A Community Stunned
Three years ago a young man in St. Louis, who often had bruises and black eyes, hung himself after long complaining of domestic violence.
Last week many were shocked when he resurfaced, alive and well.
Police found a dead body hanging from the noose, but miraculously paramedics were able to revive him. After weeks in the hospital, relatives whisked him away to the west coast where he lived a quiet, private life until deciding to come forward with his story.
Initially, vocal and angry critics cast doubt on the man’s claims, cast dispersions on his character, and aggressively defamed him. It was overwhelming, and reopened so many old wounds that he once again vanished from the public eye, and pulled his Facebook account.
His story and the way people responded ignited a long overdue conversation about domestic violence in the LGBT community, which compelled me to come forward with my own story.
The First Blows
At twenty, while living in Oklahoma City, I fell in love with a good friend of mine named Philip, and we decided to move in together. Philip had been a cool, laid back guy, but his personality changed the instant we signed the lease. He was suddenly possessive, brooding, and distrustful.
The second day in our new place one of his former roommates, a trans woman named Dynasty, dropped by to ask if he’d drive her to the mechanic.
“My car’s in that shade tree shop on 30th Street and I don’t know what they’re doing or what they plan to charge me. Being that you’re so straight acting and all, would you mind running up there and talking to them?” Dynasty asked.
He agreed, and they sat in the living room and visited. I was in the middle of grilling burgers so I invited her to join us for dinner.
I set their plates on the coffee table but Philip just scowled and pushed his away. Despite the awkward tension, and not knowing what else to do, Dynasty looked at me and the two of us ate in silence. When we finished he turned to her and said, “Hey give us about ten minutes and we’ll pick you up when we’re ready.”
I’d begun doing the dishes when he came into the kitchen and said, “Get your shoes on, you’re coming with us.”
“No I’m not! After you acted like that? What was that even about?” I asked.
“I didn’t say she could eat with us! Now get your shoes on, we’re leaving,” he barked.
“Fuck you!” I replied.
In the blink of an eye he slammed my head into the kitchen cabinet, threw me to the floor and began pounding me with his fist. “You wanna be a God damn socialite? Well you’re gonna be social and get your ass in the car!” he said while dragging me by the hair, shoeless, to his white SUV.
I was confused, disoriented and outraged, but after the sixty seconds of violence he was eerily calm, as if everything were normal. It was late afternoon, a few hours before sunset. We picked up Dynasty and drove to the garage with the windows down and the music up.
He got out to talk to the mechanic while I sat with Dynasty in the car.
“Philip just beat the shit out of me!” I told her as my eyes anxiously wandered around the interior. First I checked for the keys, but he had taken them. Otherwise I’d have taken off. I looked for something that could be used as a weapon but didn’t find anything. I weighed the option of taking off on foot, but I had no shoes, no wallet or phone.
“Does this happen often?” she asked in a calm but concerned tone.
“It’s the first time anything like this has happened!” I replied.
I had her feel the knot forming on my scalp as we went back and forth, but I can’t remember a lot of what was said.
Dynasty was raised in a trailer park. She was buying estrogen off her menopausal mother. She worked at a call center, in 1990s Oklahoma, as a woman. Her voice was convincing enough that when she and Philip were roommates his mom once asked, “Who’s that old white woman answering your phone?” She’d seen it all, been through it all, and wasn’t shocked, but was warm and compassionate. She let me know she’d help however she could.
My head was throbbing and my mind was spinning.
The New Normal
I don’t remember what occurred when we got back to the apartment or why I didn’t leave. Everyone says that if they were hit one time they’d be gone, but people don’t understand the psychology of abuse, the defense mechanisms that come into play, and how quickly it all becomes normal. If you don’t leave that first or second time, it gets harder to justify leaving after the tenth.
I fought back and bloodied his nose a few times, but he was a street fighter and would run on blind rage. The rage was highly concentrated, as violent as it was brief. Less than a minute, and then he was as calm as if nothing had happened, which made me feel like I was the one out of control. As far as fighting back, by the time I’d even realize we were fighting I’d have a knot forming on my head while he was turning on the television.
Once we were at a stoplight when I saw an old friend in the next car waving at me. I asked Philip to roll down the window and he snapped angrily, “I’m not rolling down the window for some dude!”
I remember my friend’s big excited grin fading into a puzzled look as we just sat there, then drove off. We were arguing about it while barreling sixty-five miles per hour down the interstate when he said, “Oh you wanna go back and see him? Let’s go back!” And with that he grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it. The car did doughnuts across several lanes and wound up disabled on the shoulder facing oncoming traffic.
Again he was eerily calm, while I was enraged. He jumped out and tried to keep out of reach while I screamed at the top of my lungs, taking swings at him in the highway median as he ducked.
A Way Out
We were off and on for a year and a half. When we were broken up he’d often call late at night to fight over the phone. We’d yell about how fucked up the other was and how much we hated each other, then inevitably we’d both go quiet and in his deep voice he’d ask, “So you want me to come over?”
Everyone knows about makeup sex, but that doesn’t even begin to describe the adrenaline fueled throw down after one of our fights. It was addictive.
To avoid temptation, and the drama of seeing him out, I’d go up to Tulsa for the weekends. There I’d run around with my good friends, Donald and Madge.
Being around Donald was really good for me. He and I can have fun anytime, anywhere, and those breaks from Philip’s dysfunction helped me to see things clearly, and begin to value myself again. I asked Donald if he’d move back to Oklahoma City and live with me, and he agreed.
It was officially over with Philip, aside from a few late night tantrums were he’d bang on the windows and yell after the bar closed.
A Changed Man
Years after our break up, I ran into him while visiting Tulsa, and he asked if he could have a moment alone. Sitting in his car on a cold evening he wept as he apologized to me, and promised he had gotten help and had never hit anyone again. I forgave him, and we were friends until we lost touch. And then one day I found his obituary.
I contacted a few of his friends, and spoke with several guys he’d dated. I wanted to know if he really had changed, and I got confirmation that he had. Not only had he not hit anyone, but nobody in his life could even imagine him being violent.
I don’t believe that I could have changed him by staying in the situation, nor do I believe the abused can ever change the abuser. The dysfunctional dynamic has to terminate for change to occur, and professional help is often needed.
Much like the people who socialized with the young man who hung himself three years ago, I too had acquaintances who shrugged off what was happening at the time. It had become just as normal to them as it had become for me.
I couldn’t have found my way out without the support of my really good friends who cared enough to invest the time, and deal with the frustration of several false exits before I broke free for good.
Initiating a Discussion
Although I’m a prolific storyteller, this is not one I revisit often. There’s so much shame associated with being in an abusive situation, and people perpetuate that stigma in how they treat those who speak up. While I haven’t consciously felt shame over it in more than a decade, for some reason I’ve continued to avoid the topic until now.
I was mistreated and abused by someone I loved. Yes, I fought back. Yes, I had mind blowing sex with the guy. Neither of those facts negate the abuse.
The dynamic has never been repeated in my life, and I’m stronger and wiser for having navigated the situation. I hope we as a community can begin speaking openly and honestly about the issue of domestic violence, and that we treat one another with kindness and understanding when we do. V
WRITTEN BY CHRIS ANDOE