12 July 2013
Someone, I forget who, once said that you are truly in prison when you get used to it. I could say something like that about being in an abusive relationship with someone who’s transphobic.
If you’ve been in an abusive relationship—or if you have spent time around people who’ve been in such relationships—you know that one reason why people stay with abusive partners is that the abuse starts to seem normal. Actually, the person suffering the abuse doesn’t see it as such, at least early in the relationship, because it comes in almost innocuous ways at first. It starts with the put-down or other insensitive remark that its target forgives or simply allows to go by. The thing is, the first abusive remark or gesture doesn’t seem that much, if at all, worse than what the abused person has experienced before.
So, when someone says that if you break up with him, you’ll never find anyone else—or will find someone like him, only worse—because you’re too old, fat or ugly or trans, it’s not that much worse than what you’ve heard from other people. In fact, you might—as I did—have already believed such things, at least subconsciously. At least, that is what I felt when Dominick told me those things early in our relationship. I let those remarks go, in part because he is a good bit younger than I am and, as I noticed, not particularly mature for his age. Plus, he came from a family whose members always said mean and insulting things to each other “in the heat of the moment” or when they were “letting off steam”.
Also, because he is younger—and much better-looking than I expected from my first relationship in my life as a woman, which I began in middle age—I took it as a sign that, yes, I could “succeed” as a woman. When I began my transition, I met some really scary—and sorry—males. They saw me as a “chick with a dick” and imputed all sorts of sexual perversions to me. They believed that I would do, and submit to, all sorts of things they would never demand of “the girl next door” or their boyfriends. Also—I realized this almost immediately—some of them were trying not to admit to themselves that they were gay, or that they weren’t.
Dominick was somewhat akin to them in that he didn’t want to deal with his own life, and his true desires, on their own terms. Sometimes he would claim to be bisexual, other times gay, depending on what would work best for the occasion. When I first knew him, he wanted me to “stick” him. I politely explained that I couldn’t get an erection unless I stopped taking hormones for a few months. (At that point, I’d been taking them for almost two years.) When he realized that I wasn’t going to do that, he used to find things he needed a “he-man” or “alpha male” to help him with and make a point of telling people we met that I was a man who was taking hormones.
What I didn’t realize—or, actually, want to admit to myself—was that he’d never given up the dream that one night I would meet him somewhere for dinner (which I would pay for, of course) and announce that I was going to revert to my old name and life and support him in style. I realized that as the time drew near for my surgery. When I first scheduled it, he voiced support and even promised to accompany me to it. But, he found other commitments, other things that had to be done. For example, the house in which he’d lived his entire life, and looked as if it had never been remodeled in the sixty years it had been in his family, simply had to be redone. That meant, of course, that he would have to work during the summer. (He was a special education paraprofessional.) All right, I said, do what you need to do.
When the summer session ended that August, I was home, recuperating from my surgery. Millie, who lived across the street from me, stopped by every day and Tami, who lived up the street, came by a couple of times a week. They bought groceries, helped me with my laundry, changed cat litter and did other things that my inability to lift prevented me from doing. They even made a few meals for me.
Where was Dominick? In Aruba. He “needed” the vacation, he insisted.
Oh--did I mention that the last time I went to his house before my surgery, he blew smoke in my face? Whenever I talked to him about his two-pack-a-day habit, he took it as an affront. Now, I must say that he didn’t smoke in my apartment: I explained that my landlady, who had young children, lived directly above me and one of the conditions of my renting the apartment was that nobody smoked while in it. But, when I was at his house, he asserted his “right”—which, of course, he had—to puff away. “My grandmother’s been smoking all of her life,” he’d insist. So was everyone else in his family. But, I insisted, if he had any respect for me as a person, he wouldn’t smoke in my presence. I could just as well have asked him to give up sex with men.
I told him I didn’t want to see or hear from him anymore. Then I stopped returning his calls and e-mails. I figured he would get tired of that, as he gives up on almost anything that requires any effort on his part. But, somehow, he found the energy to escalate his abuse and harassment. He started leaving “tranny” jokes and the frankly transphobic dialogue from South Park on my voice mail. After I didn’t respond, he left messages, e-mails and comments on this blog from phone numbers and addresses that weren’t his own and couldn’t be traced. The early ones said that I’m not a woman and was trying to avoid the “fact” that I’m a gay man. At least, those accusations were ridiculous: He said my Adam’s Apple (which I’ve never had) or some other thing gave me away.
I igonored his voice messages and e-mails and didn’t publish his comments. Now, after a few months of being ignored, most people would get the message. But, in this sense, Dominick wasn’t most people: The more I ignored him, the more he escalated his harassment. And the harassment turned into stalking, threats and false rumors and other lies about me. When he couldn’t find a more pointed insult or more creative way to bother me, he’d leave simply yell, “Fuckin’ bitch” into my voice-mail—from some number that couldn’t be traced, of course.
Now, you might think that his words and actions were inconsequential, as he didn’t resort to any physical violence. I understand; that is what I thought—or, at least, told myself. But he found other ways to escalate his verbal and psychological abuse, and it’s cost me in a lot of different ways. I’ll talk more about those things in a future post.