Gina* had blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair. She would have called herself fat, but I called her curvy. She was crazy smart and snarky in the extreme, and she had like…a thousand talents. Everyone was sort of magically drawn to her energy. I think I was thirteen or fourteen when we met, and I loved everything about her.
Except… Except sometimes with our friends, she would make jokes at my expense to get a laugh. She began to pick at the way that I looked. If I screwed something up, I was stupid. If I did something exceptionally well, that was even stupider. Slowly, occasional physical violence cropped up.
Sometimes I think it wasn’t her fault. She was abused as a child. Being gay/bi in a small town is very hard. It was natural for her to lash out. On the other hand, we choose how we respond to situations, don’t we?
It’s true that there was size difference between us, but I think it’s also true that abuse is never about physical power. I came into our eventual relationship on the heels of a violent attack. She started out acting concerned, but then systematically separated me from the rest of our friends (Why doesn’t anyone like me anymore? She’s all I have…). Convincing me I was stupid and needed to lean on her for help in school (After we broke up, I would graduate from high school with honors). Insulting my appearance because she was unhappy with her own. Over time, those things took their toll.
So why don’t people just leave if it’s so awful? Often, the behavior creeps up slowly. At first, you can excuse the warning signs. There’s manipulation, and something that feels an awful lot like love. I thought my girlfriend might get suicidal, and that guilt was hard to handle. A smart abuser removes your safety net. Slowly our circle of friends got smaller, so I had few people around who I thought I could trust. And in same-sex relationships, violent behavior is tough to spot from the outside. It’s even tougher to own up to.
Eventually I started hitting back. It gave me a false sense of strength. I don’t like to think what that would have escalated into if we’d stayed together much longer. In fact, I tried hard not to think about it for a long time. I believe they call this denial.
Thing is, what we resist persists. This is probably why my first m/m story, an anthology short called After Party, wound up starting with a guy nearly being run over by his jealous boyfriend. That was a different relationship, and that guy got dumped the very next day, because if my relationship with Gina taught me anything it was vigilance.
And while my novella Amor Prohibido is by no means autobiographical, I wound up purging a great deal of my emotions into the story of Jacob and Pakal and their literal journey through Hell. Jacob’s history isn’t mine, but I did lend him some of my experiences to him. Like Jacob, I had a poor relationship with my parents (maybe why I was receptive to being with someone unhealthy), and later used yoga and martial arts to get a handle on my anger. Like Jacob, I learned that while having someone in your life to love you is nice, learning that you are strong enough to fight your own battles is the best thing you can do for yourself. Even if I never got to fight those battles anyplace badass, like the Mayan underworld.
If any of what I’ve said ever sounds familiar, remember the airplane rule: Help yourself first. Don’t let guilt keep you around. Don’t fall for “But he/she really loves me,” because real love shouldn’t hurt. The first time a person who’s supposed to love us tells us we are fat/stupid/ungrateful/worthless/ugly/etc. we’ve made a wrong turn. Period. If it comes down to it, do what one person I know did and hide money and clothes in the trunk of your car or a backpack somewhere and when the moment presents itself, just go.
People are more willing to help than you realize. Even strangers. If you need it, the following web sites have resources and hotlines that you can call for help:
Ellis Carrington was born after the Christmas of 2010 when she was gifted a Kindle and discovered the gay romance category on Amazon that same day. Sometimes her heroes are human and sometimes they aren’t, because angels and vampires deserve happy endings too. Her favorite things are great friends, great music, and books that make her sob like there’s no tomorrow. Find out more at EllisCarrington.com