Raping the Gay Away

by Sally Huffer

I don’t usually write in first person. Not for our newsletter. But this story is personal.

I will never forget her call. Her voice was surprisingly calm. I will never know her name and what happened to her after we spoke. Crisis hotlines exist for people in dire circumstances, and I have heard many heartbreaking stories through Gay & Lesbian Switchboard Houston. Some of the stories involve getting someone into shelter from an abusive partner. Some are broken hearts. Some are grieving the death of a partner. Many are in various states of sobriety. I’ve heard a once-sobbing voice laugh in the span of 15 minutes. I’ve listened to men talk about testing positive for HIV. A young woman crushed when her first love cheated on her.

The one call all hotline volunteers fear is the suicide call. They are very rare. Whenever someone tells me they are considering taking their own life, I acknowledge their pain. They are always by themselves when they call, and I often suggest that if they are reaching out for help that they try to find a friend or family member they can stay with or invite to be with them, or get to an emergency room where they will be surrounded by others.

No, she didn’t have any friends. She had been raped by a man who thought the only thing separating her, a lesbian, from the straight life was a satisfying sexual experience. He thought that she could no longer be a lesbian, and that no other lesbian would have her, if she had been penetrated.

I was confused. How did that horrible and brutal attack result in her losing all her friends?

She explained that her friends were her coworkers, once upon a time. But then she was raped, and she stopped eating. She started smoking and drinking and taking copious amounts of anything that could numb her pain. She overslept. A lot. She became unreliable, and even when she did go to work, she couldn’t concentrate. It wasn’t long before she lost her job, and with it, all the people she considered her friends.

“But what about your family? Do they know what happened to you?” I asked. That’s when she told me. The man who thought he could “cure” her by raping her was her own father. He had never laid a hand on her until she came out to him. He denied it, and her family sided with him. They didn’t believe her because she was using drugs and alcohol and was unemployed. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to someone so completely alone in the world.

Her story was the first time I’d heard of “corrective rape.” It was six years ago. The term wasn’t used then.

I’m writing about this because one of Montrose Counseling Center’s employees, who works with sexual assault victims and survivors, suggested we do a story about the subject in April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. She won’t know until she reads this that it brought back memories of that peculiarly calm, feminine voice. I don’t know that I ever told my coworker, who also is my friend, about her call.

Her story illustrates the short- and long-term consequences of sexual assault. He thought he could rape her gay away, but what he really did was start her on a path of self-destruction and hopelessness. Sexual assault is a life and death issue. A group of lesbians held a protest in South Africa last month to bring awareness to this crime. Many were victims of “corrective rape.” They had lost friends and partners. Some contracted HIV from their
rapists. My coworker suggested we raise the issue because the story had made international news and because this is something that happens here too. To both women and men.

This is an example of a lesbian being raped, but gay men are sexually assaulted too. Some by women, sure, but also by other men. Sometimes by straight men. Sexual assault, like domestic violence, is about power and control. The weapon in these crimes is sex and humiliation. Gay men have been forced to have sex, justified by their attacker(s) because the victim is gay, so he must have wanted it. A person’s sexual orientation does not give tacit consent.

Attacker(s) often aren’t held responsible for their crime because the victims are too ashamed to report it to police. That shame prevents them from telling anyone or talking about it — getting help. They are scarred from the attack in unimaginable ways. Too often, they wait years before they make that first call for help.

Montrose Counseling Center’s Anti-Violence Program is a state-funded full-service rape crisis center — the first in Texas specifically designed for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender survivors. We have support groups for men and women who have been sexually assaulted, along with individual and couples counseling. The program is here for anyone who was sexually assaulted, regardless of when it happened. It’s for those who may have been molested as children, raped, sexually assaulted, date raped, survived incest, and survived hate/bias rape.

Whether it happened to you or someone you love a long time ago or recently, come to MCC to start the process of recovery. Advocacy is also available to you for police and hospital and legal accompaniment. During business hours, call 713.529.0037 to find out more information, or call Gay & Lesbian Switchboard Houston at 713.529.3211 any time, day or night, for help.

So back to that crisis call. The woman with no family and no friends. The one who was raped by her own father who thought he could “fix” her. We talked for a long time. I hope she made the decision to live, but I have to be satisfied with knowing that the most she wanted that night was someone to listen.