Deconstructing a Conversation With an Emotionally Abusive Ex

Deconstructing a Conversation With an Emotionally Abusive Ex

Or

“Trans Guys Can Be Assholes to Each Other Too”

When my ex and I were dating, I came to realize that he looked different to me when he was being, as I like to describe it now, a douchecanoe.

I do not mean that I saw him through a different light; I mean that his physical expressions were a tell. His eyes would glaze over as if he were shutting down, shutting himself off from me. His whole face would seem to sag and shift, morphing into a poorly constructed mask. It was different from his pain and grief, different from his boredom, and certainly different from his happiness.

After eight months of radio silence, he wants to talk. We meet at a coffee shop and he walks straight back to the table without ordering. He sits down and when he opens his mouth, I see it in his eyes and the set of his jaw: he’s about to be a dick, again.

He says: “First, I recognize that I hurt you. I am sorry for that. I am sorry that you were hurt, but I do not regret the actions.”

“A general piece of advice: Be wary of anyone who apologizes for your feelings and not for their actions.”

A general piece of advice: Be wary of anyone who apologizes for your feelings and not for their actions.

I don’t truly remember what his second point was because I was busy sighing to myself for having agreed to meet with him, but he says: “Third, you crossed a serious line with me.”

He pauses and I meet his glazed eyes and hear my heart starting to thud. I remember how long it took me to reconcile his behavior for what it was. I remember the months of not knowing what exactly I was apologizing for, just that everything was wrong and I didn’t know how to fix it and I thought it all must be my fault because he was good and I was bad. I remember the supernova inside my chest when things had started going wrong between us.

He continues: “You tried to talk to me when I told you I didn’t want to talk. That’s not okay.”

Let me present a scenario: Say that someone who I am in a relationship with punches me in the face. I’m shocked. I don’t understand why or where this came from or what I did. I know in the back of my mind that it’s not okay, but I love this person, and I think “There must be an explanation.”

So I try to ask. Maybe I’m even shocked enough that I can’t ask at first, that it’s not until I’m crying on a bus the next day that I realize something was wrong about what happened. I ask them to help me understand what happened, what I did, why they did this, and they tell me they don’t want to talk about it right then. And maybe I let them get away with that for awhile before I bring it up again, or maybe I push. Either way, they never give me an explanation. The next time they punch me in the face, I ask again. I think, “I just need help understanding. It’s okay. It’s okay, I just need their perspective.”

This time, they tell me they’re not in the mood to talk at all and put me through a week of silence. When we speak again, I’m so relieved to be talking to them that I don’t bring it up at all. If I did, they might withdraw again and ignore me entirely. I’m hurt and confused and I don’t know what to do.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

“I’ve promised myself two things about this meeting: I am not going to apologize and I am not going to argue.”

He sits there after he says this and I almost want to laugh at him. It isn’t funny, but it’s ludicrous. I take a deep breath. I’ve promised myself two things about this meeting: I am not going to apologize and I am not going to argue.

I say: “Interesting apology.”

I take another breath and I consider the argument, consider trying to make him see. But I don’t need him to see. I don’t need anything from him. “I’m not going to argue with you. I recognize that you live in a very different reality from mine, and at this point in my life I don’t think it would do me any good to try and get you to understand my reality.”

He huffs something and I repeat: “I’m not going to argue with you.”

He says: “But you’re not going to talk to me either.”

I say: “At this point, talking to you would be arguing with you.”

He tips himself back in his chair and mutters “Nor are you going to apologize, apparently.”

Scenario: Someone I’m dating punches me in the face, then asks me to apologize for my reaction.

Okay, Dick Cheney. Sorry you shot me.

“Scenario: Someone I’m dating punches me in the face, then asks me to apologize for my reaction.

Okay, Dick Cheney. Sorry you shot me.”

I’m not sure if I laugh out loud, but a tiny spark of morbid enjoyment has grown up inside of me. He has no power over me anymore. I might be imagining it, but it seems to me as if he’s realizing this and he doesn’t like it.

I say: “Well, considering your apology wasn’t particularly apologetic, no, I don’t really feel the need to at this point.”

He asks me what my reality is, even though I’ve just said I’m not going to try and explain it to him. Here he is, asking me for something that uncannily resembles that which so offended him eight months ago.

I tell him that the universe is a strange place. I tell him how it was weird timing to hear from him because I had just finished writing an article about our relationship, an article about emotional abuse and empathy. I don’t give him details, just the broad concepts.

He says: “Can you recognize that you did things that hurt me, too?”

This guts me. I’ve spent all this time trying to accept his behavior as abusive. I’ve thought a lot about what it would take to make him see that, and how I wish he would open his eyes enough to try to see my experience. How to talk to him about what he did without his immediate response being defensive rejection.

So how can I justify my own immediate defensiveness? What if I’m wrong and he’s on the other side of this table, thinking about how he spent six months trying and failing to justify my actions until he was forced to form the words “emotional abuse” and slap them across his memories of me?

I feel the apology lick up my throat and I clamp it down hard. Later, I will spend the next three days asking myself “Why is this different? Do I believe in my experiences? Is this all a continuation of the invalidation in our relationship? Did he want me to apologize for my actions when he couldn’t apologize for his?” but for now:

I will not apologize and I will not argue.

I say: “…Sure. Yes. Our relationship was toxic and I recognize that it wasn’t good for you either.”

He huffs some more and pivots back to the article. He says: “I’m really pissed off that you used me as research without my permission.”

I say: “Well, it’s not about you. It’s about my experiences in our relationship. And those experiences belong to me as much as to you.”

He says: “It’s really hard for me to see you as human when you’re like this.”

I can’t help it. This conversation is ridiculous. “As opposed to what? A frog?”

He says: “When you’re sitting there, diagnosing me.”

More deep, deep breaths.

I facilitate a support group and in that space we talk a lot about “I” statements. I think about reframing this for him. That what I hear is not him accusing me of not being human, but of him feeling that I am not thinking of him as human.

I say: “Remember, when we were dating, and I would try to ask you about things that were going on with us? And I wouldn’t try to assume, but I was just trying to ask, and you would get really upset and accuse me of trying to tell you what you were thinking or feeling? You’re kind of doing that right now.”

He ignores this. He says: “If I could go back… I should have left sooner.”

I don’t need him to see. I say: “Yes. I shouldn’t have stayed.”

He says: “I tried to make you see that I believe relationships happen if they’re supposed to happen, when they’re supposed to happen, and you can’t force them. It’s clear that you were more in-love with me than I was ever going to be with you –“

I finally let out the incredulous laugh that’s been building since this conversation started. “Again, with the assuming feelings thing.”

He looks startled, but he keeps going. He says: “I’m going off of the patterns that I had seen from you, and you just kept wanting to rehash conversations and it felt like nothing was ever over. And I tried every way of saying that I believe relationships just are, they just happen.”

Again, why did I keep asking about being punched? Why couldn’t I accept things as resolved after days or weeks of silent treatment? Why couldn’t I see that if a relationship wasn’t perfect on its own with absolutely no effort or emotional labor, then it was never going to work?

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I say: “I’m not going to argue with you.”

“I could have given in and told him I was sorry that I hurt him, but not for my actions. Except that is not a real apology, and it goes against my principles to give false apologies.”

There’s more. He keeps talking and I keep telling him that I’m not going to argue. I’m proud of myself for more or less sticking to my resolve. I could have given in and told him I was sorry that I hurt him, but not for my actions. Except that is not a real apology, and it goes against my principles to give false apologies.

The truth is that I never wanted to hurt him, and I’m sure that I did. I realized while we were still dating that he lives in a very different reality from mine, but I imagine that reality is as real to him as my own is to me. I could analyze his accusations as projections, as with the reframing of “seeing me as human,” but whatever happens in his reality happens. And in the context of it, he has to do what is before him to do. I can’t change that, but I won’t give in to it.

When he leaves abruptly, on his way out he says: “If you see me around, you can say hi.”

Before this meeting, the last time I saw him was at Pride, two months after we broke up. I waved and he couldn’t even acknowledge me, except to glare. But he’s out the door now and I don’t call after him.

Another piece of general advice: You don’t owe toxic people anything. Not apologies. Not explanations. Not the time of day.


Gideon C. Elliott is a Seattle-based queer trans man whose previous written work has been mostly academic in nature. He has an essay published in Manifest: Transitional Wisdom on Male Privilege edited by Meghan Kohrer and Zander Keig and spends some time writing bad poetry about the state of our political environment. When not at work, he can usually be found volunteering or in a park crying over other people’s dogs. You can contact him at gideoncelliott@gmail.com or follow him on instagram: @theimmortaljellyfish.

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On Politics – Poems by Sergio Ortiz

Where will the children play
Their names, carved in the keel
of the vessel in which they traveled.

Their margins, our boundaries pushed
to the side in view of what really matters

in our fallible, sensitive lives, seek
a response from the unknown.

Position yourselves next to the mystery
of their music. Is child play the glimmer

that does not bond to anything,
a mirror of water: the closed curtain

in the school of human affections?
Gunshot signals the rescue,

yet you deny them entry.
A growing weakness reminds me

that there is no beginning or end in the life
of your phosphoric limbo, Mr. President.

Nobility of Blood
Dear Lord, this congressional recess
the President’s cabinet promises
to thank you for AIDS, though
it has not made them transcend
into the 21st century. They are
still caught up in superficial things
like fake news, taxes, bans, the wall.

We thank you for these tent evangelists,
brothers and sisters alike,
breeders of hate crimes,
that reject the perfect beauty
of homemade remedies
and blood transfusions.

Lord, forgive their arrogance
toward the medical community
and appoint faith healers
to Obama Care, or whatever the hell
Mr. Trump decides to call it.

Thank you for allowing me to live
on the periphery of society,
where nobody asks yet everybody
tells. Thank you for the innocent
illusion of my open exhibitions
of affection toward Omar. Thank you

for not letting in immigrants
from Muslim Africa, where water, food,
and medical supplies have always
been scarce and costly, where rape
and violence towards women
is beyond control, where children
have no choice but to fight
for brutal warlords, where life
and death no longer belongs to You.

Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Libya, Sudan,
have you learned to die?


Sergio A. Ortiz is a queer Puerto Rican poet and the founding editor of Undertow Tanka Review. He is a two time Pushcart nominee, a four time Best of the Web nominee, and a 2016 Best of the Net nominee. His poems have been published in hundreds of journals and anthologies. He is currently working on his first full length collection of poems, Elephant Graveyard.

Hypersexual by Rory Aiken

I’m always a little apprehensive when asked to review self-published books. Don’t get me wrong: indy books are often fantastic, and in a world where only five major publishing houses rule the market, independent and self publishing is necessary. This is particularly true for transgressive titles, and let’s face it: most queer writing isn’t intended to be mainstream.

Yet navigating the vast library of self-published works is a taxing journey for readers. One must slog through a veritable thicket of typos and grammatical errors, plot holes and unrelatable characters, narcissistic autobiographies and uninspiring erotica. But often the persistent reader finds merit in an otherwise overlooked title.

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Enter Hypersexual

Rory Aiken’s Hypersexual is an exploration of a category of people “…who want/need/have sex, of some kind, almost every single day, every time [they] can, often multiple times with multiple different partners per day, every week, every month, and every year of our lives.”

Sometimes a medical condition, sometimes an identity, the protagonist’s relationship to hypersexuality vacillates between burden and joy. His hypersexuality leads him to both euphoria and despair as he explores the very boundaries of sex and sexuality. His incredible sex drive borders on desperation, and jeopardizes his autonomy and safety on more than one occasion. As he navigates the relentless drive to find new and interesting sexual experiences to satiate his lust, he’s met with misunderstanding and prejudice at every turn. But he persists, explaining that for hypersexuals, “…sex is not an addiction, it is a sustenance.”

This struggle of misunderstanding harkens back to the early queer literature of the 1900s and particularly the lesbian pulp fiction of the 1950s. While reading Hypersexual, I was at times reminded of The Well of Loneliness and other early works that depict queer sexualities as inevitably tragic. It seems that Rory’s hypersexuality is an internal struggle, destined to a catastrophic end.

The impending sense of disaster the reader feels throughout the book is a salient reminder that while gay and lesbian fiction and film (and even the occasional trans or bisexual character) is no longer always depicted as inexorably doomed, less mainstream sexualities still fall victim to the inevitabilities of intolerance. That is, hypersexuality isn’t accepted, so hypersexual characters are condemned to live in the shadows of society, their lives replete with tragedy.

The Challenge

Hypersexual does not fall victim to most of the usual pitfalls of self-published books. The mechanics are fairly crisp, and the characters are generally likable. Fitting for a novel that defies sexuality norms, Aiken pushes boundaries when it comes to rhetoric, switching back and forth between novel and critical essay.

Yet, some challenges cannot be ignored. Aiken clearly has an important idea, but he falters with the challenge of making his message succinct. Commonly (mis)attributed to a great number of famous folks (Twain, Churchill, Pascal, to name a few), the quote, “If I had more time, I would have written less” is applicable here. Great length is often the mistake of the first-time author, and while Stephen King can get away with publishing hefty tomes, the average author cannot. I say this to nearly all aspiring writers who approach me: if you tell the story in half the time, you’ll have twice the impact.

While Aiken experiences his own challenges as a new author, he also issues a challenge to readers. Hypersexual demands more of readers than most non-academic titles, in that it asks the reader to reflect on their own biases around sexual norms and conventions.

It’s difficult for the casual reader to want to sit with their own discomfort and examine their prejudices around sexuality, but I would encourage readers to ask why they are uncomfortable or disturbed, and to reflect on what their discomfort says not just about their own views, but also about society at large. Aiken explores and pushes back on ideas of deviancy in a way many writers would be too afraid to attempt.

Part erotica, part social commentary, the book is as sexually explicit as you’d expect a novel about hypersexuality to be. The accounts of the protagonist’s sexual encounters are often graphic and occasionally disturbing. The frankness with which Aiken describes sex and sexuality is refreshing, but this same blasé attitude can leave the reader feeling jarred and uncomfortable.

The Upshot

In the thorns of discomfort we also find beauty. Aiken includes a candid exploration of the sexual abuse Rory endures both as an adult and as a child. When he questions how the sexual abuse he endured as a child influenced his relationship to sex and sexuality, his words are particularly powerful: “In my case, pedophilia and incest are so intertwined into my sexual origins the braid of them feels like my own spinal column.”

Due to the sexual nature of this book, Hypersexual isn’t for everyone. But if you, like Rory, have struggled with the isolation and silence around hypersexuality, you may find yourself reflected in these pages. Even if one does not relate to the woes of hypersexuality, the right reader will accept the challenge that Aiken issues to confront one’s preconceptions around the politics of sexual acceptability, and gain insight into a community that is rarely discussed.

Ultimately, in a world where sexual representation caters to heterosexism and monosexism, Hypersexual is candidly refreshing. After all, what Aiken wants is a world that will, “[e]mbrace us, and give us a culturally acknowledged, safe, accessible, and an honorable place to be hypersexual.”

If you are looking for a read that will challenge norms, challenge conventions, and challenge you as the reader, Aiken delivers.

Purchase Information:

Hypersexual by Rory Aiken

2016

Paperback and Kindle Editions

454 pages

ISBN-10: 1539143473

ISBN-13: 978-1539143475

If you would like to write a book review for Gendertrash Café, submit your review here.

If you would like to have your book reviewed by one of our editors, contact us for shipping information.


Reviewer: E.L. Axford is an angry, Roller Derby DykeTM who would prefer to keep her identity a mystery before her online persona gets her real-world persona into more trouble than she can handle. When she’s not angry (which is rarely) she enjoys drinking loose-leaf tea.