Griner and Johnson

Let’s talk about intimate partner violence in queer communities

I remember having a conversation with a friend about our work as multi-issue antioppression activists and telling her that I often worry about coming off as wanting to prove I am a victim. She said she has always looked at our work as trying to prove we are human. Healing to me has meant humanizing myself. – Jai Dulani, “The Revolution Starts at Home

When I saw the recent news about a domestic violence incident between WNBA players and certified queer idols Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson, my reaction was not shock.

It was recognition.

Not because of statistics (and stereotypes) about the prevalence of sexual and intimate partner violence in athletics.

But because, as little as we may hear about it in conventional conversations about sexual and intimate partner violence, violence in queer communities and relationships is a reality a lot of us live with.

As LGBT people, we know that our communities experience sexual and intimate partner violence. We know this on our skin, in our archived text messages, in the late-night phone calls we receive from friends, in the knots that form in our throats and stomachs when we hear certain songs.

We also know this statistically.

In 2010, the CDC for the first time released a report on sexual and intimate partner violence by sexual orientation. For many of us in LGBT communities, the results were no surprise. 26 percent of gay-identified and 37 percent of bisexual-identified men reported experiences of sexual or physical violence with a partner. 44 percent of lesbian-identified women and 61 percent of bisexual-identified women reported the same.

A 2013 National Coalition Against Violence Report further demonstrated the particular struggles of people who experience multiple forms of marginality. Transgender-identified people were 2.7 times more likely than other survivors to have experienced intimidation and threats, and 4.3 times more likely to have experienced police violence. 80.7 percent of trans people of color faced threats or intimidation. 62.1 percent of survivors were people of color — disproportionately Black and Latin@ people — and were also almost twice as likely than other survivors to have experienced intimidation and threats.

When I saw those statistics, I recognized myself and my friends.

There are a lot of places I don’t recognize us.

For many of us, violence happens at the limits of language, at the limits of “rational” logic. For those of us who’ve experienced violence in various forms — physical, psychological, verbal; racial, gendered, economic — from the moment we’re born, we may not recognize ourselves in the narratives people in power tell about how the world should be — including narratives of violence or abuse.

For those of us whose experiences of violence come later, violence may shift the way we understand ourselves, our identities, our relationships to other people, and our relationships to the world.

This sense of disconnect from self and community can be particularly jarring to us as feminists, activists, rabble-rousers, queer rebels, women’s center staff. After all, not only have we read the pamphlets — we’ve written them. We feel we should know what to do when we’re in violent situations. We feel we should know how to avoid those situations in the first place.

Sometimes, when we’re the ones experiencing the violence we talk about so much, the very principles we once espoused seem to no longer make sense.

There have long been queer activists and thinkers advocating around issues of violence. And recently, I’ve seen a fantastic push toward better including the struggles of LGBT people — in all the many axes along which we experience struggle — in “mainstream” campaigns related to sexual and intimate partner violence.

But sometimes, this push for inclusion simply adds language accommodating LGBT folks to models predicated on the idea of a cis male aggressor and a cis female victim.

It can be hard to put on the mantle of “survivor” when it doesn’t feel tailored to us. This leaves me with a lot of questions.

How do we talk about experiences of violence in queer relationships or with other queer people when we are not out?

How do we talk about violence when we are faced with stereotypes like “women don’t hit,” or “men aren’t victims”?

Or when we don’t recognize as violent certain gendered behaviors?

How do we balance accountability with compassion for each others’ experiences of oppression

when oftentimes, queer people engaging in violent behaviors are survivors of violence themselves;

when the legal structures we’re told to report to are hostile to us;

when oppression means we already disproportionately struggle with mental illness;

when experiencing multiple forms of marginalization means there are so many ways that we can hurt each other?

And finally: What does it mean to want justice not just here and now, but all the way down to a system’s roots?

For the next couple weeks here at Feministing, I’ll be asking and thinking over a lot of these questions.

But first, I want to offer a (totally non-exhaustive) shout-out to some of the great work already out there — much of it from fabulous queer and trans activists of colors — that’s helped me and my friends as we think about building healthy, respectful, and safe queer communities:

If you’ve experienced or supported someone experiencing violence in a queer community or relationship, what resources helped? What scholars, activists, and organizations stuck out to you?

Let me know in the comments section below. I am so excited to learn with you. And I’m excited for all of us to learn better ways to love.

Header image: Instagram

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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