This month is nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As a survivor of both physical and sexual violence, I feel compelled to share some of my experiences growing up in an alcoholic, abusive home, and about my journeys as a homeless gay teenager. I hope these stories can empower others to seek out the necessary love and support and join a collective voice.
I was an overweight, unathletic, artistic boy born to a white father and a Mexican mother. I grew up with few friends, isolated in make-believe worlds, and I was a fan of fantasy and horror films. I identified more with characters in The Jacksons: An American Dream, Unsolved Mysteries and Lifetime original movies than with those in family sitcoms. Mine wasn't a happy home but one that the entire block in our white, suburban neighborhood in Missouri avoided. When I was 9 years old, the local police frequently visited our house after "domestic disturbance" 911 calls.
After years of violent fights, my parents finally divorced. Although the judge granted my father the right to see my two younger siblings, the judge did not grant him the right to see me, because of his extensive history of abusing me. One weekend when I was 13, though, I must have done something to irritate my mom, because she demanded that I go with my father when he came to pick up my younger siblings for a weekend with his parents. My mom "needed a break" from all her children, and quite honestly, given that she was a single, working-class mother trying her best to support three kids, I could understand why.
Sitting in the passenger seat on our return trip home, I noticed the familiar styrofoam Quik Trip cup with its dirty, brown rim, reeking of old coffee and stale beer. I knew that drinking while driving was not only illegal but dangerous, especially with my 3-year-old brother and 6-year-old sister in the backseat. I must have told him that he couldn't drink while driving with us, because I set him off. He began to cuss at me and backhanded me. I cried and tried to explain myself, but he screamed at me that he was going to teach me a lesson.
He pulled in to a rural gas station outside Rolla, Mo., and took me into the men's restroom to beat me more. He hit me across the face, punched me in the stomach and yelled profanities at me. During the blows, I focused on the images on a dirty condom machine that distributed cheap sex toys, noticing a particularly strange pair of words, "French tickler," which apparently represented something that was being sold for 75 cents. I zoned out, and like many times before, I lost myself in a world of comic-book superheroes, good memories and hope that someday I wouldn't have to deal with my father anymore.
We returned to the car, but 15 minutes into the drive, he started hitting me again. My father often had spastic attacks of rage when he was drunk and angry, and now he was sucking in large amounts of air and shaking his right hand while driving with his left, his face contorting with fury. He pulled over to the side of the road to continue hitting me. He punched my eye, then backhanded me again and fractured my nose. I panicked and reached across the car, grabbing his glasses and throwing them on the floorboard. Thanks to poor vision, he immediately had to search for his glasses, and this gave me time to jump out of the car, leaving my little brother and sister crying and screaming in the backseat. I tumbled down a ditch, ran over some railroad tracks and fled into the woods. My father was hysterical, screaming that I had better get my ass back to the car or he was going to find me and kill me. I thought I was going to die.
After a few minutes of running, I couldn't hear his voice anymore. I paid little attention to where I was going; I just wanted to make sure he didn't catch me. At one point I looked down and had to stop abruptly: Below me, and all around, lay a series of hunting traps for catching prey. Though I'm still not sure whether I believe in God, this was one of those moments when I thought someone had to be watching out for me.
I darted on and off the local highway for the next few hours while searching for a payphone to make a collect call home to tell my mom what had happened. I never found one. It was dark when a local police car pulled up and informed me that my mom had learned about my disappearance and had reported me missing.
Back at the station, the police photographed my nose, my eye, my face and my arms. They documented the bruises. One of the officers was especially nice and sympathetic. I saw my father arrive at the station in steel handcuffs. I will never forget that image, because it was the only time in all the years of abuse that I saw him arrested.
When my mother arrived, she was distraught and angry. She cried when she saw me. I was glad that she'd come to rescue my brother, my sister and me. I knew that after this experience, she would never force me to go with my father again. As she entered the room, the officer was finishing filling out the basic demographic information on the report. Then he gave my mom and me a few minutes alone. As I cried and told her exactly what had happened, she read the report. I saw her face grow angry, but not at what I was telling her, and she became cold and abrupt with the officer.
On the long drive home, my mother kept yelling, "He checked the 'Hispanic' box? He checked the 'Hispanic' box!" She was furious. "I know they did that because they saw me!" she exclaimed. "If they had finished filling out that report before I entered, they would have checked 'white' as your race." I didn't understand why this angered her so much, or why this was the issue she kept focusing on. She spent the entire drive home fuming about my ethnic classification and hardly asked me about what my dad had done. Maybe it was all too familiar for her.
It's funny how you can't shake certain memories. I still have my mother's voice in my head telling me, "What happens in the family stays in the family." I still hear her fuming about the "Hispanic" box. Years later I realized that my parents were probably very happy to have a child who could pass as white in a predominately white town. This was part of my assimilative conditioning: Do not name the violence. Do not talk about the cycle of abuse. Remain invisible. I don't really know why my mom was ashamed of her ethnic background, but her shame colluded with the abuse that our bodies endured. Perhaps she thought that if we were white, the violence would somehow be lessened, that we would be more "normal." But it was happening to our neighbors too. They just did a better job of hiding it.
A few days later, my mom lightened my bruises with makeup, concealing them under shades of peach and beige. That Friday, I attended my eighth-grade graduation with a bruised face and a black eye, and as usual, I felt isolated from most of the kids in my class. By this point, most of the students' mothers wouldn't allow their children to associate with me. It was probably for the best. But this was the last time my father beat me.
SocialScope Productions is committed to documenting LGBTQ stories of violence and empowering queer survivors in our new multimedia project. Please join us and The Breathe Network as we host our annual events on LGBTQ survivors of violence: Queering Consent, which takes place Monday, April 8, from 6 to 8 p.m. at DePaul University in Chicago, and Queering Violence, which takes place Wednesday, April 10, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Washington University in St. Louis. Both are free and open to the public.