“I wish I had known that abuse doesn’t look the same for everyone”
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After just meeting Sam last year, I felt as if I had known them my whole life. We shared a lot of the same interests, down to even briefly sharing the same minors. By chance, I sat next to Sam on the first day, in one of my favorite classes of the year. Had they not reached over and explained they were bad at making friends, we would have never communicated again. Knowing so little about them but feeling compelled to bond, I sat next to them day after day. We shared our notes, hung out after class, and even sometimes just sat together in the Memorial Union without as much as saying a word to each other. Their company felt quiet, understanding, and sometimes stressfully erratic. To this day we sit for long periods of time discussing our aspirations, evaluating our feelings and goals in life. Sam has shared their experiences around sex ed in-depth with me, even though there wasn’t very much to share. Sam’s sex ed was similar to all my interviewees, who occurred in middle to high school, had no queer education, and they mostly gathered other info via the internet. They had a great group of friends in which they confirmed all findings with, but even then, they felt it wasn’t enough. For years Sam struggled with their identity and sexuality, never allowing themselves to process what it would be like to not be cis or het. With little information on adequate sex education and few comfortable spaces to talk about such things, Sam fell into a terrible and abusive situation.
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1. How do you define your sexuality?
I used to always identify as bisexual, but that term is lacking for me now. I could very well just be attracted to anyone, regardless of who it is. Being in a relationship with a trans person, and not really feeling a change of attraction once they came out to me seems like the general reaction I would have with others.
2. How did you come to define your sexuality?
I internalized it for a long time. I used to watch stuff about gay people being treated so bad and it resonated so deeply. But I never wanted to speak on how I felt. I hid my feelings; it was a really long process for me. High school was just the moment, I didn’t care what happened. I said who I was and didn’t care to see how people reacted. Whatever I am I know it’s not heterosexual.
3. How do you define your gender?
I’m a woman but I wouldn’t argue with other pronouns being used on me that I’m aware of. I just don’t want to take away from people who struggle to have those different pronouns, so I guess I would just always identify as a she/they.
4. How did you come to define your gender?
I didn’t and I don’t think I’ll ever truly define myself as anything other than queer because I don’t struggle to bond exclude any labels.
5. What did your virginity mean to you if anything?
My virginity didn’t mean anything to me at first. I am an open person, and I wanted to have sex, so I did. If my friends wanted to hear about it, I’d just tell them. I was kind of in a rush to do it, because, at the time, I had been in a relationship for a while with my ex who was about 8 years older. People always wondered what was happening, but I just wanted to please him so badly. My mindset was solely focused on proving to him that I was as mature as he thought I was. I really didn’t realize I was in an abusive relationship then. Me having sex at first meant nothing, but with the abuse and manipulation, it was turned into something I couldn’t get out of for years.
6. Were you influenced by family, religion, or other things that limited your sexuality/gender/ or expression of sex?
I never felt pressured to act differently but I did feel really pressured by my parents to talk about having sex. I think it’s because at the beginning of my first relationship they suspected some abuse. I always lied about his age and never brought him around because he didn’t want to be judged. As time went on, I put on a mask and everything seemed fine, so I never talked about it. I hid my sexuality to my family until college because they were all conservative. My sister was the first to know, well actually I told my abuser and with his response, I hid it longer. Then I told my parents in my last year of college.
7. What is one thing you wish you’d known sooner?
I wish I had known that abuse doesn’t look the same for everyone. That you can’t talk people out of a relationship like that. A lot of the time you can provide resources, but I learned quickly that after I survived, my friend was going through the same thing, and no matter what I did to try to get her out, I couldn’t. It wasn’t the same so I just re-lived trauma alongside her until she could get out too.
8. What is one nonsexual thing you find sexual?
9. What is an interesting sexual experience you’ve had (whether alone or not), that you’d like to talk about?
I attended a party with my best friend. My best friend and I decided it’d be fun to have a foursome, so for the remainder of the night, we ran upstairs and had very loud and obnoxious sex.
10. What do you wish you knew more about sex?
I think I’ve always been very informed about sex. It’s never been an issue really, but one thing I wish I were exposed to more of was body hair. I was unable to allow my natural body hair to be natural in my relationship, so I just wished I had seen more normalization of it before.
11. Is there anything you do that you feel is different from the norm?
I feel like there isn’t something that isn’t normal. You do what you get pleasure from and that can be your norm as long as it’s consensual.
12. Do you think your sex falls within the heteronormative, why, or why not?
As a polyamorous person who now engages in queer relationships, I feel like my sex is not heteronormative.
13. How do you care for yourself whether before, during, or after sex?
Shower, brush teeth, pee before and after.
14. Is there any advice you’d give to others?
Do what you want with your body. Whether it’s a learning process or you know what you want. Get therapy if you’ve ever been put in a situation that you’re not comfortable with.
15. Have you ever had sex for items, money, etc.?
I’m pro-sex-work but no.
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Writing this interview may have been the hardest one so far. When I started this series, I was prepared for my friends and even strangers to divulge their sexual information. I was prepared to provide resources, they’d light on stigmas, and even bring awareness to certain things folks experience. After weeks of it sitting in my drafts, I thought I’d be prepared for this article to come out. But even as I’m writing this now, I am struggling with wanting to share my friend’s story and wanting to scrap it while I run frantically around the world trying to stop these things from happening.
I am not shy or new to seeing or hearing of abuse, but I am new to sharing it on a platform in which I have created to uplift everyone’s pleasure and confidence. What I came to realize was that this was Sam’s way of doing the same. Sam speaks on these issues to raise awareness, to uplift others who are going through the same things, and to simply share their truth. That’s why I thought it was important to share regardless of the feelings that it may bring whilst writing it.
For the next few parts of my discussion section, I will talk more in-depth about abuse, resources, and statistics. Feel free to read when you can, or not at all.
TW:// Abuse, harm, and click warning.
1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the united states have experienced rape in their lifetime. On average, 20 people per minute report having been physically abused by an intimate partner in the US (CDC).
Nearly half of all women and men in the US will experience some form of psychological aggression via an intimate partner (OJP).
“Domestic violence and abuse stem from a desire to gain and maintain power and control over intimate partners” (NDV). The issue is that many of these statistics look at one form of abuse: the physical kind. Yet, this is not the only form of abuse folks encounter. There are four types of violence one may endure physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and neglect (Saferspaces).
Physical violence may include but is not limited to uses of physical force to cause injury, harm, disability, or even death. Sexual violence may include but is not limited to sexual acts being committed or attempted against a victim who has not given consent, who is unable to consent or has revoked consent. Psychological, better known as emotional or mental abuse, can include verbal or nonverbal communication used to harm, threaten, or intimidate another person via implied or explicit exertion of control. Neglect (i.e. deprivation) is a type of abuse usually done by an individual who has the responsibility to care for another person that is unable to care for themselves. Neglect can look like restrictions of basic needs, attention, medical help, and other restrictive actions that can cause injury or even lead to death.
All types of violence can lead to physical violence or psychological effects. According to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) creators and Office of Women’s Health (OWH), any form of abuse can lead to health problems down the line so it is imperative that we try our best to create safe spaces for victims.
The best way to help someone dealing with domestic or interpersonal violence is usually not by involving the cops. If you are in a position in which you can preemptively educate the community, discussions of consent and boundaries are an essential topic for everyone to keep in mind. You could even provide the community with some support via donating to or advocating to start a local shelter, holding weekly advocacy meetings, or creating safe spaces for victims to decompress.
If you are witnessing an act of violence it is important that you only get involved if the situation does not pose a threat to your safety as well. Hotlines such as National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-723 can provide immediate advice if you are witnessing or dealing with violence yourself.
Most websites will outline the following actions to take when witnessing an occurrence:
Call the police
Ask someone to intervene with you. There is strength in numbers.
Distract the victim. Pretend like you are a long lost friend, strike up a conversation, try to remove the abuser from the conversation (Source).
Be a friend. Get them to a safe space if they are willing to leave, talk with them about their options, and share as many resources as you can. You can even show them to your local domestic abuse shelter.
If you are having trouble separating the victim from the abuser, make a lot of noise. Making a lot of noise will draw attention to the abuse that is occurring and most likely sway the abuser to stop.
It is also important to note that most of the time, involving the police will only exacerbate the situation or lead to the abuser’s retaliation later down the line. In most cases of domestic violence or rape, folks avoid reporting to the police (Source). Be sure that if you are witnessing or dealing with such occurrences that you consider the best action to take at the moment. If you need external guidance or intervention but do not want to opt for calling the cops, hotlines, community groups, and domestic abuse social workers are great contact options.
Keep in mind that most of the time victims will return to their abusers an average of seven times before leaving (Source). It is important that, as an outsider, you be patient with the victim. Make sure they consent to your help every step of the way and do not push their boundaries. Victims of abuse are already struggling with a lack of control over their decision making, and it is essential that those trying to help do not further remove their control by trying to “savior” them out of the abuse. Victims should have full knowledge and the ability to make decisions on what is best for them. The most we can do as outsiders is support them.
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Below are other resources you can utilize: