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)!

Dear Dr Evans,

A few years ago, I was in a relationship with a rapist. Unfortunately, I didn’t even realise she was a rapist. I had to be instantly available to be penetrated and to service her whenever and however she wanted. She referred to this as ‘sex’. I had never come across any information that contradicted this. All the films, magazines, songs and porn I had grown up with had taught me that sex was something men did to women. That women loved the fact that they were available to be fucked at any time and that their pleasure came from knowing that they were pleasing their man. My partner was not a man, but I understood that she was the dominant and I the submissive partner in our relationship. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t enjoy being a hole to be penetrated on demand, when I had been brought up to know that as a woman this was what I loved most. I felt guilty; I was not pleasing her, I was not enjoying this thing called ‘sex’ that everyone else seemed to love.

After years of shame and humiliation, I built up the courage the come to you about my dirty secret, my failure. You were the first person I had spoken to. I told you that my partner couldn’t penetrate me, that she was unhappy, that I didn’t know what was wrong with me. You couldn’t examine me because I reacted with so much pain to being touched anywhere near my genitals.

You asked if I had been sexually abused as a child; I said no. You said that penetration isn’t the only way to have sex and asked if my partner and I did other things sexually; I said yes, because she used to rape me orally as well. Then, you told me to go to Waterstones and look for a book on lesbian sex, and prescribed me vaginal numbing cream.

How dare you. How dare you reinforce to me that I did indeed have a duty to allow my partner to penetrate me whether or not I was aroused, whether or not I wanted it. How dare you reinforce to me that it was all my fault, my problem. How dare you ignore me when my body, conditioned by years of abuse, couldn’t bear to be touched and tried to tell you what I couldn’t.

Just so you know, the cream worked really well. It was a lot less effort for her to rape me after that, she was very appreciative. I was shamed into silence and it was years before I spoke to anyone about it again.

I’m not angry with you. I think you’re a good person and you wanted to help me, but I do think you need to know that domestic and sexual abuse can happen in gay relationships too. You really missed an opportunity with me – you could have been the first person to talk to me properly about sex and relationships. Maybe next time a woman in my situation comes into your surgery in my situation, you will treat them differently. I really hope so. Please do not ever prescribe vaginal numbing cream to an abused woman ever again.

 

With best wishes,

 

Violet

Survivors are really good at minimising the abuse we’ve experienced. We don’t talk to our family or friends about the abuse for a lot of reasons, but one is because we don’t want to bother them. We don’t use helplines, refuges and support groups because we don’t want to take up their precious time when they could be helping a ‘real’ survivor. When we do use the support services we need, we have ‘imposter syndrome’ and worry that they’re going to be cross when they realise we aren’t a serious-enough case to deserve their support.

Most survivors could come up with at least 10 different endings to the sentence “My abuse wasn’t as serious because….”

“… it was only emotional abuse”

“…she didn’t actually hit me, just pushed around a few times and tried to strangle me once”

“…the relationship only lasted 6 months, some women are abused for years”

“…she only raped me a few times, it’s not like it was every night”

“…abuse from another woman isn’t as serious”

“…I have a good job so I could have afforded to leave”

“… she only made me have oral sex so it’s not like it was real rape”

Who is this fictional ‘real victim’ we’re all comparing ourselves to? The woman who was viciously beaten and raped every single day for 50 years by her 7-foot husband in front of their children? The one who deserves all the support and compassion and help? I don’t think we need to go out and find her. We already know what she’ll say: “My abuse wasn’t as serious, because…”

This is another example of how we internalise abuser bullshit. Look at all the quotes above – they’re straight out of an abuser’s mouth. “It’s not like I hit you or anything.” “You’re lucky, a man would never settle for just oral sex*.” “It was just a little shove.” “It’s not like I’m expecting sex* every single night, but you haven’t given me any for a month now and I’m sick of waiting.”

It’s time to stop listening to the abuser’s voice inside our own heads. Lets listen instead to our own feelings. Are we hurt? Do we feel unhappy, alone, used? Does the abuse feel serious? Do we need someone to talk to? No-one else, especially not our abuser, gets to tell us whether or not our feelings are valid or important. Each of us is a unique individual with a different experience, a different story, a different way of coping with what we’ve been through. None of these should be minimised or dismissed and none are more or less important. We are all important. We deserve to have our voices listened to, our needs met, we deserve to feel happy and loved and we don’t have to justify that – not even to ourselves.

 

*Rape of course gets redefined by the abuser as ‘sex’ to make it seem normal

When I first came out of my abusive relationship I was full of self-blame, taking all the responsibility on myself and giving none to my abuser. If what had been happening was sexual abuse, how come I didn’t say no? Did that mean I wanted it? Was there something about me that needed to be dominated and kept under control?

The way we understand ‘saying no’ just doesn’t work with sexual violence. When someone has more power than you, either physically or through emotional or financial manipulation, looking her in the eye and saying “No” is a complete waste of time. She will ignore it, or respect it at the time and then be angry with you the next day for being ‘frigid’, or demand that you have sex with her a few days later in a way that’s even more painful and humiliating in order to teach you that you shouldn’t have said ‘no’ in the first place.

Looking back, I can see that actually I said ‘no’ to her all the time. She just chose to ignore or dismiss all the different ways I told her that I was not enjoying what she was doing to me. Here’s just a few of the things I did and said that mean no:

  • Washing straight after sex means no
  • Avoiding sex means no
  • Moving her hand away when she tries to grope me means no
  • looking unhappy during sex means no
  • never initiating sex means no
  • “I’m tired” means no
  • “I’m busy” means no
  • “Hurry up and get in over with” means no
  • avoiding eye contact all the way through means no

We can be a lot less forgiving of ourselves than we are of our abuser. If my girlfriend leapt off the bed without making eye contact and went off to the bathroom to wash the minute we’d finished having sex, I would be really worried. I’d want to talk to her, to know if I’d done something wrong. My abuser just ranted at me: “I don’t like it when you go and wash your hands, it’s as if you don’t enjoy it. You do enjoy it, DON’T YOU?”

We have to stop blaming ourselves and buying into their excuses and hold them to the same basic moral standards we hold ourselves to. If you place your hand on your girlfriend’s arse and she gently moves it away, would you (a) get the message (b) keep molesting her until she gives in while ranting endlessly about what a frigid selfish bitch she is? If you answered (a), Congratulations! You are not a rapist. We would never dream of doing option (b) to our partner, so she had no right whatsoever to do it to us.

When we are in relationships with so little control, so little self-esteem, so little independence, still we find tiny little ways to resist. Always somewhere some little part of us kept saying no, kept resisting, even when it could only do that in the tiniest most secret ways. Whatever abuse we’ve been through, there is something strong inside all of us that our abuser could never destroy, and that is what gives us hope and makes us survivors.

I thought I saw my former abuser  in the street yesterday.

I was so terrified, I didn’t even dare to look back again to see whether it was her or not. When I finally did, I realised that  it wasn’t her at all,  just another woman who looked a bit like her. At home that evening, I found myself having to keep checking and checking that all the doors and windows were properly locked and bolted.

For weeks after I escaped from her, I found it impossible to sleep. Every little noise in the night made me think that she was there, or that she was outside breaking in. I kept having to get out of bed to check that the front door was locked. When I did get to sleep, I would have vivid and realistic nightmares about her breaking in and raping me.

It upsets me that thinking I’d caught sight of her made me so frightened. I thought that if I ever saw her again I would stay calm and ignore her with quiet dignity, but it looks like I have further to go in overcoming my fear than I thought. In the meantime, if I can’t lose my fear of her then I’m at least going to try to manage it – plan in advance what I will do or say if I do come across her in the street, at a party or in the pub, think up some excuses that I can make if I need to get out of a social situation. And get a bloody great big bolt fitted on the front door.

It took me a long time to realise that I was in an abusive relationship.

I thought I knew what domestic abuse was – a 6-foot thug beating his poor defenceless wife every night while the children cowered in the corner. I felt a lot of sympathy for the women involved but didn’t think their experiences had anything to do with me or my life.

I didn’t know that domestic abuse could be sexual, emotional or financial as well as physical.

I didn’t know that it could happen in lesbian relationships.

I didn’t know it was happening to me.

It was the first relationship I’d been in with another woman. Abusers will often (but not always) target women who’ve never had a serious relationship before, or who have only ever been in straight relationships. It means that she can take advantage of our lack of experience and knowledge about what being in a lesbian relationship is like. She can present her behaviour as normal and acceptable – “this is what gay relationships are like”, “all lesbians have sex this way”, “all the women I’ve been with have loved doing this, I don’t know what’s wrong with you”… and of course “we don’t need to spend any time with other gay people now that we’ve got each other”, “the scene is really predatory, you wouldn’t like it” to make sure we stay away from other same-sex couples who might give us any information that contradicts what she’s telling us.

So the first lesson I was taught was “everything that happens in this relationship and everything about this relationship is normal. If there’s anything you don’t like or that makes you uncomfortable, that means you have a problem.”

From there, over time she made me feel that everything that happened in the relationship was my responsibility, and anything that went wrong was my fault. It worked just great for her – verbal abuse? Angry rage? My fault for provoking her. Making me have sex when I didn’t want to? My fault for not caring enough about her sexual needs. It got to the point where she actually blamed me for the weather – when it rained on our seaside holiday that was somehow my fault! – and I believed her.

There were so many other steps I had to go through before I could name my relationship as abusive. Realising that I wasn’t to blame for everything that went wrong, when the woman I loved most was telling me that I was. Realising that if something made me feel hurt, then I needed to listen to those feelings, not ignore them or view them as weak, when the woman I loved most was telling me that my feelings were unimportant. Realising that my partner chose to yell at me, chose to insult me and swear at me, chose to sexually assault me, when the woman I loved most was telling me that she had no choice and that I provoked her anger and her sexual violence.

I couldn’t begin to seek support until I realised that I was experiencing domestic abuse. But before I could realise that I was experiencing domestic abuse, I needed support. The more we talk about domestic abuse, the more we get it onto blogs and on facebook and in magazines and on TV and in books and in conversations and in posters in cafes and on buses… the more we talk about it, the more women will get the chance to have that revelation.

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 5 other followers