Could it be possible to uncover the 'gritty realities behind the media gloss of lesbian chic'? Would it be wise to unleash the 'raw anger' directed at those who attempt to debate? Could anyone do so knowing it might place them in danger? Joelle Taylor and Tracey Chandler decided that it was worth the risk. The result is Lesbians Talk Violent Relationships.
This 64-page book stands virtually alone. The lack of literature about lesbian domestic violence can be seen as a direct consequence of a blanket refusal to address the issue. It is a huge taboo to discuss the consequences of abuse of this kind, let alone admit that it happens. Lesbians do get battered but many have been effectively silenced by the myths that surround the violence.
It happened to me. I have said nothing for the past seven years and it would be understandable if people found it hard to believe because I remained silent. I have not only hidden my history from my friends but from myself. I still find that period excruciatingly difficult to even think about. I could be accused of complicity as I created so many elaborate excuses for her behaviour. So much of the book struck deeply resonant chords within me yet other parts were remote from my experience: I sometimes feel completely detached from the ordeal.
The message that runs throughout Taylor and Chandler's book is that 'No woman deserves to be beaten.' I certainly don't believe I asked to be left bruised and confused but I was. It is of little comfort even to discover that there are other lesbians who 'experience nightmares sleep disturbance and guilt ' Legally I had not been sexually assaulted by her - I cannot name it 'rape' - but it is not that easy to 'affirm... feelings of being unjustly treated.'
I admit I have done much over the years in order to disguise and then pardon her violence but I am not alone. Lesbian-feminists have backed rapidly away from the 'deplored aspects of heterosexuality' they have mistakenly attached to violent relationships. There has been an 'unproductive outlawing of SM dykes' because of the 'so-called power inequalities' that mimic heterosexual practice. Butch and femme patterns of behaviour have been 'branded as more likely to include... abusive violence.' Black dykes are quoted as saying they are 'often reluctant' to 'address any issue that could divide' them, and white dykes feel they cannot report abuse from black partners for 'fear of being labelled racist.' Alcohol and drug use are often cited as the catalyst.
In a way it was lucky that I decided against disclosure as resources are few and far between for battered lesbians. There are 275 refuges for battered women in the United Kingdom. Last year alone 45,000 women and children passed through refuge doors. In addition 65,000 called the Women's Aid Helpline. A WAFE (Women's Aid Federation England) spokeswomen I contacted said that a 'proportion' of the 100,000 who are battered by their partners (whether in long-term relationships or not) are lesbians. This is anecdotal evidence, but it cannot be ignored. There are however no lesbian-only refuges, although safe houses have an 'open door' policy which means that anti-lesbian behaviour is not encouraged. Lesbians are very active within Women's Aid but the organisation does not collate figures on the sexuality of women using the service.
The issue of lesbian domestic violence must be addressed. The lesbian community has to recognise that lesbians are battered, abused, beaten, bruised, damaged, ill-treated and injured both physically and psychologically. The community has a long history of burying its collective head and denying that lesbian violence is anything more than a fraught punch-up in the pub or a result of a butch-femme or SM relationship gone awry.
Recognising that some lesbians are violently inclined is the first step. This article or this book alone will never be enough. It does not matter what motive they claim or which method they use: women are perfectly capable of dislocating a shoulder or shattering a leg bone and I know they are. They can twist a mind as easily as they can a little finger. The abuse can be systematic and can be adequately concealed.
Until the lesbian community can face up to the fact of lesbian violence, those who are being battered cannot get help. The police may still raise their eyebrows when an attack is reported. Doctors and nurses will continue to be frustrated by the the fear that binds the victims.
It would be an impossible task to stop the battering and it is absurd to believe that any woman can simply forget. The hardest part of all is getting women to tell someone - anyone - else. I was favoured. The woman who snapped my fingers back, kicked me down stairs and blackened my eyes was jailed for other offences. I had no-one to tell, no place to shelter and no books to read.
I believe that Lesbians Talk Violent Relationships can really provide hope for those still encountering brutality and cruelty and it renders a stark message to the rest: you cannot ignore the facts.
© Megan Radclyffe 1995 Edited and Publ. Time Out 1995
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