by: Randall Jenson
This April is nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As a survivor of both physical and sexual violence, I feel compelled to share some of my experiences growing up in an alcoholic, abusive home and about my journeys as a homeless, gay teenager. I hope these stories can empower others to seek out the necessary love, support and join a collective voice.
I was an overweight, unathletic, artistic boy. I grew up with few friends, isolated in make believe worlds and was a fan of fantasy and horror films. I identified more with characters in The Jacksons: An American Dream, Unsolved Mysteries and Lifetime original movies than family sitcoms. My family wasn’t a happy home; we were the house avoided by the entire block in our white Missouri suburbs.
At nine-years-old, the local police frequently visited my parent’s home after the “domestic disturbance” 911 phone calls and my parents finally divorced after years of violent fights. While the judge granted my White father visitation rights with my two younger siblings, because of the extent of my abuse, the judge did not grant him the right to see me. However, one weekend, I must have done something to irritate my Mexican mom. She demanded that I go with my father on his next visitation. She “needed a break” from all her children, and quite honestly, as a single, working-class mother trying her best to support us, I could understand why.
I was thirteen-years-old. After a weekend with my father’s parents, on our return trip home, I remember staring at the familiar, dirty brown rim of a Styrofoam Quick Trip Cup, mixed together with the smell of old coffee and stale beer. With my three-year-old brother and six-year-old sister in the backseat, I knew that this was not only was illegal, but dangerous. I must have told him that he couldn’t drink while driving with us, because I set him off. He began to cuss at me and backhanded me across the seat. I cried and tried to explain myself, but he screamed at me that he was going to teach me a lesson.
My father pulled over to a local, rural gas station outside of Rolla, Missouri and took me into the men’s restroom to beat me more. He hit me across the face, punched me in the stomach and yelled profanities at me. During the blows, I focused on the images on a dirty condom machine that distributed cheap sex toys, noticing the particularly strange words of a “French tickler” being sold for $0.75 cents. I zoned out, and like many times before, I lost myself in a world of comic books, good memories and imagining that someday I wouldn’t have to deal with him anymore.
After fifteen minutes back in the car, he started to hit me again. My father often had spastic attacks when he was drunk and angry, sucking in large amounts of breath, shaking his right hand, while he drove with his left and making contoured faces of rage. He pulled over to the side of the road to continue to hit me. He punched my eye, then backhanded me again and fractured my nose. I panicked and reached across the car, grabbed his glasses and threw them on the floorboard. Thanks to my father’s poor vision, he immediately had to search for his glasses and this gave me time to jump out of the car while still leaving my little brother and sister crying and screaming in the back seat. I tumbled down a ditch. I ran over the railroad tracks, into the woods and hid for my life.
My father was hysterical, screaming that I had better get my ass back in the car right now, screaming that he was going to find me, screaming that he was going to kill me.
I thought I was going to die.
After a few minutes I couldn’t hear his near voice anymore. I ran off through the woods. I was out of breath and out of shape. I paid little attention to where I was going. I just wanted to make sure my father didn’t catch me. After running a while, I remember looking down and quickly catching my step. Below me, and all around, laid a series of hunting traps to catch prey. While I’m still not sure if I believe in God, this was one of those moments when I knew someone had to be watching out for me.
I stumbled forward, darting on and off the local highway for the next few hours while searching for a payphone to collect call home and tell my mom what happened. I never found a one. It was dark by the time a local police car pulled up and informed me that my mom had learned about what happened and reported me missing.
The police photographed my nose, my eye, my face and my arms. They documented the bruises. I remember that one of the officers was nice and sympathetic. I saw my father arrive at the station in steel handcuffs. I will never forget this image because it was the only time in the all years of abuse I saw him arrested.
When my mother arrived, she was distraught and angry. She cried when she saw me. I was glad she came to rescue my brother, sister and me. I knew that after this experience, she would never force me to go with my father again. As my mother entered the room, the officer was finishing filling out the basic demographic information on the report. He gave my mom and me a few minutes alone. As I cried and told her what happened, she read the report. I saw her face grow angry for a different reason other than my bruises. I didn’t understand what was going on but she was cold and abrupt with the officer while he finished up the report.
On the long drive home, my mother kept yelling, “He checked the Hispanic box? He checked the Hispanic box!” She was furious and explained, “I knew they did that because they saw ME. If they had finished filling out that report before I entered, they would have checked White as your race”. I didn’t understand then why this angered her so much and why this was the issue she kept focusing on. She spent the entire car ride home fuming about my racial classification and taking little time to ask me what my dad did this time. Maybe it was all too familiar?
It’s funny how you can’t shake certain things. I still have my mother’s voice in my head that, “What happens in the family, stays in the family”. I still hear her fuming about the Hispanic box. I realized, years later, that my parents were probably very happy to have a child who could pass as white in a predominately white town. This was part of my assimilative conditioning; do not name the violence, do not talk about the cycle of abuse. Remain invisible. I don’t really why my mom was ashamed of her racial background, but her shame colluded with the abuse that happened onto our bodies. Perhaps, if we were White, the violence would somehow be lessened. We would be more normal.
But it was happening to our neighbors too. They just did a better job of hiding it.
A few days later, my mom lightened up my bruises with makeup, covering them in shades of peach and beige. I attended my eight-grade graduation that Friday with and a bruised face, black eye, and as usual, was isolated from most of the kids in my class. By this point, most of the student’s mothers wouldn’t allow their children to associate with me. It was probably for the best. But this was the last time my father beat me.
SocialScope Productions is committed to documenting LGBTQ stories and empowering queer survivors in our new multimedia project. Please join us and The Breathe Network as we host our annual event, free and open to the public, on LGBTQ survivors of violence: “Queering Consent” Mon, April 8 from 6-8pm at DePaul University in Chicago and “Queering Violence” on Wed, April 10 from 7-9pm at Washington University in St. Louis