Can we please start to talk about domestic violence in queer relationships?
It happens within our LGBTIAQ community and we can’t be silent anymore. I can’t be silent anymore.
I’m a gender and LGBTIAQ activist, and I’m a victim of domestic violence. Those words have taken me a good few months to piece together. Not quite as long as it took me to leave an abusive relationship.
I’m not yet comfortable to own the word ‘survivor’, every day is still a battle, and my ex-partner has not yet left me alone.
It started with controlling behaviour and mood swings. The emotional abuse was the most consistent, I remember being dropped off at an airport in 2012, on my way to a feminist conference and being told that I had no opinions or points of view to speak from. And then needing to board a plane to attend said conference where I needed to share my viewpoints on key gender matters and to have opinions. I spent those days a broken person trying to piece myself together and to partake in conversations more important than me.
I got home to accusations of cheating and it really gained momentum then. We were not even 5 months into our relationship.
There were times shortly after when I would break up with her and she would stalk me. Or we would take a break, and not a day had passed before she was at my door at 2am in the morning ringing the doorbell. Refusing to leave. And she could not understand why I was calling the security company. She would be at my office the next day to speak to me. It happened time and time again. No space was safe for me.
She didn’t understand boundaries or respect them. I remember the first time she hit me. I had asked her to leave my place because I needed to work on some writing and she refused to leave. I kept asking her to leave, I walked her outside and tried to close my door. She came storming through the door and threw me against the kitchen cupboard. It was the most terrifying thing to happen to me. To be hit by someone. I can barely stand to have someone raise their voice at me.
From there it just got worse. She made an attempt on my life in 2013. She drove her car at me because I had asked her to pull over during another one of her shouting monologues at me, I got out the car and started walking home. She drove around the block and ramped her car up onto the pavement and drove straight at me. I had a panic attack. She pushed me into her car. And drove recklessly home. I remember saying “Please don’t kill me. Think about my family”. I remember her saying “It doesn’t matter whether I kill you or not. You don’t matter”.
It took me a year almost to the day before I was brave enough to leave her. Every time I see a car that looks like hers I freeze. It will always haunt me.
I had to get to the point where I didn’t want to live anymore before I was able to walk out on her. I had been offered an international job and had taken it, but then she applied for work in the same country, the same city, and within a kilometre of my office. I had asked her not to join me, she said she would go wherever she wanted to go.
The next week I packed my things up and moved into a friend’s place while she was out of town for business. I decided not to take the international job and to move to Cape Town instead. I found out recently that she had moved here too.
I got an email from her today asking if I was ready to meet with her and talk. I froze. I spent an hour crying. It doesn’t feel like it is ever going to end. I recognise that I am through the worst of it and that now I am in a kind of maintenance space where I need to manage my personal safety.
I can’t recall what made me stay for so long, it feels like it was an even split between shame and guilt.
I was ashamed to let anyone know what I was going through, I was someone who had formed a student group at university to raise awareness and do advocacy work around gender-based violence; I was on a committee that provided support to rape survivors; I had represented South Africa at international youth events; I had written a Master’s thesis on rape reporting and the media. How could I face my friends, my family and society and ask for help?
I felt guilty because I believed that my partner didn’t know what she was doing. That she was really a good person and that all the good outweighed what she was doing. That it was my fault, yes I heard myself say all the things that I had heard domestic violence victims say to me before “S/he doesn’t mean it. S/he is a really good person. But s/he loves me, it must be my fault”. I also felt guilty as a queer person that in saying something was wrong, in admitting what was happening to me that I would do harm to the LGBTIAQ community.
And that is a reality. How does one say “I’m a queer person, I’m in an abusive relationship, please help me”? How can those words be formulated and heard when we as a community barely speak about the violence that happens within our community. How do we offer support if we cannot speak about the things that harm us?
In reality the shame and the guilt did not matter as much as my life did, as much as my sanity. A great deal of that shame was my own anxiety and fear about what people would say knowing who I was, knowing my politics, knowing the work I had done.
But when I did speak up and reach out, I received nothing but support and love. The two years of systemic isolation had led me to believe that no one would be there waiting for me on the other side, that I would be alone.
We need to create safe spaces for those members of our community who are facing violence from their intimate partners. Safe spaces where it is okay to say “I’m a queer person and my partner hit me”. We live in a society where we are made invisible, where our struggles are not deemed as significant as those of normative society. We cannot be complicit in the pain of members of our community by not making room for the difficult conversations.
For all the articles and pieces on #QueeringTheCloak (our series on abuse and violence in queer women communities) click here.