As we begin the Pride season I feel a sense of peace and serenity, reflecting on my journey. I am grateful to be a thriving out gay man living in the city of Chicago, my home since birth. I haven’t always felt this way. In fact, I never thought I’d live to see my 30s, let alone live into my 50s. I’m a survivor of child sexual assault. I am also a survivor of domestic abuse. I experienced mental abuse in my relationship with my second wife. After I came out as gay, I endured relentless mental and physical abuse at the hands of a male partner.
You may have read about the horrendous crime I suffered as a child. I shared that story with the world a few years back. It was painful to reveal my truth but also liberating. I was raped at age 9 by serial killer John Wayne Gacy. As a child I was not able to talk about this tragedy. It was taboo. I lived my life in the shadows. I lived in silence. I lived in shame. I never thought my strict Catholic family would understand.
The secret of my childhood trauma drew me into a cycle of victimization. I entered into several abusive relationships, and fear compelled me to stay. I understand all too well the stigma and isolation facing male and LGBTQ survivors of domestic abuse.
The breaking point came literally, when my then-boyfriend threw me down the stairs and severely fractured my arm. That drove me into a deep depression and a suicide attempt. I felt helpless. I saw no way out. Thankfully, I eventually had the wherewithal to call the Center on Halsted’s 24-hour abuse hotline, and I was connected to vital resources that saved my life. With the help of the center, and the support and encouragement from trusted friends and loved ones, I removed myself from decades of abuse. I finally had the courage to walk away from violence.
Not everyone has the strength and support systems to get through such an ordeal. It is those individuals I aim to reach in my new role as an out gay male survivor of domestic abuse. During my journey of healing my path crossed that of Denise Brown, eldest sister of the late Nicole Brown Simpson. After losing Nicole in a horrific act of violence that gripped the nation, Denise used the tragedy to become a champion for domestic assault survivors. She founded the Elite Speakers Bureau, an agency that represents individuals like me who are trying to make a positive difference by telling our stories and empowering others who may feel alone. I am the bureau’s first speaker who is a gay male survivor. Now I share my experience and use my voice to uplift others, speaking to audiences nationwide about intimate partner violence affecting gay and straight men and the LGBTQ community.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs calls intimate partner violence “a serious yet oft-ignored issue facing LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities.” Its latest report illustrates this point. I intend to do my part to shine a light on this topic and make it OK to talk about it. If we continue to look the other way, the problem will only persist.
Signing with the Elite Speakers Bureau was years in the making. In 2012, I was chosen as one of six trauma survivors to be a spokesperson by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In 2016, I was humbled to receive a reply letter from President Obama honoring me for sharing my story and being the kind of survivor who helps victims. In 2016, I was chosen as keynote speaker for Break the Silence Foundation, a domestic violence nonprofit organization, and then elected to its board of directors as chairman of the planning committee.
Through this work, I’ve grown stronger. Now I help others who are living in circumstances where I’ve once been. Domestic abuse can happen in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. It happened to me in both, and I survived. You can too.
PATRICK DATI is an author, motivational speaker, and advocate for survivors of domestic abuse. He is represented by the Elite Speakers Bureau, founded by Denise Brown. Dati is also the author of a moving personal memoir, I Am Me. Read more about Patrick at http://www.patrickdati.com.