Sometimes the most powerful lessons come from the moments where we feel the most helpless. For Adam, that moment came one night while he was walking with his first boyfriend on campus when he was attacked by a young man who saw them holding hands.
At first, you would assume it was the attack that made Adam feel helpless, but it was actually everything that followed. It’s been many years since this happened, but when he talks about it, the emotions become raw.
But as Adam realized in sharing this story, he no longer had to continue to carry his shame of being a victim, because the most important story he could ever share is the fact that he is and will always be a survivor.
When I first moved to Seattle, I had just come out of the closet. It was shortly after leaving the house and was when I was first becoming independent and taking care of myself. I was with my first boyfriend and we were walking down the street at his university, near fraternity row. A guy saw that we are holding hands. He hit me in the head with his skateboard and we began fighting.
In that moment, I didn’t feel helpless because I was keeping up with the punches and fighting back. The helplessness came later when we called the police. Because I could only describe what he looked like, they told me that there was nothing that could be done with the information I provided them with. On top of the police not being able to do much, my partner at the time was trying to get me to squash everything. He didn’t want me to tell anyone. He didn’t even want me to talk about it with him.
At the time, I couldn’t understand why someone I cared about would try to silence me. It really hurt. But as I reflect on it, I think he felt it was easier for him to just pretend it never happened, instead of dealing with the pain of what happened. There was a level of shame of what we experienced that night and nobody wants to see themselves as a victim, especially men.
For a long time afterward, I was scared to even walk down the street by myself. But after a while, like a noisy or squeaky fan in your apartment, I got used to it. But not before I learned another lesson: sometimes simply surviving is enough.
When you become a victim, you inherently lose a sense of your masculinity in most regards, or at least it feels that way. So it was easier to feel like it never happened instead of reliving it over and over, which is what it may have felt like for him whenever we talked about it.
I think he felt that talking about it meant we were parading around the fact that were victims.. But for me, I needed reconciliation and a sense of justice. That kind of violence felt so out of place in a progressive place like Seattle, so I wanted and needed answers. But he didn’t want any answers. He wanted the experience to disappear altogether.
When it happened, I didn’t feel like I could tell my parents because I had just moved out of the house and to Seattle. I knew that if they found out, they would have booked the next flight to Seattle and would have taken my ass back home. And at an even deeper level, I felt it would have meant that the choice to move out, to come out, and even go to college in another state would be invalidated. So, I didn’t tell my mom until maybe two years after that.
Eventually, with my partner being against discussing it, I reached a point where I, too, no longer wanted to relive it, especially when it was so clear that justice wouldn’t be served. So, I eventually stopped talking about it.
For a long time afterward, I was scared to even walk down the street by myself. But after a while, like a noisy or squeaky fan in your apartment, I got used to it. But not before I learned another lesson: sometimes simply surviving is enough. It’s a sign of strength, and its proof that I no longer have to carry that shame and sadness, but that I can continue to be brave and fearlessly me.