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Violence: Domestic abuse in the queer community

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http://www.outwords.ca/content/violence-domestic-abuse-queer-community

An issue beginning to come to light, domestic violence in queer relationships, is misunderstood by many. With rates comparable to violence in straight relationships, yet mired in a homophobic culture, queer people of all stripes who are living with abuse find themselves with fewer resources to draw upon, and fewer people on their side.

Services available for cisgender women are typically well-known, though not always welcoming to queer women. And services for men and trans people are less well-known and sometimes just don’t exist.  The issues facing the queer community revolve around police misunderstanding and minimizing same-sex relationship violence, making it difficult for queer people to get help.

Providing the only shelter of its kind in Canada, Winnipeg’s Men’s Resource Centre caters to all men regardless of orientation or gender history. According to Steve Sutherland, therapist and administrator at the centre, it can house men as they leave an abusive relationship and help them get back on their feet.

Dan, who will be identified by his first name only, was a client of the centre earlier this year. After being closeted in an abusive relationship for a number of years, married to a wife he was financially controlled by due to his immigrant status and who he felt he had to marry, Dan made his escape. “I would not have been able to do it without the Men’s Resource Centre.” The centre signed Dan up for unemployment insurance. It also helped him find low-income housing and spruce up his resumé.

“I didn’t have a place to go because of how isolated I had been,” he said. “I didn’t really know anyone well enough that I could ask them to crash on their couch. The biggest help was [that] they provided shelter.” While waiting for his first cheque to arrive, the centre provided meals. And Dan found emotional support. “They made it very easy,” he said. “Even as I was dealing emotionally with what I was going through and wasn’t able to think straight.”

Though resources available for women are more common, they aren’t available to all women. The situation for trans women seeking shelter in Winnipeg could be described as dire. Bradley Tyler-West, LGBT* program facilitator at Winnipeg’s Sexuality Education Resource Centre (SERC), said, “I have heard of individual experiences of trans women who have gone into shelter and some have had a good experience there getting access to support and services, and some did not – and I think that’s really based on their ability to pass or be stealth.” He’s heard the problems have come from residents at shelters rather than staff. And the trans women he knows of who have gotten help have been in mixed-gender relationships, with violence coming at the hands of male partners. He noted that falls into the heteronormative pattern assumed of domestic violence.

Sutherland refers trans women to Sage House. “They’re very LGBT friendly,” he said. “But that would be the only shelter I know in Winnipeg that would be providing services to that segment of the population.”

Sage House could not be reached for confirmation.

There are resources available for women in lesbian relationships. Yet if shelter is needed, sometimes a lack of sensitivity can limit access. Glenda Dean, executive director of Winnipeg’s Alpha House, said she sees a “real gap” in lesbian and bisexual women utilizing shelters. Although she said she doesn’t know why that gap exists, she said perhaps shelters have not reached out enough to the community.

According to a workshop for service providers presented by Saskatoon’s The Avenue Community Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity Inc., lesbians often experience a lack of understanding about the seriousness of abuse when violent incidents are reported to therapists, police or doctors. Because of homophobia, queer relationships are sometimes seen to be inherently unstable or unhealthy.

When abuse happens, police will sometimes be called to domestic violence scenes. Both Tyler-West and Sutherland have heard in their work with men about police incidents where violence was minimized or male victims of abuse were even mocked. Myths such as that abuse doesn’t happen to men, or for men in relationships with women that it can’t happen because the man is bigger or women aren’t aggressive, lead police to sometimes misunderstand abusive situations, said Sutherland. He said discrimination can be especially bad in First Nations communities.

But he added that police are making steps, and so is the Province of Manitoba. A GLBTQ* domestic violence working group was launched in November 2012 and began distributing posters and brochures addressing the issue of queer domestic violence last month. Part of the group’s mandate is to provide GLBTQ*-sensitivity training to staff at service organizations. According to Beth Ulrich, executive director of Manitoba’s Status of Women, who the group is hosted by, shelters are working on some of their issues.

“That’s a commitment where I think some shelters are probably more ahead of others perhaps. I think that there’s a willingness and an awareness now that ‘OK, we need to make sure we’re being respectful’,” she said.

The Rainbow Resource Centre is another place victims of abuse can receive counselling and support. Located at 170 Scott St., the centre has pamphlets for those who are wondering if their relationship might be abusive and has counsellors trained in helping fill out protection orders. Tyler-West said, “We are hearing more conversations… so that is encouraging—a small light at the end of the very dark tunnel. It’s nowhere near where it needs to be, but it is definitely better than it was, say, four or five years ago.”


– Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance journalist from Vancouver, B.C. He’s an LGBTI contributing editor with rabble.ca, the former host of a queer-issues radio show called Gaydio, and loves to write about social and environmental justice.

Published in Outwords, December 2013, Volume 206

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Queer content

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Hey, check out the pieces I’ve written on lesbian online dating, gendered sports outfits and trans athletes, Saskatoon author Wes Funk’s writing on gay prairie life, and more!

Tomboy goes deep using simple moments

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see article on The Omega‘s website–scroll down to 5th article

please note this is not a part of my current food project

Larkin Schmiedl, Copy Editor  Ω

Transgender children have been coming more to popular awareness lately, with Anderson Cooper featuring a family with a transgender child on his show, CBC’s Passionate Eye looking at the topic back in January, and CNN covering it last September.

Director Celine Sciamma engaged this topic with her second film, Tomboy, which played on Saturday, Mar. 10 at the Kamloops Film Festival. Tomboy shows us in intimate detail the life of a 10-year-old transgender child during a pivotal summer in his life.  It’s a French film, and was made in 2011.

Tomboy keeps a slow pace, but rather than being tedious, it allows viewers to absorb the significance of each moment as it unfolds.

‘Laure’ is the oldest daughter of two in a close loving family.  When her  family moves to a new neighbourhood, she introduces herself as Mikael to Lisa, the first other kid she meets.  Lisa later falls for Mikael, leading to complications down the road.

Mikael begins living as a boy all summer long, without the knowledge of his family.

The movie comes across first and foremost as a story about a specific person’s struggle with gender identity, and this is where it succeeds and draws its power.

Mikael carries a silent, inexpressive air with him throughout most of the film.  His muted expressions convey the palpable sense of the weight he carries, of the secret he feels he can’t tell anyone.

The cinematography was brilliant, revealing the emotions of characters even during moments of silence through close-up face shots.

Tomboy is not depressing, but interesting, educational, fun and extremely well-storied. Each event contributes to the plot in some way and nothing is wasted.

Mikael is always quietly calculating and on guard, having to construct scenarios to prop up his new identity.  As a result he is rarely able to be open and spontaneous as a child.  This tension is felt through the screen as everyday scenarios play out.

During a soccer game with the neighbourhood kids, Mikael sits out.  The boys are playing a shirts versus skins game, and that night, Mikael goes home and inspects his chest in the mirror.

He practices spitting in the sink like he saw another boy do during the game.

The following day, he strips off his shirt and plays along with the others.  He even spits.
The body dysphoria experienced by many transgender people is shown when Mikael looks at himself in the mirror different times, trying to adjust what he sees to fit his image of himself as a boy.

His yearning to fit into this image is tangible.

When the kids later decide to go swimming, Mikael takes his bathing suit into his bedroom and cuts off the top half to create trunks.  He folds in the jagged cut top and models his new suit in the mirror, and smiles widely with glee.

Mikael realizes he must fashion a penis to wear in it, so he sits down with the play-dough machine beside his sister and fashions a small roll.

The audience laughed most at the parts of the film where this makeshift penis was shown.

For anyone who likes a film showing people and their relationships, that describes psychological dynamics profoundly through straightforward life moments, or who’s interested in gender or wants to know more, Tomboy is a must-see.

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 14, 2012 at 1:45 am

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