I was 18 and in my first lesbian relationship when I wrote that sentence. It is taken from an old diary I used to keep and is part of a description, or rather, a justification to myself as to why I couldn’t tell anyone about what was going on for me at that time. What was going on was that for the past year, I had been subjected to regular verbal and occasional physical abuse, at the hands of my partner.
I don’t know if it is the same for everyone but I was desperately embarrassed by the whole affair. I couldn’t believe that I was allowing it to happen, but something about it just seemed so ludicrous. I told myself that my girlfriend wasn’t abusing me, she was just a little bit too hands on, or overzealous, or quick to temper. Just a little bit hot headed, she wasn’t abusive. It wasn’t the same as a man behaving in the exact same way towards a woman.
I was also terrified. For several reasons. The most obvious one was that I was afraid of her, but there were also other less obvious reasons. I didn’t want people to think that this was what being gay was. I felt, at 18, like a representative for all lesbians of my generation. How could I let them down by admitting to something like this? How could I let myself down by allowing it to happen in the first place?
I didn’t think anyone would take it seriously. I was stuck in the mindset that domestic abuse is when a man hits a woman, and I was convinced that my girlfriend being violent was not as bad as some poor woman’s husband beating her. I didn’t think that I, normally a possessor of brash confidence, could be falling victim to anyone, let alone my chosen partner. Isn’t that often the case though? Often people who are outwardly confident and strong are inwardly meek and mild.
It’s funny how your mind works when you’re 18. Of course now, at 30, I realise how wrong I was. Now I realise how serious my situation was.
It’s something that seems to be hidden behind a wall of shame built from a lack of knowledge and understanding. While I know this is not just the case for gay couples, it does appear to be something that isn’t taken as seriously, and happens more freely within the gay and lesbian community. It seems that people are of the opinion that it’s ok to maybe push your partner because you’re the same gender. It’s not that bad because technically you’re both as strong as one another. You can’t inflict any more damage on them than they can on you. Like siblings fighting. They’re not doing any real harm, that’s just what siblings do. Isn’t it?
Women CAN be violent too
According to international studies, it is estimated that 1 in 5 women will suffer some form of domestic abuse in their life time. There are no real statistics available about domestic abuse within same sex relationships in South Africa, but it would be safe to assume that the statistics are the same within gay couples. Despite this assumption, it is something that is just not spoken about as much, nor is it taken as seriously.
This is a crime with almost no visibility, leaving victims with very few support options, little to no outlets, and virtually no voice.
The reticence that surrounds this issue is down to several things. The LGBT community is already the target of unsavoury and unfavourable public opinion. As members of this minority, people do not want to further taint the public’s perception of gay people by bringing the ugly truth about domestic violence to the fore. This can lead to a feeling that they can’t bring their situation to the attention of any of the predominantly and stereotypically straight authorities. They don’t want to turn the community into bigger pariahs than they already are.
It can also be the case that a person may be in a relationship with an abusive partner yet still could be hiding their sexuality from family and friends. This would undoubtedly make a person feel trapped. How can they tell someone their partner is abusing them when they can’t even admit to having a partner?
It can also be due to an unwillingness to let the side down. Society seems to have the opinion that same sex relationships are unsustainable and unreliable. I know I was reluctant to strengthen this opinion by leaving my partner and telling everyone just how unsustainable my relationship actually was.
I was embarrassed, I was desperate for help that never came, and I lost myself to a woman who convinced me that the only option was silence.
Whether it’s due to societal constraints or personal ones, the fact is that the gay community aren’t talking. For a facet of society that is usually so vehement about its fights against injustice and inequality, it’s strange that, when it comes to this issue there seems to be such a disinclination to reach out, or even talk about it. With the hesitancy of most gay people to bring any adverse attention to the community I think the onus is now squarely on the media.
People in the LGBT community need to understand that their voice is valid amongst the voices of the other disenchanted and unfortunate victims of domestic abuse.
They need to know that their stories are not ridiculous or ludicrous, that they will be listened to and that they will be taken seriously. Their stories need to be given credence. They should be given the space and help that is so abundantly offered to their heterosexual counterparts.
In short, they need to feel legitimized and only a change in public perception can do that. If the existing support bodies were to include LGBT people in their rhetoric it might make people within the community feel represented.
It would also make other people realise that gay people are victims of the same things that straight people are. We are all the same, even in adversity.