John-Paul Kesseler, who was attacked for holding hands with another man, says the homophobic assault in Birmingham has left him with lasting mental trauma and says he is trying to move on
Image: John- Paul Kesseler)
A man has spoken out about the vicious attack on him in Birmingham’s Gay Village – because he was holding hands with another man.
John-Paul Kesseler was left bleeding on the roadside after a violent thug hit him on the head with a wine bottle in the homophobic assault.
“The furore immediately after it happened was very large,” he told Birmingham Live.
“In the weeks after the attack I had so much going on – there was the protest, all the media attention, statements I had to make to the police – it was crazy.”
“It’s when all that stuff started to calm down, and I had to get back into the routine of normal life, that life suddenly got much harder.
“Talking about it openly and taking a stance was important to me, but I wasn’t really processing what had actually happened.
“Broken bones, cuts, bruises, they all heal. It’s the stuff at the back of your mind which does the lasting damage.
“I know I was targeted simply because of who I am – that’s a traumatic thing to have to deal with.”
John-Paul now admits that the attack had impacted him in ways he couldn’t initially comprehend.
It’s only now, looking back, that he truly understands the multitude of ways that brutal blow to the side of his face has affected him.
“When trauma happens to anyone, we desperately try to pretend it’s not trauma,” he says.
“We don’t want to admit to ourselves that there’s something which is hurting us – so we avoid it.
“I look at my behaviour now and realise I’ve not been myself over the past month. I’ve been more defensive and snappy. I find myself biting in situations where I know I wouldn’t have before.
“My ability to concentrate has left me. A few weeks ago I couldn’t even watch TV – my head would just constantly go somewhere else.
“After it happened, I started to go out more, to drink more, just do anything to keep me distracted.”
When we think of trauma, we think of flashbacks, sleepless nights and panic attacks. But trauma affects people in different ways.
“Physically, I was very lucky compared to Matt and the two lads who got attacked back in August – I didn’t really have any major injuries. But it’s the long term, insidious stuff inside your head which is the toughest to deal with.”
Surprisingly, John-Paul admits that he “rarely” thinks about the night of his attack.
“It’s not like it plays in my head or anything. I don’t really think about him [his attacker] either. I know he’s around somewhere.”
A man arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack on John-Paul has been released from his bail but remains under investigation while enquiries continue.
Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live)
“But the thing I think about often,” John-Paul says, “and which causes me a lot of distress, is why it happened, and what the attack says about society at the minute.”
John-Paul was one of the brave bystanders who helped another man, Matt Brooks, after he was punched in the face in an ‘unprovoked assault’ in the Gay Village only weeks before John-Paul himself was targeted.
“The attacks on other people go through my head more than my own,” he admits frankly.
“I think when something happens to you personally you know what you need to do to process it. But when you see it happen to someone else it’s horrifying. You feel powerless.”
But John-Paul knows that, unlike the permanent scar that now sits on the side of his face – which he jokingly refers to as his “cool pirate scar” – the trauma he’s been carrying since the night of the attack will pass.
The LGBTQ+ community is a resilient one – this wasn’t the first time John-Paul had been attacked because of his sexuality, and he’s determined to move past it.
“I’ve walked past the place where it happened since. I won’t let what happened stopping me from going wherever I want to go.
“It’s a slow process but it’s starting to get easier now. It’s not been the easiest of months but I know it’ll pass.”