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INTRO: This series comes with a content note for anyone who has been through abuse or knows someone who has. Statistically, that is a lot of us. Some of what you’ll hear in this podcast is distressing. Although we know it’s important to hear directly from victim-survivors about what they’ve been through, this content may be confronting and won’t be suitable for everyone.
Please check the show notes for phone numbers you can contact to receive confidential support.
There’s No Place Like Home is a Future Women podcast supported by our proud partner, Commonwealth Bank; supporting long-term financial independence for victim-survivors through CommBank Next Chapter.
We acknowledge that we produced this series on what always has been, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
JEX: We’ve established that message now, I think, as this as an Australian society, that violence against women is just not okay. And that now we can actually start to diversify the message to say, “Don’t forget, there are other victims”.
TARANG CHAWLA: My name is Tarang Chawla, and I am a writer, lawyer and anti-violence advocate. I’m also the host of There’s No Place Like Home, a podcast about family violence that puts the voices of survivors at the centre of the story.
Thanks to the advocacy and work of countless individuals, Australia is finally facing up to the scourge of family violence. However, the community and media attention has not been equally distributed. Many survivors still feel like their experiences are invisible.
Today on There’s No Place Like Home, we explore stigma towards the LGBTQIA+ community – and how it compounds, and sometimes facilitates, domestic abuse.
STARLADY: Trans and gender diverse people experience a significant amount of discrimination and stigma and violence in our society. And that can come from like verbal or physical abuse, direct experiences or indirect experiences of discrimination. And because of the stigma and shame, trans women were more likely to be seen as objects by men. That leads to being sometimes in incredibly dangerous situations or situations where they don’t have, you know, power, you know, there’s a loss of sort of, like power and respect.
TARANG CHAWLA: Starlady is a transwoman and program manager at Zoe Belle Gender Collective which was founded to improve the health and wellbeing of trans and gender diverse people. She explains the kind of community isolation those in the queer community, and trans individuals in particular can face.
In Australia, trans people continue to be subjected to stigma and ostracisation. 49 per cent of trans women and 55 percent of trans men have reported harassment or abuse in the previous 12 months.
Kristian Reyes is a queer domestic and family violence primary prevention educator based in Sydney. He says you cannot divorce the experience of domestic abuse in queer relationships from ongoing discrimination against the queer community.
KRISTIAN REYES: I don’t think you can talk about current social conditions without rooting it in the history of violence against LGBTQIA plus people. I think the legacy of violence towards queer people still lives on, you know, the targeting of queer identities and queer spaces, where queer people gather and meet each other. When we talk about social conditions, really acknowledging the legacy of that history of state based and system based violence towards queer people.
TARANG CHAWLA: Someone who knows this all too well is Jex. Jex is a trans man, who presented as female when he first met his partner, Georgia more than decade ago. Georgia – which is of course not her real name – was controlling, as well as physically and financially abusive…
JEX: We met through church. So I grew up in the Church and so did she, and her family are all church pastors, and I was a church leader. And we’d often break up with me and in the early stages would break up with me, and then you get back together with me and then get break up with me and get back together with me. I was only 20 and still hadn’t come out, so to speak, and still hadn’t come out as a trans person. And so my ego was pretty shaky. And I was an easy target, because I’m a sort of person who just wants people to be happy.
TARANG CHAWLA: Coming out as trans can be challenging for anyone. Let alone Jex, who was emotionally connected to a conservative church community who he feared would reject him. The constant anxiety about possible rejection, ultimately made Jex draw closer to Georgia and come to depend on her more.
JEX: She had a one year old at the time, who is now an adult, but at that time, he was one, maybe two. In addition to all of the just us stuff was that the church had started realizing that we were not straight. And they, you know, one pastor sent out a letter saying that we were pedophiles, well me in particular. And we were going to abuse the kids in the church, we were trying to recruit them. We had people spit on us and got punched in the face once in an event. So it was very difficult.
TARANG CHAWLA: Community is important to all of us. The people and support networks we rely on give us friendship, love, and often a sense of safety. For Jex, losing the community he’d relied on for so long – because of his identity – rocked his sense of the world and his place within it.
JEX: That was my whole life. So I lost all my school friends, and I lost all my church friends. In order to be myself, I was going to lose everything. And what that does is it then creates this scenario where you feel like that relationship’s all you’ve got, but also that you’ve got to prove that gay people aren’t bad by staying in a relationship, because it’s going to prove that gay people are equal.
TARANG CHAWLA: On Wednesday November 15, 2017, Australia changed forever…
AUDIO FROM MARRIAGE EQUALITY PLEBISCITE RESULT: “And now the official results of the Australian marriage law postal survey… That represented 61.6 percent of all responses.”
TARANG CHAWLA: Overwhelmingly, Australians voted in favour of marriage equality. But that victory came at a cost. The queer community described the plebescite – a voluntary postal vote to gauge the national mood ahead of a parliamentary vote – as feeling emotionally brutal.
And while marriage equality was a momentous achievement, one changed law cannot – and did not – end discrimination against LGBTQIA+ Australians.
A lifetime of stigma and ostracisation shifts one’s expectations about how you’ll be treated. Perhaps that’s why queer people are significantly less likely to report an experience of family violence or domestic abuse to police.
JEX: So her type of violence was psychological. So she would often stand up and make for hours saying, “You just don’t know. You’re crazy. You’re crazy. You just don’t know, you don’t remember, you’re a bad person. Nobody likes you”. And she would do this for hours and hours. And being that I’m a nonviolent person. And a non-yelling person, I would just sit there. And I didn’t know how to get out of that situation.
TARANG CHAWLA: The Government’s Fourth National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children recognises the experience of abuse in the queer community. It says that the impact of family violence is actually compounded by the discrimination and stigma queer people have been subjected to.
Research from Australia and internationally shows that there are a number of common behaviours displayed in abusive queer relationships. These include denigrating someone’s sexuality, or gender identity to create fear and confusion, or isolating someone from potential sources of support.
KRISTIAN REYES: Things like outing as a method of control so that could be outing someone’s sexuality, but also outing someone’s gender in spaces in which they’re not out. It could be misgendering and dead naming somebody that could be in a public or a private sphere.
TARANG CHAWLA: Deadnaming, mentioned there by Kristian Reyes, means using a trans person’s previous name – the name they used before they came out as trans. It is a deeply hurtful way of invalidating their identity.
KRISTIAN REYES: That’s also a tactic of abuse that we see. We also see things like non-monogamy and relationship dynamics and structures and agreements being used as a tool of power and control over a victim survivor from queer communities.
The amount of time that someone has been out, can also pose a relationship dynamic in which one person has more power than the other, their experiences in queer relationships, whether or not it’s their first relationship that can also play into a dynamic of abuse.
TARANG CHAWLA: The data is contested in this space but broadly suggests people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, non-binary or queer experience intimate partner violence at around the same rate as the heterosexual population.
One startling Victorian study in 2008 found that one third of queer respondents had been involved in a same-sex relationship where they were subject to abuse by their partner. 78 percent of the abuse was psychological and 58 percent involved physical abuse.
Transgender women in particular are at greater risk of hate crimes and sexual assault than others in the LGBTIQ+ community…
JEX: About four years ago, I had an infection in my brain. And so I was off work for six months because I was in and out of hospital and all the delightful beings. And I arranged Centrelink because I needed to get sickness benefit. And they I said “Oh, you’re already getting a payment”. And obviously I wasn’t. I had been working full time and managing programs. But there’s no way I would be eligible for a Centrelink payment. And so they investigated it and found that she’d been stealing for, it must have been about six years, she’d been getting payments in my name.
TARANG CHAWLA: Financial abuse is about control. Whether perpetrated by restricting a victim’s access to money, stealing or preventing them from working – the outcome is the same. These are manipulative tactics used to demean and intimidate the victim – and increase the power of an abuser.
Claire Dawson works at CommBank on the Next Chapter program, which helps victim-survivors achieve long-term financial independence.
CLAIRE DAWSON: We have a research partnership with the University of NSW, and late last year, we released some research looking at the impact of financial abuse across different cultural contexts. What we do know is factors like shame, isolation from family support systems, and language barriers, can really make it so much harder for someone to seek help.
Unfortunately, there just is not enough known about domestic violence in a queer community. And it’s one of the really significant gaps we identified in our research with the UNSW. Because not enough is known that can also make it really hard to design services and provide the right support to people who need it.
TARANG CHAWLA: Context is critical given that the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to experience financial problems. A 2018 survey found that 62 percent of the queer community has experienced housing, wage discrimination or lack of career advancement because of their gender identity or sexual preference.
Kristian Reyes says the way we understand domestic violence is a problem in the queer context. The assumption, that abuse is generally perpetrated by a man against his female partner ignores and undermines the experience of victims who don’t fit the stereotype.
KRISTIAN REYES: What we see in terms of intimate partner violence is because of the heterosexual framework in which we understand domestic violence, it means that a lot of the time police aren’t equipped with the knowledge and skills to actually competently assess, who’s the primary or the predominant aggressor, in a relationship.
JEX: The first time she hit me, she picked up the house phone and just grabbed it and whacked me across the chest and the face with it.
Because as a man, I experienced domestic violence perpetrated by a woman that is incredibly rare. The most common victims, who are the most common reaction, trans people, but women and trans people are the most common victims. And we think, it’s still early days in terms of data. But we think that the stats are not dissimilar in lesbian, gay, and other queer relationships to that of women.
TARANG CHAWLA: Most support services aren’t set up to meet the particular needs of queer survivors either. And there are few services available to keep male victim-survivors safe, or support women perpetrators to change their behaviour.
This is something Russ Vickery knows all too well. Russ is the LGBTIQ representative on the Victorian Government’s Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council, which gives survivors a say on law reform.
The man who abused Russ was his first intimate male partner. 16 years ago, their relationship became coercive, controlling and physically abusive, and Russ reached out for help…
RUSS VICKERY: I made contact to a mainstream organization, I was sitting on a chair after being released from hospital with a cracked skull, phoned organization who basically said, “We don’t have the capacity to deal with somebody with your lifestyle”, end of story. Instead of support, I got homophobia, that’s what I got, and hung up that phone. And from that day, to this, I have never utilized a service for anything. Because I didn’t get the assistance, I went back into that relationship. I endured that torture for another two and a half years. And, at one point, decided that taking my life was the best thing that I could do, because that was the only way that I could get out of it.
Systems are generally built to service the majority, with insufficient care for the minority. Those whose particular needs don’t fit into a neat little box, are left languishing…
RUSS VICKERY: So 15 years later, and I still haven’t utilized the service for anything. The other thing that I think is really important is I was a man with children. A single dad, there was not a single question asked of me, because the assumption was, I was a gay man, therefore, I didn’t have kids. So we didn’t need to worry about asking that question of you to make sure that your kids were okay.
JEX: There weren’t any services. They didn’t exist. So we’re talking 12 ish years ago. The only organization I could think of, and I work in the sector, so I know, everybody was ACON. And they only had a program for gay men who were victims of domestic violence
TARANG CHAWLA: Here’s Starlady again, who you heard from briefly at the outset of this episode.
STARLADY: Trans women don’t necessarily feel safe or sometimes not welcome in accessing gendered based services and sometimes those services would perpetrate exactly the same types of violence that men would perpetrate against trans women. In our society, people are often asking trans people like on the street, “Have you had the surgery?” And when we’re asking that question, we’re asking people about their private body parts, which could be considered sexual harassment. And so as services in their inquiries around or their demands around what trans bodies look like to see whether they have are able to access that service or not, is also sexual assault.
TARANG CHAWLA: Starlady, who speaks from a trans woman’s perspective, explains a painful irony. That queer people, who are excluded from some family violence services, may be actually be the most in need.
STARLADY: You are more unsafe, because you have all you know, that you’re more likely to experience a gender based violence on the street because of your visibility, but then you’re rejected because of your visibility from the services that are meant to be helping you.
It’s about power and control. And men know that trans women are vulnerable, you are less likely to be a to go to the place, you’re less likely to be believed, you’re less likely to be able to access the services that are there to support you. And perpetrators are aware of this, they know this. And so they prey on sometimes prey upon trans women knowing that and so we really have to, you know, up the levels of support for trans people in accessing services to ensure that they are.
JEX: And she got angry at me about something. And she got on top of me. And I was lying on the bed and she got on top of me and sat on me until probably about six hours. So till four in the morning that I always remember. And for that entire period just kept telling me I was crazy. And, and it didn’t work. And I just kept saying, “I’m done, I’m done. I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve this.” I kicked her out that night. And obviously it was a journey from there. But that was the moment and it took 10 years from the point of being together to the point of breaking up.
TARANG CHAWLA: Sexual coercion amongst the queer community – and especially gay men – has long been regarded with suspicion by the broader community. There is a dominant assumption – and one that’s perpetuated by media – that men are always up for sex, all of the time. This makes it harder for gay men to speak up about sexual crimes committed against them. Leading to under-reporting and an absence of clear data around gay men’s experiences of sexual violence.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason why lesbian women are more likely to report having been in an abusive same-sex relationship.
You’ve heard from Moo Baulch before. She’s the Director of Primary Prevention at the Women and Girls Emergency Centre. Moo is a violence prevention and gender equality specialist who has been a critical adviser on this podcast and advises on CommBank’s Next Chapter program.
Moo, is queer herself and managed the domestic and family violence project at ACON – formerly, the AIDS Council of New South Wales – a decade ago. She says the design of Australia’s family violence support service system is flawed.
MOO BAULCH: We have a large number of religious organisations that are funded to provide support. And so for a whole range of reasons, that’s never going to be the right place for, you know, somebody queer, somebody who’s in a relationship with a trans person, somebody who comes from a community where they have negative experiences with police and authorities and those sorts of things, somebody whose mum, or sister, or grandma was taken away and put in a religious institution, removed from their family, for example, all of that kind of really recent history in Australia means that the system that we have, is set up to provide services, you know, that should be offered across a range of different places, but are often just offered, particularly in rural and regional areas by one, you know, one service, you’ve got one choice, you have to walk through that door. And that’s your only option.
JEX: In many places you will be treated the same and you will have respect and you will be acknowledged as a victim of domestic violence as with anybody else. But there is always a risk. There is always a danger in outing yourself. There’s always a danger of not being taken seriously.
TARANG CHAWLA: According to Victoria’s peak domestic violence body, Safe and Equal, mainstream supports are viewed as, at best, ignorant and, at worst, hostile to the needs of the queer community.
Victim-survivors also inlude the courts as being amongst those institutions, which fail to be sufficiently inclusive or understanding of the queer experience.
Victoria’s 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence found particular challenges confronting LGBTIQA+ people in relation to family violence court proceedings. These included being treated less seriously than hetrosexual people, having to explain their sexual preference or gender identity to the court, and having to deal with limited understanding of some judiciary members about queer relationships and identities.
JEX: She used my status as a trans person to try and stop me being able to see my kids. And she in the first court hearing, she told the court that as a trans person, I don’t exist under the law, therefore I don’t have any rights. And we initially had a really good judge. But then we got sent to a psychiatrist. And she was transphobic. And so she just didn’t believe a word that we said, she called me “She” throughout my appointment. And I looked, as you see me now with a full beard and everything, she called me “she” the whole time. And when I challenged her image, she said, “Well, that’s the way you were born”. And she refused to believe anything I told her.
TARANG CHAWLA: In his advocacy work, Russ Vickery argues that gender inequality results from the social mores of our society. Social mores that Russ says award men’s rights and interests greater status than women’s. He says that in order to stamp out domestic abuse, Australians need to challenge the binary, unequal way we think about gender.
RUSS VICKERY: The drivers of family violence inside the LGBTIQ community are very similar to the drivers inside men’s violence against women, which is heteronormativity, patriarchy. They’re all the drivers that create this violence within our communities. And they are the same drivers that create men’s violence against women, gender based violence.
Jex and Georgia were both members of the church community. That his church had rejected him was terribly painful for Jex and Georgia was able to use this trauma to manipulate him.
JEX: And she would often say to me that, that God was telling her things about me, that God had told her that, you know, whatever it might be. I remember one of them was that God had told her that my dad had sexually abused me, which he had not done. But, you know, it’s just little seeds of those things and they start small. But it’s that process of gaslighting you so that you start doubting your truth.
TARANG CHAWLA: Jex was pushed to the point of doubting his own experience and this has parallels with what happened to Russ. Russ says that the violence he was subjected to and a desire to prove his same-sex relationship was valid, were a potent combination. He was also vulnerable for another reason – it was his first gay relationship. No matter what age you are – you’re always more vulnerable with your first.
RUSS VICKERY: I left a heterosexual marriage, and went into a homosexual relationship. Now, whilst I’m going through that, one of the things in the back of my mind was, I have to make this relationship work. I’ve come out, I now have to make the good bad or otherwise. I have made my bed and I have to lie in it now. What a terrible situation to be in. And I know there will be women out there that will relate to this.
TARANG CHAWLA: Jex and Russ’s experiences speak to an important factor that impacts all LGBTQIA+ people, and their relationships. It’s dubbed “minority stress” – the stress of existing as a queer person. It can stem from your experience of coming to terms with your own identity, of it being stigmatised, debated, invalidated and dissected, like during the marriage debate – as well as from both interpersonal and systemic discrimination.
KRISTIAN REYES: We all live in a state of minority stress from the conditions in which we find ourselves, the state based attacks, the moral panic and fear of queer identities in the public arena.
TARANG CHAWLA: Research body ANROWS – the Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety – notes that while minority stress doesn’t cause domestic abuse, it is a factor for both perpetrators and survivors.
The data also tells us that members of the community experience poorer mental health outcomes and are more likely to be suicidal. In fact, 35% of transgender adults have tried to take their life.
This is the bedrock of trauma that left Jex, and so many others, feeling more vulnerable than a cisgendered person in a heterosexual relationship which is left unquestioned by family, friends and society.
JEX: My greatest grief is around that lack of justice. It’s not the justice for me. I know that sucks, but, and I want people to believe me, because my ex is a church pastor. And there are all these people being victimised and they don’t realise they’re being victimised because she’s extremely charming. There’s nothing I can do to protect my kids. And that’s the thing that really gets to me the most.
TARANG CHAWLA: Here’s Star Lady again, speaking specifically to the experience of trans women.
STARLADY: Trans women deserve to be loved. We deserve to be respected. We deserve to be able to have access to healthy and respectful and visible relationships, but often the weight of changing that falls on trans women. And I think this is where we need men to step up. But we also need society to step up because it’s actually society’s responsibility to change the culture and to change the stigma and discrimination and to give greater visibility to the relationships between sis men and trans women, trans women actually can’t change that on our you know, by ourselves. We need you know, that’s a societal issue. And you know, until, you know, our society takes responsibility for that trans women will continue to experience incredibly high rates of sexual assault, intimate partner violence and to continue to be you know, marginalized and not access have access to the healthy relationships that other women in our society may have access to.
JEX: Now, I think, as an Australian society, that violence against women is just not okay. And that now we can actually start to diversify the message, don’t forget there are other victims. And it’s not to say, we want to forget women, because they think that needs to be the primary message. But the GLBTQ people experience domestic violence. And just because they experience domestic violence doesn’t mean GLBTQ relationships are lesser than.
Australia has come a long way when it comes to the inclusion and equal rights of the queer community, but there is still work to be done.
Our challenge, in terms of family violence and domestic abuse, is to look beyond the gender binary and make sure our policy solutions address all kinds of relationships.
The work of people like Star Lady and Russ Vickery provide enormous hope for the future.
In the next episode of There’s No Place Like Home, what happens when you don’t want your perpetrator to go to jail? We look at restorative justice – and the survivor-centric scheme could help more survivors heal from their abuse on their own terms.
CARLY STANLEY: We still want people to be accountable, we still want harms to be repaired. But we also want to understand what’s driving that behavior that cause people to harm. And we want to be able to put the supports in place so that the harm doesn’t have to keep occurring, everybody can be supported.
TARANG CHAWLA: See you next time.
OUTRO: There’s No Place Like Home is a Future Women podcast supported by our proud partner, Commonwealth Bank; supporting long-term financial independence for victim-survivors through CommBank Next Chapter.
For help or advice, please check the shownotes for phone numbers for confidential support.
If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review. It will help these important stories to reach more people’s ears.
For more information about There’s No Place Like Home, or to join the movement, please head to futurewomen.com.
This episode was produced by Jamila Rizvi, Sally Spicer, Tarang Chawla, Fleur Bitcon, Ella Jackson, Ruby Leahy-Gatfield, India Bailey and Kate Leaver. Editing by Bad Producer Productions. Artwork by Patti Andrews.
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