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Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

1

The Revolution Starts at Home

I am not proposing that sexual violence
and domestic violence will no longer exist. I am proposing that we create a world
where so many people are walking around
with the skills and knowledge to support
someone that there is no longer a need for
anonymous hotlines.
I am proposing that we break through the
shame of survivors (a result of rape culture) and the victim-blaming ideology of
all of us (also a result of rape culture), so
that survivors can gain support from the
people already in their lives. I am proposing that we create a society where community members care enough to hold an
abuser accountable so that a survivor does
not have to flee their home. I am proposing
that all of the folks that have been disappointed by systems work together to create
alternative systems. I am proposing that
we organize.
Rebecca Farr, CARA member

2

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

contents
Where the revolution started: an introduction
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

5

Introduction
Ching-In Chen

9

The revolution starts at home: pushing through the fear
Jai Dulani

10

There is another way
Ana Lara

15

How I learned to stop worrying and love the wreckage
Gina de Vries

21

Infestation
Jill Aguado, Anida Ali, Kay Barrett, Sarwat Rumi, of Mango Tribe

24

No title
Anonymous

30

I married a marxist monster
Ziggy Ponting

33

Philly’s pissed and beyond
Timothy Colman

38

Notes on partner consent
Bran Fenner

44

Femora and fury: on IPV and disability
Peggy Munson

48

Untitled
Emily Stern

53

Transforming communities: community-based responses to partner abuse
Vanessa Huang

58

Taking risks: implementing grassroots community accountability strategies
Written by a collective of women of color from Communities Against Rape
and Abuse (CARA): Alisa Bierria, Onion Carrillo, Eboni Colbert, Xandra
Ibarra, Theryn Kigvamasud’Vashti, and Shale Maulana

64

3

The Revolution Starts at Home

a
An interview with Alexis Pauli; na Gumbs of UBUNTU
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
INCITE! Community Accountability Fact Sheet

82

80
83

Community Accountability Within the People of Color
84
Progressive Movement
Selections from the 2005 Report from INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
Potluck: some strategies from the field
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

90

Checklist for Intersex and Trans Survivors

93

Abuse is Not S/M and S/M is Not Abuse
The Northwest Network

95

The myth of mutual abuse
Karen Lee Asherah

96

When your parents made you
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

99

A litany for survival

102

My stuff: healing with attitude
BrokenBeautiful Press

103

Resources

104

About the Editors

110

About the Contributors

110

4

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

where the revolution started:
an introduction
In 1996, I am falling in love. I am fucking
that hot mixed Latino queer boy who feels
like my separated at birth brother in a field
of daisies outside a really horrendous music
festival in a southern Ontario small hippie
town. I am staying in his one room apartment lined with milk crate bookshelves filled
with Chrystos, Freire and Sapphire. I am incredibly happy. I am going to run away from
America and this is all I need.

munity, a poet and a longtime prison justice
and anti-police brutality organizer; I still
watched my back. Still lived matter of fact
with PTSD and scanning the streets for him
as I walked home. Still varied my routes
to that home. Still never went to a club he
might be at alone.
He’d stopped identifying as queer, so I fled
to women’s country and he got the straight
POC zones in the divorce. Zones that didn’t
know what to do with us, how to hold him
accountable or keep me safe. Zones that said,
“Maybe he has food allergies and that’s why
he’s violent.” “Maybe he’s had therapy and
changed - how do you know?” (Because then
he would’ve apologized, asked what I needed and done it, stopped staring at me with
his lips curled back like he wanted to kill me
whenever he saw me.) “Our men go through
so much, it’s no wonder- you can’t be so hard
on him.” “What, you’re going to call the cops?
You’re going to bring the prison-industrial
complex down on a man of color?” “Have you
tried healing him with love?” “It’s so personal,” “No one really knows what happens in a
relationship but those two people,” “You’re a
strong woman of color - you can take it.”

In 1997, I will be running from him. I will be
pushing his hands choking me off my neck.
I will be curled up in a closet as he screams
and kicks the door with his boots on. I will be
lying to the cops so he doesn’t go back to jail.
I will run, finally, into the arms of a community who loves me and him and has no ideas
what to do. In 1999, I will leave for good.
In 2004, I am sitting behind a gray fuzzy
office divider dividing off a piss-yellow, airless workspace at the tenant hotline that is
my horrible nonprofit dayjob in Toronto. As
usual, I’m on Livejournal, my Riseup email
account and Friendster all at the same time,
while I answer intermittent phone calls from
people about to be evicted.
Somewhere in the middle of it, I get an email.
I get a phone call. My ex had been hired as
relief staff at the youth shelter where my
lover worked. My ex was on the Evite for
the intimate pre-party of the beloved poet’s
booklaunch that I was also invited to. One of
the youth I used to teach mentioned he was
spinning at a night she DJd.

I left those voices to make my base in the
queer/trans of color and women of color communities, which were, thank god, big and
strong in my city. I mourned the straight POC
activist communities I’d lived and worked
inside for three years, and I also knew that
if my partner had been female or trans the
queer POC communities would mostly not
have known what to do with us either. But I
also lived in more and more peace and security. I grew community that protected me. I
ran into him less and less, even in the year
where I moved into an apartment four blocks
away from his new place. (This, in a neigh-

Six years after my finally being able to leave
the queer brown man who was my sweetest
thing once, who’d turned into someone who
kicked, choked, sneered and yelled; a man
embedded in people of color activist com5

The Revolution Starts at Home

borhood with one breakfast spot and one criminal screening. I couldn’t get him fired
from every job working with youth in the
bar.)
city. Sometimes I thought I should just leave
But I still ran into him. Still looked up and the city, but I didn’t want to be pushed out of
saw him staring me down at the club. Still my first city, my first true love, my home.
saw him headlining a show, speaking at a
Most times, I did nothing. Except that doing
rally.
nothing is also doing something. It’s continuI’d gotten away alive. I’d gotten more than ing to get up in the morning, pray, shower,
many folks get. But I still wasn’t done. You write, hang out with your friends, live your
life. Sometimes it’s the best thing you can do.
don’t get done without justice.
But I wanted an end. I wanted transformation.
I wanted us to finally figure out what to
~
do with abusers
I felt caught. I was safe. I wasn’t dead, as he’d
threatened (“You ever send me back to jail, Journal entry 9/24/2004
I’ll take you to the cop shop, kill you and then
kill myself.”) But I didn’t know how to move My therapist interrupted me in mid “I hate
forward. Should I write the dub poet and tell that I would have to start a political moveher that her friend had kicked and choked ment to convince all his friends that he is
and terrorized me, a sister poet? Should I abusive and abuse is wrong in order for me
contact the heads of the political groups he to feel safe” rant. She said, “But that’s not
was a part of and ask them to not have him community accountability. Community acas a speaker? I was afraid that any attempt countability means you don’t have to do it all
of mine to contact him, or contact people yourself.”
in his life and let them know what was up,
would be met with a violent, unpredictable road maps to justice in real life
backlash against me. A worker in rape crisis
and DV, I was familiar with the feminist DV Out of that conversation, I emailed some
understanding that the way to go is to cut off friends and we started talking about doall contact with a stalker or harasser after ing something, together, to challenge partsetting a clear “NO,” that any attempt to ne- ner abuse in activist communities. Because
gotiate or discuss would be twisted into ma- it is scary, dangerous and exhausting to do
it all by yourself, I have notes and essays I
nipulations that screwed with your safety.
was working on for this zine that date back
And I was tired. I was tired of always having to 2000, but in 2004 I knew that I needed
to put myself out there to be physically and people to walk with me.
emotionally vulnerable explaining partner
abuse to others when it wasn’t an abstract is- I had been inspired by INCITE Women of
sue- it was my credibility, and my life stories Color Against Violence and most specifically,
before those skeptical eyes as I said that yes, their Community Accountability Principles
he’d hit me and no, there was no excuse for and their internal document on partner
it, and yes it was really that bad. I couldn’t abuse within activist communities of color.
get him fired from his job at the shelter. I’d The Community Accountability Principles
never called the cops on him because I didn’t were a deep sigh of relief - somebody got it!
want to send a man of color to prison, so Somebody got the need to look for real alterthere was nothing that would show up on his natives that prioritized survivor safety while
6

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

holding perpetrators accountable.

movement had looked at abuse as political,
but only on a man/woman basis, and exBut I wondered: how had the 300 brain- plored the incredible implications of looking
stormed ideas in the document worked in at what abuse means when we look at race,
practice? As someone who has been a veter- class, disability, age, and gender and sexualan of both the Riot Grrl girl gang years (aka, ity.
“Let’s get a posse and fuck shit up/ Dead men
don’t rape!” – inspiring idea, doesn’t always the backstory:
work in practice) and failed “healing circles”
with my abusive ex (idea being that a bunch This project has taken us through a butof men in the community sat with him and tload of emails, many three and four way
tried to talk about what was going on - pro- conference calls routed through Iowa, with
cess gets really funky and falls apart unless us phoning in from Toronto, New York, Durthere is a centering of what the survivor ham and Boston. From artists residencies,
needs, an understanding that the survivor VONA meetups, sex parties, impromptu
and perpetrator don’t have equal power in childcare sessions and airport gates. It’s takthe situation, and an understanding that the en us through grad school acceptances, 3,000
perpetrator will not be permitted to whine his mile moves, lovers, breakups, book launches
way out of responsibility by crying) I wanted and international travel. We’ve stood together in rare moments outside the Asian/Pacific
to see what solutions we were cooking up.
Islander Spoken Word Summit in new York
I’ve also been fascinated by feminist and or after all-day journeys on public transit to
other radical utopian fictions since I was a get to Brooklyn Pride. After an initial call
kid, and one big thing I’ve always wondered for submissions in 2005, this zine is bigger
is, what will we do with perpetrators? If we at 100 + pages than I ever imagined. It’s
agree that the cops and courts are not our enriched by testimony and road maps from
friends; if they do not work to keep us safe; if many different communities.
perpetrators are not ‘out there’ but ‘in here’what solutions do we magic out of our guts to It’s enriched as well by surprises. Many
survivors whose stories I knew personally
create safety, justice and healing?
through the underground railroad of stories,
Partner abuse in activist communities has who I assumed would be down to contribute,
been an open secret for a long time. I read turned out not to be ready. Some collectives
Elaine Brown’s A Taste of Power and saw I was inspired by never wrote back.
how partner abuse inside the Black Panthers helped, along with COINTELPRO, to In my life, there are also surprises. Four
destablize the movement. Anthologies like years since that moment of rage, grief and
Naming the Violence documented the lived helplessness online at work, I no longer work
realities of abusive relationships inside at the tenant hotline, live with the lover or
1970s and 80s radical lesbian communi- in that city. I left my city, but not because I
ties. Other feminist of color writers and ac- was forced out, because I wanted to. I live in
tivists like Angela Davis, Roxanne Dunbar Oakland, aka June Jordan country. I don’t
Ortiz, Elizabeth Martinez, Aurora Levins watch my back anymore, at least not for him.
Morales and many others have documented I go wherever I want. Friends say that I look
the complicated realities of abusers within free. I am free.
movements. Arab-American feminist scholar
Joanna Kadi write about how the feminist I flip back through four years of Livejournal
7

The Revolution Starts at Home

posts and am amazed at what I’ve emerged
from. I am amazed at the concrete tools we
have created out of our own genius. Take
these tools into your own lives and see where
they fit. Make and share your own. We are
the ones we’ve been waiting for, and out of
our own genius knowledge we will figure out
how to make a revolution that leaves out
none of us.
–Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Thank you to everyone who had my back
during the long process of my finding safety
from my ex partner. Special thanks to Hana
Abdul, Adrineh der Bhoggosian, Karine Silverwoman, Trish Salah, Zoe Whittall, Cherry Galette, Adrian Nation, Timothy Colman,
Maceo Cabrera Estevez, Gordon Edgar, and
all my Bay Area friends. Thank you to Pearl
Cleage, bell hooks, Elaine Brown, Roxanne
Dunbar Ortiz and other women who courageously testified about their experiences in
violent relationships within activist movements. Thank you to the editors and contributors of The Peak’s special issue on abuse
within activist communities for first opening
this door. Thank you to the generations of
radical anti violence movements and survivors. Thank you to INCITE, Generation
5, CARA, UBUNTU, Critical Resistance,
Philly’s Pissed and Northwest Network for
making the way and being so awe-inspiringly awesome in creating the groundbreaking
work that will transform our world. ❚

8

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

she would call me when she was ready and
I would drive over and get her out of there.
And it worked!

When I was 17 years old, my family didn’t
approve of my boyfriend at the time. They
thought that he was a bad influence on me
-- he was an immigrant from a different
ethnicity/race without a “good job” (we had
worked together at the same movie theater)
or “good educational background.” I battled
my mother and emerged from that experience resolved not to let anyone else control
or decide for me who I was involved with, or
what kind of relationship(s) I chose to have.

But I soon learned that not everything was
that easy or simple or clearcut.

Sometimes my friends hadn’t yet figured out
what could be helpful or didn’t want to talk
about it. Sometimes I felt too far away to be
of much use or help, or didn’t realize what the
impact of what I was doing until much later.
Four years later, after moving to a city where A good friend confided in me, but didn’t want
I knew no one and in another relationship I me to let on that I knew what was going on
knew my family wouldn’t approve of, I turned to the person who she was in the abusive remy back on my family and friends. We were lationship with, and we were all part of the
stressed out about immigration status and same organizing collective. I entered into
making the rent. I was canvassing in the late relationships too where I often didn’t know
afternoon and evenings for a rape crisis cen- how to handle difficult situations because we
ter with a group of mostly women who were were doing this kind of work together.
rape and sexual assault survivors and my
partner was driving a cab on the night shift. When Leah asked us to join her in making
a resource guide/telling our own stories and
I had no one to turn to and no support system strategies, I saw it as something that I would
when our relationship became volatile. At have loved, read, found useful throughout
the time, I didn’t feel part of any community. my journeys, both in some of the situations
Part of my relationship experience was the I found myself in, as well as in supporting
feeling of being isolated – having no friends, those loved ones around me.
place to go to outside of our apartment, or
any organization that I felt I belonged to or I hope you find it useful as well.
who knew me and my history.
xoxo,
So when years later, I started building my Ching-In Chen
own community and circles, what it meant
for me to be in community was to not have to
feel alone and isolated, to be able to feel hopeful about the possibilities that there could be ❚
ways to figure out how to feel protected in
whatever, whichever ways we needed to.
When a friend who I had met through community work needed to escape from an abusive husband, we worked out a system that
9

The Revolution Starts at Home

the revolution starts at home:
pushing through the fear
Jai Dulani

Accepting yourself is a big part
of writing.
~ Chrystos
I am scared to write this introduction. I
am scared that people won’t believe a word
I have to say. I am scared that I don’t believe what I have to say. I am scared and
feel ashamed because I am not 14 anymore.
I am not 17 anymore. I am not 19 anymore.
1. Maps to Secrets and Lies (14)
What has brought you to this moment
right now?
~ Sharon Bridgforth
A queer, closeted, intense love affair in
Chandigarh, India. That was my first relationship. She was the beautiful, new braniac at school. And me? At 14, I was going on
year three of being the “girl from America”
- which to my classmates meant some unfortunately false assumptions about:
a.) me being rich and
b.) me being a slut.
My family was split in two different countries. Her family moved around a lot because of her Dad’s job. We knew what it felt
to be uprooted. We wanted to find home in
each other. Home. Safety. Stability. Space.
To be ourselves and share our pain, hopes
and fears. Ninth and tenth grade was a
whirlwind of love letters, holding hands underneath our desks, stealing kisses during
study time, secret dates to the lake, codes
to say “I love you” in front of a parents’
(1-4-3 – very original and hard to crack),
mixed tapes (think 80’s love songs: Lionel
Richie, Richard Marx, Jefferson Starship
- “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”) and last

but not least, lots and lots of hallmark cards
(the silhouettes of a man and woman in
front of a beach sunset was accommodated
in our gay-but-not-named-gay relationship).
We were best friends to the world. To each
other, we said we were in love. After all,
outcasts always find each other. It was us
against the world. Us against the world.
I want to end the story there. A secret underground love story, queer without labels,
my first gay relationship - in India – proving America didn’t make me a homo.
I don’t remember our first fight. Her jealousy and possessiveness affected my relationship with my sister, as my sister could smell
something was wrong ... and missed me as
well. “What kind of hold does she have over
you?”
My classic defensive retort: “You don’t understand.”
No one did. No one knew I was her refuge
from her parent’s emotional and physical abuse. No one knew that I became her
only escape. She needed to know where I
was and what I was doing all the time. She
couldn’t handle me having other friendships. She was so angry once when I said I
was going out with some other friends that
she kept calling my house. I remember being embarrassed and not knowing what to
tell people what was going on. But I soon
learned to lie because disagreeing with her
or challenging her was not an option. She
had to win. I couldn’t leave until she did.
I was frequently late and made up a lot of
lies, to teachers, tutors, family. Cutting
herself was a coping mechanism she used
to deal with her family. When she realized
how much it upset me, she knew she could
10

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

use that against me. She wasn’t afraid to
punish me. Amongst nail-digging, pinching,
pushing, hair-pulling, face grabbing, was
the occasional backhand. But mostly, her
palms cut up. Lines of destiny mixed with
lines of self-hate, manipulation, dried blood:
Maps to secrets and lies. She would do it in
front of me. A blade. A compass. A knife. I
would cry, beg her to stop. Escalation was
her favorite though. Pills. Poison. Pink lips
craving suicide. She was fearless. It was
torture. It was control. And it worked. Every time.
My family and I returned to the states 4
months before my sixteenth birthday. Letters of despair followed me. “Why did you
leave? I need you. Everything got worse
when you left. When are you coming back?
I can’t take it anymore.” Pages and pages,
letter after letter after letter. I was the
only one ... who ever loved her, understood
her, could save her, from the doctor that
molested her, the father who beat her, the
fiancé who raped her ... the murder in selfdefense? ... the cancer that ... didn’t exist.
Over a decade later, I still don’t know what
was real. I know that I lost myself. That at
16, I was looking up shelters in India, sending money I earned from the bagel shop I
worked at, and talking to a lawyer friend.
I know that after I attempted to cut off
contact, she spoke to my grandmother for
my updated contact information, posing as
the sweet girl who missed her best friend.
I know that I lied awake as the phone rang
over and over again in the middle of the
night, waking my parents. When I answered, she pretended to be someone else
or not to hear me or my frustration. The
emails, letters and calls eventually died
down. Last I heard from her was a comment
she posted on a website that had published
a poem of mine: “I still love you.”

II. Apologizing (17)
He said my long Asian hair fulfilled a fantasy. It was my senior year of high school in
Pennsylvania. The year I went to a feminist
conference, to my first Take Back the Night,
and the year I dated my first boyfriend.
The feminist conference was huge for me.
I saw so many dykes. It was the first time
I named that I had been in a gay relationship. (While in India, I seriously had not
named it that. We talked about whether
what we did together was wrong, but we
didn’t stop and we knew enough to hide it
from everyone). I came out to myself at this
conference. Not only that, but there was
a South Asian dyke there, whose family
was connected to mine through the Hindu
temple community. She was in graduate
school and was an activist. And gay. At 17,
it was beautiful to see a Desi queer activist. We kept in touch. I introduced her to
my boyfriend and they hit it off. She invited
him to present at a multicultural event she
organized as he did Tai-Chi (also a part of
his Asian fetish).
I was determined to lose my virginity before
college. My boyfriend and I engaged in what
was originally consensual sexual activity.
However, the pain was so intense that I
soon realized I wasn’t ready and my body
needed it to stop. My verbal and physical attempts were not forcefully shut down, simply minimized. I didn’t know what else to
do. I wanted it to be over. I cooperated. As
Bran Fenner says in his piece, “Cooperation
is not consent.”
I soon broke all communication with him
after I started college. (He also wasn’t too
keen on keeping in touch since I shaved
my head my first week at college, which
apparently was me reaching into his chest
and tearing his heart out.) The South Asian
dyke friend gave me a lot of heat for ending
11

The Revolution Starts at Home

things with him. I came off as a cold bitch.
Why not be friendly, keep in touch, didn’t I
know I hurt him? When I visited home that
first semester, I got in touch with my ex and
we met up for coffee. I ended up crying and
crying and crying. Apologizing.
III. Overdosing on Seduction (19)
My life isn’t dangerous anymore, but I’m
still afraid.
~ Chrystos
I’ve written about my overdose before. I’ve
written about how I internalized the layers
of guilt and shame that my family carried
- around issues of race and class, about how
what I did to myself followed a laundry list
of violent family memories we all wanted to
forget, about how I came out to my mother
in the hospital. I’ve written about everything except what exactly happened that
led up to me trying to kill myself. It’s as
if I wrote about a car I was driving, how I
inherited it, how the road was shit, and the
fact that I crashed into a tree – but I didn’t
write about a hitchhiker I picked up along
the way. A hitchhiker who I felt trapped in
the car with, and crashing felt like the only
solution.

what she was upset about was valid – white
racist people in her classes, homophobia
from her community, worrying about money
– there was a way that it all translated to
my erasure, in order to take care of her ...
emotionally ... financially ... sexually. She
preferred our sexual relationship to be a
secret. This made the nature or depth of
our relationship unclear to me. I remember
wondering if she felt ashamed of me and
she reassured me that that wasn’t the case.
In hindsight, I think our relationship was
undefined so that there wasn’t any accountability on her end. If I was upset about our
relationship, I didn’t have anyone to talk
to about it since no one knew about it and
it didn’t feel like I had a right to talk to
her about being upset since we weren’t in a
“real” relationship.

Part of why we weren’t in a “real” relationship is because she was seemingly heartbroken about her ex and wanted to get back
together with him. Like me, he was also
on the FTM spectrum. The three of us had
a messy intertwined existence for about 6
months. Intertwined in that both he and I
went through phases of being with her and
not speaking to her. I witnessed her use every part of his identity against him – his being half-white, calling him by his old name,
anything that was apart of him she used to
put him down. During a time that they were
I met this “hitchhiker” in college. She was
beautiful rage. Fiercely political. A woman
not speaking to each other, she took him
of color artist not afraid to make white
home from a party when he was drunk. He
people cry. We talked politics, organized,
couldn’t walk up the stairs by himself. They
performed poetry. And we both still do these had sex in his room.
things. I just try to avoid being in the same
room as her.
There was a certain time period where he
and I became friends and we both were not
This particular part feels hard to write
speaking to her. We bonded over what it
about. I repeat history here. History I feel I had been like to date her. We talked about
should’ve learned from.
feeling trapped by rigid gender roles, about
how that dynamic affected us emotionally
My life quickly became about how she was
and sexually. My physical relationship with
doing and what she needed. She was conher felt like an addiction, mechanical movestantly talking about being a victim. While
ments of submission, part of who I was sup12

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

posed to be.
Meanwhile, I had quickly become the poc
anti-violence activist. I had co-organized
Take Back the Night and more women of
color students and professors were in attendance than ever before (or at least in a longass time!). I had developed a reputation as
the only visible person of color anti-violence
activist.
Two nights before I overdosed, she took me
home from a party. Sex in my room ... I was
so drunk, couldn’t walk straight. ... My body
remembers. Sobering up naked in bed. ... Do
you think I’m a rapist? ...
The next night, hours before I took a shitload of pain-killers, she and her ex had
a huge fight in my room. This was what
tipped everything over. She yelled at him
in front of me. I saw him physically react,
get smaller and smaller. She got in his
face, backed him against the wall with loud
hurtful words. I did nothing. I stood there,
paralyzed, complacent.
I hated myself. Was disgusted. Felt hypocritical and ashamed for having an anti-violence activist reputation. I felt like I chose
her over him. Fucking over friendship, since
I was sleeping with the enemy.
I felt responsible for everything shitty that
I was feeling. I was feeling shitty about my
body and the sex from the night before. Sex
I had told myself I wasn’t going to engage
in ever again. I was feeling shitty about not
standing up for a friend. I felt trapped in
shame.
IV. Of Martyrs and Prayers
[You] need to look at what’s happened in
your life, so it doesn’t control you.
~ Chrystos

As someone with a history of being socialized female, I understand how that can
translate to believing I need to be a caretaker, erasing myself, and giving in to other
people’s sexual desires in order to please
them. In many ways, I was simply playing
out what I learned and internalized. Over
and over again.
I have thought critically about what that
means. What was my role in these relationships? What does it mean to take responsibility for:
1.) my healing?
2.) identifying the affect of my trauma on
other people?
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. I have struggled to forgive my 14-17-19 year-old-self. However, in
writing this piece, I have found forgiveness.
Solace in the familiar fear that takes over
and gives me chills and paralyzes me. Because here I am pushing through the fear.
When Leah contacted me about taking on
this project, I had no idea what a gift it
would be for my own journey. I am grateful
for each and every submission. I am grateful for the opportunity to push through the
fear. My understanding of partner abuse in
activist communities is rooted in my understanding of fear, as a tool and product of
abuse.
My experiences, both in terms of what I
have endured as well as what I have witnessed, particularly in activist communities, have shined light on the intricacies of
13

The Revolution Starts at Home

how silence works, the intricacies of what is
at stake, and what is possible.

lar speakers, artists, writers, trainers. We
look for monsters, not martyrs. We look for
someone who looks like “the enemy.” Did
we forget that it is the ones we know, not
strangers who hurt us the most?

I reflect on my experiences and think about
how vulnerable queer teenagers are to abusive relationships. Not being out leads to a
secret relationship, which can easily lead
to secret abuse. I think about the power of
language. Naming a relationship – acknowledging an existence – helps to identify real
violence in a real relationship.
I think about how in queer communities,
especially queer people of color communities, you know how much shit your lovers/
partners have been through. How they are
often survivors, if not of physical or sexual
violence, then definitely of the violence of
oppression. How can we hold them accountable and still get them the support they
need for the fucked up shit they have been
through and still keep ourselves safe? How
do we share community? How do survivors
get past the shock that “one of us” is recreating the violence? The guilt of not wanting
to add to our lover’s oppression or make
their situation worse? The fear that the
community we found or created will hate us,
shun us, expel us for shaking up the foundation of trust we thought we shared?

This zine is a prayer for us all, as witnesses
and survivors, to step up and push through
the fear that keeps us silent. This zine is
a prayer for hope, healing and responsibility. An offering of stories that will hopefully validate, inform and inspire dialogue
and action. A calling for us to notice, whose
life is getting smaller and smaller? Whose
needs are at the center of/ defining the
relationship? Who is manipulating activist
language to cover-up their behavior?
While we have more questions than answers, we at least have questions that can
serve as a roadmap towards healthier and
more accountable communities. A roadmap
to what is possible. After all, the revolution
starts at home. ❚

As if we come to these activist communities
with a history of being believed, not blamed
for the violence we experienced. Naturally
we lie again to cover it up. Naturally “the
community” is uncomfortable or unaware or
perhaps unintentional in boldly perpetuating silence.
The very shit that led us to be activists and
organizers is the shit that has been recreated. It feels shocking. Unnerving. But not
unbelievable. How easy is it to be isolated
when everyone is working hard all the time
and burnt out anyway? And did we forget
that abusers are often charming, talented,
intelligent beings? Of course they are popu14

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

there is another way
Ana Lara

and behaviors.
6. Reach out to other survivors as a
source of support or to provide support.
7. Live my life to the best of my abilities
and with the goal of reaching my full potential.
8. Stay present to myself and to my
needs.
9. Form healthy relationships that nourish me.
10. Claim my own desire.
11. Accept my beauty, power, strengths,
weaknesses and humanity in the world.
12. Survive my history, circumstances
and violations.

Part I: Survivor’s Rights & Responsibilities
As a survivor of abuse, in any of its forms, I
have the right to:
1. Name rape, incest, sexual molestation, assault, battery, domestic violence,
and all forms of abuse in all its forms.
2. Feel angry, hurt, sad, loving, or forgiving of my perpetrator(s), and any
friend(s) or family who has collaborated
with the violence.
3. Speak about my abuse.
4. Have a space to reflect on my personal
history without judgment.
5. The physical and psychological care
that is necessary for surviving trauma.
6. A safe and secure home.
7. Safe relationships with family, friends,
partners, lovers and service providers.
8. Confront perpetrators and those who
have participated in violations and abuses.
9. Leave.
10. Take action to stop the abuse.
11. Feel beautiful and loveable.
12. Love and be loved.

Part II: What I Was Thinking
This essay is written for myself and other organizers who are survivors of abuse, in all its
forms. I’m writing it in the hopes of making
connections between our experiences as survivors and our roles as organizers.

As a survivor of abuse, in any of its forms, I
have the responsibility to:
1. Take care of myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually–whatever that means for me.
2. Reflect on the ways abuse has affected
me and to seek appropriate forms of support.
3. Understand the sources of my pain.
4. Interrupt patterns of abuse and selfabuse in my own behavior that hurt me
and/or others.
5. Take full responsibility for my choices

For many years, and with many friends and
peers, I have had an on-going discussion
about the effects of abuse on ourselves and
our community work. At the core of that discussion is a tension around how to identify
ourselves and each other with regards to
where we are in relationship to our personal
histories. Are we victims? survivors? What
are the politics of these identities? Without
ignoring or discounting the important history of the domestic violence movement in
the United States, or where you the reader
may be in your own process, I want to clarify
where I sit today with regards to this particular item.
People of color, queers, genderqueers, we
are the living proof that we do not accept

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The Revolution Starts at Home

institutionalized forms of violence as inherently true or valid–that we believe in our
own worth and right to live life on our own
terms. It is important for me to start there
because my understanding is that when we
extend the definition of oppression to include
violence in all its forms, we are extending
it into an understanding that all forms of
abuse are unacceptable: from institutional
racism to partner abuse, from police brutality to date rape, from financial control to compulsive heterosexuality. In other words, WE
ALREADY HAVE A BASIC FRAMEWORK
FOR MAKING THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN OUR OWN EXPERIENCES AND
THOSE OF OUR COMMUNITIES.

and writing out all of my thoughts about my
own history of abuse and survival and the
lessons I have learned in the process. The
very first realization that came to me out of
that process resulted in the “rights & responsibilities” statement. As I saw myself writing
down what I have learned about what I have
a right to, and in turn, how I have taken my
own lessons from abuse and turned them
into a sort of code for healing behavior in the
world beyond myself, I was scared. I saw that
what I am suggesting is potentially dangerous. That it could be misinterpreted. For me,
these “rights & responsibilities” have served
as a guideline for personal and community
healing.

If that is my starting point, then please
know that this essay is an attempt to create
language for defining my own experiences
and my own lessons. This is a divine opportunity because to date I have not seen language that reflects 1) how I have survived
abuse and the ramifications of my process on
my community organizing work and 2) the
direct connection with our own resolutions
around personal abuse and the ways we affect others as community organizers. Given
that resolving our personal histories of abuse
is a life-long process that is more like walking around a well than down a straight road,
I am in no way implying that I have it all
figured out. But rather, the opposite: when
we’re aware of our own pain, and work to uncover its sources, we become our best allies
to our own healing–and can become stronger
in our community work.

Let me clarify: healing from our personal
experiences is not just a matter of personal
health, but also about social change. Our
communities have suffered lifetimes of abuse
from slavery to police brutality. And the
work that is required to undo the internalized and externalized forms of oppression is
not just about what we do out in the streets,
in non-profits or community groups: it’s also
about how prepared we are to deal with the
fall out of our circumstances and personal
experiences. It is hard work to do this. It is
really hard.

My limited experience of the existing institutionalized domestic violence frameworks
has been frustrating and painful. Some of
the worst abuse I have experienced has come
from social service or community based organizations offering services to survivors,
and to the most disenfranchised members
of our society. In the process of reflecting on
these experiences, I ended up sitting down

Part III: An Example from My Own Life
Many years ago, when I was 21, I dated a
woman who was incredibly abusive - to the
point of trying to destroy my friendships and
the beginnings of physical violence culminating in a gun threat. Being a full blown dyke
drama queen, I was dating someone with
whom I worked. We were in different buildings, but nonetheless, after the destructive
break up, which I initiated because I couldn’t
take her controlling behavior, she followed
me around during work hours for about three
months. I quit my job as soon as possible and
made sure that I changed my social circum-

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Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

stances to avoid the places where she hung
out. This sucked for me, but I didn’t want to
risk seeing her. It didn’t matter–she found
ways to find me.
The moment of personal fury and epiphany
came when she approached an acquaintance
(let’s call her “Sarah”) almost two years later,
and informed “Sarah” of my betrayal of her
love. “Sarah”, someone with whom I was doing intense community work, was not familiar with the violence I had lived through with
this woman. “Sarah” came over to my home
one day telling me I had a responsibility to
ensure that all of our community was taken
care of. I was so upset, I turned pale. After
taking an hour to calm down, I explained to
“Sarah” why I had broken off all communication with my ex. “Sarah”, also a survivor of
abuse, immediately understood. She started crying, having herself felt the effects of
abusive manipulation. However, a couple of
months later, “Sarah” invited both me and
my ex to a party–without informing either of
us that we would both be there. When I asked
her why, she said it was not her responsibility to value one community member over the
other. I left the party. It was apparent to me
that “Sarah” was not sensitive to the subtleties of abuse in our communities. As a result,
she had created a context for perpetuating
violence. I understood her desire to create
healing, but I thought that her method was
deplorable.

not directly within an organization, but because that is the reality of my communities.
If I had not been working on getting solid on
my own stuff, who knows what kind of energy I would have put out at that party, in
that moment, with my community.
That incident became an important catalyst
for discussions about partner abuse–all of
us in our community felt the ripple of that
setting. One, because we cared about each
other, people noticed I left the party. Two,
when they asked me, days later, I used it as
an opportunity to break the silence around
the partner abuse–which in turn led other
women in our community to break the silence regarding the “ex”. And three, because
we realized there was a shared experience of
violence, we began to create bridges to safeguard ourselves, to hold each other accountable and to create spaces of healing.

After that night, I never saw my ex again.
In our community discussions, we all asked
ourselves to identify the roots of our pain, to
define community and community work. We
asked ourselves what it meant to be accountable–how to differentiate loyalty from truth,
and how to hold truth in gentle manners. We
started to analyze the frameworks we were
using to define our work. It became clear
that a trust had been broken between “Sarah” and me, and that in order for the work to
continue to be effective, we would have to be
healed and that trust restored. It became evIf I had not done the work to take care of ident that white, middle class models of memyself, to ensure my own safety and mental diation and community work were not what
health, who knows what kinds of violent rips we were using, nor where they appropriate
I could have created in that moment. The or enough.
truth is, the community was small–especially that of queer, colored organizers. We all Those discussions at age 23 became super
knew each other. For me, it had been espe- important for my own development as a percially important that I take steps to ensure son, artist and organizer. They were critical
my personal safety and to seek help after to my understanding of the links between
that relationship. It was important because personal experience and community work.
I was working with other survivors, and with Through those shared moments and converpeople going through abuse in that moment– sations, I started to understand that our per17

The Revolution Starts at Home

sonal experiences of abuse could be become
a roadmap for continuing or stopping the
perpetuation of violent, oppressive behavior.
That being a survivor and a perpetrator are
simultaneously possible, just as it is possible
to be a racist queer, or a homophobic person
of color. And that much in the same way we
work to not perpetuate racism, we must also
work not to perpetuate violent interactions.
There are other ways.

es, excepting addiction or mental illness or
within extreme states of oppression, we are
usually in control of our choices, even when
taking account of our circumstances. I want
to be clear that I am not talking about having a choice in our circumstances. Rather, I
am talking about what we do WITH our circumstances. This is what makes us powerful
leaders and organizers–our awareness of our
circumstances and how to deal with them.

Truth telling does not have to be a traumatic,
abusive process. Believe me when I tell you
I have experienced social change in non-abusive, healing forms. And usually, it comes
out of models generated by the most traumatized of our communities–communities
of color, genderqueer communities, genderqueer colored communities... we know that
there is a way to do the work without hurting ourselves and others. Because creating
hurt is what our society does to us every day,
and what white supremacy and nationalism
and fascism operate on.

This is also different from our emotions. As
human beings, we can’t determine how we’re
going to feel about a situation–and we’re entitled to all of our feelings–but we can determine how we will act once we become aware
of them. When abuse occurs, a choice–either
intentional or unintentional - has been made
to engage in destructive behavior. And as
most survivors know, when abuse occurs, it
is usually followed with a justification. As organizers, we can stop the lack of intentionality, and we can stop destructive behavior in
all its forms.

Part IV: What I Dream Of
I know, in my flesh, that my ancestors had
no choice about their enslavement. But they
did have a choice about how to survive that
enslavement. They chose profound spiritual
power, subtle and direct forms of resistance,
and sometimes, participation in the system
as overseers or slave owners themselves. I
think, I believe, the same range of options is
available in all circumstances. Nobody told
Condoleeza Rice to become a neo-conservative self-hating enemy of the people, for example. And I am grateful that Huey Newton
chose to resist the police officers in Oakland
40 years ago. They are of the same generation.
There’s no way to account for people’s choices in their behavior. But I do believe that we
make choices and that in most circumstanc-

I know that as organizers we don’t let racism, transphobia, xenophobia, homophobia,
sexism or classism stop our own growth as
communities, or the assurance of our rights.
We actively work to unearth the internalized forms of oppression within ourselves. I
know, as a result of my observations and my
readings, people who have lived through a lot
and survive are often the most powerful and
necessary leaders of our movements. However, many of us don’t even try to answer for
our personal responses to public behavior.
Many times, we justify our abuses by using
our status within a community, or isolating
the truth tellers who reveal our pain. Many
times, we allow for the abuses because we
are desperate–the work demands that we be
on. That our most brilliant members mentor
us, teach us, guide us, facilitate our own development–even if it’s fucked up.
I can think of many examples of this. One

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Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

particularly poignant example is from a conference on the effects of violence on women of
color that I attended several years ago. I sat
in the audience, excited that one of my heros
was about to speak. I then watched as she, a
veteran queer Chicana leader yelled, in public and abusively, at a young Native American female assistant who was simply trying
to set up her microphone. We then listened
to her justify, to a room of 3,000 women of
color, her behavior with the fact of her status
in the movement. Needless to say, I was saddened. I was deeply saddened with her choice
about how to deal with her frustrations.
As organizers and leaders, we know we have
great responsibilities in assuring the positive
movement of social change, and we are aware
of the constant pressure of self-development.
However, we cannot ignore the impact of our
own histories on how we approach the work.
We cannot forgo our own health thinking it
will not affect our communities. Because we
are, all together, the community.

so that we are available for the long haul.
I truly believe the more we take care of ourselves as leaders in our movement, the better we can do our work. If we don’t take care
of ourselves, or deal with our own histories,
how can we be emotionally and mentally prepared to interact in ways that don’t mimic
the abuse that is familiar and present within
our interactions? The personal is deeply political–and not just in terms of identity, but
in terms of lived experience.
Part V: The Imperative Tense

In truth, I feel a sense of urgency around all
of this. I am now in my 30s and what this
means is that I’m watching yet another generation of young people being abused within
our movements. I am seeing that the foundations I lay in my 20s were not maintained
in my communities–those of us who were doing this work 10 years ago, are watching the
wheel get re-invented–without mention of
It is my hope that as direct or indirect survi- what has already been done. In other words–
vors of abuse, we also don’t allow our abuse the machinations of oppression are alive and
to become THE pattern for our interactions well, and simultaneously, those of us who
with others.
have stepped up to or have been entrusted
to doing the work, no matter our age, must
It is my hope that we choose to heal and to deal with ourselves. We don’t have time for
do things in ways that foment healthier com- this. We are in a state of extreme crisis and
munities, rather than broken ones.
oppression. Right now, the social contract is
being dismantled by people who operate on
It is my hope that as leaders we become mod- ensuring our continued oppression.
els of healing.
We must ensure the perpetuity, health and
It is my hope that we as organizers and lead- safety of our communities, in order to lay
the groundwork for deeper liberation. And
ers stand on equal footing with others.
similarly, as communities, we must find the
It is my hope that we as organizers and lead- existent models, re-discover old models, find
ers live with enough humility to apologize new models for ensuring our healing. I am
and approach change as possible for our- asking that those of us who are survivors use
our experiences to create these maps, with
selves.
integrity, love, truthfulness, gentleness and
It is my hope that as organizers and leaders a vision for assuring the dignity and safety
in our movements we take care of ourselves of our collective humanity. I am asking that
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The Revolution Starts at Home

we do the hard work to leave the destructive
patterns behind–trade them in for new ones;
that we survive our history and circumstances, allow ourselves to feel beautiful and
be loved so that we can create that for each
other.
Peace and light, always. ❚

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Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

how i learned to stop worrying and love the wreckage
Gina de Vries

i. anger is sexy

ii. passing/desire

She wanted to poison me against the rest of
the world, that girl. It was me and her, radical revolutionary partners-in-crime against
the fucked-up human race. She was a poor
white Southern kid from a classically broken
home, stuck forever in that queer-kid, poorkid, dysfunctional-family, the-world-owesme-because-I’m-a-victim frame of mind. The
kind of girl who’d experienced enough drama
for seven lifetimes, who was fifteen-goingon-fifty, and who didn’t have a goddamn clue
how to trust or love anyone, least of all herself. She made up for what she didn’t know
by being big and bitchy and loud, taking up
as much space as possible, and always having the last word.

According to her, my offenses were as follows: I stopped wearing my wire-rims and
started wearing cat-eye glasses. My skirts
got shorter. I wore my hair in pigtails. I
didn’t want to own a car. My make-up was
glittery. I was turning into a hipster. I liked
sex too much. I didn’t like sex enough. I
didn’t care about passing. I was friends with
famous people. I don’t believe in marriage. I
think transwomen are women. I got scared
when she threw her alarm clock at my head.
I got scared when she threatened to jump out
the window. I got scared when she hit herself
and left bruises the size of grapefruits. When
she pushed her fingers inside me after I’d already said No, loudly, clearly, I told her to
stop. I didn’t want to bottom to her anymore,
I was sixteen, just as petrified, and she made because the only times she wanted me were
me feel stronger by osmosis. Like maybe I after she’d thrown something. I was a baby.
could absorb some of her self-assurance, in- Over-sensitive, over-dramatic, making a big
herit her cocky attitude. I liked her strength, deal out of nothing, this wasn’t abuse, she
her confidence, her wicked sense of humor. wasn’t hitting me, not exactly, she wasn’t
I liked that she was trying to get her South- raping me, it’d only happened once and she’d
ern accent back. She had short spikey hair, stopped when I said No the second time. She
a wiry boy’s body, she was so pale and skin- wasn’t cutting herself in front of me, just hitny, had almost no tits at all. She wore baggy ting herself, that was different. The absence
jeans and tiny baby tees, one of those metal of blood and razors made it okay.
ball-chain necklaces, black Converse. The
perpetual baby-dyke look, cute and vaguely When I was anorexic, it took the attention
punky, not even close to butch and aloof, my away from her. I like the color pink. I like
usual type. But she had a vague North Caro- Hello Kitty. I dyed my hair purple. I dressed
lina drawl and was hopping mad. That was like a slutty little punk girl. I wasn’t profesalmost as good. We were revolutionary activ- sional enough. No one would ever take me
ist radical queers together, we had long bond- seriously. No one would ever understand
ing conversations that involved the words me like she did. No one would ever love me
problematic and fucked-up. Me and my girl as much. I pierced my eyebrow. I wanted to
against the terrible world. It worked until I pierce my lip. She told me I’d be more beautibecame the enemy.
ful without the lipring, so I didn’t. I said No.
Boys were the problem, she said. Masculinity
was the problem, she implied, every time my
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The Revolution Starts at Home

eye wandered away from her jeans and fitted
tees look to women who wore their clothes
very differently. I didn’t love her enough.
The kind of sex I wanted was too perverse,
too queer. The women I wanted were too
tough, the men I wanted wore more makeup than I did. I wasn’t really queer because I
was bisexual. I was too queer because I was
bisexual. Why did I have to talk about it?
A hot flush of my desire was enough to enrage her for days. I wanted to suck cock and
I didn’t care if it was flesh or silicone, I just
wanted to be on knees and have my mouth
filled by someone who wanted it as much as
I did. I wanted someone to hurt me because
it made them wet, made them hard, made
them shiver.
I wanted things she couldn’t give me. I wanted things at all. I write about sex. I had sex
with people she’d told me I could have sex
with. People wanted to fuck me and they
didn’t want to fuck her. I didn’t like hamburgers. I hate Mountain Dew. I don’t think
sex should be a punishment. I don’t believe
in punishment. I didn’t want to process all
the time. I like coffee. I asked her to pick up
the Mountain Dew cans she’d strewn around
my bedroom. I wanted a night a week to be
alone. I like butches too much. I wanted to
sleep in my own bed. I missed my friends.
But these problems, they were our business,
our life as a couple. Talking about it would
be breaking her confidentiality. I passed us
both off as healthy, happy, normal. I barely
passed at all. Everything I was, everything I
wanted, was wrong wrong wrong wrong. We
had to be morally upright. Middle-class. Married. Respectable. Respectable lesbians were
not bisexual leatherdykes. They were not
outspoken perverts and sluts and queers. Respectable lesbians did not synthesize queeny
fag, punk dyke, and slutty Italian-Catholic
school-girl looks and come out fierce and fiery
and giggling. They did not wear short skirts
and keep their hair long and still never, ever

get mistaken for straight. They were not the
trampy, brazen, not-gay-enough, too-queer
failure of a lover that I was.
iii. homewrecker
When I left her, she screamed at me. A clear,
loud, thick sound, richochetting off the tiny
walls of her messy bedroom. I could hear
our housemates discussing us timidly in the
living room. They were worried. How Dare
You she shouted, as more objects from her
floor whizzed by my face, a foot, six inches,
three inches away from me. Her clock, as
per usual; books; pillows and blankets too.
You’re going to FUCK him tonight, AREN’T
you? The boy she’d told me I could have sex
with and then demanded I cut off after we
made out against a brick wall. He was dangerous because he was a boy, but really what
that meant was he was dangerous because
he wasn’t her. I said, weakly, This isn’t about
him. I just can’t do this anymore. I’m tired.
I murmured, Please, stop. I kept waiting for
her to hit me. I almost wanted her to–it would
have made it all real. It didn’t occur to me to
just leave the room. It took me three days to
break up with her, because I’d start trying to
leave and she’d convince me it would work,
slam, another book hurled against the wall,
we had a wonderful relationship, smack, the
sound of her hand hitting herself. We were
happy, weren’t we?
I wrecked her home by leaving, she said.
I was erasing her family. I was her everything–You’re taking away my life, she said
to me, How can you do this? How Dare You.
I don’t know what made my words stick the
third night. My Nana says that sometimes
these things just happen in threes.
She told the story of our break-up to anyone who would listen, the story of how I ruined her life, left the beautiful holy sanctity
of our five-year lesbian partnership to fuck

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Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

boys. The mantra she repeated to anyone
who would listen, Gina left me to fuck boys,
Gina left our wonderful relationship to fuck
the enemy. I wrecked our home to let willowy
fags and muscular butches slap me around
because I actually wanted it. Not because
it was how someone punished me for wanting freedom. I wrecked her home because
her home was our relationship and being a
homewrecker was my last and only survival
strategy. Being a homewrecker was the only
way I could get out.
But how do you even wreck a home that’s already way past broken, the foundation rotten to its awful fucking core? When I met
her, I could have been any scared sixteenyear-old girl, easily ensnared by someone
tall and smart and manipulative, someone
just as scared as I was, but with a different
and dangerous coping mechanism. I got myself into that mess, but you know what, I got
myself out. I made my home in myself. I am
not her home. I have never been her home. ❚

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The Revolution Starts at Home

infestation
Jill Aguado, Anida Ali, Kay Barrett, Sarwat Rumi, of Mango Tribe

shades of brown and gray scurry around
leave a trail
morsels of flesh
tails swish back and forth
somewhere at some moment men/women
were
is
am
are
predators.
she is unaware.
what can we do
when our predators lie in sheep’s clothing,
greet us with kisses,
hold our hands
in communal peace exchanges,
run at our side for the cause?
these demons wear sharp teeth beneath false smiles
she is unaware.
the predator holds his tongue under bad jokes
disguised as
charm
and waits in between vodka blasts
and swaying hips
to unleash his lasso.
she is unaware.
but–
who’s this brother?
do you know him? Spot him?
is s/he you?
somewhere at some moment
24

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

our brothers
our sisters
were
is
am
are
predators.
arm in arm
we link
mass mobilization
in the way of soul chants cradled
to beat schemes as smooth as
the blood that runs through the capillaries of our people.
but–
who’s this sister?
do you know her? Spot her?
in the slogans of banners &
loudspeakers? turntable angle?
is s/he you?
changeling vermin,
you shape shift tactics of
predation and power
over us.
joy does not play here.
she floated away last night with fairy tales,
Barbie dolls,
pink lipsticks,
the-sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice
that little girls used to be made of.
she was unaware.

25

The Revolution Starts at Home

she remembers
the loving gazes and tender reminders
of herself.
she tries to cover
the holes bulleted into a heart left
too wide open
for far too long
she learns the craft of mortar and brick
lays them thick as armor round the muscle the size of her
fist
she weeps, heart drumming itself into shock.
she weeps, streetlamp saint
she weeps, as angels splatter against the windshield in
rush hour traffic
she did not ask for this martyrdom
she was unaware.
say with me:
No art is immune. Say: no movement, no song is immune.
the same hands
No art is immune. Say: no movement, no song is immune.
the same hands
we’re to believe bloodlines grow us
back to the homeland,
back to resistance.
how will I know you from
my lover
my sister
my comrade
my friend
when you wear the disguise of my own earthy muscle
my own foreign bones?
but I don’t have to be powerless.
Not here.
Not in my communities.
26

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

Not around my sisters
I don’t care who the fuck you are!
You don’t have any right to be
an asshole,
a sexual predator,
fuckhead,
rapist,
pillager,
thief –
a poser fronting as a partner in the cause –
you sack of limp balls and groping claws swaggering around
young flesh.
we will
exterminate the infestation
of your rodent hands
crawling over paralyzed skin
twitching
sniffing
seeking to consume the souls we will not give you
exterminate the infestation
of your hands
your words
your thoughts
your cocks
multiplying in our homes
in our communities
in our classrooms
in our beds
in our dreams
in my home
you fucking bitch
I want to
crush your windpipe
force open your ravenous jaws
spit the poison
you infused in me
back into your salivating maw
27

The Revolution Starts at Home

I want to grab your balls and rip them off.
use them the way David used his marbles –
twirling them in a dangerous sling –
spinning and spinning until momentum is built and
shoot them back at you!
bring down your
Goliath sized ego
how would you like that, Brother?
lover
sister
comrade
friend?
you sorry excuse for X chromosome
fuckheads!
I will hold a mirror up to you
Of multiple truths written in blood.
survivors’ words on the mirror walls of an entire room
and lock you inside.
keep you naked
force you to read the words
witness the truths.
I will watch as you try to wash,
smear the testimonies with your body,
with your blood,
your sweat,
your saliva,
your tears.
nothing washes the words away.
how will you escape this time?
I will watch as you try to break down the mirrors –
scratch at the glass.
will you shatter instead?
I wanna try out this experiment:
rats in a box…
and I have a few test subjects in mind.
28

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

you know who you are.
I wanna name names.
you will not get away with this bullshit!
we are aware.
if you knew
behind every woman you terrorize
is a whole army of sisters ready to pluck out your balls
and break your knuckles –
it would be a different world.
the ultimate cock block!
exterminate the infestation
my lover
my sister
my comrade
my friend
say with me:
No art is immune. Say: no movement, no song is immune.
the same hands
No art is immune. Say: no movement, no song is immune.
the same hands
exterminate the infestation
we are aware.
and justice will walk through us.

❚

29

The Revolution Starts at Home

no title
Anonymous

I stand in the stone corridor, looking at the
uniformed court officer with wide eyes.
I am here checking out the space before my
court date to get a peace bond against my
lover.
“What do you mean we all wait in the same
space?” I ask.
“Don’t worry- just ignore him dear”.
“Ignore him…right”.
Later, the judge will call my lover ‘mister’,
give her masculine pronouns despite her
having an obviously female name
I will learn a lot through this process of the
gendered assumptions about relationship
violence.
We didn’t fit their framework of understanding.
The truth was though, in their own way, my
queer feminist activist communities didn’t
know any more what to do with me or us
than the courts did.
I sometimes felt profoundly alone, like I was
drowning in the collective silence and judgments built around me. And in very different ways, I wouldn’t doubt this to also be
my lover’s experience. Neither seemed very
helpful.
I didn’t love the option of engaging the court
system, it being an institution embedded in
racism, classism, patriarchy. At demos, cops
were always on the other side, a force we
were generally fighting against. It wasn’t a
decision I made easily or lightly.

But then there weren’t a lot of other options
that I saw. I didn’t trust my lover to hold
herself accountable, and who else would be
there to deal with whatever came next? My
therapist says that she doesn’t believe in
western medicine, but that if she broke her
leg, she would surely go to the hospital. However conflicted my decision, in the absence of
community alternatives, it offered me some
promise of response, some authority where
I felt like I had none.My refusal to see her
didn’t stop her showing up at my house, my
shouts didn’t stop her fist.
Among a community of activists, my decision
wasn’t a popular one. The only witness to the
event in question refused to corroborate my
story. The sticky threads: She was a woman
of colour who saw her cooperation as participation in and collusion with a tool of the colonizers, a system that has only brought injustice and devastation to her First peoples.
From my end, I had a declared witness who
would not support my story, risking my credibility. It was difficult to hold these tensions,
to not feel her silence as a deep betrayal of
our friendship and my safety.
The morning of filing my statement to the
police, who would now hand deliver the
court summons to my ex-partner:
My new lover thinks this is an occasion to
celebrate. “You must be relieved”.
No, my choice paradoxically involves giving
over control, an uneasy space I occupy after a
relationship where I felt so little of it. I have
crossed over to the point of no return.
That, and an overwhelming grief I have been
staving off by procrastinating until the deadline. That our relationship is over is undeni30

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

ably real to me in this moment.
How could I say, that even after everything,
I still longed for her?

lence, that you don’t know me as well as you
might.

It would be easier to tell you that the story
ends there—that I picked up the pieces and
It is a difficult thing to explain to anyone who moved on, but it doesn’t. I got back together
hasn’t been there. From the outside, this pos- with her. Some said I was like the reality of
sibility seems unimaginable. From the out- this betting on the wrong horse.
side, things are clear and straight-forward.
In a strange way the specialness that marked
From the inside, life is held in powerful con- our love, what set ‘us’ apart from ‘them’,
tradictions. I lived our profound intimacy transformed itself into a fierce protection. A
that when good, was nothing short of magi- new bond of ‘us’ against ‘them’.
cal. That the person with whom at times I
felt the most safe, the most at home, was More than anything, it fueled our desire to
the same person at times I both dreaded and disprove the doubt and speculation.
feared. The person who could be big and angry could just as easily be intensely vulner- Looking back, there thankfully was some (alable and incredibly loving. For all her suffer- though I wouldn’t have thought so at
ing, I thought I could love her pain away- that the time).
I just had to love her bigger, better.
My house held a meeting with us in which
Shame was a steadfast companion. The good my partner listened to and addressed their
feminist that I am, I have read the books on concerns and the ways in which her behavthe cycle of abuse and violence. I know them. ior had eroded their sense of safety too. She
How did I get here? I should have known would have to earn their trust back.
better than to let this happen. What kind of
My partner and I created a new narrative to
feminist was I?
overwrite our history. Things were different,
As a therapist in training, I encouraged cli- the ‘old self’ was gone. This was a very efents to name abuse, and when they couldn’t, fective tool in combating the external doubt
I would call things for what they were. How and at first, we hardly drew on it. Things
could I say out loud that I had gotten caught were different…for a while. This narrative,
in such a crazy dynamic? What kind of ther- though useful, left no room inside the relationship to name old behaviors, old ways, if
apist was I?
they didn’t exist anymore.
Once out of the relationship, I worked hard
to see the hooks. How deep our socializa- The narrative began unravelling, but in the
tion runs that somewhere inside of me, part face of people’s judgments and my own hope
Catholic upbringing to honour commitment, of change, to whom could I admit this?
part fairy-tale that true love only comes
once, I clung to my values, and my fear. To Rarely did I get time alone to even think such
my homophobic family, how much I wanted thoughts. I would be accused by her of using
to show you that queer relationships could my femme and ‘passing’ privilege against
be healthy and long-lasting-that I could have her through the court process; using my
what you have, that I could be just like you. class privilege when I didn’t pay for this or
And how, because of this, I have kept my si- that; of not knowing what it was to be a ‘real’
31

The Revolution Starts at Home

survivor. When she disclosed unnegotiated??
affairs, my upset was evidence of my lack of
internal security and radical politics. Amidst
the chronic exhaustion from sleepless nights
of fighting and processing, this was always
the way.
Everyone has a bottom line, more about this,
more about the friends. more about safe space
in our community being eroded and ending it
there and I finally reached mine. A moment
that, in the bigger picture, was quite ordinary. No violence, nothing spectacular. Another disrespect, another boundary crossed.
A moment of pure clarity when I realized
‘this will not stop’. And I got out.
Some of you told me privately about your
own stories of abuse in our communities and
I thank you for that. A few of you have been
brave enough to talk out it in public.
Thank you to my friends who listened patiently, and acted as my reality-testing.
Thank you to my now partner who waited
through my triggers, and restored my faith
in love.
//
As time went on, I thought about her less
and less.
I was less pulled to see her and talk to her.
Last I heard, she was working at our local
women’s rape crisis center. ❚

32

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

i married a marxist monster
Ziggy Ponting

I remain caught on the horns of the same
old dilemma. The one I’ve been stuck in since
I was with her. What to do with the fact that
this fairly high profile career activist, who
does do good work often, is really abusive at
home. That she mangled me and my self-concept so badly cannot be irrelevant, but I still
feel as though it reflects poorly on me and as
though I ought not rock the lefty labour boat
by talking about it.
Abuse. The word transforms her from a
slightly difficult, neurotic “political powerhouse” into a nasty, disturbed bully who
would chase me around the house in her
rages. It makes her a perpetrator, when being a victim is her stock-and-trade. It makes
me a victim–a mess to be cleaned up, an inconvenience. It makes me a rat to say it, a
squealer. And, in my imagination, all those
folks have way more reason to be loyal to her
than to care about me.
I wrote that four months after leaving. Our
assets were still entwined, I was still having
nightmares, and I had just begun to eat like
a regular person again. My dearest dream
was to make sense of what had happened–
and expose her private shame–by writing
the story of our relationship, a version that
finally, I could control. Now, I’ve been out of
there for three years, have had no contact
with her–even through lawyers–for almost
two years. And I still feel tentative. I still
avoid any meetings, protests or events she
is likely to be part of. I am still afraid of calling it abuse publicly, of what she could do in
response. So, I’ve written and rewritten this
piece about 30 times, and it is still one of the
hardest things I’ve ever done.
And I don’t exactly know why.

I know that I am desperate not to become the
hysterical hard-done-by ex-lover crying abuse
in order to slander. I am determined not to
exaggerate or be dishonest. I don’t want to
write a revisionist history to try to justify my
own mistakes, don’t want to seem reactionary because this experience has made me
question the culture of labour and lefty politics. Despite the little voice that still chastises me for whining when I wasn’t tortured for
being a trade unionist, haven’t watched my
loved-ones starve under an embargo, didn’t
have to flee my country–the pain I’ve experienced seems important. I am writing this
partly because so much of what happened
in those four years of hell happened because
it wasn’t considered important when I was
hurt, because her distress always trumped.
Because so much of what happened in private was covered up, glossed over or excused.
Because I didn’t have a way of understanding
it when I was supposed to be the Privileged
White Girl, and she the Activist of Colour, so
busy fighting the victimization of people like
her, doing the important work of struggling
for the just world that I thought we both believed in.
I guess it’s not surprising that there was a
very complicated set of factors that set this
up. One of the biggest ones, and the one I
have still not untangled entirely, is my own
white guilt–learned in pasty-faced liberal
lefty circles–which I allowed to override my
intuitive analysis of the power-imbalances in
our relationship, never mind my own history
of actively critiquing the pitfalls of traditional romance and the gendered division of
labour. My self-effacement was compounded
by the ways she deployed her brownness
among white-folk, as she was encouraged to
in labour subcultures anxious to see themselves as anti-racist and international. The
33

The Revolution Starts at Home

fact I was with her, she made clear, gave me
political credibility. And when, to keep me
in line, she claimed that other brown women
were pursuing her, that they told her they
wondered why she’d be with a white girl, I
sympathized, wondered why she had chosen
me, felt intimidated by the comparisons, and
grateful.
Another factor was the undiagnosed and, as
far as I know, still unacknowledged personality disorder that my ex struggled frantically
to disguise and control–and, not infrequently, took out on me once the front door was
closed. The symbiosis between her understanding of herself as always-already victim
(a symptom of the particular pain and narcissism of her illness) and the framing of folks
of colour as “disadvantaged” (and therefore
necessarily innocent) on the left, and in my
mind, excused a ridiculous amount of nasty
and dysfunctional behavior. Besides, she told
me (and I, in my own racism, swallowed) her
bad temper was cultural, her people were
more passionate than my repressed middleclass British background prepared me for.
Of course, I also imagined that I was immune to such retrograde dangers as domestic
abuse. That was something that happened to
weaker women, women who weren’t independent, queer and feminist like me–duped, unfortunate women who bought into polarized
gender roles and heteronormativity. I had
known since I was 12 that I never wanted to
be anyone’s wife. I made a swift and screaming exit from heterosexuality before I was 20
for just that reason. I had publicly mocked
marriage, scorned couple culture, played as
slut and worked as ho. I was a clever pomo
girl, nonmonogamous, tough-assed, articulate, motorcycle-riding and unapologetic.
Surely, I would be able to spot an abusive
relationship a mile away. Certainly I would
never be the one so invested in the idea of the
happy marital-home (albeit the lefty-luppy
version) that I’d be unable to acknowledge

the constant anxiety, intimidation and dread
that filled my days.
But all the academic know-how in the world,
apparently, can’t protect you. Knowing that
the personal is political doesn’t mean you
will know exactly how it’s political. And love,
it just is, right? I mean, I knew all about
those asshole lefty men who couldn’t quite
wrap their heads around the idea of women
as genuine equals and, despite their muchflaunted political honour, treated their girlfriends/wives/whatevers like personal servants and used the movement for their own
aggrandizement and philandering. I remembered a women’s studies prof of mine, who’d
been through such a relationship, used to
wear this great button–“I Married a Marxist Monster”–but I sure never figured that I
would, or that it could be a nut-brown queer
girl freaking out in the doorway because her
dinner wasn’t ready, or lying to me about an
urgent collective meeting so she could shag
someone else behind my nonmonogamous
back. I mean, at the beginning, I actually
bought her arguments that her work as a
paid activist was so important and consuming that I should be responsible for groceries,
cooking and laundry, etc.–nevermind my full
time job.
And what an unlikely couple we were for
sordid secret dramas. Two not-so-tall slightly outdoorsy women in a mixed-race, crosscultural “lesbian” relationship, with middleclass socially-conscious jobs, who attended
protests and political meetings hand-in-hand,
greeting their circle of labour, lefty and
queer friends with hugs. Older professional
activists called us good comrades, people
took pictures of us at events, I took classes in
her first language while visiting anarchists
crashed at our place–such appearances were
very important to her. How could anyone
imagine her–a good few inches shorter–shoving me around at the top of the stairs, sweeping everything off the dresser in a fit of rage,

34

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

or bringing a paring knife to bed? And how
could I acknowledge how screwed up things
were? When she said my unconditional love
was so important to her. When each incident
sounded so surreal, strange and improbable when I tried to describe it. When she
didn’t mean to, was just stressed out by all
her responsibilities/ flashing-back on childhood abuse/ reacting to my insensitivity.
When it felt necessary to keep a semblance
of normalcy together, make sure we made it
to the demo on time, to smile and hold her
hand while she worked the crowd. When I
was so convinced of my own culpability, that
she was right and if I just weren’t so difficult
to love (so in my own head/ such a slut/ so
unwilling to compromise), she wouldn’t be so
scary. Surely, as she said, the turbulence of
our relationship pointed to a deeper passion
than I had known in my previous WASPy existence, and it would all even out over time.

I didn’t–those hands hurt me so often that
their caress became unbearable. But I didn’t
understand, had always had a healthy libido, thought that there must be something
terribly wrong with me. How was I to know
that those repulsive memories could stay
with you and haunt your later lying with
better lovers? I didn’t know that projection is
a huge part of perpetrators’ M.O., that they
could convince you that you were like them
or worse, call you “abusive” for yelling back,
pushing back, or leaving.
I really didn’t know, or really want to know,
these things. And I certainly was not aware
that you could keep complex secrets from
yourself, that in the midst of daily horrors,
you could even abandon yourself to cope.
That you could know and not-know, at the
same time, that being regularly maligned
and discounted like that was completely Not
OK. I didn’t realize that you could smother your own instincts, paste a bland look
on your face and go play convincing happy
couple in public. It was only when I started
to write nearly every day like I had before
I met her, (resisting her–often very dramatic–interruptions, refusing her distractions,
sticking to my own thoughts and feelings,
keeping it all in one book), that this denial
began to wear thin. When I could look back
over pages chronicling weeks of intense anxiety, horrible “fights,” earnest expressions of
concern from my close friends and my own
enormous unhappiness, then, I began to let
myself see. I began to understand how little
energy I had left, how much “taking care”
of her was diminishing me, that her muchtouted politics didn’t include an equitable division of domestic or emotional labour, that
her rants about the need for on-line access
for activists in the global South rather overlooked the fact that I still didn’t have private
email access from our home.

I really thought abuse was when someone put a brick in a sock and hit you with
it. I thought it always left visible bruises,
was perpetrated by unambiguous assholes
and would be obvious to everyone around.
I didn’t know it made you doubt your own
perceptions, that it could be so subtle and
manipulative, that you could buy right into
it and pity her (rather than yourself) as she
ripped your favourite sundress off you or
kicked your houseplants down the stairs.
I didn’t know how insidious intimidation
is, that you could be controlled by learning
how to tiptoe around someone’s frightening
moods, that you could be cornered into denying your own beliefs in order to avoid conflict,
that you could spend mornings hiding in a
closet in your own home, waiting for her to
leave for work. I didn’t know your body could
shut down, that desire could be suffocated
like that or that marital rape could happen
between women–that eventually you’d put
out to try to halt the hounding, the constant
criticism and guilt, the accusations: “You I wish I had listened to the dyke-grapevine,
don’t want me anymore!” Which, of course, right at the beginning when she was court35

The Revolution Starts at Home

ing me so aggressively, when the word on it
was that she was messed-up, a liar and none
of her exes would have anything to do with
her. I wish someone at the collective meetings had noticed that I was never given the
agenda, that she held it for both of us and
consistently shot down my ideas. I wish one
of the older labour and development lefties had checked in with me about why she
was always borrowing money on our behalf.
I wish my being with her hadn’t suddenly
guaranteed me return calls from labour folks
who previously hadn’t had the time of day for
me or the projects I was working on. I wish I
knew how to explain to the all the straightlefties who were bending-over-backwards to
be gay-positive that abusers aren’t always
men, that girl-on-girl relationships are not
utopic, that sexism, homophobia and racism
can thrive in the same skin that gets paid to
be organizing against them. I wish I’d been
able to tell the activists I respected that it
isn’t a lack of political commitment, but fear
of her malice, influence and anger that keeps
me away from the mainstream labour movement which continues to enable, excuse and
hire her.

convinced me that I should leave the house
whenever one of her rages started, it was to
their houses that I went. They kept listening
to my justifications for her behaviour, and
said the same things over and over again,
in a lot of different ways, with love and patience, until I heard them. Then, they passed
me hankies, stood guard, helped me pack,
find a lawyer and move.

I still don’t have an account of those years
that makes sense of what happens, or is even
an artistically clever exposé. Now, I read my
sporadic writing from the earliest time living with her, and I can see that I had these
moments of clarity, when I understood that
what was going on was not at all ok, when I
called her actions what they were, poured out
my suspicions, anger and despair. I’m often
even weirdly witty in those pieces. But theI-who-was-writing always seemed to think I
could fix it by talking to her, or leaving the
house when she started to rage, or adjusting the logistics of our lives. And then, I find
all these pages that reek of my denial, that
repeat the Disney story of romance and go
on, in desperate phrases, about my commitment to her. In these pieces I can see that
My queer crowd saw what was going on, I clung to that relationship as long as I did
weren’t so blind to interpersonal dynamics because of the fairy tale passionate and pothat they missed my increasing meekness, litical partnership I wanted it to be, because
my altered personality. My friends, my writ- we were supposed to be changing the world
ing, and my own gradual understanding that and wasn’t that more important than I was?
having to struggle to find a way to live on I clung to it out of what I imagined was perthis planet as my queer pro-sex anti-capital- sonal and political obligation, determination
ist feminist self was one thing, but having and a sense of profound guilt that I couldn’t
to wage that war daily in my own home was make it happy, didn’t love her enough.
another entirely, saved my ass. I had clung
stubbornly to most of my close friendships (a But the worst moments of my forensic forays
tight circle of queer artists, activists and aca- are when I discover the odd piece describing,
demics) for the entire ordeal. Despite the ex’s in painful detail, abusive or fucked-up inciactive dislike of most of them–they weren’t dents that I’ve since forgotten. Then, I have to
socialist enough, grass-roots enough, brown sit around and try to remember which closet
enough, involved enough in labour issues–I it was I huddled in that morning, what else
had insisted on maintaining those relation- was going on when she accosted me ranting
ships–knowing at least how important they about my sleeping with someone else, where
were to my sanity. So, when my therapist it was we were going when I jumped out of the
36

Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

car and walked the rest of the way to be free of
her vitriol. I have to wonder if I don’t remember because it was downright unbelievable,
or if it was one of the episodes she denied
the next morning, or if the human heart can
only hold so much heaviness. I have to think
about the words “trauma,” and “abuse,” and
“recovery” and forgive myself again for failing so completely to look after myself then.
I try to remind myself of what my doctor (a
self-described “friend of labour”) said when I
told her I was leaving because it was just too
abusive to stay. “Good for you!” she said, like
I hadn’t just thrown away years of my life on
that relationship, and when I looked at her
like she was insane, she continued, “You’re
getting out. That’s what matters. You are
taking great care of yourself.”

guilty does something (beyond reifying feelings of superiority) to mitigate that privilege, and go right back to doing things pretty
much the way we always did. “I’m not racist,
how can I be when I feel so damn bad about
the effects of racism?” “I’m not racist, look at
me standing here beside my brown buddy,
cleansed by association.” “We’re not racist,
look–our meetings always include an ethnic
guest, and we try to keep at least one person of colour on staff.” While really, we are so
guilty of racism, that we can’t imagine those
who we see as the victims of it as anything
but, daren’t complicate our analyses of privilege, and fail to work with members of other
racialized communities as equal partners. ❚

And, in retrospect, I can see that I was. Leaving an abusive relationship, let me tell you,
is fantastic. After you start properly sleeping
and eating again–and not checking the locks
all the time–there is this fantastic period of
euphoria when you get your life back, your
good cheer back, your routines and autonomy. There’s still the long and horribly draggy
parts of healing, too, but even in the midst of
those periods, it sure feels like nothing could
ever be quite as truly awful as what you’ve
already weathered. I also found I’d grown a
weird new kind of radar–I can spot chronically dysfunctional folks a mile away now,
and know to give them an extremely wide
berth.
I guess, as well, my politics have changed.
I am not willing to be martyr for the movement in any way any more. I have come to
understand liberal white guilt as a particularly worrisome kind of racism, the foundation of tokenism, and an incredible denial of
the agency of folks of colour. I think it can
offer an extremely attractive psychic loop for
us white folk, where we can flagellate ourselves for our individual privilege, watch the
folks of color be angry, imagine that feeling
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The Revolution Starts at Home

philly’s pissed and beyond
Timothy Colman

When I was fourteen and fifteen years old,
I was in an abusive relationship with my best
friend. It ended because I stopped talking
to him or spending time with him. The last
time he tried to assault me, mutual friends
of ours were visiting from out-of-state and
staying at his house. I stayed there, too, the
last night they were in town, after he pressured me. The next morning, after they had
left, he and I were folding up sleeping bags
and he started touching me. I managed to
stop him and left his house. I kept going to
high school with him for three more years.
We had all the same friends.

like that, separate them into two clear, contained things, but truth is, they always had
a complicated and intertwined impact on
how I lived in my body and related to people
around me. One reason I didn’t talk about
the abuse was I feared if I told the people
I loved, the people who loved me, what had
happened to me, they would see me as the
person I had been when it happened. I believed this would drive them away from me.

Now, when I think of myself at fourteen,
fifteen, hell, pretty much onward for many
years, I feel fiercely protective. I remember
this loudmouth shy-eyed kid, kind of a dyke
I’m a transguy; in high school I was some but still figuring it out. I’d just cut off all my
kind of a girl, but have since come out as a hair; I was trying out being at home in myboy. At the 2007 Trans Health Conference self. I’m still working to understand how the
in Philadelphia, I was in a workshop where person I was then both is and is not who I am
someone recounted how a friend of theirs today. I’m working to integrate.
had thrown a party after having chest reconstructive surgery where he burned all When I was nineteen, the boy who abused
the pictures he had of himself from before he me wrote me a letter explaining that all that
transitioned. This story hit me like a punch abusive bullshit and sexual assault was him
in the gut. I want to understand and support trying desperately to be a successful heterothe things people do to feel valid and good sexual man. He’s queer now. I’m not sure if
and real in their gender identity and expres- he was asking me to absolve him of the things
sion–but I had a visceral reaction to the im- he did. Part of me wants to cite examples, to
age of this anonymous transman burning all write a list, to prove how awful it was. I don’t
those photographs.
remember it as a list, though. I don’t remember it as a narrative. It’s a flash of many moI remember that feeling of wanting to destroy ments, layered on top of one another, without
the person I used to be, to burn up the rem- much order or sense. The things he did to me,
nants of my past and start fresh. I wanted to while he was doing them and for years afbecome a healthy, whole person, the person I terward, carried with them pain and disgust
pretended I was most of the time. For a long and a deep shame. It was all senseless, out of
time, I hated and feared the girl I had been context, and it got all over me; I couldn’t disat fourteen. I was afraid she would show up entangle myself from the awfulness. I didn’t
someday and ruin everything that was im- understand it as, What he did was terribly
portant to me. This was never solely about wrong, and it hurt me. There was no clear
being trans; it was also about my history as a logic to how it lived in me: the terribly wrong
survivor of sexual abuse and assault. Gender and the hurt and me and him were all jumdysphoria and sexual trauma: I can say it bled up together. Part of what got me out of
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Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

the strangling grip of abuse memories was
telling the fragments, working to remember
the order and context in which things happened. It scared me to see the people closest
to me freeze up or sharply inhale air when
I spoke the details aloud–again, I was terrified I’d drive them away–but their witness helped me make some sense out of this
senseless thing.

I was dating and freeze up and shake while
talking in her bed.

A few years later, his roommate–the boy who
had borne silent, sleeping witness to my assault–committed suicide. The Good Straight
White Activist Boy came back for the memorial service and I freaked out nauseously and
silently and felt like a jerk for wanting to talk
to someone about my body memories while I
I didn’t write back to his letter, but I wrote was supposed to be mourning this person’s
him a letter of my own when I was twenty- death.
two, one which said, I believe it’s possible for
people to change, and that you’ve changed in In college I was in the support group for sursome ways. I hope you have people in your vivors of sexual assault and abuse, where a
life who will support you but also be critical lot of statements were exchanged about how
of you, who will hold you to standards of ac- we were all women, and that made the space
countability. The best way you can show me so safe, while I bit my lip and stared at my
that you’ve really have changed is by respect- hands. It took me a full year after coming
ing the following: 1. I don’t want to see you. out as a transguy to tell the support group. It
What this means: if you know I’m going to be was the only place where I had found a sense
somewhere, don’t come. If we’re in the same of connection around this incredibly isolatsocial situation–a party, a bar, whatever, it’s ing thing that took up so much space inside
your responsibility to leave. 2. I don’t want to of me, and I was afraid if I was honest about
talk to you. Don’t talk to me, or look at me like my gender identity, I’d lose that.
you expect me to talk to you. 3. I don’t want
you to ask people we both know, or friends of I was a counselor on the sexual assault reyours who I’ve interacted with, for informa- sponse team. I ran workshops for new stution about me. He agreed, and I stopped see- dents about consent and assault. At any
ing him at parties and bars. He also moved given moment, in the cafeteria or at a party,
to California, which made things easier.
I could point out at least four perpetrators
of sexual assault. But all that time, it never
I didn’t know I could write a letter like that felt possible to stand up to the people who’d
three years earlier, when I was doing college assaulted me; I never knew I could write
activism with another boy who’d sexually a letter that said, Stay the fuck away from
assaulted me, the child of a lesbian, a Good me, stop smiling at me & stop talking shit
Straight White Activist Boy, another fellow on me to my friends. I never knew I could
Jew. He lent me Labyrinth by Borges and tell the other assaulter I couldn’t do organizburned me a late free jazz Coltrane album. ing with him: tell him, you need to leave the
Then he persuaded me to sleep in his bed white anti-racist group and stop coming to
when I didn’t have a place to stay and I woke my friends’ parties. The comfort and underup to his hand down my pants. I avoided his standing I found in the survivors’ support
gaze for many years, through meetings of group helped me feel less lonely and crazy,
the white anti-racist group where we’d talk but I didn’t find within it a vision for transforabout building trust and share strategies for mation, the courage and momentum to chalchallenging other white students on campus. lenge the world around me to become a place
Afterwards, I’d go home with the sweet girl where survivors of abuse could live fully and
39

The Revolution Starts at Home

wholly and be believed and respected.
When I moved to Philadelphia, I started
meeting people who did radical organizing around sexual assault, mostly as part
of a group called Philly’s Pissed, and people
whose visions of possibility were informed by
this work. There were so many small things
which were actually hugely important, like
having friends and lovers who said, after I
told them about my weekend back home,
when my friend invited me to a bar without
telling me the high school abuser would be
there, Wow, that’s not okay. Friends who told
me, You don’t have to see him. It doesn’t have
to be a secret. You might want to just tell a
bunch of people at once. And you can ask
them not to invite him to their parties.
Eventually, I joined Philly’s Pissed myself,
and found myself, every week, in meetings
with people who proceeded from a certain set
of assumptions–like, part of healing is taking
back power that’s been taken from you, and
sexual violence is something that happens
to people of all genders, and sometimes, survivors are fucking angry. Furthermore, the
group had a basic commitment to supporting the self-determination of trans people.
The set of givens that I found within Philly’s
Pissed was by and large the set I’d already
been working with myself, on my own, but
it was immensely powerful to be in a space
full of people with the same vision. When I’d
done survivor support work and sexual assault education in the past, it had been with
people with wildly variant political outlooks
and personal investments; it felt stunningly
different to be doing this work with Philly’s
Pissed. I felt safe, alive, energized. These people really fucking had my back, and not just
because they loved me, or because they saw
how my past was destroying me, but because
they knew survivors of abuse and sexual assault need to be able to articulate what they
need, and demand it, with the knowledge
that they will be believed and supported.

All this–after years of keeping quiet, holding
so many awful secrets, and being challenged
when I did talk about the abuse. I have so
much love for the few dear friends who held
me and listened while I whispered memories
during the worst years. But hours spent in
their beds couldn’t undo the rest of the world.
Other friends, who were his friends too, would
argue with me from his point of view, saying,
“How do you think he feels, knowing there’s
someone out there who thinks he’s a rapist?”
When I was 16, one of these friends stopped
me in the middle of the street while we were
crossing three lanes of traffic on the Lower
East Side, I’d just used the word “rape” for
the first time (prefaced by I’m not saying it
was but it was kind of like–a disclaimer I’d
later remove), and she asked, “Are you really
sure you never enjoyed it?”
For awhile, I had tried to just be over it. I
had lost so much community and connection
in avoiding him. I was sick of not getting to
see my friends. The winter I was nineteen, I
lost my dad to cancer, and after that, grieving death was more on my mind than healing from abuse. Sometimes you have to pick.
I needed all the love and support I could get.
I was sick of having to chose between avoiding him and seeing people I loved, I was sick
of distancing myself from friends because
they Didn’t Get It, because they were not
only still friends with him but talked to me
about him, repeated his words to me: He said
that really, you two were in love back then.
You know, it’s hard for him to see you, too,
especially when you ignore him.
Anyway, I’d Gotten Over It. It was July 2004
and I was at a birthday picnic auction in
Prospect Park, a top surgery fundraiser for
this guy I barely knew. I’d come with a wonderful friend, a new friend. I knew she went
to college with the high school abuser but we
never really talked about it, I just told her
we had fucked up history and that I didn’t

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Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

talk to him. I was having a good time. She
and I were headed to the Siren Music Festival at Coney Island. But then he showed
up, the high school abuser, with another
friend of mine from high school, one of the
ones I’d been keeping my distance from but
really loved and missed and fuck it, I just
wanted to be normal and so off we went on
the subway to Coney Island, me and my brilliant new friend who knew the abuser from
another context and the other high school
friend and him. I was fine. I was fine. Except then we got there and started drinking
and I freaked out and ran into a dirty punk
sweetheart friend of mine and wandered off
with him and we got Coronas in brown bags
and drank them on the beach and I just kept
saying, I’m so glad I ran into you. I hate that
boy I’m with. And he nodded understandingly with his soft eyes and I never explained
and he never asked. And then I met back up
with the others, and we took the subway to a
tiny boring party and then left quickly again,
because someone was driving–driving!–back
out of the city and on the way, they could
give us a ride home. Except I was stuck in
the backseat of the car, four of us across in
there, and next to me was the boy. The one
who, I