Trigger warning! Graphic descriptions of domestic violence and sexual assault.
I remember the first time a pretty girl kissed me. We were both on ecstasy at a rave. She had shiny bleached hair, so over-treated it was silver, and it fell perfectly straight just to her jaw line. I thought she looked like a model or a pop star, and I couldn’t believe she wanted to kiss me. I remember seeing the odd look my boyfriend gave me as he watched us kiss, but he never said anything, because that wasn’t the boyfriend who would make me deny I was bisexual.
I grew up in Seattle, where being queer was normal. This wasn’t some backwoods town where coming out meant bullying or death. At my high school, there were probably more gay kids than straight kids, and most of my friends who claimed to be straight then are now out as queer in some way. If I had come out in high school, I would have been supported. I would have been celebrated.
Then I met The Ex. The Ex was older than me, considerably so at the time because I was fifteen and he was in his twenties. He was a meth addict, which was a turn-off until he pressured me to try it and got me hooked too. He was funny, and clever, at least by tweaked-out 15-year-old-girl standards, and very handsome. By everyone’s standards. How many times had my friends gushed about wanting to sleep with him? How many times had they said, giggling, “I want to have his babies!” What teenage girl doesn’t want a boyfriend everyone else wants?
But the truth is that nobody wants what he did to me. We stayed together four years, the way so many abuse victims do, and during that time he robbed me completely of my sense of self. He beat me; he bit me; he raped me; he choked me until I seized; he kidnapped me and held me hostage in a motel, forcing me touse money that I had won in a poetry contest to pay for extra nights or else he would “tie me up and leave me in the forest” until my black eye healed. He forced me to perform oral sex to stop the beatings. He forced me to lie to my friends and family. And you know what else he did? He made me think I was straight.
The first time he accused me of hooking up with a girl, I had been at my friend Emily’s apartment. She and I had been hanging out. It was a rare time when it was just us. We were both still teenagers but one of her family members paid for her to have her own apartment, so there were always people over partying. Getting high. Drawing on the walls. Making out in one of the several cozy bedded nooks Emily had created. On this day though, when I dropped by, it was just Emily.
I remember that I was depressed. The Ex had been beating me regularly by then. I hadn’t told anyone yet, but Emily’s apartment was the first place I took refuge after the motel incident. She’d seen the black eye. She must have known something. I went there and I remember that we watched TV and hung out. Basic stuff, but it felt good. We just chilled. I felt safe.
Then The Ex showed up. Banging on the door. I hadn’t told him where I was, but somehow he’d known anyway. More likely, he had looked everywhere I liked to spend time until he found me. Emily let him in, invited him to hang out. He stayed for a while, but he was twitchy. Nervous. Looking around the room, picking at the permanently opened scab beneath his lip. It was no longer chill to be there. No longer safe.
As soon as we got outside, the accusations began. “What were you doing there alone with her? Why wasn’t anyone else there? You were screwing her, weren’t you? Are you a lesbian?”
I don’t remember if he beat me that day. He beat me so many times. I walk by Emily’s old building often; I live near it now. Almost every time I take my kids to the park I pass the garage across the street, just out of sight of her window, where The Ex punched my head into the pavement floor. But I have PTSD; I can’t connect all the flashes of remembrances. Maybe he only accused me that day. Maybe the time in the garage was a different beating, another reason. Maybe he didn’t hurt me, that time.
It was enough just that he said it. It was no longer safe to spend time with anyone. Not boys. Not even girls anymore. And I certainly couldn’t want to sleep with girls. That would be too risky. What if he knew? There was a point in our relationship when I became convinced he could read my mind. That’s how powerful abuse is. So I became straight.
Long after the relationship ended and the denial wore off, I still found myself shrinking from uttering the words “I’m bisexual.” Being bisexual brought me to a place of danger. It created too many variables; too many opportunities for accusation. I couldn’t be me when I was with The Ex, and I couldn’t fully be me for years afterward.
Abuse is insidious. One blow can echo in a thousand small ways; a thousand small habits it kills and creates. Life shrinks into survival. The person in the abused body hides. There are parts of me I am not certain I will ever recover, but this at least I finally know and can admit: I am queer.
Elizabeth Brico is a speculative fiction writer, published poet, playwright, feminist blogger, DV survivor, and mama x 3 living in the Pacific Northwest. She runs a blog about living and parenting with mental illness and is also putting together a theatrical production about addiction and recovery. She is seeking contributions for both. You can find her contact info, and more writing, on her blog Betty’s Battleground. Connect with other members of the mental health community by joining her Facebook community where you can discuss issues related to living and parenting with mental illness. You can also follow her on Twitter: @bettymama206, Instagram:@bettymama206, and Pinterest: @elizabethbrico.