love you.
EDIT: I also wanted to share this because this isn't an issue of "he's a bad person", but an issue of how we are taught relationships should be as well as toxic masculinity (i.e. a bigger societal problem not an individual one). Also DV isn't gender specific or specific to "heterosexual" relationships. Having these preconceived notions only silences victim/survivors further.
This post was extremely hard for me to write and hard to revisit now. I already constantly relive these memories and to see so many of them written out is….overwhelming.
I’m currently sitting in a café thousands of miles away, I can feel my heart rate rising—it beating strong through my sweater. my stomach is nauseous and my vision becoming black.
Drink some water.
Feel the flower vinyl on the tables.
I know I’ve been wanting to write this post for a week or so now, I have found myself checking every room in my apartment when I come home. Scared to find him there. Every shadow could be him. Every call I get from an unknown number could be him. It’s still always there.
March 17, 2018
Half a decade later and you're still what scares me the most.
Last night my brain kept telling me you were in my room. Was playing a scene that never happened. Or did it? I slept with the lights on.
I saw someone that looked like you today and I feel empty.
And all I can do is replay my mistakes and when I should have left you the first, second, third, fourth time. The heartache I could have spared my parents. And myself.
I remember after the first time you hit me I told your mom and she told me to leave you.
I remember the night after you told me you killed him and said that I should leave you.
I remember the first night you raped me. You said nothing.
I remember the first time you threatened to kill me.
I remember the first time you tried. And your hands on my neck. And me comforting you after.
I remember sleeping with the lights on for months.
Do you know how hard it is to try and remember someone you actually never knew?
Do you know how hard it is to forget?
How can I be scared of you if I don't even know you.
You had so many names. And ages. And life stories. So many lies.
Five years and I still have no answers. I'm trying to do good. I'm going to get my PhD and my family and I have a really good relationship.
I don't silence myself when I cry anymore.
I'm not broken.
I’m not broken… or am I?
My body is in pain, they say it’s because of how trauma is stored here. That it is attacking itself, yet another reminder that this will be with me always. Be with me on every medical form, as a way to discount my current pain. No, it’s just psychological. It’s just anxiety, are you stressed from school? Your depression score is high, do you know we have counsellors on campus here?
I just want to finally be able to breathe.
I want to finally have space to feel.
It too often feels like I was cosmically meant to be hurt this constantly. Or why else do I keep being sexually and physically violated and abused? What is this repetition teaching me? Why I am always reduced as the “best thing” that happened to them? Why do I only ever get taken advantage of or taken for granted? Who taught me to hold all this pain and anger? Who taught them to see me as their enemy and their care-taker? Will I ever get to feel comfort in sharing myself with someone else?
When will I get to be the person crying and being held? When will I finally not be told to be quiet? Can my pain be loud yet?
What is trust and where can I learn this?
I’m just lonely.
April 7, 2018
Every time he hit me//
All their faces blend together. The angry men. The threatened men. Their faces twisting into snarls. Throwing me against the wall, the railing, the car window, against the sidewalk.
Naming me: a dyke, a bitch, a liar, a slut.
And why do I always chase you. Try to make things better.
Too many bare feet running on cold concrete. Too many nights spent running and begging and crying and crying.
Why am I the one who is embarrassed.
Why are you so angry. Why do I keep apologizing.
I remember clearly when I gave up.
When everything felt like nothing.
When I found comfort in the nothing. In feeling empty. In making myself small.
Please don't yell.
And yet it isn't the bruises that stay with me. It is their angry faces.
Twisted into snarls.
And later their faces full of tears and my arms open and cradling their heads.
My body, soft, and holding their anger.
My voice, reassuring them that it didn't matter.
My body, hiding in the corner.
Who taught me this and why did it feel like routine?
Who taught me to feel embarrassed?
Who taught me to keep a secret?
Who taught my friends to say nothing?
Who taught him to hate me.
The only way I have found of not finding myself in another abusive relationship is staying away from them altogether. That it too easily becomes routine to silence myself, make myself small and non-threatening. That it has always made people upset with me when I won’t make a decision or when I don’t want to openly talk on their terms. I have never learned what a good romantic relationship felt like. And perhaps they don’t really exist.
I don’t like saying “I love you” to people because it feels like too much of an expectation.
These relationships are always transactions with built in “milestones.”
Where I feel pressured into conforming and I lose myself.
In my second long-term relationship too much of the same things were happening.
I remember the constant “fights” because I just wanted them to spend time with me. That apparently this made me “clingy” and “needy”—and how it makes me scared to ask anyone to make plans with me even now.
I settled for paying all the bills, waking them up in the morning, making lunches, doing laundry. That maybe this would make them see me as valuable. It didn’t.
I tried to make friends that wanted to spend time with me, but that made me a “cheater.” I was trapped and I was alone.
I worked 30-40 hours a week on top of going to school full-time, because they refused to pay rent or any of the bills. That their money instead went to bike parts and alcohol. But this too was evidently my fault for being such a slut. I cried most nights and was exhausted from all the fighting. It’s been over 2 years and I still don’t know if I’m ready to talk about all of this.
Too many fights, too many times of taking care of angry drunk men. Of apologizing for his “bad behavior” or the fights he got in. Too many times of apologizing for him yelling at me.
Too many nights where I ended up literally running after him.
And yes, maybe he didn’t hit me, but he recorded us having sex without me knowing and sent it out on snapchat. Maybe he didn’t hit me, but he consistently questioned where I went and who I was seeing. And yet would disappear for days and refuse to talk to me. Maybe he didn’t hit me, but he told me he no longer thought I was attractive when I buzzed off my hair and came out as non-binary.
And yet, when I broke up with him he cried and apologized for over an hour. Yet again, it was my job to comfort.
Moving away was the best decision I ever made.
It took me over a year to stop worrying. That I truly believed I was responsible for his well-being. A year to get out of the rhythmic thrill of fighting and making-up. I’m still learning to not apologize when I ask for what I need.
August 26, 2018
I used to write you love letters.
I used to write you love letters after we fought.
I wrote a lot of love letters.
I guess I used to find the uncertainty exciting.
Was that anxiety?
Was that depression?
Was that fear?
I used to try and make you want me.
I remember that night.
Me chasing you.
I was always chasing you.
I used to try and make you want me.
It made me hate myself.
I used to write you notes on doors.
To try and keep you out.
To keep you out after you left.
I used to write you notes on doors.
After pacing in front of our big living room window.
Waiting for your bike lights.
Wanted to be mad.
I used to write you notes on doors.
But I took them all down.
I took them down and cried into the bed.
I used to write you love letters.
You used to write them back.
But I burned them all.
I watched your words disappear from my life.
I used to write you suicide notes.
I never sent them.
Domestic violence can take multiple forms, and these people are not “special” or “evil.” They are everyday people who learned that forcibly controlling a situation gets you the results you desire. That if being angry and yelling don’t work, being sad and remorseful might. I would consistently tell my friends “just wait, he’ll apologize” and like magic their tone would shift.
Embedded in these stories are attempts at coming out that were violently received, did you see them? There is no doubt inside of me that the violence I experienced, in many of my relationships, was directly related to my queerness and my transness. That it was threatening to my partners at the time, because I was inherently seen as a cheater, untrustworthy, needy, excessive, dirty, disgusting, fetishized. That my “coming out” each time led to sexual, physical and verbal violence—attempts at reclaiming their power.
I can’t divorce my queerness from my transessness from my disabilities from my trauma. They inform each other and are intertwined with each other.
I still find myself returning to this Eli Clare quote from “stones in my pocket, stones in my heart”:
Gender reaches into disability; disability wraps around class; class strains against abuse; abuse snarls into sexuality; sexuality folds on top of race...everything finally piling into a single human body. To write about any aspect of identity, any aspect of the body, means writing about this entire maze. This I know, and yet the question remains: where to start? (p. 143, 2015)
The first time I publicly told my coming out story was in the fall of 2016, and I left these “unsavory” parts out of the story. Leaned on being from a rural northern Minnesota town and how long it took me to understand myself.
The first time I publicly told my whole coming out story was in the spring of 2018 at a high school and I cried. A few of the students came up and gave me a hug.
These conversations are hard, and they are harder to continue to have when we are continually met with violence.
I am not writing any of this to receive pity. I am tired of being met with “I’m so sorry’s” or reminders that I am “so strong” now. I just want you to listen and understand. I want this to hopefully shift how you view domestic violence and sexual assault, and for you to see how this is all too often inscribed into coming out stories. I’m not looking for people to be “called out” I’m looking for people to be introspective and to think about their own relationships.
Do you know how your friend or family member needs to be supported?
Have you worked on improving your communication and listening skills?
Are you addressing your harmful behaviors?
How are you caring for yourself in this time of growth and healing?
Remember that you have the power to shape someone’s whole memory and subsequent actions with how you react to them coming out—but also when they tell you about their abuse and trauma. Make them feel loved. Make them feel heard.
Our support and kindness should never be underestimated as transformative tools.