TW: This text contains difficult subjects like gaslighting, homophobia, sexism, abuse, and sexual violence. Please read with care.
It's November. I was sitting in a coffee shop in a writing group for LGBT+ NanoWriMoers, and the group leader suggested going around and saying what music we've been listening to lately to get to know each other better. Panic flooded my body. I didn't know these people well. I didn't know what the safe answer was for what I like. I didn't know how they'd react to what I would say.
There are reasons for this. For why my body tensed and my stomach twisted up in knots as I went cold with terror. For why I hesitated and stumbled over my words when I did answer.
In the first book of my series, The Raven Key, there’s a chapter where we’re introduced to a character named Mary Chapman. She reads like your typical high school bully. The mean girl that makes life hell for those she deems different or unacceptable in some way.
There’s something about Mary you may not know though… she's based somewhat off an actual abuser of mine, and some of what Evelyn experienced at Mary's hands, actually happened to me.
If you read the book you’ll get a bit more insight of what I was put through when I was younger (and it will most likely be expanded on in later books), but the general thing was that in high school her belief was that I could like girls just as long as I knew it was “sinful,” and believed in Jesus. At one point she made a slambook about me and got her friends to harass me.
She would, after my college years, pay lip service to regretting her behavior in high school, yet hold no hesitation in telling me I could “like that kind of thing just as long as you know it's problematic." The language changed, the homophobia and control never did.
It didn’t end there though, the gaslighting was near constant in those after college years. She would take things I said out of context to apply to things I wasn’t even talking about, or would flat out put words in my mouth. Any attempt to correct the false narrative would be met with deflection or hostility. Never an apology.
Anything could be used against me over the course of those years.
Say I like Loki? Get screamed at in the middle of a mall because “he’s a psychopath.”
Try to point out that derogatory and sexist language (like meat and skanky) being aimed at women does nothing to stop the issue of objectification in media, and that there’s a sexist double standard in the way we address this kind of thing with women in comparison to men? Have it twisted into me not caring about objectification, and have my being attracted to women in even the most passive ways used as evidence.
Say I sometimes think nudity in art can be an example of feminine beauty (after years of art school and nude drawing classes)? Have it taken out of context to be applied to an actress that's being objectified, but is clothed. Also the homophobia here was glaringly obvious as well--"you said she was an example of feminine beauty." No. I didn't. But good to know you think if I called a woman beautiful it would be worse than her being called a sexist slur.
Say I think it’s not a problem if women find empowerment in their bodies and sexuality? Have it applied to anime characters and receive a lecture on how "it’s sexist and degrading to women."
Again, (outside of saying I liked a fictional character) none of these things that were thrown at me had any basis in what I actually said.
This isn't even half of what she'd throw at me either. Anytime I talked to her I felt like I was losing my mind. Sometimes so much so that I'd go non-verbal out of confusion and overwhelm for hours after a conversation due to my autism.
She outright refused to acknowledge the ways in which I'd been harmed via slut-shaming and homophobia, then proceeded to strip me of not only everything that made me--me--but everything that gave me comfort, empowerment, and a sense of safety in the world around me after experiencing sexual violence as a child.
I was given a diagnosis of PTSD in 2013. My illness a direct result of the repeated gaslighting, control, and misrepresentation I was put through.
I do not believe looking back on it now that her actions came from a lack of understanding. After three years of attempting to correct a false narrative, you have to accept that no one keeps doubling down like that after being repeatedly corrected unless they’re being intentionally ignorant or even purposely cruel.
At one point I was even told that my being sexually assaulted at the age of 11 “must be hard as it’s seen as perpetuating harmful relationships.” Which is an absolutely disgusting response to finding out someone was raped as a child.
The final straw in our relationship though was her saying people had to be sure to “not dehumanize abusers.” When I pointed out to her that survivors had a right to feel however they wanted, and why it was harmful to put that thinking on victims, she dropped me as a friend and told me that “believing all abusers deserve harsh punishment is a dangerous generalization” even though I didn’t say a single thing regarding what abusers deserve.
She also insisted she’d always been “respectful” despite massive amounts of evidence to the contrary.
The problem with all of this gaslighting going on for so long, is that eventually I started to believe I must be a terrible person like she said I was, and I tried to kill myself (repeatedly)—which landed me on suicide watch—twice.
While everything with her was going on I was also being physically assaulted and raped by the guy I started dating after everything around the slut-shaming and homophobia started (I identified as bisexual at the time). As you can imagine my spirit was completely broken, and I couldn’t properly process the massive amounts of trauma. I just knew I was scared and in pain.
I made an excuse to get out of the relationship with him, at that point I’d just wanted to try and move on without messing up the friend group, because I didn’t think anyone would care (who would after the repeated devaluation by a woman I considered a friend) and I’d been gaslit so much I no longer trusted myself to get things right.
Eventually though I went to the YWCA where I talked to someone about the assaults and they confirmed for me that what happened was rape. I then made the mistake of trusting my best friend at the time. She brushed off the accusation and started dating him after being told. I shoved my emotions down, since no one would listen, and tried to live with the pain.
Of course that went about as well as could be expected, and I spoke up again, only to be blamed and discarded. So I finally went to the police. Who couldn’t do much other than question him given it’s a case of “he said, she said.” But I sincerely hope it terrified him when they showed up at his work to do so. I hope it scared him straight so no one will ever be victimized by him again.
By this point, 10 years later, though I'm not completely free of the trauma, I’ve come far enough in my healing that I no longer fit the full criteria of a PTSD diagnosis. My writing has helped a lot with getting me to this point. But I shouldn't have ever been exposed to such cruelty in the first place (and this isn't even close to everything I went through back then).