We just don’t talk about intimate partner violence (IPV) enough. This seems especially true for queer and trans communities. But talking about it is exactly what the CBC/Mermaid Palace podcast “Asking for It” does. Written, directed and starring Drew Denny, a narrative and documentary filmmaker, and directed and produced by Kaitlin Prest, a podcaster and installation artist, “Asking for It” is a seven-part fictional drama that queers the conversation about IPV.
One of the difficulties in raising awareness of IPV in LGBTQ2 communities is the reluctance to represent negative aspects of our lives. There is a fear, Prest suggests, “of making us look bad.”
In terms of representation, the perception, she says, is that “we have our one shot and we don’t want to make anything that’s going to give the rest of the world ammunition.” But as more representation of queer people by queer people is created, the more hope there is for balanced, authentic representations of queer life—and that includes IPV. “And so that’s something that is exciting about what we’re doing here,” Prest says. “I think the world is ready for it.”
The statistics are dark. More than a third of all women experience IPV. The World Health Organization calls it “the most widespread but among the least reported human rights abuses.” And with the spread of COVID-19, the numbers are expected to get worse, because the most dangerous place for women is in the home. Stuck in self-isolation with abusers, intimate partner violence can increase. There is anecdotal evidence already: A domestic crisis hotline in Portland, Oregon, for example, reported that calls doubled last week after social isolation measures went into effect.
Awareness must be raised now more than ever. But how can it be done in ways that are not too dark and heavy, not too light and frothy, but that are just right? “Asking for It” uses the fairy tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” as inspiration.
The best known versions of the story today are about a golden-haired girl who enters the home of three bears while they are out for a walk. These versions centre on the child testing the bears’ breakfast, chairs and beds. The girl finds the first two of the breakfasts, chairs and beds too much this or that (hot, cold, hard, soft ) and the third “just right.”
When the bears return home, they discover her traces and eventually find her asleep in the third bear’s bed. Their shouts awaken her and she jumps out the window and runs off. As with most fairy tales, there are much darker versions—ones where the girl is eaten, set on fire or impaled upon the spire of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
In Denny and Prest’s modern-day version, the protagonist Goldie experiences a series of abusive relationships. From a young age, this Goldie identified with the fairy tale’s heroine. She’d even adopted the character’s name. Although she recognizes that many people see the fairy tale as one about a girl who “gets what she deserves,” one who is “asking for it,” for Goldie, Goldilocks is a girl who is strong enough to get what she wants by seeking it out. Rather than accepting relationships that are too suffocating or too dangerous, Goldie’s tale is about discovering if she can ask for the help she needs and find a life that is “just right” for her.
Goldie is more than just a flat fairy tale heroine with bouncy hair. She experiences joy, laughter, good friendships, good sex, the rising and falling fortunes of her band Hips (also the name of Denny’s real-life band), in addition to the more harrowing aspects of her life. Her abusers aren’t merely one-dimensional monsters, either. In an attempt to make the characters as authentic and real as possible, “Asking for It” shifts briefly in one episode to the perpetrator’s perspective.
Allowing an abusive character to speak for herself, says Prest, allows audiences “to empathize with a character but not let them off the hook.” The episode tries to “walk that really nuanced line of feeling for a character, maybe even seeing yourself in a character, but being able to identify where they cross over into behaviour that is categorically not okay,” Prest says.
Recognition is key. “Right from the beginning,” Denny says, “Kaitlin and I [both wanted] to try to speak from the abuser’s perspective at some point. Not to justify, not to excuse, not in any way to diminish the consequences of their behaviour.” The greater challenge, she says, “would be if someone perpetrating abuse could hear themselves, could hear someone that sounds like them and say, ‘Oh shit! That sounds like me.’” What’s more, maybe this program will inspire them to reach out for help.
Denny speaks eloquently of the people she met and talked to during her research for “Asking for It.” She interviewed several people who identify as victims, survivors, perpetrators and former perpetrators of domestic violence, including one man who said he “woke up” after abusing his wife for 30 years. “He thought he’d been protecting his wife,” Denny says, “but realized he was the only thing from which she needed protection.”
She interviewed a woman who had been abused in a relationship and then became the abuser in her next relationship. “She woke up when her daughter was murdered by her own boyfriend,” Denny says. “The woman was forced to acknowledge the pattern of abuse she had passed down to her daughter. She now counsels teens about dating violence.”
At one point, Denny underwent crisis counselling through the Los Angeles LGBT Center. “It runs one of the only programs in North America for IPV in LGBTQ relationships,” Denny says. “I can’t speak more highly of the folks who run that program—they are truly saving lives.”
We often think of IPV as primarily cis-hetero male violence against cis-hetero women, but research shows a different story. According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey by the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S., rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner are experienced by 61 percent of bisexual women, 44 percent of lesbian women and 35 percent of heterosexual women in their lifetime.
For men, the numbers are also high: 37 percent of bisexual men, 26 percent of gay men and 29 percent of heterosexual men experience rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
A growing body of research indicates that trans and non-binary individuals face higher incidences of IPV than cisgendered individuals. Moreover, a 2018 study on young trans women in Chicago and Boston found that 42 percent experienced “distinct forms of IPV that were related to gender identity.”
The barriers to LGBTQ2 folks finding help are multiple and varied, from a lack of resources in one’s town or city, to the fear of others in the community finding out to negative experiences with health institutions in the past and the lack of understanding by staff and more.
While one podcast can’t provide a safe space or offer therapy, it can bring the subject to light, offer hope and offer links to resources that will help. “Asking for It” provides the names, web addresses and phone numbers for different resources at the end of each episode—and this was an intentional feature of the podcast, not an afterthought.
“It was very important to me that we provide resources specific to the issues raised in each episode,” Denny says. “Because, though I hope the podcast is entertaining, it represents many painful experiences that could be triggering or that could help people realize they need to reach out.”
Intimate partner violence resources
If you need help, are unsure if your relationship is abusive or think that you might be a perpetrator yourself, here are ways to find resources and support.
The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity has an Intimate Partner Violence Prevention Program.
The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General Men’s Services has a 24-hour multilingual national phone number for male survivors of sexual abuse: 1-866-887-0015.
The Assaulted Women’s Helpline states as one of its objectives: “To deliver the crisis line service using an integrated analysis; addressing the diverse needs of women in Ontario, specifically women with disabilities, immigrant women, women of colour, lesbians, bisexual women, transgendered women, rural and northern women, who are historically more isolated.” 1-866-863-0511; TTY 1-866-863-7868. #SAFE (#7233) on your Bell, Rogers, Fido or Telus mobile phone.
Ending Violence Association of Canada includes a list of service providers across Canada. Please note this list does not include LGBTQ2-specific services.
The Homeless Hub has information on IPV and tenancy rights in Canada.
National Domestic Violence Hotline. 1−800−799−7233; TTY 1−800−787−3224.
The New York City Anti Violence Project webpage provides action toolkits for addressing IPV against trans people and people of colour as well as hate and violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities.
Los Angeles LGBT Center has recommendations for survivors of domestic violence, abusers and friends of someone who is being abused.