CW: relationship abuse, sexual harassment and violence
I wish I could say that my identity as a young, bisexual woman and my history of violence aren’t inextricably linked. But since coming out to myself, moments of joy and pain have always come together in one rush. Holding a girl’s hand or kissing in public (even on campus) have always meant cat-calls and hurrying to get behind a locked door, being tipped money, recorded without consent, groped, propositioned for threesomes, and threatened by men who want to change my mind.
This has always been my greatest danger – men who see my queerness only as a denial of their sexual access to me.
A mistake to correct, a challenge to overcome, a fantasy to exploit.
I’ve run straight into traffic to escape a group threatening to fuck me straight, too busy scrambling off the road to be grateful that the car hadn’t been going faster when it hit me. I’ve held a crush on the cobblestoned ground of a crowded square halfway around the world, her unconscious body limp and bleeding in my hands, because campaigning for marriage equality had earned her a rock to the head and the police watching just said we were sick. I’ve been followed into a nightclub bathroom and dragged across the floor by my hair, head smashed repeatedly into a sink by a man whose attention turned from attraction (“Bisexual, huh? Hot”) to resentment (“Stupid dyke bitch”) as soon as I rejected him.
This is why I call myself queer. It is a reminder to myself that I’m still here, alive, despite the dangers of being out, let alone the harm I’ve done to myself out of shame. I’m no stranger to abuse. But I was completely unprepared for how different it would feel, how unrecognisable it would be, coming from her.
We met just as we were coming out. For three years, we held each other fast through friends and family dissolving, through the darkened atmosphere of our city post-lockouts, where the act of walking at night with deliberate distance between us felt like smashing a fist into an old wound. But we were beautiful. To finally be out and in love, to have someone who understood me, was a life I may have never lived. She was everything that 20-year-old me, bloody and screaming and begging for her life on a nightclub bathroom floor, would never have believed she deserved.
Before her, when exploring girls was all drunken and heady and deceivingly shiny, more seasoned girls warned me that things could get out of control. Everyone seemed to tell stories, almost brazenly, of running into their crazy ex-girlfriends at the only girl parties in the city, wildly jealous, blowing up their phones long after break-ups. But it was all par for the course. Just dyke drama. Girl-girl relationships are always intense.
There were many reasons why I didn’t recognise it at first. My girlfriend was (mostly successfully) managing a mental illness, it was my first relationship, I was young and in love, and honestly, I thought I was too aware to be manipulated. The word “abuse” felt too major, even when she used it to describe her own behaviour, in tears, promising to do better. It was nothing like my prior abuse by men. And most of the time, our love felt too beautiful to wear such a horrible name.
But the issues were there, in small hints, from the start. She had unwarranted bouts of paranoid jealousy, convinced I would cheat because I’m bisexual. I could not miss a call or be five minutes late. Every new friend was a threat. At times, she would scream at me in public for not doing what I was told. She viewed my accessing queer support services as an opportunity to leave her, prioritising her insecurities over my mental health. Even watching shows with queer characters was emotional cheating. My work and hobbies were selfish.
Her apologies eventually fell away. “If you’d just done what I told you, I wouldn’t have to do this. Stop crying. Shut up and take it. This is your fault.”
She never hit me, but I wasn’t safe. When I withdrew consent during sex, she wouldn’t always stop. She’d stand over me and scream until I was sobbing in a ball on my bed. She’d say I wanted men instead, that my bisexuality was disgusting. She’d demand sex as proof that I loved her, threaten harm to herself if I didn’t do what she said. I’d wake up naked after saying no, after passing out drunk, my body screaming that something happened but my mind never knowing.
It took several months, and endless patience from scared friends, for me to finally leave.
In our community, we talk a lot about abuse from family or in public – and that’s incredibly important – but we don’t talk enough about this. I know a lot of newly-out girls who stay in unhealthy relationships because they feel like this community is so small that they’ll never find anyone else. But this is never worth staying for.
I had to learn the hard way that even if she’s amazing 99% of the time, those red flags should never be ignored.
And they add up faster than you think.