I had spoken in a previous post about my realisation of what rape was. How I learned about it from the reading about the experiences of women, horrible harmful experiences that resonated with the scars inside me. How I learned about rape from books and the stories of women who had violence forced upon them.
But I learned what it was, and with that realisation learned that I had never been taught that my body was not mine. But now I know what it is and my no’s come from deep within me.
Fast forward to 2015, 31, older, wiser, I now know what rape is and I know that I can and should say no. I do say no in many moments and my no travels from the deepest, most scared parts of my body to my mouth and my arms. I learn to push people away. I know to be firm and clear. I manage to evade rape. But one day, ten years later, the script replays itself. I had a lover, whom I saw and slept with on the odd occasion. In this sex-positiveand confident sexuality and expression that I now embodied, I am attracted to and to sleep with other women. I have a fling. Casual sex, with a hot woman. Beautiful, intelligent, feminist and conscious.
She gets it. She understands what black women survive all the time. She understands violence, and she’d never act out violence against another person, let alone a woman.
Things change in my life and I decide that I don’t want to have casual sex with this woman anymore. One day over lunch, I say this to her. We’d had sex about a week or so ago. I said it as firmly and as gently as possible. I was feeling confident. She is a woman, she is a feminist. She tells queer stories of abuse and assault, she would understand. She didn’t. She asked why. She kept pressing for a good reason why her and I couldn’t continue our casual coitus.
I said I didn’t want to.
‘But you’re not monogamous‘, she pressed on, ‘you can have many lovers, why can’t I be one of them?’
I didn’t expect this much resistance, so I had no answers. All I could say was that I no longer wanted to sleep with her, and somehow, I’d hoped, that would be reason enough. At some point in the evening, my now ex-lover, drunk and brave, had me pinned down on a couch and was trying to take my pants off. She’d been prodding all afternoon, and I’d been saying no. In this moment, I didn’t think my no’s could be confused for anything else. I didn’t understand how my no’s went unheard. My no’s were once again whispered, my protest physical, my resistance silent. Why? Because she was a woman? Because some meters away, in another room, a mutual friend was asleep and I didn’t want to wake her. I didn’t want to bring this moment to her attention. Because this ex-lover that refused to hear my many no’s was her friend too. Would she believe me? Who would believe me? Would anyone believe me if I told them that another woman, another queer, black, beautiful, conscious woman, was having a hard time taking no for an answer and was in all ways and intentions, attempting to sexually assault me?
After what felt like the longest time, she suddenly stopped, apologised for the way she was behaving and got up and left. I lay there, shaken and quiet. And called another friend. I told her what had just happened, and my friend said nothing. She didn’t know what to say. I don’t know if I would know what to say in that moment. So we sat in silence together, countries apart, shocked, more than anything else. The next day, the woman that had assaulted me knocked on our mutual friend’s door and said she was sorry for her behaviour the previous night. She replaced a bottle of wine that she had drank, and we shared a quick, awkward hug.
‘Are we cool? ‘
‘Yeah, we are,’ I lied.
We were not cool. We were never going to be cool again. I tried to make time for a conversation later the same day, but I was still so confused. What had happened last night? It was a whole afternoon of hanging out, and talking and drinking and talking, but with me saying over and over again, politely, gently, in a way that wouldn’t offend, that we couldn’t be lovers anymore. I chickened out of meeting with her because I was scared. I was scared like I had been during the ‘first-year boyfriend’ situation, she would find a way to prove to me that I provoked her behaviour in one way or another. And I didn’t want to hear that. I couldn’t stand to hear that twice in one lifetime, that I’d set a precedent for sexual assault that I wasn’t trying to take responsibility for.
The anger from this moment was slow to dawn, but when the realisation of what happened hit me, in the middle of last year, I was livid. I was mad. It took me 6 months to process this pain. I was first upset that I was the one trying to create a space to talk about this incident and she was not. I wonder still whether she knows what she did. And whether she’s thought to apologise. I wanted to tell everyone what she had done. At the very least all our mutual friends needed to know.
I was so sad, and so heartbroken when both these friends, from different cultures, different contexts, different parts of the world, said ‘don’t’.
They told me not to expose her. That my outing of this woman wouldn’t change anything for me, and I would be seen to be seeking some twisted kind of justice. That it would destroy her instead. And her destruction was somehow in this moment more devastating than my (idea of) justice. Whatever form I thought my justice took. I fought with these friends. I told them that if she were a man, doing what she did, there would be no mercy. They would not have two thoughts about speaking out against this kind of violation.
For some reason I have carried this violation around more and longer than I have my other two encounters. Maybe because I didn’t expect this from a woman. There’s an expected safety in homosexuality, that as a woman you are even matched with a woman, more so if this woman claims herself as feminist and had proof of her work and passion as an activist against violence. I want to say I didn’t see it coming, but I spent nearly 6 hours with her and the conversation didn’t get easier. If she were a man I’d have left. Was I hoping that she would come around? Did my sticking around lead her on? I have moments of anger at myself-for not screaming and shouting and making all the noise I would have if she were a man.
We form close knit communities…everyone is someone’s ex.
As people who are already vilified and shunned from the more popular/visible heteronormative way of being, it’s extremely hard for queer/lesbian or GNC people to speak out and be heard when we experience violence in intimate partnerships. And this is for many reasons. We form close knit communities, and the rejection or vilification of one is the isolation of a queer woman from a space that needs queer women.
Everyone is someone’s ex. Everyone is someone’s best friend. Everyone is someone’s roommate. Everyone is someone’s someone and often, we feel we don’t have the voice or support to say J hurt me, and in a way that I need others to know that they shouldn’t let her hurt them. This silence and shame that we carry is a spillover from the experiences of women and people in heterosexual relationships. In the same way that influential people will know about perpetrators of violence, but no be able to speak their names and tell their truths. Can we warn other women about violence that we have experienced in the hands of violent women?
The assumption that there’s safety in same sex relationships needs a conversation. It needs a billboard and a tv channel and a corner shop. A space where people can come and get information and learn more about what intimate partner violence looks like in same sex situations. That, at the end of the day, your sexual orientation or gender identity doesn’t make you more or less susceptible to intimate partner violence. Nor does it make one more or less violent. Ideas that place women and people that experience IPV as victims rob us of the voice and opportunity to stand up against the enactors of this violence. Patriarchy of course privileges men and certain forms of masculinity in a way that leave majority of women, of all walks of life and journeys, vulnerable to experiencing violence. And even in a same sex relationship, these oppressive manifestations of violence exist, and therefore the conversation MUST focus on the root cause of this violence, and how in presents in all our lives.
And to women who say they love women, no still means no.
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 check out the entire series here.