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Op-ed: How I Finally Left My Abusive Boyfriend

Op-ed: How I Finally Left My Abusive Boyfriend


After leaving his violent partner, this man realized what made him stay for so long.

"You're a f****** ni***r." Those were the last words the guy I was dating yelled at me as I ran out of his apartment. In my mind, the fear, anger, and any other emotions I felt at that time didn't matter, because I had put myself in this situation.

It didn't matter that he threatened to bash my head in with a glass moments before, because I should have seen this coming. It didn't matter that I felt completely humiliated and scared after he slapped and kicked me so hard I fell out of his bed, because I'm a man and shouldn't be afraid. It didn't matter that he lied to me about his HIV status, because I chose to have unprotected sex with him. And it certainly didn't matter that I low-key wanted to turn around and show him what a "ni***r" really was. He was white and I'm black, so any retaliation on my end would result in me being jailed, seriously injured, or dead.

My story isn't about race or social justice inequalities within a gay interracial relationship. My story is about how I saw my anger and insecurities in another person, and how those outlooks made me stay for far too long.

I met John* during at an outdoor festival in Chicago. I "accidentally" bumped into him as a means of introducing myself. He had this intoxicating, jovial energy that made me feel comfortable. His animated, cheerful smile was accompanied by a pair of warm, welcoming blue eyes that never left mine as we got acquainted. We hit if off that night and stayed in contact.

John seemed different from all the other guys I dated, but then again they always do in the beginning. He took initiative, made plans, and followed through on those plans. His sensitivity and attentiveness made me feel safe and at ease. At times, past heartbreak and a string of disappointments left me feeling empty and unworthy. With John, I felt like I mattered to someone again, a feeling I hadn't felt in over six years. I wasn't in love with him, but I could feel myself getting to that point. After a few weeks of dating, meeting his friends, and dinners together, I wanted to physically express how I felt about him.

I invited him back to my place after one of our nights out. We spent the night and the next morning together. After he left, I thought about how great our night was. I felt like I'd finally got things right with the right guy this time. Shortly after John left, I received a text message from him. I assumed he was texting to share how much he enjoyed last night as well, but this was a different message. He told me that he was HIV-positive and would understand if I never wanted to talk to him again.

His text message had a delivery like that of telling someone that you have a cold. My heart sunk to the pits of my stomach. We had unprotected sex. I have it. I have it. Panic cluttered my thoughts. How would I tell my family and friends? I thought, I can't be black and HIV-positive, I can't be another statistic! I should have known better, but I got so caught up in my feelings for him. A bleak stream of consciousness flooded my mind. I felt lied to and tricked. I never wanted to talk to him again. I didn't want to get tested. I didn't want to know, but I knew I needed to know.

Two days later, I went to get tested. I told the doctor the entire story. He tested me for HIV but also advised that I get tested again in 12 weeks to be on the safe side. I tested HIV-negative both times and was beyond relieved. Throughout the entire time, John was texting me and leaving me messages on voicemail and Facebook. He apologized for not telling me about his status. He wanted to talk in person. I was hesitant, but I still cared for him. I mean, it wasn't entirely his fault. I didn't force him to have unprotected sex with me, I thought at the time. So I decided to meet him.

The conversation was very emotional. He cried and apologized a million times for not being honest. He walked me through the process of finding out he was HIV-positive and how it was hard to meet guys because of his status. I felt bad for him. I wanted to be angry with him, but his openness only made me care about him more. I forgave him and we continued to see each other.

In the beginning, things were great. He came over and I'd cook for him. I'd go over his place and we'd watch horror movies. He fully integrated me into his life of friends, family, and work. We were starting to make great companions and had even better conversations. But sometimes while we were out, John would make comments here and there about how I dressed. Either my pants were too tight or my shirt was a size too small. At first, I didn't think anything of it and just passed it off as a little innocent insecurity. But what I labeled as innocent quickly became something much more serious.

As time progressed, my pants were too tight because I was a "slut," as he put it. He would accuse me of wanting to sleep with his best friend and exclaimed that I belonged only to him. One night after a very bad argument, I asked him to leave my apartment. He wouldn't and yelled at me to make him. After yelling back and forth, he eventually left, only to follow up with texts calling me ugly, saying that he slept with a bunch of guys, and how stupid I was for thinking I was special. The next day, he apologized, cried, and begged me to give him another chance. This became a cycle, as I would forgive him because in my head this was my karma.

In my early 20s, I was exactly like John. I had terribly low self-esteem and self-awareness, which manifested itself in the most toxic ways. My rage was usually directed at the people I loved the most. In fact, my deep unhappiness cost me my first and so far last love. I felt like John was the universe holding up a mirror to me and saying, "This is how you were; this was you, Terrence." I felt like if I had patience with him, if I just had more understanding, if I just let him let this ugliness out of his system, then we could be happy together. I was wrong, and one violent night proved that.

We had just gotten to his apartment after hanging out with friends. The plan was for me to spend the night, but he has a cat and I'm allergic. So I had to cut our night short. That turned into an argument. The last thing I remember yelling at him was for him to stop being so damn emotional and controlling all the time. He slapped me so hard to the point that I heard a slight ringing sound in my ear before he kicked me out of his bed. I got up and shoved him onto the bed. We tumbled a bit on the bed before he picked up a glass cup and threatened to smash my head with it. I shoved him back onto the bed and was able to free the glass from his grip. I just ran home. That was the last time I ever saw John.

I never reported the incident to the police because I wanted to move on and, frankly, I just wasn't confident the police would take a gay domestic dispute seriously. Initially, I blamed myself for what happened. A huge part of me felt like I deserved what I got because of my behavior in the past. A part of me felt like if I had just been more passive and hadn't spoken out, then he wouldn't have reacted the way he did. Of course, now I know that none of that is true. I'm still learning how to forgive myself for the mistakes I made, and only John could have controlled the way he acted.

I don't think of John as a mean-spirited, bad person or as a racist. I think John was a person who let his anger and insecurities navigate his life. If it's one thing I've learned out of this whole experience, it's that if you don't deal with your anger and insecurities, they'll for damn sure deal with you. And as someone who has been on both sides, I can tell you, you won't like how they deal with you.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of those mentioned.


TERRENCE CHAPPELL surfaced on Chicago's media scene as UR Chicago magazine's fashion editor. Since then, he has worked and contributed to various media outlets such as Michigan Avenue Magazine, CS magazine, and The Men's Book. Currently, Terrence serves as the editor at large for, the city's largest LGBT entertainment and news website, where he writes "Chappell Confidential," a nightlife and society column. Terrence also heads "Chappell on Community," the site's newest editorial monthly series that profiles the LGBT community's most innovative leaders.

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