This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
About two years ago I moved in with my boyfriend of three years. We were gross—the kind of couple you hate standing behind in a line. I couldn't walk down the street without being attached to him in some way. He was my first love, and I'll never forget or be able to fully explain the feeling of wholeness just walking around with him brought me.
Moving in together felt amazing. One Sunday afternoon we made a proper IKEA trip in a rent-a-van, and hurtling back along the dual carriageway to our new flat with loads of bed sheets, plants, and a massive Expedit in the back might be the happiest I've ever felt. The radio wasn't tuning properly, but we kept getting crackly snippets of "Alone" by Heart. It was ace. We weren't just playing grown-ups—we were grown ups.
He went out loads. He always did. In the beginning I thought it was really fun and would tag along with this exotic, curly-haired creature, desperate to share his energy. I'd go halves on wraps with him to try to stay up with him and his friends, despite being ready to go home at about midnight most evenings. I didn't want to be the geeky, lightweight new boyfriend—I wanted to be part of his crowd. It made my bones hurt I loved him so much. We fucked several times a day, and I remember him saying once, after we'd finished and were still lying on the floor, "If I could stay like this 24/7, I would."
We both had day jobs, but his stamina was unearthly. He'd go out seven nights a week if he could, whereas I'd be happy going out only a couple of nights. Eventually I stopped tagging along, with his reassurance that it was just something he "needed to get out of his system" before he "got old." We were both pushing 30, but I tried not to be judgmental, and for about six months he totally calmed down. It felt really promising.
Everything was great until, after about a year of living together, he went through this mad going-out phase again. He'd cut back on the coke in a big way, but I kept noticing that, when he came in late, he'd fall asleep with his jaw grinding. I grew to hate him on the stuff—it made him defensive and righteous and, for days after, really depressed. He couldn't handle it like he used to, and the comedowns got worse.
We stopped having great sex about a year after moving in together, which was awful, because sex was always our "thing." We did cursory, urge-satisfying handjobs every few days but didn't really kiss when we did it. The spark had gone, and it was purely perfunctory. I asked him if he was fucking anyone else, and he said no. I believed him—I'd always been completely faithful, and we'd always made a big deal of monogamy. We hated seeing gay couples around us having "open" relationships that ultimately ended in jealousy and constant guilty trips to STI clinics.
Turns out I was stupid to believe him. I found out from a friend-of-a-friend that someone had seen him with another guy at a house party I knew nothing about. When I confronted him one evening after we both got back from work, he was initially indignant, screaming about how "fucking cynical" I was and how he'd never jeopardize what we had. Eventually, though, he came clean and said he'd "messed around" with someone a few times. My stomach dropped to my knees, and I said I'd had enough. I loved him, but he couldn't grow up.
Still, he promised to go and see someone—about the drinking, about coke, and about us. He begged me to change my mind, but in my heart I knew we'd run our course. The beautiful, hedonistic boy I'd fallen in love with wasn't going to change for me, nor should he have to. After one of our final arguments I told him to leave. We went to bed that night in tears, but I felt like a weight had shifted—I didn't have to pretend to be OK with a lifestyle that had become so alien to me.
In the middle of the night I woke up to him pressed right up behind me, gripping my chest. I held his hands and said, "It's all right, you'll be OK," thinking he was upset, and felt him breathing hard into the back of my neck. His breath smelt of Red Stripe and toothpaste, and he was really hard. What happened next was a bit of a blur. He reached around to touch me, and every time I pushed his hand away, he just kept trying. I'd not felt his need for sex like this in so long, so it was a massive jolt. I got hard, but mentally knew it was wrong to do anything—he'd be leaving in a few days, and it'd only get complicated. I told him to stop.
He started scratching at my stomach, to the point where I shouted out in pain, and then flipped me onto my front. He was 6'2" and a lot stronger than me. I was shouting at him to stop, that I didn't want to do it, but he overpowered me, holding my arms by my sides and forcing the backs of my thighs down with his knees—something I used to love him doing, ironically. I stopped struggling—there was no way I was going to get him off me. Then he raped me. He must have lasted less than a minute—if that—but it was incredibly painful and made me scream. Then he pulled his boxers up, put his clothes on, and left. I knew that I hadn't wanted him to penetrate me and that what had just happened was wrong, but I just fell asleep, face down in the bed. I was exhausted.
My friend urged me to go to the police, but I never did. I didn't want to go to court and talk about what happened, nor did I want everyone knowing.
I woke up about 12 hours later and immediately called him. He didn't answer. I must have called him 100 times, leaving voicemails and sending texts saying, "Call me. We need to talk about what happened last night," and eventually he texted back, a few hours later, saying, "Well, we needed to do it one last time, didn't we?" I called again, and he didn't answer. So I texted back: "'We' didn't do anything. You forced yourself on me, hurt me, and then left." To which he replied, instantly, "I'm so, so sorry I hurt you, but you used to love having sex with me and I just couldn't stand the idea of not being like that with you again before I left. I thought you wanted me?"
In the coming weeks, I tried to put it to the back of my mind. We used to be so in love, I thought—maybe I was overreacting? We also used to be quite rough with each other during sex, so maybe the fact that I was hard made him think that I had wanted him to do that to me?
Months passed before I told anyone. I would forget about it sometimes, to be honest, but when a female friend came round to watch TV one night I ended up telling her, setting it up with the, "I don't know if I'm overreacting, but..." line. She looked horrified and said, "Danny,* he raped you." I sort of shrugged and said, "Nah, it wasn't violent, per se—he was just really horny." She persisted, saying, "No, you told him to stop and he didn't. He raped you. You have to tell someone about this," at which point I burst into tears. I hadn't really cried for him with anyone—I'd cried alone, obviously, but this was the first time I'd broken down in front of a friend. "Fuck," I said. "My boyfriend raped me."
My friend urged me to go to the police, but I never did. I didn't want to go to court and talk about what had happened, nor did I want everyone knowing. I also had no idea how the police would deal with a sexual assault that happened between two men who'd previously been in a loving relationship. What language would two young policeman in an East London police station have for that? What if they were quietly prejudiced themselves? What conversations happen at a constitutional level about rape within gay relationships? Certainly none that I've heard.
The one friend I told promised, after several heated arguments, not to tell anyone. I have no idea if she did or not, but, to this day, there's only a very small handful of people who know—including my mom, who respected the way I wanted to deal with it, despite saying she'd support me whatever I decided to do.
Sexual assault is unforgivable. It is gender-less and orientation-less, a violation of another person's body. Just because you're a man, and you respond to the touch of someone you love, doesn't make assault any less serious.
The issue I have with going to the police is: at what point will someone say, "This happened a long time ago now—what do you want us to do?" And I genuinely don't know the answer to that question. I have no screaming urge for my ex-boyfriend to be locked up, and I don't want to have to give evidence or talk about something that, to an extent, I've come to terms with. I don't want to be labeled as "The Boy Who Was Raped by Another Boy" for the rest of my life.
I have a new boyfriend now and told him pretty early on about an "incident" that happened with my ex that made me weird about having full sex again, but we're getting there. He didn't pry too much but has said that if anything severe happened I should have gone to—or should go to—the police. That he'd always be ready to listen.
My ex-boyfriend eventually answered my calls (I tried a couple of times a week) recently and agreed to meet me. We met in the park on a freezing day and sat on a bench. I just blurted out, "We need to talk about you assaulting me," and he burst into tears. Massive, loud sobs. He said he'd thought about it a lot and realized that, even if for a split second he believed I wanted him to do that to me, he shouldn't have got "carried away" and should have just stopped. He said again and again how sorry he was, swore on my life that he'd been safe with the other guy he had fooled around with, and that he couldn't believe my last physical memory of him was such a forceful, painful thing, and that he would regret it for the rest of his life.
When I told him that I should probably go to the police he looked like he was about to gag. "Do what you need to do," he said. In that minute I could feel his remorse. He was never violent to me throughout our relationship. I never feared him. Our sex was pretty on-the-edge, until we stopped doing it, and I genuinely believed that he was sorry. He said he had no idea what came over him to do what he did. I agreed and, after he got up from the bench, said I never wanted to see him again. He just kept saying, "Whatever you want, whatever you want," and eventually got up and walked away. I knew that unless I bumped into him, this was it.
I told the friend who made me confront what happened that I'd made the only peace I was ever going to make of what had happened, that I'd seen "him" and that it was enough for me. She was incredibly angry, telling me that he shouldn't get away with it, that I should press charges to set a precedent. She's almost certainly right, but selfishly, I suppose, I just don't want to be defined by what happened, and that is my right. I dealt with it and actually feel OK now.
I haven't spoken to my ex since that day in the park and deleted all trace of him from my life on social media, etc., but I know him, and I know what happened will be imprinted on his brain forever. Maybe on some level I am doing wrong by whoever he might end up with in the future, but I have owned my experience the best that I can. I had some private counseling sessions at the beginning of my new relationship, and that's enough for me. For now. I don't know how I'll feel in the future.
As it stands, I am comfortable living my life without the ghost of what happened haunting me. I'm pretty good. I know I have the power to go to the police if and when I want to, but for me, the idea of going into a court room to face something I have more or less psychologically dealt with is not what I want at the moment. And that is my right.
Sexual assault is unforgivable. It is gender-less and orientation-less, a violation of another person's body. Just because you're a man, and you respond to the touch of someone you love, doesn't make assault any less serious. If anyone—gay, straight, whatever—says "no" in a sexual encounter, it has to be enough to make it stop. If it's not, and the person carries on, that is assault. There are no gray areas.
The reason I wanted to speak about my experience on a public platform, though, is to urge anyone who has experienced anything similar to tell someone—a friend, a relative, anyone you can trust. I'm fortunate that I had the means, psychologically, to deal with it in the way that I did, and to talk to my ex-boyfriend about it face to face. But not everyone will be able to do that.
I would plead with anyone who's been sexually assaulted in similar circumstances to tell someone you trust, and don't ever, ever pretend that it's not a big deal. Context is irrelevant if you've said "no." These things might happen in the dark, but they should never be kept that way.
*Names have been changed.
If you think you or a loved one has been victim of a sexual assault, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline.