Surviving is Difficult: A Gay Man’s Experience with Domestic Violence

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By Alan Ryland

They say history has a tendency to repeat itself, though outside of the fantastical mind of the movies, ironically, we are rarely shown just how to twist the time loop back in our general favor. We are instilled with morals and with principles and when these same principles are tested, we are expected to rear up and bite. To not do so betrays a certain weakness, a lack of gumption which will toss you rather unceremoniously from the wave of independent men and women, careerists and ball-busters who’ve perfected this skill.

In our efforts to cultivate images of perfection, of faultlessness both at home and at work, we limit ourselves from truly grasping just how far beyond the pale the mind of a domestic violence victim operates. Certainly one doesn’t enter a relationship with the expectation that the cycle which has feasted on insecurities and one’s ability to even attentively maintain a refined outward appearance will continue to permeate their every thought and action, that societal presumptions will continue to perpetuate a climate of misunderstanding and of scorn. One doesn’t enter a relationship thinking that they may be a hamster on a wheel.

I did not want what I experienced with Jim to happen again, but it did.

I did not ask for it, no matter how much my brain has tried to convince me that this was so. I did not submit to a predator of my own volition. That’s akin to telling a woman that wearing a rather cute skirt while strolling through the neighborhood at night is an invitation to be raped. That’s not dissimilar to informing a young black male that the only job prospect he will find in a predominantly white section of town is that of the corpse splayed across the sidewalk on the evening news. But I am not a woman and I am not a young black male. I am a young gay male and I have been criminally misrepresented as well as underrepresented in the discussion on domestic violence. There are few, if any, support groups for my ilk. There is silence on the other end of the phone. Eyes avert, mouths sew themselves shut. There is a silence ever more deafening than the one I’ve had to live with.

In “The Invisible Statistic,” I write, in painstaking detail, of the family feud which uprooted my grandmother’s life. I write about a woman, an immigrant, who selflessly sacrificed everything to give her daughters a fighting chance, only to lose her mind to dementia and to fall prey to the greed of her children. I write about my pain and my confusion, which was insurmountable. This agony consumed me, fraying my nerve and killing my spirit, to the point where I dropped out of school and found myself at a dead-end job making barely enough money to even conceive of paying my bills. And just as it seemed that I had nowhere to go but up, I went ever further down.

I met Richard, who made it his mission to take my burdens as his own. He appeared to live by a doctrine of selflessness which made him think nothing of waiting three hours for me in the snow and sleet when the police had to, once again, be called, when yet another egregious crime was being committed under the oh so watchful eye of the New York City Police Department.

“A man that committed,” he would tell me later, “couldn’t possibly be anything other than romantic.”

So when Richard decided to see about helping us, to use his money and his influence to see this innocent old woman back in our loving arms, we thought nothing of it. Nor could I imagine that I’d be introduced to people who were anything other than who they said they were, that his lawyer wasn’t really a lawyer, that high ranking officials hadn’t even seen a rank.

Then the setbacks would begin: paperwork was being delayed, court would be closed, just calm down Alan, I’m handling it, I’m handling it. I would, after crying myself into an ever more fragile stupor, always reconcile, not ever, for one second, thinking that he did not have her best interest at heart, never conceiving that I could possibly be a pawn in a very elaborate game of chess, where to capture the king entailed strategically shredding my emotions just enough, to a point where he could rob me of not just money and time, but also closure, and losing my grandmother, for what seemed a third time, in mind, body and in spirit, drove me to levels of madness I once thought incomprehensible.

He had his own sufferings to share, having been a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of his own uncle…

My madness had discernible features. Richard was calculating, scheming and most of all, precise. There was always an excuse for everything, any action he took which may have set off an alarm in my brain was very quickly dealt with and not so much swept as much as kicked under the rug.

I’ve been asked what I possibly saw in him and the truth is rather funny: I’ve wondered that myself. From a physical standpoint, he was not my type. He was gruff, rather large, stood at a height of six feet even. He was slightly balding. He was absurdly hairy, the sort of man who invites young children to mock the hairs on his back on the beach, the sort of man who could spend time in the surf and unknowingly cart off seaweed which would get lost in the tufts of fur all over his chest.

But he was calm when we first met, a fine listener, reasonably intelligent, well educated. He had his own sufferings to share, having been a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of his own uncle and finding himself at odds with a devoutly Catholic family that felt it more wise to save face, to continue to invite the man to family reunions, and to disparage a child for having allowed it—at seven—to happen, let alone continue. He appeared to regard me as his equal, me with the crappy restaurant job, with the grandmother who’d been shuffled out of the country like cargo, me who had dropped out of college and who was visibly depressed. And oh so vulnerable.

He appeared to regard me as his equal, me with the crappy restaurant job, with the grandmother who’d been shuffled out of the country like cargo, me who had dropped out of college and who was visibly depressed….

The tables turned slowly, at exactly the rate he wanted them to. I became less assertive over a period of several weeks, shoved around by the alpha male who seemed to be very much in charge. I couldn’t understand why I cried more often, why I seemed ever more upset. I couldn’t discern just what it was that made me a societal failure, less adversarial than I could’ve been. When I would speak up, he’d find ways to blame me. Thinly veiled threats would soon evolve into rather grand tongue lashings. “You know,’ he said to me one day, ‘that grandmother of yours can stay right where she is, that’s how selfish you are.” And I believed it. I was both ungrateful to him for and blinded by his cultivated altruism.

“Something’s not right here,” I’d say. “I don’t know what’s going on here. Everything feels so wrong. And why would you say that? I am grateful. I just feel so lost.”

“Because you’re a spineless spic,” he said. “Your stupid mother didn’t do a damn thing to help that poor woman and you’re upset and I get that, baby, but you have to let me help you, let me help you!”

Then we’d fall asleep and I’d wake up to more accusations. He said things just the right way, at just the right time. I was, apparently, the worst snorer he’d ever encountered. I often kicked him while he slept. I really needed to do something about that, he’d tell me, because how could he get his beauty sleep when he was the only one doing a damn thing to bring that dear old woman home; after all, he was the only person in my life who was interested in furthering me, in ensuring my every wish was granted, that every mountain I wished to climb was assaulted, the only one invested in making me a better person. And when I woke up one morning, bleeding slightly, a terrible pain in my bottom, with bruises and bite marks lining my back and heard him say, “I gave you something to help you sleep and really needed it during the night, I hope you don’t mind,” I was terribly afraid and utterly at odds with myself, because all I heard in my brain was Gran, poor gran, Gran! and I’d been trained to justify his exertions because I was merely a vessel, a ship on my way to some unknown port while he held the key to the lighthouse.

But he managed to convince me to stand up and get back from the edge.

If I ever questioned any of it, he’d become ill. I’d get a call. He was in the hospital, yet again. He’d had a minute stroke. I’d run to the emergency room, feeling very much like a prisoner of some as yet invisible war, petrified, because if he died, then where would my grandmother go, what would I do then? He was such a beautiful human being, and the purest of souls suffer the greatest. Oh, of that he had me utterly convinced. I helped him recuperate each and every single time and one day, when he didn’t answer his phone after I’d called for well over an hour only to be answered by a practically drunk skunk of a man who had downed half a bottle of Xanax, who just didn’t want anything else to do with this world or his selfish, petty boyfriend, I ran to his apartment, where I consoled him, all the while insisting he go to the hospital (he declined) and listened to his ranting and his raving, conditioned to accept, even as the blows rained down upon me, that I was this terrible, ugly, dispassionate, morally bankrupt thing who had reaped what he sowed.

I had had enough one day during yet another screaming match and while waiting for the A train to whisk itself into the station, I had a seat right on the edge of the platform.

“Alan,” he said. “What are you doing? I love you, don’t do this.”

“You are fucked up,” I yelled back. “Something is the matter with you and I can’t deal with it anymore. I don’t know what it is, I just know it hurts.”

But he managed to convince me to stand up and get back from the edge. Two uniformed police officers had noticed what they, not knowing the details, had immediately pegged as a case of histrionics, and I would be placed under arrest and sent to the psych ward for evaluation if he could not find it within his means to control me.

“Don’t ever do that again,” he said. “I love you, baby, don’t you understand that? What would I do if something happened to you? What would I tell your mother? I don’t want you to do anything like that ever again.”

Of course he didn’t. Losing me would mean he’d be discovered. Losing me would destroy everything. He’d be the first to be questioned. They’d immediately find that he had a prior record, having been arrested twice before on charges of identity theft. They’d sooner than later piece it all together. He had me right where he wanted me. He reminded me of just how ashamed I should be, effectively willing me into silence.

He had me right where he wanted me. He reminded me of just how ashamed I should be, effectively willing me into silence.

So I was silent. It’s interesting, even rather unnerving, looking back on it. I excused any and all of his absurdities and inconsistencies in an effort to hide my pain, which lurked within, and the bruises, which would betray me quicker than words ever possibly could. Unbeknownst to myself, he was tending a climate of utter animosity which he would fan in my direction; he claimed I was abusive and crazy, he told my friends and acquaintances that he loved me dearly, but that he didn’t know what he could do to stop me from hurting myself; he mentioned that he couldn’t leave me because he felt trapped, a prisoner of his own devotion.

And as a result of his rather public ruinations, I became effectively socially ostracized, experiencing an even further isolation than the one he’d created and the silence which he’d imposed. To everyone around me, I looked wild. I looked weak. I looked selfish and blind and insane and sick. Friends did not pick up their phones when I called. I was being ignored. It happened so slowly that when the effects finally did hit me, they kept boring themselves into my brain, a self punishing boomerang. I had lost everything by doing absolutely nothing.

History repeated himself and the past was obdurate, I figured. Everything I had done to better myself as a person up until this point had been entirely for naught.

But I’ve come to realize that this is what Richard wanted me to think and what he still wishes me to believe. He is currently out on the street, released on yet another technicality. The District Attorney’s office refused to return my calls and to the New York City Police Department, I may as well not even exist. I find, that whenever the time comes to tell my story, others look at me differently. How could you let him do that? they tell me. Or, in the words of one police detective, “You could’ve, you know, been a man.”

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and I’ve had an enormous mess to clean up. I’ve cleared up much of the debt he racked up. I’ve had to pay off others which were not as receptive. But in order to do so, I had to lose much of my humanity in the process. I was an animal, reduced to nothing more than my survival instincts. My entire existence revolved around getting myself off the street. I had help in the form of the friends who let me sleep on their couches. But I had no family to go back home to. I was anathema. And I have continued, even after all the blood, sweat and tears, after the temp jobs, after prostituting myself for extra cash to put towards my bills and the apartment I eventually moved into, after working at the bookstore, moving my way up from Customer Service and subsequently to Merchandising and finally to landing my current job with a software developer all in the span of a little over a year since the day the world caught fire, to be punished for crimes I did not commit.

But I had no family to go back home to. I was anathema.

But I have to thank this man.

Thank you, Richard.

I’ve discovered that I am everything that you are not. I’ve learned that I am not the spineless spic, the thorn in your side. I have discovered that I am someone when I am in pain. I have discovered that I am someone when I am not. I have discovered that both sides are valid, though I’ve continued to live with the remnants of all your invalidation in the form of rejection from my family and peers. But I’ve learned to approach the issue with precisely the same grace and resolve that you attempted to rob me of. It’s okay: I found better company. I am still the same Alan, though no longer working at that dead end job, still the same Alan, with or without his grandmother. Still the same Alan. Not a moment I spent with you snuffed out the person I am. I am happy to report that you’ve failed.

There is a long way that we have to go before the very real and troubling issue of domestic violence within the LGBT community is addressed with the same tact, empathy and compassion afforded to those in heterosexual couplings. I have been gaining considerable confidence as I’ve worked to span the bridge between these wounds. I did not believe, when I started out, that this would be a story worth telling. The reality, however, demands a certain purposefulness. This is a conversation in need of contributors and I have added my story to the pile, because healing is difficult. Perhaps, one day, we can see victims of domestic violence in my community and across the world all over as more than embarrassments, statistics and Social Security Numbers.

But we need to start somewhere.

I am choosing to start now.

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