Writer and director Neil Ely bravely opens up about being attacked on a date and why he decided to forgive his rapist.
We live, thankfully, in a refreshingly open world where people feel confident to talk about anything and everything. There’s rarely a topic that someone doesn’t have an opinion on or hasn’t experienced themselves.
And yet there are still some subjects out there that many of us find uncomfortable to talk about or even acknowledge. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They do and as a result some people are forced to experience them alone.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. All it takes is for one person to stand up and to speak out so that others going through similar experiences can feel confident enough to open up about them!
Writer and director Neil Ely, 32, is that person. He has bravely decided to step forward to share with GuysLikeU a story that even in this day and age is still considered to be one of the most taboo subjects; male rape.
In this brutally honest interview, Manchester-based Neil opens up about how the traumatic experience devastated his life and how now after many years of secretly suffering he has taken control of the trauma he experienced and finally turned a corner.
First of all, how long had you been out before this terrible incident happened?
It wasn’t long after. I was always slightly confused about my sexuality because as a teenager and even into my early twenties, I’d had sexual relationships with women, which I enjoyed on occasion. For me, I was lucky enough to have a family that didn’t make me feel the pressure to come out. I wasn’t even sure myself what ‘label’ to put on it, but I knew in my mind I was also attracted to guys. Well more so.
So when you realised that you liked guys more, did you throw yourself into the gay scene?
No, not straight away. At the time the majority of my close friends were straight, both guys and girls. Coming from a very working class background, I was used to going to local pubs and house parties where it was mostly straight beer swigging lads. I did used to sneak off to the gay village on my own from time to time, but had no confidence to really make friends. Even though I was a bit of a Jack-the-lad I soon found myself out of my depth in a completely new scene.
Were you sexually confident?
I’d had a few experiences with guys, but to be honest I was struggling to find myself sexually. With a girl, you kind of know generally what role to play, but with a guy it was different. I was excited but still quite naive and at this point I hadn’t really met anyone I really liked. I was still experimenting and finding myself.
Tell us about the night of the incident.
I’d met a really nice guy at a house party who I clicked with straight away. It was more of a mate-type thing on my part – I just really wanted a gay mate. So when he asked me to come and join him on a night out in the village, I jumped at the chance. And it was such a breath of fresh air to be going out socially with a guy that felt the same way I did. After a few pints, we ended up meeting up with a group of his mates, and there was a guy there who caught my eye, who I thought was good looking, funny, and – I hate to say it now – ‘straight acting’. For me at the time, that put me at ease. I suppose I was under a false impression that that was what a ‘real man’ was supposed to be; muscles, cocky and charming.
What happened next?
As the night went on the group got smaller leaving me and this guy I fancied alone. I really fancied him and thought the feeling was mutual. We had a great matey banter and for the first time I actually really fancied a guy on every level. Then he asked me if I wanted to go back to his – he’d already mentioned he lived on a barge which I thought was pretty cool – and being and as I really fancied him and wanted to take it further I agreed.
As any guy would.
But as soon as we got back to his things changed. He whipped out a bag of coke, which even though I’d tried before, I declined. But he wasn’t happy about that and kept on at me about having some. But I knew, as soon as i would have I’d want to leave. Then things escalated quite quickly.
What happened next…
What started as banter became quite aggressive verbally. I’m not soft and I have had plenty of scraps along the way but he was a big guy and I knew I was out of my depth. Not wanting to get in to a fight, I suggested we call it a night and as I went to leave he punched me in the back of the head, grabbed me by the face, spat at me and then he raped me. I tried my hardest to get him off me but with the shock of being punched and the fact he was 6ft and built like a brick shit-house, I didn’t have chance to fight. I mean, he had put my arm up around my back, so it was really hard to move.
What happened after?
It was blurry. I’d been sick and started to clean up the mess. He was just sat on a chair like nothing had happened and said ‘Just leave it’. Then I remember stumbling out into the snow, shaking from the shock and the fact it was zero degrees in Manchester that night. I was on auto pilot and headed home as fast as I could.
Not that anyone looks the type to rape someone, but did his actions take you by surprise from the way he had been with you?
He was charismatic and charming but he also had the broken nose from boxing so he had a rough lad look about him. He was a good looking guy. What I realise now is that what happened was about control, not sex, I think he could have had sex with the majority of guys that had been in the bar that night.
When you got home what did you do?
Thank Christ, my mum was in bed, so I could sneak into the house. That sounds strange now, as my mum should have been the first person I wanted to tell. All I wanted to do though was shower and get into bed. I still had the smell of sick and spit on me and I was freezing. It sounds like a cliche but I just wanted a hot shower. I got into bed then and didn’t get up till I heard my mum leave for work. I just wanted to be on my own.
Were you injured?
It was the first time I’d ever had intercourse, (if you can call it that) with a man so I was in pain for a few days. I was in total shock! I spent a few days under my covers listening to music. I remember my mam asking why there was blood at the bottom of the toilet which I was totally mortified about.
Did you feel devastated that he had taken away your ‘first time’?
I didn’t really think about it like that at the time. It only stuck me when I started to see a guy a while after and the topic came up. But I don’t class what happened with him as my first time.
Did you report the attack?
No. I didn’t want to sound like a victim. I just wanted to forget about it and move on. I regret that now. That’s easy to say years afterwards, of course. At the time I would never have even considered it. For the first time I felt completely in the closest. Ashamed.
Were you angry about the attack? Did you want to get your own back?
For years later I was angry about everything in life. I blamed myself. I would become aggressive towards people, especially when I had a drink. I’d start fights in pubs with lads who I felt were bigger than me. Looking back that was kind of a personal revenge. It didn’t matter how big they were I would take a swing! I spent the night in the cells a few times. The anger started to take over especially if I’d had a drink. I was nightmare to be fair.
Did the guy ever try to get in touch?
How did you feel in the days after?
I felt to blame at first! Maybe it had happened because I didn’t do coke, or because I wasn’t experienced. I just kept questioning what I could have done differently.
Were you worried about diseases? Did you get checked?
Yes. That soon became my biggest concern. It took me a couple of weeks to go to the clinic. I kept googling symptoms. Then one day I built up the courage to go to the same-day doctor. When the doctor gave me the all clear it was a massive relief as I had convinced myself that I had been passed a disease.
Did you have nightmares?
I did for years after. I became paranoid that he had my address or would come to the front door. I started to take boxing lessons to learn how to defend myself. I know this sounds dramatic now but at the time it starts to eats away at you.
Were you able to shrug off the visions from that night?
I can now, but I used to pretend I could. A few years later I started to write, plays and films. I wrote a film called Silence that dealt with same sex domestic violence and rape. This is when I began to look differently and started counselling. I started to talk about it, I had to forgive him to move forward and forgive myself for not reporting it.
What were the after effects of that night?
I think anger consumed me for a few years after, fighting off anyone, partners, friends. I become very defensive and would quickly become angry. It’s fair to say that it ruined a few relationships. That why you have to forgive and move on.
Did it scare you off meeting men?
For a time it did the opposite. This may sound odd, but I would put myself in situations with men that I knew I could fight. I think it comes down to control! When you have been out of control you become obsessed by it. It’s a vicious circle that you become trapped in.
Did the attack make you more cautious about sex?
I think it altered how I had sex. Again it become about controlling the situation. I stayed away from men that I didn’t think I could fight. At times I would even provoke to see if I could handle the situation. I had a unhealthy view on sex.
You had counselling – how did that help?
I think I had to be ready to accept what had happened. I would have liked to believe that I was unaffected by it, but by not speaking about it and locking it away, it began to affect everything. I told an ex-partner what had happened and he suggested that I go to counselling for anger issues and that’s where it began. The first six sessions I just beat around the bush, Then one day it all just came out. Counselling helped me to understand that it wasn’t my fault and it led to me alleviating some of the anger I was feeling towards myself. It was a long process but it was worth it.
And how are you now?
I’m in a good place, the only regret I have is not reporting what happened at the time. For years after, I felt anger, that I wasn’t brave enough to report it. But at least I’ve faced up to it now. I don’t feel shame any more.
Can you ever forget that night?
I don’t think I’ll ever forget it, but I have had to forgive him so that I can move on. Of course I hate what he did to me, it was wrong and he should be punished, but for my own sanity I had to bring this part of my life to a close, otherwise I would have carried on full of hatred.
Do you still feel sick about that night? Even now?
No, I feel anxious talking about it, but that’s small fry compared to the anger and hate I used to carry around. I hope that anybody that ever experiences rape has the bravery to report it.
How did your friends, family and partner Anthony [Kavanagh] take the news?
For the most of my friends and family it came after I had started counselling, so shock at first, but they all wanted to support me as much as possible. I think it explained a lot of my behaviour over the years. By the time I met Anthony I had been in counselling for a while. I eventually got around to explaining what had happened. He’s had his fair share of demons himself. I spent a lot of time living in the past but since we met I can now look forward to the good times in life.
If you have experienced anything like Neil’s story, contact www.survivorsuk.org