Her hand was around my throat, as she looked directly at me with a despising anger. “What did you just say.” She seethed.
“Let go.” I said, as I stared back at her confused.
It was in this moment, in a loud and crowded bar while standing next to a woman I was enamored by, who currently had her hand around my throat, that I wondered for the first time, “Was this a healthy relationship? Was this abuse?”
She let go of my throat and turned back to her friends, laughing and continuing her story—as if nothing had happened. I sat at the bar and contemplated what to do next. I should leave. Right now. Walk…just stand up and start walking, idiot. I should get in my car and drive home and block her number and never look back. Why am I still sitting here? Go. You deserve better than this. Just leave.
She turned back towards me, “Are you ready?” she asked.
I looked up and sighed “Yeah.”
I drove her home in silence, thinking of all the things I wanted to tell her. About how poorly she’s treated me these last couple months and how I deserve more and better. About how this was over because I knew my self-worth and this was not it. About how this was abuse. But I didn’t say any of those things. I decided I would drop her off but I would not go inside. I would go home. When I pulled into her driveway, I left the car running as I said goodnight.
“Umm, you aren’t staying? What the f%#@, Jay?” she said.
“Well, it doesn’t seem like you’re that fond of me, tonight. So I thought I’d leave you alone.” I said. I could feel her piercing eyes staring at me but I couldn’t meet her stare, I continued looking at my lap.
“Of course I’m fond of you. I always am. Don’t be stupid. Park the car and come in.” She replied.
I can’t explain why I didn’t say no—maybe it was because I was exhausted and didn’t want to argue. Or maybe it was that I started to second guess myself–maybe I was overreacting, maybe it wasn’t so bad. Or maybe it was because she had just shared that she did still like me and that felt good to hear. I parked the car and followed her inside and up to her bedroom.
Once we were in bed she cuddled up next to me, laying her head on my chest. And for a moment, I forgot that anything was wrong. Then she rolled over and grabbed something from the nightstand. “Come here.” She said. I rolled towards her, sitting up on my elbow. Then she sprayed my face with perfume. It smelled disgusting. She laughed. “Oh, you smell awful!” Then she laid back down and turned toward the wall. “What the hell, Jane!” I yelled.
“Oh my god, you baby! You’re fine.” She said with irritation, still facing the wall.
As she fell asleep, I stared at the ceiling, fuming. When I knew she was asleep, I snuck out of the room and down the stairs and out the back door. I got in my car and drove home.
I wish I could say that’s where this story ends—that I left and never looked back. But I did go back. I didn’t hear from Jane for four days. I thought maybe it was the end. Then she called me. And somehow by the end of the phone call, I was the one apologizing. I agreed to see her that night. And so it would go for quite some time.
Aside from the time she choked me in public and sprayed me in the face with perfume, she never physically abused me. But abuse doesn’t have to be physical.
- She pressured me to keep my trans identity a secret. She didn’t want her friends or family to know that I was trans. She would get angry if she felt I was being too public about being trans.
- She insulted me and belittled me around her friends and strangers.
- She ignored me after inviting me places.
- She expected immediate responses from me when she texted or called—but she would take hours to reply to me. If I didn’t reply immediately she would get angry.
- She told me we weren’t exclusive but that I wasn’t allowed to date anyone else—meanwhile she continued to use online dating apps and go on dates.
- She regularly told me she wished my body was different or like a “real” man’s body.
- She frequently called me stupid, dumb, and an idiot.
- She yelled at me for not doing something and then yelled at me when I did that same thing.
- She would get irritated with me over not being able to read her mind, because “it was obvious and only a moron wouldn’t have known.”
- When she didn’t want to be intimate she would tell me it was because it was “weird for her to be with a trans man.” And I was insensitive and cruel if I didn’t understand that.
- She blamed me for mistakes she made.
- She made sure I knew how lucky I was to have her attention at all.
- Her reactions to things were always extreme. I was often scared to share things with her because I never knew how she would react.
I justified to myself that it was fine. I thought that she was the best I’d ever find. I minimized the abuse because she had never hit me, so it couldn’t be that bad, right? And I stayed, didn’t I? In fact, I chased after her because I wanted to be with her, so it couldn’t be all that terrible, right? I had heard stories of worse abuse and this wasn’t close to that, so it was okay. I was probably overreacting, anyways. I explained away her abuse and hid it from friends, because I was embarrassed. I stayed because I was afraid I wouldn’t find anyone else who would find me attractive and be willing to date me.
I never thought that I would be in an abusive relationship. And I certainly never thought that I would stay if I ever found myself in one. But I stayed with Jane for far too long. There are lots of reasons I stayed. There are lots of reasons people in abusive relationships stay. Even after I left and blocked her on social media and blocked her number, I stayed silent about the abuse. I thought it reflected poorly on me—I perpetuated the cycle of abuse by blaming myself and staying silent. Even as I write this, I wonder if I should share this story. But that’s part of the impact of abuse. Long after someone has left a toxic or abusive relationship, the mental and emotional scars stay. To this day when I hear the text tone alert that used to ring on my phone when she texted, I feel a rush of anxiety. The difference today is that I am stronger and believe in myself more and found some self-worth I had misplaced. And along with it, I found my voice, again.
If you are in an abusive relationship—physical or emotional—you should and can seek help. Because you deserve better. Because you didn’t do anything wrong. Because we all need a little help from time to time. If you don’t know where to find help turn to your local YWCA or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, but it wasn’t my fault. I was not to blame. Victims are not always women, are not always straight, are not always cisgender.
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