It’s Easter Sunday and I’m not nestled into my partner’s chest or dreaming of chocolate covered Easter eggs.
I am pounding the streets of Toronto in the cold, searching for any place that is open at this ungodly hour. Then my emotional-eater self enters a diner and orders fried chicken and French fries although I am not hungry. I binge on it till I get nauseous.
Meanwhile, all customers in this diner avoid my eyes because I am visibly weeping as I shove food into my mouth. I have hit rock-bottom.
And that, my friends, is how it feels like to be in an abusive relationship. You love so much you want to stay but they hurt you so often you want to leave.
I had bought a ticket for her to visit me for Easter but she did not enter my apartment with gratitude. She entered yelling at me loudly, which all my housemates heard. She called me names for not being at the station when her bus arrived ahead of schedule.
I left the room in tears when the belittling got too much to bear.
The next day, she apologized but before the day was over, she was criticizing me for being fat and complaining that I wasn’t neat enough. As we cuddled to watch a movie that night, she told me she was no longer sexually attracted to me and my heart broke into a thousand pieces.
I am a human rights lawyer who has assisted several abused women to divorce their partners. I sympathized with them and held their hands as they cried but I never understood why they did not leave.
Because I loved her.
Because she had good sides that I loved.
Because she promised to do better and I trusted her.
Because I was sexually abused as a child and my self-esteem is so low.
Because at least, she didn’t hit me.
Until one day, she shoved me and seized my phone. On another day, she lashed me with my bra. Until finally, one day, I found myself searching online for a place to pass the night because I was scared she would hit me again.
It hurts me that we don’t talk much about abuse in our community.
Why are we not having conversations about how statistically, queer relationships suffer more cases of domestic violence?
Why are we not creating avenues for victims of abuse to get support?
Why are many of us tolerating abuse from women that we would never take from men?
Why are we not discussing patriarchy in our community?
My abusive ex used to tell me about how femme chicks from her country would kneel to serve their ‘boifriends’ just as women were required to do for their husbands in her culture. The dysfunction in straight relationships got rebranded in a queer cloth.
And can we please shed our assumptions that femmes are not abusive? Is it because we view them as weak? Sometimes, the one is who physically weaker abuses the one who is stronger.
As a human rights lawyer one of my clients was a gun-wielding, bulky policeman whose petite wife repeatedly assaulted him and even bashed his head with a rock till blood gushed out. He could have hurt her so much but he didn’t because he was not that kind of guy.
Same thing with my ex whom I could have flung across a room like a rag doll because she weighed half as much as I did. However, I did not lay a hand on her when she abused me because I’m not that kind of girl.
If you’re in an abusive relationship, I won’t tell you leave now because honey, everyone has told you to leave and trust me, if you wanted to leave you’d have left.
You will leave when you’re ready.
Tina Turner stayed with Ike for two decades even as he reportedly broke her nose and chased everything in a skirt. But when she was ready, she left faster than you can say ‘Proud Mary’. You will too leave too- one day when you’re ready.
In the meantime, love and be gentle with yourself. Hang out with people who love you and do activities you enjoy. Develop a social life outside your relationship. Pray, if you believe in a god. Read books and watch movies about abuse survivors. Plan secretly how to leave so that you can safely leave and never return as soon as you’re ready.
Tell someone about the abuse.
If your friend is being abused, please do not ever demand that she leaves. It is not your place to issue ultimatums. Tell her that her partner’s actions are not acceptable and that she would be better off leaving her but don’t judge or pressure her. Support her, listen to her and comfort her. Don’t be frustrated when she breaks up only to return again.
It is all part of the process.
One day, she will make the right decision. Tell her about the options she has if she leaves including staying with you if possible.
As for me, today is when I left my relationship.
It’s not even been 24 hours since I texted her to call it quits but I already feel like a new being. I know there may be lows but for now, I am cherishing the new, free me. I am taking it a step at a time and I know that one day soon, I will wake up to find that I made the journey of a thousand miles without even noticing it.
This piece forms part of the #QueeringTheCloak series which is part of a larger project exploring sexual, emotional and physical violence in queer women spaces on the continent. The project seeks to essentially ‘pull back the cloak’ on shame and silence around this violence.
For all the articles and pieces on #QueeringTheCloak click here.