At just 12 years old, senior Katie Morey met her first romantic partner, who, at the time, was biologically female but identified as gender neutral. The pair kept most of their relationship online as they met through mutual friends on social media site Tumblr. Morey lived halfway across the United States from Them. Morey was four years younger than They were. The age difference never bothered Morey, but the nature of their relationship changed when They traveled to St. Louis, Mo. for the Fourth of July to visit family and Morey finally got to meet Them in person.
“I expected [meeting Them] to be a loving, compassionate experience,” Morey said, “but They had other ideas, apparently.”
The couple did not discuss any boundaries before they met in downtown Columbia and walked around, eventually making their way to Peace Park. The whole time, Morey said she shied away from kissing despite the number of hints They dropped. She wanted her first kiss to be special. When Morey and her significant other entered the relative privacy of the park, They pushed her against one of the trees and groped her before kissing her.
“They were only able to stay in town for a few hours, and for most of that time after we were in the park,” Morey said. “Whenever They wanted to kiss me, They would just grab me and have at it.”
“Whenever They wanted to kiss me, They would just grab me and have at it.”
After the couple left the park, Morey said she was silent and noticeably shocked for most of the day. Morey had never suspected They would try to make sexual advances. Though she said They would make off-hand comments, which were usually sweet and romantic.
When They left town and returned to the East Coast, Morey said their relationship went back to normal. Morey said she convinced herself what They did to her was just how in-person relationships work, and They confirmed her thoughts whenever the couple would reflect on their day in the park.
“We stayed together for a few months after They left town that day,” Morey said.
She said after They broke up with her, They still told her personal problems, and she tried to help Them. After a year of interacting like this, Morey said she finally told Them she could not bear the brunt of Their troubles and hers.“They were mentally abusive all the time,” Morey said. “[They would say] stuff like, ‘I’d kill myself if you ever left,’ and, ‘You’re the only thing that gives me any joy in this world.’”
Morey said her experience made her completely unsure as to what was appropriate behavior in a romantic relationship, and she was shocked when the next person she dated did not want to make out with her right away, instead making sure Morey was okay with everything before proceeding. The fact that couples were able to talk about the sexual components of their relationship in a healthy manner rather than one partner guilting the other into sexual activities blew her away. Morey’s interactions with Them while they were together also impacted her mental health through the plummeting of her self-esteem.
“I came under the belief that my main attraction was my body more than anything else, which lead to an eating disorder of sorts,” Morey said. “When I thought that my body was all that anyone would want from me, I became hyper-obsessed with it.”
Even though she still struggles with an eating disorder from time to time, Morey said she found how to navigate romantic relationships. She also learned how to talk to people without suffering from what happened to her, besides the slight trust issues she still deals with. Along with her growth, Morey reflected on her past relationship, and months after it ended she realized They were abusive.
“It was honestly a relief to find that [the label ‘abuse’] fit,” Morey said. “I felt like tarnished goods because my habits didn’t fit other people’s, but once I knew what had been going on I could research [what happened to me] and read other stories of people in the same type of situation as me.”
Art by Moy Zhong