Toronto
3 min

Protective instincts

I have definitely been lucky in my life, no question about that. Against the odds I have not been raped, attacked, seriously gaybashed, never been in a car accident, had a yeast infection or broken a bone.

When I was a teenager I thought that only pretty girls got raped. Somehow I feel my ignorance has saved me thus far; I was rarely afraid of men growing up — hardly noticed them actually — and I loved women with abandon, with no reservations and no repercussions.

My luck, and my misfortune, has skewed my view of the world, my belief in people, and has dictated what I wish for my friends, my family, my partner, my child. I wish, not so secretly, that all the women and girls I love were queer. I feel that my queerness grants me some degree of protection from intimate abuse, and a unique sense of power and freedom that is much less possible for straight women.

I have never been a strong believer in statistics. I got it in my head at some point (probably in first-year Women’s Studies) that statistics are almost always misleading, skewed and incomplete. A search of same-sex or “lesbian” domestic violence turns up all kinds of statistics. On its website the Seattle-based Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse states, “Studies show that as many as a third of lesbians have been victims of sexual assault or coercion at the hands of another woman.” The website Aardvarc.org (“an Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection”) claims that “the rate of domestic violence in same-gender relationships is roughly the same as domestic violence against heterosexual women.” The idea amazes me.

My 19-year-old cousin has fallen for a spineless jerk of a boy who wants to keep their relationship a secret from his friends because, as he put it, “You know, you just have this vision of who you want to be with” and apparently she isn’t it because she isn’t skinny enough. It makes me want to throw up.

She is a chapter book of stories like that — abandonment at parties, pressure to have sex, cheating, gross disrespect. Sometimes she’ll say, “Whatever, he’s just a guy right?” dismissing and at the same time excusing his behavior, setting a standard so low that the next time a guy offers to pick her up instead of meeting her at the bus stop she is floored, thoroughly impressed and ready to forgive the inevitable poor treatment that always seems to follow, even from “the good guys.”

I want her to get with a girl, if only once, just to get a taste of the safety of physical parallel, shared experience, shared power. But that is just how being with women has been for me. There is no guarantee it will be like that for her, is there?

A woman I care a lot about has just fled with half her family from an abusive father. It makes me livid to consider the betrayal of trust, the abuse of power, the repeating patterns that pick on the same vulnerable people over and over again, chasing them from house to house, continent to continent. At least life could spread the abuse around so that everyone had to deal with just a little bit.

I come home at night and hold my daughter after spending an evening in my office above the women’s hostel. I lock eyes with Gracie and I wish her away from all those awful men I hear about, admittedly wish her away from men in general. I feel guilty about that but I also feel justified on so many days, after so many newscasts, so many women in the shelter, so many women undone.

Most parents I know would rather their children were straight — socially acceptable, status quo. I would rather my children were safe, and I feel like their odds in 2008 are so much better loving, and being loved by, women. My parents worried about my safety as a queer woman. They thought everyone would judge me, discriminate against me, spit at me, refuse to hire me, shove me around in the subway. I know now of course that there are lots of safe spaces for me and that there will be even more of them 20 years from now.

It might come down to how we define safety. For me it is physical and emotional safety versus social safety. For me right now safety is not in the statistics but in my actual experience of the world, coupled with my observation of that same world. I know and see more men who do not successfully control their tempers. I know and see more men who are dismissive and disrespectful of women. I know and see more men abusing power and abusing people. I’m not saying abuse doesn’t happen among women (I know it does) but I cannot believe that it happens as often as it does in straight relationships.

Give me the woman in the dark alley any day. I want my daughter to be queer. God help the boys that come into her life, and ours, if she isn’t.