We Need To Talk About Abuse In Queer Relationships
We are creating very violent conditions in queer spaces if we do not start being more vigilant in holding abusers accountable for the harm they cause in their interpersonal relationships.
Queerness is a refutation of all things ordered, normative, and logical. At a time in our history, it operated as an epithet against gay and lesbian people. But it has now been reclaimed as a revolutionary identity — embodying transgression from the status quo and refusing to assimilate to the conventional societal standards.
Queerness is not new, but our willingness to truly represent the identity as a lived experience and navigate an antithetical society under this lens can be quite complicated. And while a lack of order and understanding can be desirable for those seeking to live fully actualized lives, this can become an issue when queer people and bodies interact with one another intimately.
Queer intimacy looks like nothing that we’re used to seeing on television or in our day to day lives. To be queer and in love is to build a new foundation for loving another human being without any context or guide. No queer relationship looks the same as another, and most folks in these relationships are making it up as they go – understanding what makes sense to them and how each partner’s lived experience will inform the dynamics of the relationship. And without a clear context for understanding these relationships, when it comes to interpersonal conflict, we tend to ignore or misconstrue signs of violence and harm.
Heteronormativity has created this perspective for us that interpersonal violence (IV) more often than not will look like a beat and battered cis woman in a monogamous relationship with a physically abusive cis man. And with the movement against interpersonal violence being generally shaped and developed by this image, most relief and support for IV victims are catered to these particular women. To this day, people are hard-pressed to understand IV looking any other way and even seem to make fun of or ignore cases where cis men are victims of abuse by cis women. So what about in queer relationships?
More often than not, we’re so focused on the violence that cis-hetero men perpetuate that we act as though other people cannot perpetuate that same type of harm. In queer communities, we seek solace and comfort with folks who do not embody that particular masc identity and pretend that perpetrators can only look a certain way. But what we observe, especially in movement spaces, is that those persons who would be the least suspecting on perpetuating harm end up doing it and being excused for it because of their identity. We fail to provide support and safety for the partner(s) that they abuse and ultimately, we become complicit in interpersonal violence within our queer spheres.
Contrary to popular belief, regardless of what societal privilege one embodies through identity politics, every one of us is capable of being abusers in our interpersonal relationships. We’re so traumatized by the harm cis hetero men inflict in our lives that when we create queer comfort spaces, we’re stuck on that and that alone. As opposed to truly adding nuance to our political framework about harm and violence that expands beyond simply identity politics, we believe that a mere condemnation of relationships and identities that mirror that of heteronormative relationships is a quick fix. We don’t deal with the harm we’ve endured, and in turn, we end up reciprocating the same types of violence onto others that we’ve so adamantly sought to eradicate. The violence is no different. Only, in this case, it may show up in more nuanced ways and in various dynamics, regardless of gender/sexual identity.
We are just as culpable as masc cis hetero abusers in perpetuating harm when we pretend that violence cannot show up in particular ways in queer relationships or if we ignore victims of abuse in these situations. We are then creating a new culture that now coddles and enables a plethora of various types of abusers as opposed to being able to single out one particular group of folks. We must understand that regardless of what marginalized identity one embodies, abuse is abuse.
To weaponize your many marginalized identities against your partner(s) to absolve yourself of any harm done on your part is abuse.
Laying hands on any person is abuse.
Belittling and diminishing your partner(s) as a way to manipulate them is abuse.
Engaging in any sexual acts with your partner(s) without enthusiastic consent is abuse.
The list goes on.
We are creating very violent conditions in queer spaces if we do not start being more vigilant in holding abusers accountable for the harm they cause in their interpersonal relationships. Yes, femmes can be abusers of masc folks. Yes, femmes can be abusers of other femmes. Yes, disabled and non-disabled persons can both be as equally abusive. Yes, young people can be abusive towards older people. We have to realize that in queering up gender, sex, and relationships, we’re also queering up what abuse can look like.
We must never ignore the fact that while we are embodying queer identities, we are still human beings and all of us are capable of abuse. All of us have hurt people in our lives. Even the people with social capital/ the leaders in our movement. There need to be systems set up that allow us to deepen our understanding of human relationship to violence and harm and ways to address it that doesn’t absolve anyone from being perpetrators.