Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Domestic Abuse and resources for GBLTQ people in the UK

This was a post I meant to write a while ago. Firstly there was a day (or week or month, I rarely keep track of days dedicated to various things because I have a mixed feelings about). Then there was a study saying that domestic violence rates among bisexual women and gay men were higher than average and I meant to write it then. Then we worked on putting together helpful information for GBLTQ people who need help dealing with domestic violence and rape – but had nothing left to turn what we did into a post.

Ultimately, like a lot of the more difficult or personal posts (and the Bad News lists, yes, I know it’s been a long time since I wrote one. I have the links and keep updating the post but the longer I delay the more there is to write and the harder it comes to actually write it – yay circle of nastiness) it became a post that would be written in odd paragraphs here and there in between many little moments until it was slowly cobbled together. In the end, it was a lot shorter than I imagined and it’s still heavily redacted. Maybe some day.

Everyone’s path through domestic abuse is different and after many attempts at writing this, erasing it and writing again, I’m left with saying only my experience without extrapolating on anyone else because that way is fraught and has angry venomous koalas lurking within.

I'm putting the rest of this under a cut (damn you html, why do you hate meeeee?!) but I have avoided detailed or graphic description simply because I'm not comfortable with doing so myself.

For me, the foundation for abusive relationships was built by homophobia from family, school and “friends” that left me with very little self-worth. I hated who I was, I hated being gay and I knew that happiness just wasn’t on the cards for me. I knew that there were very few gay men out there – so I’d be amazingly lucky if I managed to find one. I knew that gay men didn’t love. I knew gay men weren’t affectionate. I knew gay men were predatory and rough and dangerous.

I “knew” a whole lot of bullshit.

I could be “bought” with a simple gesture of affection. It’d last me weeks. I didn’t even have to remotely like the guy, the fact he liked me and was willing to fake love was enough for my low expectations. If the guy hurt me, well, that was standard right? That’s what gay relationships are like! And he could be nice which made him better than most, right? If the guy decided we were going to have sex and I didn’t want to and he forced the issue – well we’re gay! We’re supposed to always want sex. I must be doing it wrong. If he wanted sex I didn’t like, that was painful or unpleasant to me – well what did I expect? Gay sex isn’t going to be pleasant!

And, of course, if I left him, then what? Alone? Just one-night stands? I mean aren’t all gay men going to be just the same?

Yeaaaaah, a whole load of bullshit. It took a while to unlearn that shit, all the while pasting a smile on my face and chanting “I’m happy, this is good, I’m happy, this is good.”

I did unlearn it, though, and ran for the proverbial hills. No it wasn’t that simple – it was damn hard not just personally, but also to find any help at all. I wish I had known then what I know now – and I wish the resources that are available now were available then.

Actually getting help is hard for any domestic abuse victim and it’s doubly hard for people who are GBLTQ because there aren’t many resources. And it can be hard to figure that out, a lot of the helplines are often very generically labelled as providing help, resources and advice for domestic abuse victims without specifying “only for straight, cis people” or, and in some cases they’ll say they can help and then be woefully ignorant of what issues GBLTQ people face specifically and either downplay the obstacles or inflate the resources available.

The best resource I’ve found since those days is Broken Rainbow and their helpline: 0300 999 5428. It’s not 24 hours but it’s the best and really only line we have. They can help.

They can give you advice on what plans to make and how to proceed according to your situation and they are the best able to help you navigate the prejudice in the systems that are meant to protect you and keep your abuser away from you.

As a GBLTQ victim of domestic violence, one thing we don’t have are any kind of shelters. I’ve looked high and low – there’s one I found. In London. It has less than 30 beds. If you’re a BLQ woman you may be able to seek help from shelters but you might want to research them before you enter.

There are alternatives to shelters though, assuming you want to leave. You can apply to your Local Council (which should have a website) as a homeless person and they should take your being a victim of domestic violence into account for housing you. The domestic violence laws in this country can be used to protect any victim. The government funded schemes – like the Sanctuary Scheme – are open to GBLTQ people as much as straight, cis people and you can demand all the legal protections against harassment, demanding access to your home and keeping them out as straight people can. There’s also some good resources (albeit somewhat shaky the further away from London you get) and a helpline at Stonewall Housing, which also offers advice specifically for domestic violence victims.

Of course, we have all these rights, technically, but we all know that rights on paper doesn’t translate into those rights being enforced and respected. This is why, again, it’s important to have these helplines – and contact your local GBLTQ organisations. We know the police doesn’t always take us seriously (or care) and we know that Local Councils aren’t exactly falling over themselves to help – but these organisations and local GBLTQ orgs can give you a lot of advice, who to talk to, what your rights are, what you can demand, when someone’s lying to you – and often can give your details of sympathetic legal firms or even just someone who will go with you to the police, council or whoever. I can’t stress how helpful that can be – just having someone with you, who understands, who you know will take your situation seriously, makes a world of difference.

Getting out, getting help, getting safe is hellaciously difficult to do alone. But you do not have to – there are resources out there and there are resources specifically for GBLTQ people – they’re not nearly as well known but they’re there and they can help.

And if you do think your relationship is “normal” then go check. If you do have low expectations about what you can have or if you are tolerating behaviour you hate because you think you have to – go to their website, go to Broken Rainbows. Go to your local GBLTQ website. Go to your local GBLTQ community, reach out to other GBLTQ people in person, online, through blogs – go look for us, for our community; go look for what other relationships look like and how many of us live.

I didn’t think I was in an abusive relationship either. I thought all gay men lived the same way and I didn’t learn differently until I saw, spoke to and read about more gay men. It’s nearly impossible when in an abusive relationship to recognise it as abusive – if it weren’t, abusers wouldn’t get away with it so early. You need to check your relationship and examine it unflinchingly – not just if you think you’re being abused, but also if you’re so so sure that you’re not.

This post is even more incoherent than I imagined. Maybe I’ll tidy it up some time. Or split it into 2, since the personal morphed into a PSA somewhere along the way. I’m tempted not to post it until it is cleaner but it’s been hanging over me too damn long and I want to get it out there and stop it gnawing at my brain.