I met my ex-boyfriend in my first year at Trinity and we immediately clicked. If I had to think about everything I wanted and needed in a man, he was it. He was extremely intelligent, caring, he made me laugh until I couldn’t breathe. I fell deeply In love with him. That being said, I don’t remember every time he hit me. But I do remember the first time, the last time and the times that really hurt.
The first time I realized how far he could go was on an Ents night out, when a drunk boy sat next to me and said I was cute and pecked me on the cheek. Before I explained that I had a boyfriend, my boyfriend dragged me by the hair into a quiet corner. Slamming me against a wall, he was shaking with rage, accusations flying left right and centre, throwing me to the floor and kicking me repeatedly in the stomach. I vaguely remember running away. Some older students saw what happened and asked if I was okay and who that person was. I kept quiet. Following hours of begging, pleading and threatening to kill himself if I didn’t take him back, I forgave him. I had loved him after all.
He didn’t like me being around boys. “Everyone is staring at you” he would always say if we were out together, and he began to prohibit me talking to certain people. As I became more engaged in college societies, he tightened his control of me. When I asked him for space, he would guilt me, saying that I was all that he had or that it was suspicious that I’d even ask this. He would follow me to events, clubs and bars and would suggest that it was strange that I didn’t want him there, snatching my phone or my keys from me so I would have to leave with him. “If you’re going to be like this, you don’t have to have these,” he would say.
My life became a never-ending cycle of abuse. He would blow up over nothing, beat me, manipulate me. I woke up paralysed with fear and convinced I was at fault more times than I can count. Then, he would panic and hold my possessions hostage, lock me in rooms, threaten to spread false rumours about me or out me as gay to my parents, all because he was terrified he would lose me. “You can break up with me but we have to talk first,” he would say. The talk was never satisfied until I forgave him.
His abuse permeated my whole life and during the exam period I didn’t have the luxury of giving my undivided focus to my work. I would insist I needed to be alone to study. He did not allow this. He would wait for me when I came home, tricking my flatmates into letting him in or spewing a series of terrifying threats if I didn’t let him in to “talk”. He would throw my college notes out the window or tear them up in my face. He would march up to me in the library and snatch my phone from my hands, coming unnervingly close to whisper “you’ll get this back when you talk to me”.
He could be charming, cunning and likeable to anyone he wanted. On one occasion, he backed me into a corner in the Hamilton, telling me he could kill me if he wanted while keeping a tight grip on my arm. I ran from him, running behind the Pav, and he chased me. Swinging his leg out, I tripped and fell face first onto the concrete. This was one of the rare occasions where someone saw it happen; a woman in a car stopped to ask if I was okay. Before I could even speak he told her that I had just robbed him. As this became a more common occurrence, I could see in people’s eyes that they didn’t believe him. I found out around this time that he was logged into all my social media and that’s how he always knew my location, where I was and where I was going to be.
I don’t remember all the cuts, bruises or times where I was struggling to breath, ribs hurting or lumps on the back of my head. He convinced me I was acting out and I deserved this. I convinced myself that I wasn’t being abused, that I was a strong person weathering a storm with a complicated person. He convinced me that it was the two of us against the world. He cut me off from my friends, he turned me against them. It is easier to control someone who is isolated. If I was drunk he would beat me and the next morning convince me I had fallen over or he had no choice. He would lose control so easily and throw my deepest insecurities into my face. He trained me to come back to him and as he had ensured that I was isolated, he would give himself free reign to do as he pleased.
After 10 months of this torture, I remember staring in the mirror and unconvincingly telling myself that I deserved better and I needed to leave him no matter what the reprecutions were. I called to his house and told him he was to let me walk out of his life for good. After two days of his abuse, I told his mother what had happened. This didn’t stop him though. Several weeks later he forced his way into my flat and smashed my phone to pieces. At that moment he found out I was on Tinder, and he began destroying all my possessions and then wrapped his hands around my neck. After wriggling free and escaping my flat, I vowed to get help. He followed me into college, begging me to not say anything and assuring me that he would never see me again. I came to realise early on that the thing he feared most in life was losing me. He had decided he was a victim of life and used this as a licence to do whatever he pleased to me, until he dehumanised me and I was nothing but his property. This is what all abusers are, they think of themselves as the victim and so they believe that they are untouchable.
As I was finally breaking down, he was rushing to get staff on his side. He called campus security and spouted his usual lies; that I had stolen from him and I had hit him too. They made us sit down together, against my wishes. “The two of you are grown men and need to shake hands about this and to part ways respectfully,” they said to us after hearing his bout of sick lies and my truth. I had to look into his hateful eyes and shake hands with him. It was degrading. The security told me that was the last of it and I was safe. But I wasn’t. I knew he would be back, and he was.
I’ve dealt with so much ignorance as a gay man when I share my story. I have felt and sometimes still feel like my story is invalidated because of my gender. When I’ve had the courage to tell people, most of what I have heard back has been “you are a guy, why didn’t you fight back”, “you should have been men about it and understood you’re not right for each other”, “you should have left, that’s what I would have done”, “oh my god I’m sick of listening
to your drama”, “can we talk about this another time, it isn’t a big deal and I’m busy right now”, “you’re a confident person, I don’t understand why you’d let someone do that”. It was fear and manipulation. Fighting back was always the hardest option. He convinced me that all of my friends didn’t like me and that he was the only person I could rely on. I believed him. It shocks me that he hit me on campus. That he followed me on campus. That he harassed me in the library. That he took my college experience from me. He did these things because we both knew that I was too ashamed to tell anyone.
The aftermath was a bigger struggle, if that is even imaginable. I was still too ashamed to speak about the abuse or let anyone in, and like a trained dog I still engaged with him and frequently met up with him. The constant fear of not knowing his whereabouts tinged with the heartbreak of him making his way through all the gay guys on campus and rubbing it in my face destroyed me. I was brainwashed. I still wanted him. I can’t tell you how many times I drank and drugged myself into unconsciousness, or cut into myself and clawed at my skin in anger. How many times I swallowed a load of pills and threw them back up. How many times I walked barefoot to the Liffey in the dead of night hoping to end all the pain. How many times I would get as intoxicated as possible and self-implode on nights out while the society I was in watched and treated it as gossip. I surrounded myself with the wrong people. There is no way that I will live another day where this abuse will not haunt me to some capacity. I will never be free from being tense and on edge. I will never have my back to a group of people and I’ll always sit in the back corner of a room ensuring that I always have a full scope of my surroundings.
I have always wanted closure and I have thought every few months or so that if I reached out to this person and tried to be civil, my suffering would end. Or even if I confront this person that I would finally get closure. But this is my closure. It is a final message to let my abuser know that I am not afraid of them anymore. While this article is for my closure, it is also for anyone who is being abused or knows anyone who is abused and feels they may be invalidated because of their gender or sexual orientation. Abuse knows no gender or sexual orientation. All of our stories are valid and they all deserve to be heard.
One in Four: https://www.oneinfour.ie
Women’s Aid: https://www.womensaid.ie
Student Counselling Service: https://www.tcd.ie/Student_Counselling/