Sometimes it feels to me like the Vancouver dyke world is too small. We know too much about each other.
See that woman over there? She’s trying to get pregnant but she has problems with her fallopian tubes. And those two women sitting next to her? They might break up because of that threesome they had last weekend. And wait till you hear what happened with my friend last night…
Help! Is there no privacy?
Then the other day I heard that a woman I know slightly had tried to kill her girlfriend. Seriously.
It’s actually not the first time I’ve heard a story like that. I used to work as a peer counsellor for battered women, and some of the women I worked with had been emotionally, physically or sexually abused by women.
After I heard this story, part of me wished that I hadn’t. Not only am I overwhelmed with intimate information about my fellow Vancouver dykes, but to be honest, I’d rather not know about violence in my community.
And I don’t think I’m alone. We don’t want it to be true and we don’t know what to do about it.
Unfortunately, lesbian relationship violence is a reality. Many dykes have experienced mental, physical and sexual abuse in dating or long-term relationships. Abusers include community heroes, counsellors, entertainers and hot party girls.
Abuse is not limited to bar dykes or SM dykes or butch/femme couples, or any other part of our community that usually gets scapegoated for bad behaviour. The victims of abuse are just as varied.
So what do we do about it?
Recent research suggests that women may be most vulnerable to abuse in their first lesbian relationships. This brings me back to my thoughts about privacy and gossip.
The new girl in town might really benefit from knowing which women have reputations for mistreating their girlfriends. Any woman in an abusive relationship could be helped by her friends getting together and gossiping about her, sharing their worries and strategizing about how to help her.
I’m not saying that we should believe everything we hear, or that we should spread false stories. But if you hear that someone is abusive, check it out.
Ask questions. Isolation and secrecy keep abusive relationships going. Abusers often threaten further violence if the victim tells anyone, and women who are being abused are often ashamed to tell anyone what’s happening.
If we don’t talk about relationship violence, how can we help women who are being abused? How will abusers get the support they need to change their behaviour?
Gossip, done right, isn’t just unwanted trivia about our friends and neighbours, it’s information that challenges us to make our communities safer.