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Four years ago a story of mine featured in Queer Stories called, “Coming Out. Not As Simple As It Seems.” In that story I held some punches, tried to describe my journey up to that point, and overall wanted to depict how coming out is not always self-actualising. However, time stops for no one, and as you get older you grow, your reflections become clearer — even if your eyesight doesn’t! I’d like to take an opportunity to elaborate on my story, show some resolutions, and express some reflections that I have gained in the four years since.
Before I once again delve into my story, I would like to add a content warning regarding childhood abuse and date rape. If you have suffered through these kinds of traumas or events, consider whether you are in a frame of mind to continue.
The abuse I suffered began when I was young, and continued into my late teens. Most victims are victimised by people they know, and my story is certainly stereotypical. The first person to break my trust with trauma was my childhood friend, a person I idolised. Much older, he used me for his own desires and exploration. He took what he wanted because I was isolated and vulnerable, my broken home would never notice. He explored his sexual desires, and took what he wanted at my expense.
These events robbed me of my sexual identity, confused it and flipped it upside down. I would never have the opportunity to experience myself naturally. Throughout my interactions with this person, he heckled me with increasingly cruel remarks. My memory is also fractured, today it is a collection of forced acts and broken images. But what stands out to me most are his remarks, which grew increasingly cruel, commenting on my taste, smell, and body.
I had now lost agency over my own body. Looking back, my sexual encounters were not choices, but events that I look at from above, removed from my body. My actions were on autopilot, and my mind had left. This is called dissociation and is a defence mechanism. My body and mind believe they are protecting me, when in fact they are only creating more pain. There is nothing more surreal, crushing, and disturbing, than being unable to say that you were able to consent.
My formative years were spent trying to take back what had been lost. Control of my sexual identity, control over those close to me, and an unrealistic sense of justice that could be exacted on anyone for any grievance. This self-destructive behaviour compounded with alcoholism, drug abuse, and dangerous social and sexual behaviour. In many ways I had begun to inflict my own abuse. I would berate my friends, control the behaviour of my family, and do things with no consideration to how those things would affect those in my sphere. These things became most clear in my personal relationships.
To add the cherry on the top of this marbled cupcake, I grew up in poverty and lived in ghettoised neighbourhoods. The concept of men being abused could only ever come up while high or drunk, in moments of great pain that were intended to be forgotten come the morning. Not to mention, being queer was unacceptable.
My sexual identity, like my trauma and many other parts of my life became internalised. When my queer encounters began, they were extremely difficult to reconcile, and more, I had no language to describe them.
The first time that language entered my vernacular, my mother had made a friend. A gay man who she went clubbing and bar-hopping with every other weekend. This man, who I’ll call Julian, was a flamboyant, forty year old. He had been one of the many victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and lived a significant part of his life with diminished hope. In his own words, he was a “bitter queen.” Nevertheless he gave me my first insight into queer culture. A sexist, toxic, culture. Bisexuals were treated like tourists, lesbians were attacked with sexist comments and vile statements on par with homophobic ones, trans* people were erased from the narrative altogether, and drag was as far as any of these “queens” were going to go. At every opportunity this man insisted I party with him. More and more I became engrossed, and more and more I fell into a trap that this man had laid out for me. Much like my abuser before him, I was isolated, vulnerable, and being groomed. By this time I had been in a destructive, long-term relationship. He viewed this relationship as a threat, and chose to undermine it as often as possible.
Julian would regularly pull me aside for a snog, which I didn’t protest. As I mentioned above, I dissociate. At times, even with my partner a door away, would pull me into his room, pull my pants down, and make me erect, as though it were a game he could play. Sometimes, during these intrusions, he’d force something up my nose, a kind of spray, that would make me dizzy and even less capable of protesting. This, like my abuser before, was predatory behaviour. Behaviour I had complicated feelings about, as I’ll describe shortly.
Finally, at a low point in my relationship I left with him to blow off steam. That lead to a three day long bender where I was drunk most of the time and was repeatedly being drugged to lower my inhibitions. The above behaviour continued, this time with his friend involved, a slightly younger makeup artist. On the second day, so obliterated that I could hardly see, I began sobbing. I started the time old tradition of my youth: bringing up the pains that could only come up in this state, intended to be forgotten by the morning. Only this time, with new language, confused ideas, and no safety, I said, “I think I liked it.” This is not an uncommon struggle, and had been internalised and buried. It’s usually the case when your mind and body can’t reconcile that they had been harmed so profoundly. This new abuser took this to mean that I was gay. There could be no other explanations. What ensued was the coming out event originally depicted in my last Queer Stories entry.
That evening, having fled the scene of a crime — a crime against myself, and consequently the people I loved — I returned to Julian’s place. The night became evermore destructive, this time with no punches held. I was date raped by two men significantly older than I was. I woke up in the morning just as fractured as I had been the last time. And just as the last time, once I had returned home, showered, and tried to put the pieces back, I was heckled by increasingly cruel remarks about my taste, my body, and this time, “Don’t be a tourist.”
This is my tragedy. A tragedy of trauma, of toxic queer culture, and of toxic masculinity. But my journey did not end with these tragedies, and with years of assistance, I was able to allow my past to stay in the past, and not strangle my present. I’m now more than thirty years old, and I can now examine these things clearly — with the awareness to know how and why these things happened. It is not as though I have escaped the dissociation, or triggers and flashbacks. But each day they become a little bit easier to manage. I am sure that, despite the bruises, I will find love, and that person will make me feel safe, and be patient with me while I let down my walls. Our team will make that relationship whole, equal, and I will have agency.
Queer culture has always been a culture of liberation, solidarity, and pushing against the status quo, as I like to say, “It is no longer acceptable to be acceptable.” I know that now, as I’ve had a wealth of opportunities and safe spaces to get to know more than the toxic culture I was “born” into. An inclusive culture that hearkens back to our queer roots in the 1960s-70s. And this is something that we should all be aware of, and congratulate ourselves on, but also be vigilant about. There are significant parts of our communities that are as toxic as I described above. Sexist, racist, transphobic, and in their own way homophobic. We are better than that. If you are reading this, I hope you understand our responsibilities to facilitate that inclusive culture. To forge connections of love and compassion. Today I do not brush off questions about my sexuality with, “I’m bi.” Today my identity is clear. I am queer. I do not need to isolate a binary sex or sexes or genders. I do not need to reject one for another. I am simply queer. I was all along. The day I came out might have been one of the worst experiences of my life, but every day after that was a journey of coming out. I came out piece by piece, and today I don’t need to make an announcement. The people I love know now who I am, and love me, despite the pain and the battle scars.
My coming out is not a message to hesitate, or conceal your feelings. It is not a message to the abused or mentally ill to second guess who you are or could be. It is a message of acceptance. If you are surrounded like I was, look for the red flags I tried to describe. And try as hard as you can to be sober and explore these feelings personally before you come out. It is not someone else’s decision to make.
Lastly, I would like to include the role of masculinity in this story. Masculinity, which we can now identify as “toxic masculinity,” was at the center of these events. Of taking and exploiting, sexist behaviour and rigid boundaries surrounding the male persona. My abusers disregarded my feelings and agency because those things did not matter to their desires. They took as men are expected to take. They marked and claimed me, they used language to control me. This violent pedestal lead them to a violent conclusion. I was shown how to be by these men: submissive, isolated. I was not given the freedom to be my own man. And in my own person, my masculinity was decided from birth. I was to be strong and unflinching — to bear it all on my own. I was taught that men are never the victim of anything bar their own failures. Rape, therefore, was my failure. Rape, therefore, had to be something that I wanted. My masculinity prevented the language of what it meant to be queer entering my vernacular. My masculinity lead me to be explosive and harm my loved ones. These things, interwoven with trauma and illness, eventually became a vacuum. And in that space, there was no identity of my own.
Years later, I would be asked, in a safe space, who I was. What was my identity? What does masculinity mean, not to the world, but to me? I was told that these answers weren’t easy. And if I didn’t have them then, I should think and choose, and work toward being that person. That man.
I now know the man I am. The queer man. The loving man, the gentle man, the assertive man. The person there for any and everyone who needs help. And a man willing to lean on others. A man that no longer keeps things held close to his chest, but also doesn’t trust too easily. A man that can show affection. I am the person I chose to be, not the person the world told me to be.
To finally close, I’d like to suggest some reading:
“Man Alive” by Thomas Page McBee.
McBee is a boxer turned author, the first trans-man to fight in Madison Square Garden. His written work includes the aforementioned memoir and several other articles along the same topics. His story of masculinity, abuse, and self-discovery is an experience held by many, and is worth reading. Available in online book stores and in audio book formats.
“My Cousin Was a Hero, Until He Tried to Kill Me” NYT Feature by Wil S. Hylton.
Hylton’s article for the New York Times reads like a film, dancing between the present tense and the past, building up to the event that changed his life. I cannot recommend this article enough, but a warning as there are graphic depictions of violence. This article provides some vivid insights into how toxic masculinity can be, and how it can reach its devastating conclusions. Available online, can be found via google.
“The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk.
Van der Kolk is one of the pioneers of modern research into post-traumatic stress disorder, identifying the inadequacies of the psychiatric medical model to identify PTSD. In this book he gives us a picture of PTSD without illusions or misconceptions: PTSD is not just a state of the mind, but also of the body. Highly recommended for all, but warning to those suffering, as your current mental health is an important factor before reading. Available in online book stores.