Eve X is a survivor of multiple traumas including abuse, rape, and same-sex intimate partner violence. In spite of everything, she wants people to know that she’s okay and living a good life. All words below are hers unless specified otherwise. All names and some identifying details, including the author’s, have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
TW: Rape, child abuse, intimate partner violence. Mentions of drinking, drugs, and sex.
I wasn’t sure at first when I decided to speak about my story if I wanted to go into everything or just one part. I realized when I thought about it, though, I can’t separate what happened to me like that – I can’t separate the rapes from the abuse or the intimate partner violence. They’ve all shaped how I see the world and how I see myself, how I navigate the world as a bisexual Latina and a trauma survivor and why I feel like I need to have certain things in my life. I guess what I want to do is tell my whole story and then say, “In spite of everything, I still feel like I lead a good life and I’m doing okay.”
I guess I can start with a little background. I grew up bouncing between Chicago, Illinois and various towns in Indiana with my two sisters named Daniela and Connie and a mother and father who were both abusive and alcoholic. I grew up in a house where my sisters and I faced constant verbal and physical abuse. We were all abused but I was usually the target. I don’t know why. It just always was like that. Even when I followed all the rules and did everything perfectly, I was beaten and told I was incapable of doing anything right. I cut all ties with my parents as soon as I moved out at 16. They kicked me out. I stayed gone. Some older friends who became my chosen family invited me to move back to Chicago and live with them while I finished high school. I’m still very close to my sisters who also chose to cut their ties when they came of age. I have scars I’ve carried into adulthood because of this experience even though I’ve healed a lot. If anyone so much as playfully swats me, I have panic attacks. I also can’t be around parents who spank their kids because of how I was beaten in the name of being “spanked.”
I was raped the first time at age 15. My rapist was a much older man who was a friend of my mom. He molested me for several months before. To be honest, I think even if my parents knew what was happening, they wouldn’t have cared. He kept me quiet by telling me he would tell them things about me he knew that would be dangerous for me if my parents found out. I don’t know if he did know things about me or if he just knew I’d fill in the blanks myself. When I finally told my parents, they whipped me with a belt for “lying.” Then they told me if I was raped, it was my fault because I brought it on myself somehow and I shouldn’t shame them by talking about it.
I met Leah, my first girlfriend, when I was 16. She was 23. The relationship lasted two years because it took me two years to recognize she was abusing me. With Leah, the first red flag should’ve been the age gap. I don’t think age differences are bad when it comes to two adults. I was three years older than my last girlfriend, who was 18 when we got together. There are no situations where it’s appropriate for a 23-year-old to pursue a 16-year-old. She liked to tell me I was mature for my age and she was intellectually stimulated by me, but I see now it was all bullshit. She wanted someone with no experience and I was an easy target. All I wanted was to feel loved by someone. I just had no good reference of what non-abusive love looked like.
There’s a saying that goes, “If you throw a frog in a pot of boiling water, it’ll jump out. But if you throw a frog in lukewarm water and slowly turn up the temperature until it’s boiling, it’ll stay in the pot and die.” That’s how I’d describe an abusive relationship. If it was all abuse all the time, no one would stay. If the abuse happens gradually, the victim won’t even know it’s abuse. I didn’t. Leah was very charming in the beginning. Everyone who met her liked her, even if they couldn’t always explain why. I think she tried to get my friends to like her because that way, they would side with her if I ever tried to get out. It really started with her having a short fuse. She’d blow up at me when she got angry. She also threatened to out me in places it was dangerous for me to be out in. She’d say really hurtful things about my character and try to convince me I was the abuser and dangerous, which worked because I’ve always been afraid of perpetuating the cycle my parents started. She knew how to speak the language of social justice and she knew how to co-opt it and abuse it. Then she gaslit me about it. That means she tried to convince me I was crazy and remembering things wrong. She wasn’t abusive, after all. I was. That’s what she told me.
The physical stuff started with hitting me during arguments or when she felt disrespected. It escalated. She ignored my boundaries outside of sex; she ignored my boundaries during sex. She blamed her actions on being mentally ill. I don’t believe for a second she was actually mentally ill. I think it was just an excuse she thought I couldn’t argue against. I remember completely breaking down after a fight once, toward the end. I was a sobbing wreck. I remember crying saying I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. She always told me things about me were wrong, I said, but I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. That was when I still wanted to believe she had my best interests at heart. I still remember her response exactly. “It’s just you, Eve. You’re wrong, at your core, in your soul.” I left Leah behind when I left Chicago and moved away to college. She’s never tried to find me or get back into my life. I was so glad. It ended there. I tell myself it could’ve been a lot worse.
From age 19 to 21, I had a few girlfriends who helped set me back on the right track and heal from the abuse and the rapes. The first didn’t work out because I still had a lot I needed to work through and she didn’t want to wait. The second was…mostly what I remember is she was into that new age spirituality stuff. She had a lot of strange ideas about a lot of things. She really did try to help me heal and teach me about coping and stuff though. She took me to my first Take Back the Night event and convinced me to see a therapist for the first time in my life. The third was Alyson.
I had a really good relationship with Alyson. She was this amazing, intelligent, free-spirited, fun-loving trans woman I met in my gender studies class. She had this kind of “soft butch” style I thought was really cute, jeans and leather jackets, asymmetrical maroon hair with one side buzzed. She had a passion for adventure and she knew how to live in the moment. She was into hiking and exploring abandoned places and she did a lot of advocacy stuff for victims of sexual assault. She was the person who showed me what things were supposed to be like when someone said they loved you. It surprised me to have a girlfriend who genuinely enjoyed spending time with me and seeing me happy. I loved her for lots of reasons. I loved her especially because she showed me what my life could be like if I was willing to open my heart to the world. She always had this thing she would say: “You never know how much good is still out there until you look.” She was living a good life despite the traumas and the bad things she experienced. She was okay. I thought if Alyson could do it, I could too.
The second rape happened so recently I don’t like to talk about it much. It happened last June, the summer going into my junior year. I hadn’t been 21 very long but I already knew I liked drinking a little more than I should. I was at a bar with some friends. There was this one guy, a “friend of a friend,” who was interested in me and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He was really pushy about knowing if I was only saying no because I was a lesbian. I tried to be nice so I said I was bisexual but more into women, so I wasn’t looking for a man right now. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so nice and honest. He got really creepy really fast. There was a point where I went to the bathroom and didn’t think about leaving my drink unattended. I think he put something in it or something when I left. I don’t know.
After maybe twenty minutes, I felt dizzy and kind of sick all of a sudden at one point, like I was drunk. I hadn’t drank enough to be drunk. I felt drunk though. I couldn’t see very well and I had problems coordinating my movements. My friend Lisa had to hold me up. She noticed I was acting weird and called a cab to take me back to where I was staying. I don’t know if he heard her say the address or what but at some point he showed up at the apartment. It started when I blacked out on the couch and I woke up a few times while it was happening. I couldn’t move.
My timeline is all screwed up after that. The blacking out and waking up happened a few more times. I remember crying but I don’t know when or if I was awake enough to cry. Maybe that happened after. He called me slurs at some point and told me if I moved, he’d kill me and no one would miss me. It wasn’t like I could move anyway. The last time I passed out, I stayed passed out until the morning. I was too scared to report it the next day. I was afraid they’d say it was my fault because I was drinking and I walked away from my drink like you’re not supposed to do. The way my parents reacted after the first rape didn’t give me a lot of hope the police would help me. I tried not to internalize the idea it was my fault somehow.
I tried things to deal after this but they weren’t very healthy things: drinking, though not enough to be considered an alcoholic. Drugs – not hard ones, just mind-altering ones like marijuana, the kind that could make me forget for a while. One-night stands, hookups. I was doing some of them before. They got worse. It was too hard to remember. It was easier to forget. I don’t recommend this because it doesn’t help long-term. I was still hurting and struggling and I didn’t know how to deal with the things that happened to me. To say I had no help would be a lie, because my older sister and the few friends I trusted with my story were wonderful. They helped me get to a much better emotional state by the time the semester started. I was kind of a paradox for a while. I was still making bad decisions because I was hurting, and I still do sometimes. At the same time I felt like I had this new lease on life. I wanted to love. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to live. I wanted to take control again and have a good life. I decided to open my heart instead of closing it because I didn’t want to live sad and angry all the time. Alyson, who I still consider a good friend, gently reminded me while this was happening to look for the good in the world. I really tried to and I found some.
A few months after I was raped a second time I reconnected with the person who became my last girlfriend. It’s weird to talk about her in the third person like she isn’t the one doing this interview right now. The best way I could describe her is really…I don’t understand how such wonderful, giving people exist. She was actually my little sister Connie’s friend first; they were the same age. She was closer to Connie than me at first. We met through a local youth group for LGBTQ teens. We also lived in the same area for a while but we weren’t close. Then we sort of ran into each other again last year and realized we moved to the same town.
I have to tell the story of how that went. Where we live, there’s one building on campus that lights up every night in rainbow colors and you’re supposed to go put your feet on the wall and look up at the lights and it feels like you’re falling. It’s on the university bucket list and everything. It’s really fun when you’re a little…not in your right mind. I definitely wasn’t that night. I was tripping staring at the lights. I rambled about how pretty they were and how pretty she was and I tried to kiss her. She (rightly!) told me I was too stoned to consent to anything right then and she’d let me kiss her when it was all out of my system. She was kind of joking. I thought she was serious. She brought me back to her dorm so I wouldn’t hurt myself and when we woke up the next morning I tried to kiss her again. She was surprised. Like I said, she was just teasing me about coming back sober. But she let me and she let me keep doing it. I remember she said, “Me being surprised doesn’t mean stop!” That’s how we became a thing.
She reminded me of Alyson a little bit because she was really genuine. She got really genuinely excited about things. She leaked enthusiasm. She lifted me up. When she talked about things she liked about me, I knew she meant it because she felt everything so genuinely she couldn’t hide anything. We talked about our stuff early in the relationship (she’s also a survivor of violence) and she was happy to work with/around my triggers, just like I was happy to work with/around hers. The relationship got intense and serious fast in a way I’ve never had happen before, but I don’t think it was a bad thing. I felt like I was in a better place emotionally when we got together and I wanted to be for her what Alyson was for me. I loved making her happy. I wanted to be the reason she smiled. Not the only reason, but a reason. She felt the same way and she stuck around even after we broke up. I took three paragraphs to talk about her because she was another person who showed me how things were supposed to be when someone said they loved you. I also wanted to show there are people out there who will love you with all their heart even when you come with baggage like rape, or abuse, or violence. God knows I had enough of it.
Talking about my ex-girlfriends made me think of something. I know some rape survivors have issues around sex after their rapes but that wasn’t ever the case for me. I wonder if it’s because I have a hard time seeing them as the same thing. There’s a quote I like, I don’t remember who said it but it goes something like, “You wouldn’t hit someone with a spade and call it gardening.” What people did to me in hate doesn’t deserve the same name or category as what I do with others in love. My rapists didn’t have sex with me, they committed violence against me. I think being a rape survivor hasn’t ruined or interfered with that part of my life because of how I see them as different.
The most recent stumbling block I had was when I was told I was HIV+. After I found out I panicked and shut down. Everyone reacts differently to finding out and my reaction was fear and crying a lot. I was scared my girlfriend was going to hate me. I was also scared all the progress I’d made toward recovery would be gone. I didn’t want to use drugs and alcohol to forget any more but once you have a problem with wanting to you never really stop. I worried and worried and went over every way in my mind about how to tell her. I had so many questions. Would she hate me? Would she leave me? Would she have it now too because I did?
We found out the answer to all of those was no. She didn’t hate me. She skipped all her classes for two days to come over and comfort me. I wasn’t scheduled to work those days and it was a lot of time to overthink things. I remember she made brownies and at one point she said, “You make me so happy, how could I ever hate you?” She wouldn’t leave me. I had her unwavering support. I broke up with her a little later though. I wanted to focus on figuring out what this meant for me. She said she understood. She still didn’t abandon me. It’s been four months since I was told. She’s still negative and I’m back on my path again. HIV isn’t the death sentence it used to be. I’m working on making it part of my new reality and I’m enjoying life again. I feel like I’m saying “if this happens, it’ll be okay” a lot. I really believe it most of the time. I’m only 22 and I’ve had enough shit happen for one lifetime but I’m okay. I’m a survivor of violence and rape and abuse and I’m HIV+ and I’m happy and I’m living a good life and those things aren’t mutually exclusive. I have days where I don’t feel that way and I think that’s okay too. Usually though I feel like I’m doing good considering.
Thinking of just one thing I want people to take from my story is hard. I guess I want people who have gone through similar things I have to know they’re not alone. How you survive isn’t a one-size-fits-all box but it’s possible to have a good life after going through traumas. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been through way more than I ever would’ve chosen if I had a choice. I survived it all. I made it. I’m building a life for myself. I love the place I’m in. You can survive too. That’s not just for rape survivors or people who survived anti-gay violence. It’s for anyone.
I just thought of one more thing I want to say. I think we mean well a lot of the time when we tell the stories of LGBTQ people who have been hurt or killed or had their lives ruined by violence. Those stories are important. At the same time I think the media hyper-focuses on them to the point it’s causing harm to us. Sometimes we don’t think we can be anything else. We don’t think our lives mean anything else. We can either be a dead sacrifice for the cause or a living person who isn’t really living because we’re constantly drowning in suffering. That’s not true. People who got through hell and back aren’t doomed to a life of sadness because of what happened. It would’ve helped me when I was struggling to see more of a balance. I’ve been hurt a lot and I have a great life. My life isn’t sad. It isn’t tragic. It isn’t awful, even though awful things have happened to me. What happened to me isn’t unimportant to me. It also isn’t the defining factor of whether or not I can be happy. Today, I have a wonderful life. In spite of the violence, the abuse, the rapes, the HIV, I have a great life. I’d never change the way things turned out even if I could.