How I Got Out
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(*) names have been changed to protect the identity of those mentioned
“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 put myself in this situation.
It didn’t matter that he threatened to bash my head in with a glass cup 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 I 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 either land me in jail, seriously injured, or dead. I just knew that none of it mattered. 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 that outlook 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 elicited comfort. His animated, cheerful smile accompanied by a pair of warm, welcoming blue eyes never left mine as we got acquainted. We hit if off that night and stayed in contact.
John seemed different from all of 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 synonymous to 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 I was beyond relieved. Throughout the entire time, John was texting me, leaving me voicemail messages, and Facebook messages. 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 all 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 only belonged 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 to only 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 costed 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 got 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 kicking 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 break the glass cup free 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 was just more passive and didn’t speak 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 this mean-spirited, bad person or as a racist. I think John was a person who allowed his anger and insecurities navigate his life. If it’s one thing I’ve learned out of this whole experience, it’s 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, you won’t like how they deal with you.
Terrence Chappell surfaced on Chicago’s media scene as UR Chicago Magazine Online’s fashion editor. Since then, he has worked and contributed to various media outlets such as Michigan Ave. Magazine, CS Magazine, and The Men’s Book. Currently, Terrence serves as the editor-at-large for ChicagoPride.com, 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.