CONTENT NOTE: abusive relationships
By Kayla Rosen
A few weeks into my junior year, I dropped out of college. It felt like everything in my life was falling apart.
I’d lost all my high school friends the year before, after I began calling out their racism and sexism;I’d made few new ones. For the first time in my life, I’d begun to feel trauma from an incident of childhood sexual abuse. I had a relatively positive experience coming out as pansexual to my family and on Facebook, but I hadn’t had time to find queer community. Without that support, I couldn’t work through the harmful societal messages I’d absorbed. Trying to manage all these crises at once was making me acutely suicidal; I knew I had to escape before my fantasies became concrete plans.
I was given three days to move out of my dorm. My mom, who was offended that I’d told her about my unbearable anxiety and depression through text message, would not allow me to move back in with my family. Two people offered their homes to me: a friend from the college feminist club and my girlfriend of three months.
While my friend studied abroad for the semester, her bedroom in her parents’ home was vacant. But just a few days before, she’d told me about her father’s “casual” queer antagonism. My girlfriend’s situation was even worse; she lived with her abusive mom. Although I knew it was risky to move into such a precarious situation with someone I’d been dating for such a short time, her mom seemed to understand that it would take more than a couple of weeks for me to get back on my feet, so I moved across the Puget Sound to join them.
My girlfriend, like me, was depressed and physically disabled. We often struggled to get things done. Her mother treated me with respectful goodwill for a few months, but once I was incorporated into the household, I became a legitimate target for her abuse. I could count on being yelled at for trivial things like buying the wrong kind of spreadable cheese or being forced to clean continuously for 10 hours because her boyfriend might come over.
My girlfriend’s treatment of me also made me uncomfortable, but it was harder for me to peg because we’re both multiply disabled. When she neglected her share of chores and left for school, knowing I’d have to pick up the slack or face her mom’s wrath, was it abuse or just her own disability? When she borrowed my money and never paid me back, was it abuse or just poverty? The hundreds of times she kissed me when I didn’t want her to — when I didn’t say no, but I stiffened and looked as unenthused as I could manage — was that abuse or just neurodivergent processing of social cues?
Some things were less ambiguous. She treated me like an object, like when she cracked my knuckles in a way that hurt me – for her own amusement – despite my direct, repeated objections. There was also the constant backdrop of bi+ antagonism. My girlfriend once said four bi antagonistic things in the time it took us to pick up takeout. I counted, as a coping mechanism. I joked that if I were a straw, I’d be a crazy straw, because I was so not straight. She told me that I’d just be a bendy straw, and she – a lesbian – would be the crazy straw. Twice she insisted that bi+ celebrities were actually gay. I don’t remember her fourth microaggression.
My suffering wreaked havoc on my body and mind. Old symptoms got worse and new ones showed up. My chronic pain intensified. My brain fog grew thicker and my memory became more tenuous. I dropped things all the time: a full glass of water directly on my laptop, plates in the sink that shattered and made me nearly cry with panic. I fumbled for words – sometimes mixing them up, sometimes never finding them at all.
I didn’t know where to turn for help processing the complexities of abuse at the intersections of my girlfriend’s and my identities. Resources about abuse in queer relationships were scarce. I doubted I could find a person or organization that also understood bi+ antagonism and ableism. I wanted someone to be mad at my girlfriend on my behalf, but not because she was disabled. Ableism against my girlfriend would harm me, too. I’d be put in the awkward position of having to defend her instead of getting help dealing with her.
The only people physically present in my life were my girlfriend and her family and friends. That made my Tumblr blog my last remaining connection to the outside world. I wrote about my personal life in a political context and had a modest but steady following. My girlfriend’s mother’s abuse was a common topic on my blog, but my girlfriend followed my blog. I couldn’t safely write about her abuse. When I thought she was least likely to be online, I posted then quickly deleted requests for someone to talk to me, calls to which a few of my followers responded.
On Tumblr, I was connected with an informal community of bi+ bloggers. There I heard about Shiri Eisner’s book “Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution.” In a rare moment of generosity, my girlfriend bought it for me. “Bi” helped me define my bi+ politics and identify the ways my girlfriend erased and marginalized other bi+ people and me. I later heard through Tumblr community that Eisner had started a secret online safe space for people in bi+ Tumblr. It was described as a place “to talk, vent, socialize, support and get to know each other.”
I now had a space where I belonged and my girlfriend didn’t. Its secret status meant that I could be open about what I was going through. I posted from time to time about my girlfriend’s microaggressions, knowing that people in the group would understand. Unlike on Tumblr, I didn’t need to be vague or abruptly delete my posts. This allowed me to build a community of people who saw the patterns of abuse over time. They validated my anger and encouraged me to get out.
Eventually my mom’s neglect and abuse of me became preferable to my girlfriend and her mom’s abuse. I decided to reconcile with her. She allowed me to move back in, with the condition that I had to return to college. I accepted; a few weeks later I broke up with my girlfriend. The transition was necessary but agonizing. I was reluctant to live with my family and return to school. Because of the breakup, I lost all my tenuous friendships with my girlfriend’s friends, leaving me entirely friendless again.
But with my bi+ Tumblr community, I knew I wasn’t alone. Group members reassured me when I questioned my decision to leave. They laughed with me when I posted a picture of plastic jack-o-lanterns coincidentally arranged in the bi pride colors at Walmart. Bi+ Tumblr supported me through my reintegration with my family and academia and while I established new close friendships. That community, where my bisexuality was centered and celebrated, cared for me while the rest of the world attacked me. It ensured that I got through the hardest time of my life without hitting rock bottom a second time. I know from firsthand experience that bi+ community is literally lifesaving.
Kayla Rosen is a white agender femme zinester, blogger, and poet from Seattle whose work deals with themes of intimacy, trauma, healing, and identity. They like cats, floral prints, and asserting their pronouns in third-person bios. Find more of their writing at kaylarosenzines.com.