I was listening to Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? on Radio 4 this morning, which is based on a new book by Jeanette Winterson. I really enjoyed it and am always pleased when anything about lesbian and gay people’s lives makes it into the mainstream media, but it also made me think about the way our life experiences, particularly of relationships, get represented on TV, the radio and in books and magazines.

Everything I’ve ever read (Sarah Waters novels, Toast by Nigel Slater etc) seems to have the same basic narrative – an unhappy child who feels they don’t fit in in some way, then as a teenager they fall in love with someone of the same sex and suddenly everything makes sense, they are rejected by family/friends/the church, run away to the big city, find other gay people and live happily ever after. I know that this is the experience of an awful lot of people but I’m also really aware of the stories that AREN’T getting told, and what it means for those of us who have never had that beautiful moment of first love to never have our lives reflected in the stories we hear about the experiences of young gay and lesbian people.

It is in our first same-sex relationship that domestic abuse is most likely to take place. This is because there is very little accurate and positive information or roles models of what a gay relationship and gay sex is supposed to be like and so abusers are able to take advantage of this to make abuse seem normal. This means that for a lot of lesbian, gay and bi people, their first ever relationship with another woman/man was not a wonderful moment of youthful passion, self-realisation and finally feeling ‘at home’ but a thing of confusion, humiliation, shame and despair.

I understand why these stories aren’t being told. We all feel pressure to put out positive propaganda to straight people, to make sure we don’t reinforce any negative stereotypes or give homophobic people any ammunition to use against us. We have to show how great, how well-adjusted, how NORMAL lesbian and gay people are and never portray ourselves or other LGBT people in a bad light.

But I think we need to stop doing this. We can’t allow fear of homophobia to stop us talking amongst ourselves or in the wider public sphere about how sometimes, just like straight relationships, same-sex relationships aren’t happy rose-beds of equality and loveliness. Sometimes, just like straight relationships, they can even involve violence, rape and emotional abuse.  Perpetuating the myth that domestic abuse doesn’t happen in the LGBT community helps no-one but abusers. By keeping quiet and putting on a front, we are hurting and silencing survivors. It’s time we started talking about domestic abuse.

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