“She told me, ‘Hook up with her all you want, but don’t date her. She’s crazy.’”
I was speechless when my new boyfriend GT relayed these words to me. They had come from a mutual acquaintance I’ll call Eva. Why would anyone who knew me and was aware that I had recently survived my partner’s suicide say this to GT? Perhaps even worse, why would GT then go and tell me?
I had not, up until that point, begun suspecting that GT was anything but princely. He certainly presented a shiny facade when we began dating: intelligent, handsome, and ambitious in what I believed was an ethical way, he impressed me as fully engaged in and happy with his life. I was not used to this, having gravitated toward deeply unfulfilled people in years past--people who were stuck and didn’t seem like they could figure out how to move forward. But GT seemed utterly different.
Although I began dating GT far too soon after my beloved Christian, in the throes of degenerative illness and alcoholism, took his own life, I thought I was helping myself by moving on. Loving GT would be a healthy way to continue healing from the barrage of pain I experienced in the months following Christian’s death. I believed I was breaking my pattern of getting involved with people--both cisgender and trans-identified--who could not practice self-care. Love with the right person would save the day!
I disregarded my gut, which indicated that GT’s words were a red flag. He appeared proud of himself for giving me a chance in spite of Eva’s warning--like he was bestowing some act of charity on a pitiful woman, a tragic figure plagued by insanity and loss. It seemed an unkind thing to tell me as I recovered from an incident that made me fear I would be perceived as damaged and, indeed, unloveable for the rest of my life. I suspected that Eva based her advice on reports from my former long-term girlfriend, who had been my rock during some extremely difficult depressive periods of my life, but with whom things had ended badly.
I questioned Eva’s integrity and GT’s judgement, but worst of all, I questioned myself--because although I had reached a higher level of wellness in recent years and was coping with the aftermath of Christian’s suicide in a more functional way than anyone (including I) could have anticipated, what if Eva was right? What if I wasn’t dating material because I could relapse; I could be crazy? Maybe my reputation was smeared across town and I didn’t even know it. Sure, I’d dated around and had long-term relationships besides the ones with the aforementioned ex-girlfriend and with Christian, but none of those had been with the right people. What if GT was my last chance?
Thank god it turned out that he wasn’t. As the months went by, he pulled every classic textbook move designed to make my world smaller--coercing me into "proving my love" by giving him sexual favors upon demand, forbidding me to have contact with friends I'd once dated, monitoring my Facebook posts and photos, becoming enraged with me when I told him I wasn’t ready to move in with him after only four months together--and gradually I recognized that something was direly wrong with this picture.
I made my first attempt to leave GT a few months into our relationship, after a huge fight that caught me completely off guard. He became suspicious and angry over the phone when he learned I was hanging out with, among a few other people, a friend of mine he didn’t know; clearly I was going to cheat on him. He cancelled our plans for that night, cursed me out and hung up on me, then called back dozens of times. I ignored his calls for as long as I could; when I finally picked up, I told him I was not ready to talk, that I needed some space and time to think. I stayed at my friend Jordan’s place for hours, trying to figure out what to do. When I finally headed home, I found that GT had let himself into my apartment and was sitting on my couch.
I asked him repeatedly to leave; he would not, although he wasn’t acting angry anymore. Now he was pleading, and when I told him we were through, he freaked out and began crying, shaking, and shivering. He would do this twice more during the course of our relationship, going from a bully to a frightened child I felt cruel trying to leave behind.
You can probably guess how the next day went: GT sent me a heartfelt message and asked if we could talk. I relented and agreed to meet up with him; he apologized in a way that I thought was sincere. I was sure this was an isolated incident--and of course, it was not. A couple of months later I tried to break up with him again after another terrible fight, and stupidly I let him talk me into going back for more. It felt so goddamn unfair to go from one doomed relationship, resulting in the worst trauma of my life, right into another. I believed that surely it would get better; I couldn’t just give up and walk away when things got rough.
But they kept getting rougher. GT would sometimes fix me with an icy stare for some perceived infraction and at one point, while lying unprovoked in my bed, he told me that he hated me. At other times he accused me of fetishizing trans men (because he was not the first one with whom I’d had a relationship), but then he'd also proclaim me a lesbian who secretly pined for a body that wasn’t like his. Suffice it to say that these were not accurate assessments.
I confess that I was occasionally dishonest with him--about other people I’d once dated or the importance of my friendships, which he insisted should be secondary to the way I felt about him. It would be an insincere attempt at virtue for me to say now that I never should have lied. The fact of the matter is that if I didn’t tell GT the truth about something, it was because I quickly learned that when I neglected to give him the answers he wanted, he would become furious with me. Although that did seem to happen an awful lot anyway.
That year, on the anniversary of Christian’s death, I got together with friends to light a candle, share memories, and cry. GT came over later and quickly grew angry with me; he begrudged my weeping and told me that I was cheating on him with Christian’s memory. Nights later, I sobbed alone on my couch after yet another fight over the phone in which GT verbalized fury at me for any one of a multitude of imaginary sins that I can no longer remember. What I do remember is saying aloud to no one, “I can’t do this anymore.”
I guess the third time’s the charm, because this time I didn’t threaten to break it off and then backpedal; I actually walked away and stayed away. I’d been involved in this madness for less than a year, yet it felt like the weight of a decade was lifted off my shoulders after we said a final sad goodbye. And I was sad--it felt like a world of possibility had just dissolved in front of me, that everything I had done so far to rebuild my life was undone yet again.
Only one person knew the whole truth about how dysfunctional my situation had become: Jordan, the friend I’d been with the day of my first big blowout with GT. Weeks after that distressing event, Jordan confronted me over dinner. “You know that you weren’t at fault at all, right?” he asked, his eyes full of concern. “You know it’s crazy if he’s telling you that you were. You know that, don’t you?” I weakly protested that I was fine, that GT had apologized and all was well. I knew by the way Jordan--who is a therapist and already knew GT from being in the LGBTQ community himself--looked at me that he wasn’t buying it. He encouraged me to contact him if I felt unsafe.
Later, I thanked Jordan profusely. He had shown up for me in every possible way in the immediate aftermath of Christian’s death and had had my back at every single turn since. It took many months for me to understand that this relationship wasn’t just garden-variety disastrous; I had survived emotional abuse. I didn’t fully absorb that fact until I stumbled across a memoir entitled Crazy Love. In it, author Leslie Morgan Steiner painstakingly details her marriage to an abusive man who nearly killed her. I read it and became furious with GT all over again: Steiner described feeling trapped the way I'd already begun to experience.
Granted, unlike Steiner’s husband, GT had not been physically abusive; I do not think my life would have been at stake if I had stayed, just my dignity and happiness--you know, those two tiny, inconsequential things! With the exception of once angrily poking me in the chest during an argument--and getting even angrier when I asked him not to do that because it hurt--GT never did hit me, and he’d been drinking that night anyway.
So I stayed quiet, and I stayed with him. I bought into the idea that time after time, it was my fault--I’d been so blind, how could I have failed to see that I was entirely responsible for whatever transpired? Wait, who the hell had I become? This wasn’t like me at all!
That was the upshot: this was manipulation, pure and simple, designed to make me lose myself when I was at, by far, my most vulnerable. The GTs of the world can charm your pants right off--literally. When they are good, they are so, so good. Smooth talkers, they will woo you and show you enough fun times and hot times that the countless bad times are almost overshadowed. GTs are astoundingly skilled at turning every story around, and in the end, they can succeed where no one else has in making you believe that you deserve every shitty thing you get from them. They insist that you respect their privacy above all--a demand calculated to keep you from reaching out to the people you love the most. I kept my mouth shut even with my trusted parents and my closest friends.
After hearing stories from a couple of people in our community who had dated GT also, one of whom reached out to me the following year to commiserate, I felt a sick sense of relief alongside profound sorrow that he had behaved similarly with others: it wasn’t me. It really wasn’t me. It was him. Never before and not since have I been treated this way.
I still feel my stomach clench when I realize GT is in the same room as me. While we have no direct contact, the queer and trans social circles in our city are simply too small for us not to cross paths from time to time. I don’t go near him, because I’m afraid I’ll either crumble or accidentally waste a perfectly good drink by throwing it in his face.
But the best revenge is living well; I know that. So I made my world bigger again by moving on and creating, from scratch, a better life than I ever could have imagined. My tolerance for bullshit dropped to practically zero, and gradually everything improved.
And the next time someone informs me upon our meeting, “I’m kind of a big deal” or suggests in earnest that I get his name tattooed on my ass--true stories, both--I will run for the hills the second I realize he isn’t joking.
Image credit / CC