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Lessons Learned: “I am living proof” that domestic violence afflicts the LGBT community

(Editor’s note: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Many people aren’t aware that domestic violence afflicts the LGBT community. Here is the first of a two-part, first-person account by Jeff Gilson of San Diego, who tells of his two relationships that turned abusive. Part II runs tomorrow.)

The gay community has been vilified by people who don’t understand that homosexuality is neither a choice nor a curse. I have been told that homosexuality is a sin and is thus immoral. People have told me that domestic violence doesn’t exist in the gay community, but I am living proof that it does.

I suffered through five years of physical and mental abuse, involving two different partners. Three years were with one man, where I was beaten, belittled, thrown down stairs, had pans full of hot lasagna thrown at me, and lastly, I was raped about once a week for three years. The other two years were with a man who never laid a hand on me, but belittled me, restricted my actions and basically tried to make me a prisoner at home.

The warning signs that I was about to enter into a violent situation were there in both cases, but I never saw them. I was blinded by love and by my desire to have a loving relationship. I still dream of that kind of relationship where both men love each other. The difference between now and then is that I know how to look for the signs that I am not getting into something good, and getting into something where I will be harmed for no reason.

The story of “M”

I was involved with “M” for seven years. During that time, there were no signs of violence in M. He was loving and always happy to see me.

We saw each other one or two times per month, even though M lived in New Jersey and I lived in North Carolina. It was an eight-hour drive between cities, so we would change our work schedules so we could meet at least twice a month.

“M” was working as a casino host. I was a warehouse supervisor, until the facility I worked in closed. I then found employment in an agency that rented household goods. I didn’t enjoy the new job, and “M” persuaded me to quit work and move to New Jersey to be with him. I am a native of New Jersey, so the chance to move home excited me.

I was deeply in love with “M,” and I really wanted to be with him. My family was not too excited about “M,” as my mother warned me about him, telling me “something just wasn’t right.”

I am a Caucasian male, and “M” was African-American. For me, race is never an issue. Skin color is the gift wrap on a package. It’s what’s inside that counts.

The first sign of trouble

The first instance of problems happened during my first week living in New Jersey with “M.” It was just after New Year’s 2007. We had been out to dinner and we were having a nice time. “M” had been drinking a bit, and we had a brief argument about who was going to drive home. I told him he should not be driving, just to be safe. He told me he was fine, but his speech was slurred and he had difficulty walking a straight line. Eventually, he threw his keys at me and I drove home.

“M” fell asleep in his SUV. When we got home, I awoke “M” and we went inside. We had just closed the door when he turned with a face so angry and a tone of voice I had never heard before. He screamed at me: “Never, and I mean never, challenge me in public. I could have driven home.” I responded with “You fell asleep in the car, you could have gotten us killed, or worse, someone else killed.”

“M” then really blew up, and with rage in his eyes that I have never seen before, exploded. He punched me in the gut, and then smacked me across the face.

Right then and there I should have left and never returned. Unfortunately, like many people who suffer from the hands of abusers, I questioned what I did to deserve getting hit. What did I do wrong? The answer is I did nothing wrong. At the time though, I could not see that. I wouldn’t blame “M” for anything he did. I told myself that I did everything wrong.

I stayed home the next day instead of looking for work. Around 11 am, there was a knock on the door. A delivery man brought flowers and balloons from M. The card said M was sorry, and he apologized (he always apologized in writing, he never verbalized the words).

The rapes begin

I took this as a sign not that M was sorry, but I was forgiven. I cooked a nice dinner that night that M enjoyed. We watched TV, then had a nice night. Nothing violent happened for a few days. Then the first rape occurred.

M worked from 4 pm to midnight five days a week, having off Monday and Tuesday. If he had a client that was going to be at the casino on his day off, he often went to the casino to take care of that guest. The casino and guests were always more important than I ever was. I was the last thing he ever thought about, unless he wanted something from me. This night, he came home very drunk. I still don’t know how he drove the six miles from the casino to our condo without running off the road.

He slammed the door and screamed to me: “Where the fu*k are you, bitch?” I was sleeping as I had just started my new job and I was tired. Plus, it was 3 am. He came to the bedroom and turned on the light, then the television. He woke me up and told me he was very horny and wanted to “bust a nut” before he went to sleep. I told him I wasn’t in the mood and was very tired, plus I had to get up at 6 am. He became more irate then the other day when he yelled “You don’t tell me no, you little bitch. I am the breadwinner here, and you will do as I say, when I say it.”

M then smacked me again, and kicked me off the bed. He said I didn’t deserve to be in the same bed with him. He then picked me up, threw me back onto the bed, pulled down my underwear and proceeded to rape me. I cried and could not make him stop, no matter how much I pleaded. He stopped only when he came inside of me. He told me to shower and clean up, because I was dirty.

I was in the shower for more than an hour. I scrubbed every inch of my body numerous times. We had a shower massager, and I made sure my rectum was very clean. I was so ashamed of myself. I blamed myself for everything. I should have said yes. He worked hard. He has needs.

Over the following months, the rapes continued, at least once a week, some weeks more. I was ashamed to go out in public because it felt like I had “RAPE ME” tattooed on my forehead. I felt dirty inside and out. I scrubbed and scrubbed my body every shower I took. I started to withdraw from friends and family. He would allow me to speak to my family. I stopped taking calls from my friends. I stopped doing thing I enjoyed doing. I would still go to work, but that was about it.

When M wasn’t home, I just laid in bed, the room dark, the blinds pulled, and myself looking as ugly as possible. I would go a few days without showering so he would be disgusted in my appearance.

M didn’t care. All he wanted was a hole to stick his penis in. One night he entered my mouth so deep that I threw up all over him. I felt so sick, and not just from throwing up. He immediately kicked me in my stomach and threw me out of the room. I went to the spare room and used the bathroom there to shower. I slept in that room, with the door locked. I didn’t go to work the next day. I was so embarrassed that I allowed myself to throw up on M. Why did I keep doing these bad things to M was all I could ask myself. It was all my fault, I thought.

The next day, no flowers arrived for me. I was devastated. He wasn’t going to forgive me this time, I told myself. I crawled up into the bed in the spare room and fell asleep. I couldn’t sleep sound as I kept waking up, scared that M was going to show up and beat me. He never came home that day. He did return the following day as if nothing happened. We never spoke about it. Everything was awkward.

I never looked at M the same way again. I started thinking differently. I struggled with my thoughts. All I could tell myself was that maybe I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Maybe it’s not me. I still didn’t have the strength to do anything, but it was coming.

After two years, the beatings and the rapes continued. M, at times, apologized for me not being good. As time went on, my strength began to grow. I was getting something I had lost, or M had taken from me. I was finding courage. I started daring M to hit me. On occasion, I swung back. I never did call police, though. I was convinced, like many people, that no one would believe a gay couple could have domestic-violence issues. I falsely believed that there was no help out there for me. The few people I did talk to about my situation tried to get me to go to a domestic-violence shelter, but I never believed that a man could go there. I thought they were for women only.

The event that changed my life

The last night I spent with M was one of the most violent. It had been three weeks since anything had happened. I was confident that my resolve and courage had changed M. I convinced myself that he had changed, and the beating and rapes were a thing of the past. I was never more wrong.

M was off work on this Monday in August. I was not working as well. I wanted to create a dinner that was all homemade, made with love. I decided on lasagna, garlic bread and salad. I am not a huge wine drinker, but I decided to have wine with that dinner. I spent the day preparing dinner. I took my time making the lasagna. The sauce was homemade as well. I worked hard on everything.

When M got home, I told him a special dinner was ready. I had two candles lit on the table. He didn’t look at my presentation. It appeared like he had been doing drugs. I was skeptical before, that he was using, but had no physical proof. The powder under his nose told a story I was not willing or ready to read.

M sat down to eat. I fixed his plate. He took a bite of the lasagna and spat it out. He cussed me and said this was the worst crap he had ever eaten in his life. He threw the dish on the floor. I started getting up from my chair to get a broom and mop to clean up the mess. I was thinking in my head that I had failed M with this special dinner. I was beating myself up inside.

At that moment, the lasagna dish breezed past my head. It missed my head by inches. I fell to the ground and did not move. I was in shock. Things had taken an even more ominous turn. He yelled that he should have killed me because I was unworthy of breathing the same air as he did. I ran upstairs to my room. I was still sleeping in the spare room, and I decided I was going to move out that night. Plans were changed in an instant.

That was the last moment I ever saw M. The next day after M left home for the day, I went to a local grocery store and bought two gallons of bleach. I took expensive suits from his closet and threw them into his bathtub. I poured both gallons of bleach all over his suits. I took a broom and mixed the bleach and suits. I made sure I had the stopper in the tub so the bleach would stay. I felt liberated by doing that.

I then packed a few things and left, never to return. I never looked back. I bought new clothes. Everything was going to be better, I said to myself. I went to work, quit, and got my final paycheck on payday. I took my suitcases full of new clothes and took the bus to Atlantic City, N.J. and purchased a one way ticket to Los Angeles. The bus was late leaving, and I kept looking around scared that I would see M in a rage wondering why I was leaving. He never showed.

(Editor's note: Part II, running tomorrow, is Jeff's story of meeting "G," the man who kept him in a virtual prison.)

Getting help

If you are a victim of domestic violence, please reach out for help. Call the police. Seek a restraining order. Reach out to friends for support.

Here in San Diego, contact The Center for HELP. This web page includes vital resources for victims and survivors.

Please click HERE to find links to other resources on LGBT domestic violence.