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Lessons Learned: Freedom from domestic violence is short-lived, victim says

(Editor’s note: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Many people aren’t aware that domestic violence afflicts the LGBT community. This is the second of a two-part, first-person account by Jeff Gilson of San Diego, who tells of two relationships that turned abusive. Part I ran yesterday in which Gilson described his abusive and violent relationship with a man he called “M.” Since that article ran, Jeff says he has been contacted by others who have been affected by domestic violence.)

I was relieved to be free from the rapes and the violence committed against me by my partner, “M.” When the cross-country bus departed from Atlantic City, N.J., I felt tons of pressure release from my shoulders. I knew I wasn’t going to be hit or raped that night. I was never going to live in fear again. I was free. Or so I thought.

The ride to Los Angeles was liberating. I felt so great, when I was awake. Sleeping was much more difficult. I was having nightmares about M finding me and beating me, raping me, and killing me. The violence had left my awake world and had entered my sleeping world. In New Jersey, I loved being asleep as I could leave the horrible world I was living in. Now, sleep no longer brought me comfort.

I arrived in Los Angeles four days after leaving New Jersey. I stayed in the Venice Hostel. I love that place. I love meeting people from all walks of life, and there people from all over the world were there. I met a gay man from Germany, and wehit it off right away. Unfortunately, he left two days after I got there. I had his Facebook information but I accidentally threw it away. He was a friend, and we did have a nice dinner in the beach in Venice. He kissed me, and it felt wonderful to be kissed with love and passion again. I had forgotten what that was like. The night was magical. We didn’t go any further, mainly since I wasn’t ready to. I told him things had happened. He understood, and smiled. He said relationships are not about sex, but love. He is so right about that.

I went to what is called a “speakeasy” at the West Hollywood LGBT center on a Monday night. I was excited to be around other gay men. I wasn’t allowed to be myself in New Jersey. The meeting started at 8 pm. I arrived early. I wanted to see about places I could get help looking for housing and assistance finding work. I was OK with money. I wasn’t spending extravagantly. I bought lunch meat for lunch and had inexpensive dinners.

After I got all of the information I requested, I took a seat outside and waited for the group to begin. I started doodling in my notebook. I didn’t know that a man who we will call G was checking me out. I am very uncomfortable with men telling me I am good looking or any other compliment. To this day, I am very uncomfortable receiving any compliment.

At 7:45 pm, they announced we could go into the room and find a seat. G sat next to me and introduced himself to me. I thought he was cute. I tried to joke (which I do when I am nervous, to ease the mood) about his Boston Red Sox cap. I told him I was a Phillies fan. He told me he just bought the cap because he liked the color, and he wasn’t a sports fan. Strike 1, I thought. Maybe I could teach him about baseball?

The group was fun. We all had valid and strong points about the topics that were brought up. After the group, G invited me to the French Market as some of the men from the group would go there and have a meal after the group. I said I would love to go. We went to his car, and he leaned into me and kissed me. This kiss also had passion. Two passionate kisses in California. I was happy.

Meeting Mr. Wrong

Dinner was nice. G paid for my meal. We all continued the conversations of the group. When everything was over, G offered to take me home. I told him I was staying in a hostel in Venice. He asked how much does it cost a night. I told him $23. He said it would save me money if I moved in with him. I had to go to Riverside for an interview the next day, so he offered to take me since he was on vacation that week. I accepted and we went to Venice to retrieve my belongings.

I felt so great. I felt wanted and desired. Little did I know, those feelings were not felt by G. He craved a relationship, but only so he could control the other person. G is a nonviolent man. He never laid a hand on me. His words did the damage he wouldn’t let his fists do.

The first week, G took me to many places in the Burbank area. He seemed genuinely excited to show me around. I enjoyed seeing things I had only read about. We ate out every night. He said since he was on vacation, so was I.

His apartment was a disaster, though. He had not cleaned anything in weeks. Nice guy that I am, I offered to clean it for him while he worked. I would do my job search on the computer and clean up the apartment during the day. It took three weeks to get everything clean. I had to use steel wool on the silverware to get the rust stains off them. I soaked dishes that had been science experiments. There was mold in the refrigerator. I cleaned and sanitized everything. I worked my butt off to get everything clean.

The bathroom was a disaster area. The tub had a ring around it that a cleanser could not clean. I used a razor blade to get it clean. The toilet was disgusting. Someone had told me that gay men loved a clean place to live. They never met G. He is the laziest man I have ever met.

A month after moving in with G, I found employment. I stayed there for six months until I was told that I was fired for treating ex-cons as humans. It never made sense to me. I was scolded by G when I gave him the news. He told me I should have toed the company line and treated the people badly. That’s not my nature. I treat people with dignity and respect.

Becoming a prisoner in our home

I had noticed a change in G not long after I moved in. When I told him I had wanted to go out and submit resumes, I would find my keys were missing and I needed them to unlock the gate to leave. I was trapped. I chalked the first time as a mistake. It soon became normal behavior.

When I started looking for a new job, I was handed a sheet of paper with directions on it. I was not allowed to work outside of Burbank. I also could not work weekends, nights or overnight. I was not to work in public jobs. I could not work in people’s homes. I could work in a factory or a plant, he said. When I asked why all of the restrictions, I was told that is I didn’t so as he demanded, there would be problems between us. At that moment I regressed in my recovery from M. I wondered what I had done to make G mad. I was going to have to do things different to make him love me again.

Through the weeks, little things G had done irritated me. I was told what to cook for dinner. I had a menu with what he wanted typed out, printed and taped to the refrigerator. Most times, he had also printed a recipe so I could make his favorite foods. It didn’t matter what I liked, but only what he wanted to eat. I was receiving unemployment benefits, but I had to buy all the food. I never could go alone, and he dominated what went into the grocery cart. I could get a few things I liked, but not much or often.

Meals had to be ready by the time G got home from work. That was usually around 4:45 pm. On a rare occasion, dinner was not ready. That was usually when I was grilling outside and I had problems with the charcoal. Usually he understood, but some nights he was in a bad mood and would call me an idiot who couldn’t do anything right. According to G, I couldn’t do much right. He always ate what I cooked. He must have liked my cooking, since his weight went from 160 pounds to 230.

My weight also exploded, too. I was depressed from being in my second consecutive loveless relationship. I ballooned to 240 pounds. I have never been heavier in my life. I ate potato chips and soda for breakfast and lunch. I smacked all day. I would drink eight cans of soda a day. I was eating very unhealthy. I was not happy with myself. I wanted to die. I was going to eat myself to death.

Trying to escape

The final straw with G occurred when a friend offered to take me out job searching. We were in Hollywood after I had submitted a resume to Capitol Records when we decided to visit a friend for lunch. Little that I knew, G had turned on the GPS on my phone. This way, he could keep tabs on me. He called me during lunch, demanding to know why I was at a friend’s house instead of job searching. I told him we had met him for lunch. G never believed me. He called me a fuc*ing liar and demanded that I leave there right then and go home. “We” would talk about it when he got home.

I told him I was going to finish my lunch and continue job hunting. I was not done yet. G hung up. I don’t know where that burst of independence came from. My friends were shocked. They asked if G was like this all of the time. I said yes. For the first time, I was told that I was going through domestic violence. They knew about M. They told me I needed to get out of there as soon as possible. I was told to go to a domestic-violence shelter. My friend, fortunately, helps people in my situation, so he did a lot of the ground work for me.

I waited until my unemployment check arrived to make the move. G went to work and I woke up right after he left. G had a habit of calling in sick every other week since he was under a family-leave plan, so he could get away with it. In five hours, I packed what I wanted to take in. I was so nervous and scared that he was going to come home early. Two friends came to pick me up and load my belongings into their car. We went to West Hollywood so I could put some of my things in storage. Then we went to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center just outside of West Hollywood to figure out what I was going to do.

Finding vital help

With the help and support of the LGBT Center, I was accepted into a shelter of Long Beach. I cannot and will not disclose the location of the shelter. Not only is it immoral, it’s illegal. I was welcomed there with open arms. I was petrified that G was going to find me. I finally figured out how to turn off the GPS for my phone, but that really didn’t matter. Cell phones for shelter residents were forbidden. They also took the batteries out of the phone so they could not be traced and tracked.

I stayed in Long Beach for 1½ months, then went to another shelter in Lancaster for another 1½ months. I had my eyes opened as never before. I realized, finally, that I was never at fault for everything I had gone though. I was not the reason for receiving hatred and scorn. I was innocent of being wrong. I started to feel good about myself again. But I was into a self-loathing stage. I hated myself. It was here that I realized that anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. An abuser will always be an abuser. But a victim will not always be a victim. They can become survivors.

I am now living in San Diego. I love it here. I have made wonderful friends who are great people. I have become involved as a volunteer with FilmOut San Diego. I volunteer there at every event. I also distribute the posters that advertise each month’s film or movie marathon or the yearly film festival. I also volunteer at Revival’s thrift store. I have volunteered with The Pride Card and helped out at the Diversionary Theater. Giving back to the LGBT community is something that gives me great joy. I am proud to be a gay man. I am also proud of who I have become in the past year.

I still deal with confidence issues, but I am stronger than I was before. I was hospitalized in October due to having suicidal thoughts. I am proud that I asked for help instead of keeping everything inside and letting things fester for months. I needed help, and I was smart enough to get it. Please learn from my experience.

Today, I am unemployed and single. I am living in a hostel, doing work in order to stay here. I get paid and have a roof over my head. I do not like my work situation right now. But instead of being depressed about it, I have decided to do something about it. The satisfaction that I will get when I receive full-time work is inspiring me. I had a part-time seasonal job over the Christmas holiday, but that job ended.

My plan is now for me to find a good job, then pick a decent place to live. I have not given up hope on love, either. I have asked only one person out on a date since I left G. He said no, and truthfully, I kind of don’t blame him. My chance to shine in front of him I basically blew. I was more than nervous. Do I hate him, no. He doesn’t want to speak to me. It’s OK. though. I hold no ill will toward him. I wish him the best.

I continue to dream of a better life for myself. I know it’s coming. I am patient, as I can’t rush anything. I refuse to say I don’t deserve happiness. I have survived too much to go back now.

A post-script

You may be wondering if I ever see G or M. G has blocked me on Facebook, and truthfully, I do not want to see him again. As far as M, I know I will never see again. In April 2012, he had a stroke. In May, he died of complications from that stroke. I was not upset and did not cry. Thanks to M, I have lost the ability to cry.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention gay many times in my story. There is a reason. Domestic violence is a problem that anyone may have to deal with. Gay, lesbian or straight, there is violence in some of our relationships. If you or someone you know is in a relationship where there is violence, be it physical or mental, help the victim get out. It will not be an easy task. The victim will believe they are at fault, and the abuser is doing nothing wrong.

One of the most difficult things to do is leave an abuser. Promises to end the violence never are kept. When they are broken, so are your bones, your life and your spirit. Realize that you are NOT the problem. You loved someone. There is nothing wrong with that. You deserve to be loved back, not hit. Your life should be happiness and joy.

Call 211 if you are suffering at the hands of an abuser. Do not be afraid to call the police if you are beaten. Take pictures of your bruises and injuries. These things are not easy to do. I could not bring myself to do it at all. I was the problem. But truth is, I was never the problem. The abuser was.

If you take the first step in ending a violent relationship, you are taking the steps necessary from becoming a victim to a survivor. You can do it, you owe it to yourself. Believe in yourself. You are worth it, and you are loved.

If you want to speak to me about your experience and how my experiences can help you, feel free to contact me through this publication or leave a Facebook comment. I will contact you and help give you the ability to stand on your own two feet and hold your hand as you crawl, then walk, then run.


Getting help

If you are a victim of domestic violence, please reach out for help. Call the police. Seek a restraining order. Reach out to friends for support.

Here in San Diego, contact The Center for HELP. This web page includes vital resources for victims and survivors.

Please click HERE to find links to other resources on LGBT domestic violence.