Uncategorized

The Behaviors We Fail to Define as Domestic Violence

human-rights.jpg

Remember that the primary strategy of domestic violence is to control; to establish control; to maintain control; to exert control over another human being, in this case a partner.  This is the fundamental premise of domestic abuse: to control a domestic partner in order to preserve and perpetuate one’s identity, agenda & existence.

Theorists debate the reasons for domestic violence.  Why do people domestically abuse?  Feminists believe that it is due to the overarching patriarchal constructs in society that value the male experience over that of female experience.  In patriarchal societies male dominance, which lead to abuse is viewed as acceptable aspects of masculinity.  Family system therapists have questioned if it is an issue of learned behavior.  Do abusers learn to abuse by what is modeled in their home?  Ecological psychologists consider environmental systems.  Are those who are exposed to the stressors of poverty more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors under the pressure of extreme stress?

I get it– in identifying root causes perhaps we can predict and prevent (this is especially important for legislative and policy making purposes).  What we’re finding in the domestic violence literature is these root causes are complex and there can be overlapping contributing factors to abusive behaviors.  From an individual perspective, we can’t always identify someone as an abuser based on these variables alone.  In fact, sometimes reviewing these variables alone can be problematic, as some will utilize justifications for someone’s abusive behaviors when they can’t simply place the person or his/her abusive behaviors into a categorical box.

Whatever the cause/reason for domestic abuse the outcome remain: a domestically violent individual uses abusive behaviors and strategies to produce fear, submission and oppression of their partner in order to control.

Let’s talk behaviors.  For the majority of us physical aggression and violence in a relationship is recognized as domestic abuse.  Although, you will find people creating justifications for physical abuse, especially when they are having difficulty believing that a family member or friend could act abusively.  Research shows that only half of those who are exposed to domestic violence report it.  Statistically speaking between 25-34% of women are domestically abused (1 in 3 or 4 women; 1 in 7 men) and only half of these survivors will report.  The reasons for this include: 1) they fear retaliation from their abuser, 2) they believe they will not be able to access help (i.e. police won’t help, will not be able to access resources needed like housing, financial assistance, etc.), 3) they have had family and friends tell them that the partner’s behaviors are not abuse and that perhaps they are making a big deal out of nothing.  This is why advocacy and education is tremendously important because those that justify are complicit to the harm that domestic violence produces for the survivor.

Now imagine– if it is easy to justify or ignore an individual’s experience with physical violence– when there are physical representations of domestic abuse on the individual’s person– how easy is it deny a person’s disclosure and experience with psychological and emotional abuse?

Yes, domestic violence occurs in many different forms.  One form of domestic violence that researchers are documenting have to do with abusers using a partner’s credit and ruining their credit to make it difficult for the survivor to leave or to obtain housing on their own.  Some abusers use contraception as a form of control by poking holes in their condoms to increase the chances of the survivor getting pregnant.  The belief for the abuser is if she gets pregnant then 1) they will be linked permanently and 2) having a child makes it more difficult to leave and to live independently.  These are strategies of control and more often than not there are multiple strategies that are being used to control another person.  In times of domestic violence where the abuse is more subtle or difficult to quantify survivors are less understood or believed.

Psychological and emotional forms of domestic violence occur.  At times, these forms are difficult to identify for the survivor and that is why it’s important we talk about it.  These forms of abuse are often ignored by family and friends, which further isolates and makes confusing the process of identifying emotional abuse for the survivor.  We all need more education around this so that we can support survivors’ agency and human right to do what is in her best overall health and interest.

Survivors need this information to alleviate the isolation one feels when being emotionally abused.  Survivors need to hear that you are not alone and that you are not crazy.  The abuse is meant to make you feel crazy and to make you doubt your own inner voice, but you are not crazy.  Survivors need to hear that the pain you feel is legitimate and real and although you don’t carry visible physical signs of your wounds the pain is excruciating and can lead to many complex feelings of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Psychological/Emotional abuse:

Character Assassination: When an abuser picks apart the character or personality of their partner by stating that their character/personality differences are wrong or weird or unacceptable.  We all are different.  We all have different ways of navigating the world.  We all think and process things differently.  An abuser who uses this tactic views the difference of their partner as less than.  The abuser will see their way of being or character as superior to the other person and will make comments or emotionally sabotage the other person by planting seeds of doubt about what the other person does or thinks.  Abusers who sabotage their partner’s character do this in private, as well as by demeaning them in public or putting them down in front of family or friends.

Name Call: Emotional abusers verbally put down their partner.  They may yell at them and call them names and make them feel less valued or dumb or insignificant in the world.

Emotional Manipulation: Abusers typically know triggers and areas that are sensitive to their partners.  They know what kind of emotional dynamic or language to use to get a certain kind of outcome from their partner.  The survivor may have even said, “no” or “I’m not comfortable with this or that” and the abuser may use previous information or knowledge about the survivor to derive guilt or shame in order to get the outcome that they wanted in the situation.

Gaslight: Emotional gas lighting is a recent term that refers to the absolute denial and displacement of emotional abuse/manipulation by the abuser.  In other words, the survivor at some point may call out these behaviors and how it creates feelings of hurt and pain and the abuser will deny the behavior.  Additionally, they will use this opportunity to question the survivor’s emotional stability and acuity.  “Are you okay”?  “Why don’t you see that I just love you”?  “You know you’ve always had trust issues”.  “Why can’t you assume the best of me”?

Insistence that they are the Experts in your life/experience: Psychological abusers believe that they know the survivor’s experience better than the survivor.   They believe that they know what the survivor needs and what they need to be doing.  A survivor may try to explain that this or that doesn’t work the same in their experience and the abuser is convinced that they know the situation better.  They undermine the survivor’s experience by saying things like, “you know you have this habit of…” They will insist that the survivor submit to their perspective and opinion on the situation.

Emotionally Withholding and Angry: When the survivor is unable or unwilling to go along with (fill in the blank) the abuser will be emotionally withholding, cold, distant and pout.  The cold stance may shift to anger over time and will manifest in putting pressure on the survivor to do what it is the abuser wants.

What happens to the Survivor?

The emotional and psychological consequences of this sort of abuse is extensive.  Survivors describe everything from depression to anxiety to feelings of inadequacy.  Survivors talk about how they have difficulty trusting their judgement.  They struggle to identify their own needs or desires because they hear the voice of their abuser overriding their own.  I’ve had survivors describe to me a sort of brain fog where they had difficulty thinking or focusing on anything.  When they did feel that they had an idea or opinion on a matter they weren’t sure if they could trust the new information.  Survivors describe feelings of doubt and self-blame about their situation.  I’ve heard women describe a somatic pressure on their chest or abdomen that are associated with exposure to emotional oppression and suppression.  For some the pain is indescribable– it is difficult to find language to describe the invisible pain.  Still others describe feeling completely isolated– left to navigate this emotional landscape on their own while in incredible pain and confusion.

I think one thing this blog can provide is a place to affirm that this suffering is real.

The suffering is real and survivors must not endure this suffering alone.  As one sojourner, I know the benefits of community and advocacy support.  There are no easy or quick solutions but I can’t leave this entry without giving some information to those who may need to reach out for assistance.  You can find that information below and know that I believe you and I hope for you– safety & relief from this pain.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE

Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence: https://wscadv.org

LifeWire: http://www.lifewire.org // 800-827-8840

Advertisements
Uncategorized

You’re the Good news

Screen-Shot-2017-03-07-at-10.59.54-AM

Yesterday I had the distinct privilege of talking with domestic violence advocates about a cross-cultural approach to research.  It turned into this incredible brainstorm session complete with tons of energy and passion and grit.  I was blown away in the best of ways!  And when the session starting winding down an advocate looked at me and said, “Uggghhh this is so hard.  There are so many hurting.  Please tell me there is good news”.  I sat there for a moment I looked her straight in the eyes and I said, “Yes indeed there is good news—that good news is you—all of you and these women and the communities being built despite limited resources and broken systems—The good news is you”.  And then I said, “here’s the context”:

A few weeks prior I met with a survivor to interview her for a study.  This woman shared the barriers she faced with unwavering integrity.  Her husband had stolen her children and taken them to another country.  He left her destitute—not knowing the language or the housing system—she was evicted in a few weeks’ time.  Every-single-aspect of life was stacked against her but she persevered.  She, with the help of friends and advocates, got her children back, learned English and secured a three-bedroom permanent housing apartment.  When I looked at her I said, “if you hadn’t met your advocate where would you be or what do you think would have happened”?  And without hesitation she said, “I’d be dead”.

 

“I’d be dead”.

 

So you see, this is the good news—the good news is women showing up to do the gritty work; to stand in the gap with one another; to build cities out of dust; to shout at the top of their lungs that anything less than human rights will not be accepted; to demand justice and fairness and equitable communities for all; to sweat and toil on hands and knees; to cry, to laugh, to dance and to weep in all that life serves; to be alive for and in all of it.  On International Day of Women we celebrate the literal blood, sweat and tears of women who have been doing this throughout history to ensure a better future for our daughters and our sons.

 

justice, Uncategorized

To: white, straight women who did not vote for Trump and yet remain silent post-election

I know the outcome of this election is not what you expected.  During the campaign you expressed disbelief over the vile, hateful and misogynist comments made by Trump.  These among other reasons were guiding your conviction to vote for another candidate and now that the president-elect is Trump, I—we have yet, to hear from you.

Surely you’ve heard of the terror and fear that so many have been feeling since the election results.  Men and women from marginalized groups all over the United States know what a Trump presidency will mean for themselves and their families.  Immigrant children have been scared that they will have to move out of the country.  LGBTQ people have been beaten, bloodied and verbally harassed.  Black churches have been burned down and defiled.  Muslim Americans have been told by Trump supporters that now that the United States has a ‘real’ president they need to go back to where they belong.  All the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, hate-filled rhetoric by Trump has encouraged acts of hate and discrimination against brown people, black people, Muslim people, immigrants and LGBTQ people.

Yes, over the past two years it has been painful to endure rhetoric that has been filled with hate.  It’s been re-traumatizing as it has reopened old wounds and memories of verbal and physical abuse within our shared history.

Now those words have been followed by hate crimes and violence against disenfranchised communities—leaving us to worry about our daily safety when navigating public spaces or even when we sit in our places of worship.

As if that is not enough, we realize that our basic human and constitutional rights are threatened with a Trump administration.  What protection or legal right will we have if our marriages and relationships are deemed invalid; if we are forced out of our country because of what we believe or what we look like; if we as immigrants find no safe haven here in the U.S.; if we lose our jobs or our housing because of who we are; if we are assaulted or harassed sexually or physically in the workplace?

We have no assurances of safety, dignity or protection in the present or the future.  The outcome of this election stripped all of that away.  We are filled with unspeakable terror and pain.

You know this because we’ve had conversations regarding these realities and still you choose silence in the wake of incredible devastation, terror, grief and uncertainty.

It’s hard to make sense of your silence and I draw from past conversations and inaction and I am dissatisfied with the conclusions I come to in the wake of your silence and withdrawal.

I try to see it from your perspective— as a white woman there are also risks to your safety, which is overwhelming and troubling.

I know this patriarchal & misogynist society views your life void of value and seeks to silence you, too.

Yet, when I ask you about this reality you say, “it sucks and you hate it, but it’s just part of life”.  When you’re pressed about that you say:

I’m not very political or

My life is too busy to fight it or

I can’t deal with conflict—it’s just too stressful or

I have kids that keep me busy or

I have a job and too many responsibilities to be bothered with politics

As a brown, queer woman and mother of a trans child, I tell you I have all those things too… a job, kids, responsibilities—a busy, full life, but I do not have the privilege to disengage the results of this election or oppression because it’s my very life, family and community who face a future that is uncertain and there is no time for inaction.

You say that you love me and that you want to be a safe place for my venting, but you refuse to show up for me/for us—to use your civil liberties and constitutionally protected freedoms to demand those same rights for all people in the United States.

I can’t help but feel unloved.

You are secure in your civil liberties and constitutional rights and are comfortable with this status quo—even if it is a false sense of safety.

I can’t help but feel envious of your privilege to prioritize yourself in such a way because you have little fear that your life or your family will be threatened or be forced to change significantly.

You are the norm.

I tell you how this is bound to affect my gender non-conforming son’s existence and you say:

That’s too bad, but I don’t believe in that.  I believe in my right as a woman to consent and to make decisions about my body, but I don’t believe that this applies to others’ rights to express or identify who he or she is outside of our social gender structure and traditions.

I ask you to reconsider because we need all people and all voices to stand up for our rights and you say you need to pray about it or go to church and get the green light from your pastor or your priest.

I can’t help but feel tired, frustrated and neglected because I know that when you came to me and told me that you were raped by an acquaintance:

I was the one who told you that I believed you when no one else would and we went together to the hospital.  I stayed with you through the rape kit and the criminal report. When you were questioned about your clothing and your choices I was the one who stood up for you to those who would shame and blame you.

When you told me that your family friend had molested you as a child and you were filled with shame:

I told you that what happened to you was wrong and horrific and that you were beautiful and beloved and wronged in the most ugly way.

When you told me that you’d been beaten by your partner:

I told you that in no way did you bear any fault and that I’d help you find safety.  I went to the court with you to file a no-contact order and stayed with you throughout the process.

I have used my voice, my resources, my passion and my energies to stand in the gap for your rights… to call for justice when you were violated and abused.  I have zero regret about this—I would do this time and time again, but what I want to know is will you show up for me?  Will you show up for us—those that do not look like you, act like you, relate to you?

When it comes to oppression, discrimination and violence showing up has been a one sided experience.  You seem to overlook the sense of urgency and fear that I feel—even though I show up for you, for your kids, for your troubles… your fears… your concerns without question or hesitation.

I’m learning that real, authentic relationships are reciprocal and are paved on paths that go both ways.  It is times like these we all have to put ourselves on the line.

I am not going to lie to you… I am angry that you choose to not hear me.  I am angry that you choose the convenience of silence.  I am hurt that you feel no urgency when you see this pain.

As a brown woman I appeal to you:

Please do not exploit our generosity and our burning conviction in human rights for all people.  Do not use our necessity to speak and to assemble to support yourself and your interests at your convenience and then when it doesn’t directly impact you disappear.  Please do not call yourself ally or friend in private, but when called upon in public circles and public policies look the other way.  Please do not try to comfort me by saying, “I don’t judge you”, because even if you were outwardly bigoted toward us your judgement holds no power and we don’t need your moral pardon.  Please recognize that being a ‘safe person’ and indicating so with your safety pins may require you to actually stand up to bullies on the bus or at the movie theater or at church or at the mall.  Thus far, being a safe person has not count the cost when hearing a friend or family member brag about their candidate winning and how they finally have their country back.  For years, you’ve claimed that you believe that racism and sexism are inexcusable, but remain silent when you’ve heard your family member or friend use a homophobic joke or racial slur.  But enough is enough—we can’t afford your silence—it is causing additional pain.  Your silence is creating barriers and broken bridges and we do not have the energy to mend them.  Please consider the radical nature of love… love is never inaction… love is not based on convenience… love is not negotiated… love is not just spoken in private—no, rather, radical, transformational love is lived out in public.  So if you say that you love me—love us—consider coming out from the shadows and stand with us—speak.

Uncategorized

Our bodies are our own

bdf5f398fd19c0f82e19713a3d8444a3

Recently, I was writing a paper on violence against women and Women’s Rights and again was hit with the staggering statistics on violence against women worldwide.  In all of the world, 35% or approximately 1 in 4 women are brutally beaten, psychologically demeaned, sexually assaulted or verbally abused by an intimate partner.  In some parts of the world these statistics rise to a heart-wrenching 70% of women.  Over 120 million girls are raped, sexually violated and molested.  Get this, 200 million girls have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) (UN Women, 2016).  FGM has significant long-term consequences on a woman’s health.  FGM makes it difficult to have intercourse, to bear and birth children and to urinate without excruciating physical pain.  The psychological pain in all of these instances of violence is immeasurable.  Studies are scant and have yet to gather the psychological consequences, but one can imagine that the emotional suffering one bears runs incredibly deep.

Here’s why: violence against women in any form (physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and psychological) has perpetuated the ideological view that a woman’s body, personhood and mind are not her own.  The terms have been determined and set for her.  Her personhood can be violated and used at any point because her body is not her own— she is property of someone else (i.e. family, culture, community, husband, boyfriend, father).  And because she psychologically and physically belongs to someone else she can be bought, sold, rejected, suppressed and oppressed and it is all justified under this socially accepted ideology (that exists in nearly all parts of the world).

I talk about all of these issues a decent amount and it always surprises me when people say, “oh no that doesn’t happen…” or “well maybe that happens but only in developing parts of the world” blah blah blah.

I implore you to explore what the denial is about, because this ideology exists in nearly all parts of the world.  This ideology is thriving here in the U.S.  Sure, the U.S. doesn’t practice FGM, but we have our own forms of female subjugation practices that promote the ideology of external ownership of a woman’s body and mind.

In the United States 1 in 4 or between 25% to 33% of women are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.  

banner-vaw-en

In the 21st century with 30+ years of the women’s movement researching and educating society on the harm of rape culture we still have more than a quarter of our female population sexually violated and dismissed.  (Rape culture- is the cultural norms and behaviors that reinforce the notion that it is okay for a male to rape a woman because she must have done something to bring it on herself.  Male’s violent or sexual aggressive behavior is viewed as a normative aspect of being male.  These behaviors are not viewed as criminal or even wrong because the behavior is to be expected among men.  As is demonstrated in the old adage: “boys will be boys”).

This socialized reality and the consistent threat in the air send a message to women that their bodies can be taken and violated at any point and that her voice does not matter- not before, not during and certainly, not after.

Social media has been blowing up (as it should) about the Stanford swimmer who was given a 6-month jail sentence for raping a woman while she was unconscious.  There is so much wrong about this.  The man was found guilty for THREE counts of sexual assault.  His punishment was to be up to  14 years in prison, but the judge felt that this was too harsh and would be too damaging to him… So he was given 6 months in county jail.

Where is the justice for the damage that was done to her?  Where is the concern about her damage?

The thing is I can’t stop hearing the pain in her voice when she shares the suffering with her perpetrator’s complete disregard for her.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she describes how her lack of consent was scrutinized and called into question.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she talks about the year of life lost.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she shares how she was the one put on trial.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she says:

Never mentioned me voicing consent, never mentioned us even speaking, a back rub. One more time, in public news, I learned that my ass and vagina were completely exposed outside, my breasts had been groped, fingers had been jabbed inside me along with pine needles and debris, my bare skin and head had been rubbing against the ground behind a dumpster, while an erect freshman was humping my half naked, unconscious body. But I don’t remember, so how do I prove I didn’t like it.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she describes:

I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me. It is the saddest type of confusion to be told I was assaulted and nearly raped, blatantly out in the open, but we don’t know if it counts as assault yet. I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she shares how someone outside her, her perpetrator, places meaning and value of the events that happened to her:

To sit under oath and inform all of us, that yes I wanted it, yes I permitted it, and that you are the true victim attacked by Swedes for reasons unknown to you is appalling, is demented, is selfish, is damaging. It is enough to be suffering. It is another thing to have someone ruthlessly working to diminish the gravity of validity of this suffering.

Her entire letter is here.

The outcome of this hearing is a loss for all us women.  It is an invalidation of our worth.  It reinforces what women have been saying for so long that economically, socially, legally and intellectually we are less than in this system.

Our society has a form of sexism that systematically vilifies, diminishes and deconstructs the female experience.  This brand of sexism is reinforced in every institution of society.  We can’t even rest assured that criminal acts against our bodies will be dealt with justly.  We can’t be confident in knowing that our voices will be heard and believed.

The battle is for our bodies.  Society wants to hold our bodies for it’s own.  Society wants the commodity of our bodies to use for their benefit and gain.

The battle is for our bodies.

The survivor in this case took back the narrative… She changed the societal narrative that her body was not her own– when she courageously spoke to just how wrong and despicable it is for her perpetrator to invalidate her experience.  She spoke to the seriously wrong actions of him defiling her body and then diminishing his sins against her.

And it is unfair that she bears the burden of having to take back the narrative… It is unfair and she is a courageous example of what it looks like to take back the narrative.

I stand with her.

Changing the narrative:

When I was a small girl I was sexually abused by someone I trusted.  When I finally was able to tell my family, they didn’t know what to believe so it was business as usual.  My abuser continued to be invited to family events and get togethers.

I began to think maybe I couldn’t trust myself… I couldn’t trust my memory or the way my body felt when the memory would invade my thoughts.  If no one else believed me and it was expected to continue as though nothing had happened maybe there was something wrong with me.

Then five years after I had shared my experience my abuser came forward and confessed what he had done.  This didn’t change the situation much with the exception of: 1) my brain was finally validated and now I knew that what I remembered was true and 2) there was pressure to “forgive” my abuser.

The narrative I internalized was:

  1. My body is not my own. (In exchange for just the slightest bit of attention my body was his to control, touch and explore.  My body was for his pleasure and so my body must not be my own)
  2. My body betrayed me.  (As an 8 year old I couldn’t physically defend or protect myself.  Furthermore, I didn’t understand what was taking place– so maybe it was my body’s fault)
  3. My voice is not my own. (People outside of me created a narrative that fit what they could handle and be comfortable with)
  4. The terms and boundaries were not my own. (The pressure to forgive seemed more important than my need to protect myself and process my feelings.  I didn’t even get to choose the path of reconciliation.  To not forgive was to be unkind and unChristian.  My abuser could and would corner me at family events to explain his actions… to try to get me to understand his situation… This seemed normal to everyone around me.  I wasn’t even afforded the right to dictate when and if I wanted to speak with him)

After embarking on a great deal of healing work I was able to take back the narrative.  In a way every day is an exercise of taking back the narrative that my body is not my own.

Taking back the narrative invited me to recognize that I inhabit a body of dignity.  Even when I’m not feeling great in my body or particularly self-loving toward my body I believe that I, just as everyone else, is born free and equal with dignity and rights (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948).

My dignity affords me the freedom to:

  • Choose who I am with
  • Set the terms and conditions for how I need and want to be treated
  • To be unapologetic in my voice– to speak my truth

I’m not sure when a change will happen in society.  It needs to happen in our society. I am tired of the battle, but I am committed to it, too.  I am committed to using my voice for myself, my daughter and my sisters from all over the world.  I am committed because I believe that we all inhabit glorious bodies of dignity.

I am committed because there is just too much at stake.

Uncategorized

Human Rights, Choice & Coming Out

rainbow steps in Istanbul

When, how, to whom, and if one comes out is a human right.  It is a process of personal choice and human agency.  

I’ve been in Istanbul for the past week conducting a research study on the disclosure process of gay men between the ages of 18 to 21.  This wonderful privilege came to me when Dr. Robert Cleve asked me to join the research team, as his assistant.  This research is a cross-cultural emerging grounded theory design, which initially identified cultural cohorts in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Chicago.  This year we received funding to expand the research to Istanbul, Turkey.  So here we are…

Our hope is to get an interior view and perspective on the process of disclosure of identified LGBT individuals, as it relates to their culture of origin.  What we’ve found in our flourishing analysis is that the disclosure process is informed by various elements: family of origin, culture of origin and religion.  What has been true of all the cultural cohorts that we’ve looked at is: a social constructivist structure within culture is a primary determinant and mediator to one’s awareness and acceptance of sexual identity.

In other words cultures where language, social systems, legal systems, healthcare systems and government systems that uphold a heterosexist view as the correct or preferred or normative orientation tend to inform individual’s about how he/she will be accepted and embraced.  Furthermore, this system tells one how she/he should accept and embrace self– such that individuals’ basis for disclosure is linked to how the individual understands where she/he will fit within the society at large.

What I want to really say is that the decision to come out is a painstaking, cost-benefits decision all the time.  It is not a one time decision– it is a moment to moment, person to person, context to context decision.  I always say how the large majority of LGBTQ people are not Ellen… They do not have the privilege of a one time coming-out on national television experience, like Ellen and other celebrities.

Coming out is a decision that has to be considered in every context– family, work, school, social group, church and so on…  It is never one time… It is continual and it requires energy, consideration, wisdom, assessment and discernment every-single-time.

In Turkey the consequence of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered is risky and dangerous.  This week hearing stories of men fleeing their homes after being ‘discovered’ or coming out was a theme that consistently presented itself.  One man from a small village had to run away from home, because he would have been killed by his family as part of an honor killing.  There are almost no legal protections for LGBTQ identified persons in Turkey.  When harassment or violence is reported to the police the authorities typically state that the LGBTQ individual provoked the situation and brought it on him/herself.

This is the climate and tone in many parts of the world.  You can lose your job, your home, your family, your church, your community, your support… your life– that’s the reality of being open and authentic about who you are.  Just being you can get you killed.

The thing is I am completely aware that in this cross cultural work I bring my Western– US of A lens to the table…  In the US of A where we are so focused on marriage equality as a human rights issue for LGBTQ people– we forget the many other issues of human rights for LGBTQ that are needed– like the rights to life.

Marriage equality is a worthy cause.  I get why it’s needed.  I voted for it.  Stories like Charlene Strong’s makes this cause so evident.  However, let us not forget that the struggle does not end there and perhaps our single focus on that issue has distracted us from the many other human rights issues.

In fact, on much of the globe the right to live is a primary concern for the LGBTQ community.

– In Nigeria you can face up to 14 years in prison.

– Uganda passed an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that proposes execution to people identified in same sex relationships.

– 1,341 LGBTQ Brazilians were murdered from 2007-2012.

Even in the U.S. bullying and harassment is a prevalent issue, which can often lead to suicide.  9 out of 10 LGBTQ youth report being bullied in school.  (Bullying Statistics).

This past year in New York city gay bashings were on the rise.  Several gay men reported being beaten while just walking on the street.

These are a few of the reasons why choosing to disclose is a risky decision.  When one comes out he/she faces potential harms that range from rejection to physical violence.  In Turkey, physical harm can take place within the family of origin.

Yet, even when physical harm is not a risk there is the risk of losing family and relationships and being disowned.  LGBTQ men and women all over the world face these types of risks.

And this is why the decision to come out is a human right.  This is a right that each person gets to make on his or her own terms.

When participants were asked if they would go through the process of coming out to family and friends again (in that initial step) almost every participant echoed a resounding yes… stating that there is nothing like being one’s authentic, true and open self.

However, each one recognized just how personal, intimate and unique the process of coming out is for each individual.  There are no two stories that are exactly the same… Yes, there are shared fears and anxieties, but the outcomes vary from one person to the next.

We finally asked, “Would you recommend coming-out to other closeted LGBTQ identified people”?  One person’s answer stood out to me powerfully.  He said, “Yes!  Of course!  There is absolutely nothing like liberating yourself to be who you are.  However, I also recommend doing so cautiously, because no one knows your circumstance better than you.  No one knows your family better than you do”.

This is true… No one does know your circumstance or your family or your support system or your dreams, hopes and goals better than you…  You are the one that bears that knowledge.  In the end, whatever decision is made the decision to choose is your choice alone– it is your human right to disclose when, how, where and to whom you choose to.

 

Resources & References:

Homophobia: Human Rights First

not an illness or a crime LGBTQ equality in Turkey

Uganda: Anti-Homosexuality Act’s Heavy Toll

World Report 2012: Nigeria

World Report 2012: Uganda

It Gets Better