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Maybe I just have particularly miserable friends, but I’m starting to think that people who have uncomplicated, happy family Christmases might be in the minority. For every person who’s told me they had a really lovely time (bear in mind that 50% of these people will be lying through their teeth), there are another two saying things like “well, I survived” or “at least it’s over with for another year.”

For me, the Christmas and New Year period means spending more time alone than I would usually. This is in complete contrast to the way my life was when I was still in an abusive relationship. My partner didn’t want me to have any time alone where I might reflect on the way I felt or the way things were between us, so she crowded me and filled up my time as much as she could. She was constantly there – at home, she made sure I was never in on my own, she undermined my confidence to the point that I never socialised without her, and when I was at work she would email and text me constantly to make sure that I had as little independence as possible. She would deliberately refuse to make plans in advance or change her mind at the last minute to ensure that I couldn’t ever know when she was going to be in or out and when I might get some time to myself.  On the very rare occasions when I got to be by myself, I would cherish the time greatly but often spend it lying around on the sofa, exhausted by all the energy I was putting into pleasing her and trying to avoid making her angry. I was also expected to be sexually available at all times, and would get accused of being frigid, selfish or secretly straight if I tried to say no to her, so even over my own body I had no privacy and never knew when I might be raped.

When I first escaped from the relationship, I suddenly found myself with as much time alone as I wanted. I could go out when I liked. I could talk to whoever I liked. The inside of my head was no longer filled with her opinions, her needs, her constant analysis of my inadequacies.

It was horrible. I had no idea what to do with myself. The support worker at Women’s Aid said: “You don’t know who you are.” I didn’t know what I enjoyed doing or what I was good at, I hadn’t been allowed hobbies or friends of my own, I didn’t know what sort of person I was or what my personality traits were. All of these things had been defined for me and decided for me and now the whole framework that my life had been built on was gone. On top of that, having some time to myself for the first time in years brought all my repressed feelings of worthlessness and self-disgust to the surface.

I’m still working on all these things now. Learning to like myself, to enjoy my own company, not to feel that I would be happier or more complete if I had spent the festive season with my former partner still beside me. I’m not trying to become ‘normal’ or to achieve the perfect family Christmas that doesn’t exist outside of John Lewis adverts. I’m not trying to go back to who I was before, I’m trying to go forward. Sometimes it’s scary and lonely and hard, but I’ve chosen to be alone and free rather than to stay trapped with my abuser. I trust myself to survive. I’m still not sure who I am or where I’m going, but I know what I’ve come from and I’m not going back.

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.

I’ve got a busy week coming up and not going to be able to write a full post, but I wanted to link to The Survivor’s Handbook, which I found a really useful source of information, knowledge and comfort that my experiences and feelings were shared by others – plus LBT women get 3 pages to ourselves (check out page 85)!

I’m starting this blog for women who, like me, have experienced domestic abuse in a same-sex relationship. There’s not a lot out there for us – I want women who have been or are going through an abusive relationship to feel a little less alone, and to  know that they’re not the only one.

I also want to share my experience so to try to show that there is hope. There are no portrayals of lesbian survivors in the media – we don’t even exist. And there are very few positive portrayals of any women, gay or straight, who have survived domestic or sexual violence – we’re supposed to be either helpless victims damaged for life, dead, mad or making it all up for attention. This just isn’t true, there are thousands of survivors out there, living their lives, doing the best they can to pull through – what we’ve been through will always be a part of us, but it isn’t all of who we are.

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