Coming out as trans taught me who my real friends are. It gave me a freedom and an autonomy over my body and life that I had never known. It was, and is, tough but worthwhile. But this is not a blog post about being trans. I bring this up because when I came out to my parents I wrote them a letter. Writing this, right now, feels similar. It feels like a coming out story, with all the anxiety and fear but no celebration at the end. It is currently 10.57am on a Saturday. One of my flatmates is making an omelette. It feels strange to be writing about something so dark and so personal while something so normal is happening around me. This isn’t exactly how I’d like to be spending my time but you play the cards you’re dealt.
I’m not entirely sure what I hope to achieve through writing this. Personal healing? Clarity? To help others? All I really know is that I felt compelled to write. If there is one thing that I have learned through my time dealing with mental health issues it’s that talking helps. Letting others know what is happening in your life can have innumerable positive effects.
My parents, with whom I have, let’s say, a complicated relationship, are due a visit soon. They know nothing of what happened and I have recently come to the conclusion that what happened can only have had a negative impact on our relationship (perhaps even acting as a catalyst for the eventual deterioration) and that any chance of healing the rift must necessarily include disclosing to them. It is unfair that I have had to make this decision, but my hope is that by telling them they can understand me better. It might bring us closer. A very long time has been spent obsessing over if and how I should tell them and it has become near impossible to concentrate on anything or anyone else. Every day the same old shit, like a broken record. How am I meant to tell my parents that I was sexually abused as a child? How am I meant to tell them that our family home, my bedroom, the house they would have to go back to after such a conversation, was the site of such a thing? How on earth do I start to tell them how I was left in the care of someone trusted, and how that trust was disgustingly, criminally, broken.
Trauma memories are stored differently to average ones. They are often fragmented, hazy, and felt physically in the body when recalled. Like so many of us I had managed to repress, to contain, and in many ways to forget. Looking back now I can remember remembering, every now and then, but quickly squashing it. Sometimes it takes distress for things to resurface more permanently, which is exactly what happened to me. It was Christmas Eve 2015, my second year of Uni, and I was home for a few days for the holiday. Some friends and I had been out drinking. It was the end of the night and I was about to walk home. My best friend offered to pay for a taxi for me, but I told him I’d be fine. It was my hometown and a walk I’d made countless times before, what could possibly happen? I decided to roll a cigarette before walking on when a much older man came up to me. He offered to buy me one last drink before I called it a night. Why not. I was majorly depressed and no stranger to risky interactions with strangers. Over the course of the drink I quickly realised I had no interest, in fact he was downright obnoxious, and staggered away while he was at the bar getting ready to ply me with more alcohol that I clearly didn’t need. He caught up with me, insisting we were having a nice time. I shrugged him off and kept walking but he eventually convinced me to share a taxi home. The whole ride was spent asking to go home while he instructed the driver to find a hotel. Luckily, it being Christmas, there was no room at the inn. I tried to take charge by asking the driver to take me to my home address but the man must have assumed this meant I was taking him home. In the back of this taxi he forcibly kissed me, groped me, and at one point had me on the floor as he tried to undo my belt. I think perhaps the driver had an idea of what was happening because as soon as we got to my road he quickly helped me out of the car, closed the man inside, and asked if I was alright. Before I knew it my would-be rapist was being driven away, no questions asked. As I walked to my house I couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself. Christmas was already hard enough given a difficult family life. How was I going to quietly deal with this? I could hardly reach out to friends who would be having a nice time and ruin their day with my trouble. But the night was not yet over. Laying in my childhood bed, suddenly feeling more sober than I’d ever felt in my life, memories returned. I was completely and totally overwhelmed and since that night I have not been able to squash these memories and feelings again.
When I was around the age of 8 my next door neighbour’s teenage son was babysitting my older brother and I. I estimate my age to have been around 8 because I distinctly remember my brother being allowed to babysit me on his own from the age of 13, so for us to have had a babysitter at all he must have been around 12, putting my own age at 8. This is what I remember. We were sitting on my bed. He mentioned how he had never seen a vagina before. Next I was laying on my back, underwear removed, legs apart. He looked and looked and looked. It seemed like forever. Then he reached over, slowly, as if he was afraid. I don’t know how long he touched me for. And then he was standing and leaving without a word, closing the door behind him.
He started ignoring me from that day onwards. I had always thought of us as friends, in that way that friendly kids think of everyone they meet as their friend, let alone a neighbour. I was confused. What had I done to end this friendship? I remember around that time our mothers making a joke about how it seemed like he was afraid of me. Years and years later, though before I had fully recovered memories of that night, I attended his wedding reception. The minute I walked in and saw him I felt the fear down my spine and was frozen in place for what felt like an eternity. I didn’t understand why. My body remembered but my mind did not. We looked at each other for a while and I remember feeling like I was being avoided. My decision was not to investigate the feeling but to sit away from everyone and get as drunk as humanly possible.
When he closed the door that night he closed it on more than just me. He closed it on everything he left behind with me, in the room that I would have to grow up in. Because of him, being sent to my room for misbehaving was more punishment than my parents bargained for. Because of him, there was nowhere in the world I felt safe. He selfishly used me for his own teenage curiosity and gratification. He knew what he did was wrong and that’s why he was afraid of me. I didn’t understand what had happened but somehow I knew it was to be kept a secret. I didn’t feel disgust, but somehow I still felt disgusting. I felt guilty of something, but I didn’t know what. And now that I can fully comprehend, I feel a bitter anger. When something like this happens, and especially to a very young person, it can break your brain a little bit. Consciously there seemed nothing wrong but my long term experience with poor mental health speaks to the lasting impact trauma has on people. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was around 19, I have always struggled with low self-worth, I have self-harmed on and off to this day, and I have tried to take my own life on multiple occasions. Sometimes I just really fucking yearn for the grave. On a good day I might actually sleep. I have had to drop out of a masters course twice due to mental health. Relationships both platonic and romantic can be difficult and oh boy don’t get me started on sex. When he closed the door that night it feels like he closed it on the person I could have been without all of this. I am furious and in mourning over the idea that I had the chance to be that person taken from me.
This is what happened but what was *I* going to do about it? As a trans man and a gay man I knew what shame could do to a person and through coming out I learned the power of truth and authenticity. In October 2018 I decided I needed to tell someone. It was the first time I’d even said it out loud let alone with another person within earshot. It was also one of the most terrifying things I have ever done. Literally shielding my eyes from my friend I bawled and hyperventilated until I managed to say it. Friend, I was sexually abused as a child and I need help. Please oh god won’t somebody, anybody, help me. Eventually managing to look him in the eye was torture, but he did not judge me or make me say anything more than I wanted. He took care of me that evening and I will always be so thankful. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to continue looking for help without him. The next step was wildly googling for that help and I am grateful that SurvivorsUK was there to answer the call.
I know now (thanks in no small part to the brilliant men I have met through this charity) that really it was my abuser’s secret I was keeping, not my own, and I am trying to take responsibility for my own healing. Part of that was groupwork with SurvivorsUK as well as ongoing therapy at the GP. It took 18 years for me to tell someone for the first time, though the average time for men to break their silence is around 26 years. Taking responsibility is important, but it’s also important to be able to ask for help, rely on others, and share in the comfort of friends. Remind yourself that your friends love you. They want to help. I would not be here without the kindness and love of those around me.
Though I remember it more clearly than the night with my neighbour, the man in the taxi is almost nothing to me now. He is just another nameless man to add to the list of nameless men who have hurt me. He was not my friend, my neighbour, or my guardian. It is not the man in the taxi who follows me from waking life into my dreams.
I found out earlier this year that my abuser has kids of his own now. It keeps me up at night wondering whether I have a responsibility to come forward. If it ever came out that they were hurt and I could’ve…it doesn’t bear thinking about. I’m not sure if I’m in a place where I could go to the police, or if I ever will, and that is something I will have to wrestle with from now on. At least now, thanks to SurvivorsUK and my friends, I will not have to wrestle with it alone.
I may be afraid of the dark and filled with an anxiety I may never fully escape, but I am brave in ways some couldn’t begin to comprehend. The same is true of you, survivor, for coming to this website. It may be your first step or you may be further down the road, but you are strong and brave. You must be or you wouldn’t be here with me. I wish I had more to give to you but for now all I can offer is my love and my solidarity.
We’ll get through it together.