When one commits to writing about living with HIV, one quickly realizes that much of what one writes about makes many people feel uncomfortable. Sex. Drug use. Sex work. Gay stuff. Sex. And then there’s the disease itself. However, none of those things upset people more than violence--and that’s precisely what I’m writing about now.
Agreeing to write for PositiveLite.com in September, I knew that several seminal events in my history would be commemorated during the first two months; and October 16 is the last of them. On this day in 1984 I left an abusive, drug-fueled relationship of thirteen months after being raped and held captive by a college boyfriend who could not handle my determination to come out to my family and our campus community. That’s 28 years—over half of my life--looking back at one horrific night and the dark months that preceded it, thankful that I survived but ever unraveling just how fucked-up and unhealthy that relationship was.
The gorgeous grad student bumping into me in the dark library stacks a year earlier wasn’t sent by an angel, he was belched up from Hell. We quibbled over a book on the European settlement of Atlantic Canada until he invited me to his place to read and take notes from it, though the mutual attraction was palpable. As the night went on, he had to get high on cocaine and begged me to get high with him before having sex.
In the midst of snorting and fucking, he called me “exotic and rare.” Within weeks I found that those were nice words for someone he felt was not really worthy of affection and love. What he really meant was “weak and scarred by surgery, and distant from my peers.” He’d call me a reject who had lucked out in finding someone to have a relationship with; then, he’d hold my still-closeted state over my head, along with the drug use and his own misery, to pimp me out for money from married businessmen to buy more drugs. I was book-smart, for sure, but I still fell prey to coercion that led to financial and sexual abuse, and even outright threats with knives and sharp impacts from fists and feet.
After a year and finally confiding in a few Out older friends, I accepted that the relationship was not good for me, and I attempted to break it off. He told me that if I left, no one else would want me—as if those men where just paying for a young dick and ass—and that my family and the school would find out the truth about my Gayness and the drugs quickly. He made himself difficult to find, as if to retain possession of me. Finally, having decided that I wanted to be Out fully, I went to see him to talk it through.
The reaction was violent, as he was not ready to be Out himself--he was losing his greatest power over me. In a cocaine-driven rage, he beat me to the ground, handcuffed, and raped me, leaving me to try to cry myself to sleep bound beside his bed. In the morning, he left for a run and took off the handcuffs before leaving.
Many times I would think that I should have burned down his apartment with me inside, but the best revenge, indeed, is a life lived well. Instead, I walked back to campus and across campus to my dorm in a daze, and I crawled in to bed still bloody from the attack. I didn’t know where to turn for help, and no one could assure me that the police or the university would offer me any justice. I never tried, so I’ll never know. Yet, the greatest powers remained under my control: (1) to never use hard drugs again (which took three years more to accomplish), (2) to get out of a potentially abusive relationship in the future on the first warning and not think twice about it, and (3) to acknowledge to my family, my friends, and those in the world who pass my way that I am a proud Gay man. In less than three weeks, I came out to the campus as a student leader in my senior year; and within the month I was out to my family.
More recently, in 2007 I helped launch the Rainbow Response Coalition addressing intimate partner violence (IPV) among LGBTQ in the Greater Washington, DC. Rainbow Response has worked to increase LGBTQ and HIV competencies among traditional domestic violence organizations and DC’s Metropolitan Police Department, as well as to increase the awareness of IPV and related services among LGBTQ people and organizations in our region.
Intimate partner violence continues as endemic among LGBTQ people--1 in 3 has been subject to a range of physical, emotional, financial and sexual abuse from an intimate partner--and it impacts HIVers even more. Homophobia and HIV phobia can be powerful tools when wielded by an abuser. Still, for those living in the midst of violence, there are resources to assist in living life free from such abuse.