I am often in positions where my autonomy is deemed irrelevant, be it in hospitals, schools, my old family home, but the place with the most heightened sense of anxiety for me is with my previous partners. Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence regularly face this very hard question: do I tell people? And if so, who? This is something I chose to disclose after both my safety and the safety of others were put in danger. It was difficult for me, as I was a queer person and what he’d said and done to me had severely disconnected me from that part of myself. I lost track of who I was. Unfortunately, for LGBTQ+ youth, this is not the only challenge they face when it comes to Intimate Partner Violence.
If you’re a young queer survivor, I hope you feel validated, seen and heard. If you’re a provider, here are 5 things you should know and radically accept in your work:
- Survivors don’t come in one model. I may not be in the perfect mold for what you considered to be a survivor, but I am still a survivor. My queerness does not negate or lessen my trauma, in fact, it makes it deeper. While I am not a woman, I am at a significantly higher risk for sexual assault and Intimate Partner Violence than most of my cisgender and heterosexual peers. If you are a practicing counselor for Intimate Partner Violence, both discard the image you may have in your head of what a survivor may look like and do the research on their culture and needs. If you have questions, ask if they feel comfortable sharing resources before asking them a direct question, if it is a lack of knowledge on your part. Most of us have a list of resources ready to rattle off, and it is not our responsibility to educate you on our identities.
- People in queer relationships are less likely to seek support than their cisgender heterosexual peers. This is often because of the lack of understanding of their identities and needs by providers, the lack of knowledge that the resources that are out there are made to support more than just women, and the lack of understanding that their experience is indeed Intimate Partner Violence. Be it because they’re closeted (not “out” to the world as LGBTQ+), afraid of their parents finding out, or simply because they’re just so used to being on the outside—marginalized and oppressed. It’s almost always harder for LGBTQ+ people to seek support. Make sure your materials, be it magazines, posters, etc. represent all people of all different identities. If they do, you want to be prepared to offer them the resources they require. When I was in my first rape crisis center org receiving counseling, they had an LGBTQ+ group. I joined very quickly, and it took a turn for the worst and ended up being a very transphobic space, which would appear to an outsider to be uncommon, but as I knew, it was unfortunately far more common than is assumed. The lack of intentionality and support directed toward LGBTQ+ youth and their needs set back my healing by a long stretch.
- Young people are more reluctant to seek support than adults. Speaking from personal experience, my voice always has to be 10 times louder than everyone else in the room for me to get the same acknowledgement, and even then it’s a 50/50 toss. Because of the longstanding history of adultism we’re facing, we believe nobody will believe us because we’re so young. In addition, we rarely know what Intimate Partner Violence looks like because nobody has ever truly taught us, and if they have, it’s seldom inclusive of LGBTQ+ identities. Throughout your practices, normalize LGBTQ+ identities and weave them in your practice, however that looks to your profession. In addition, don’t assume people are not in danger of Intimate Partner Violence due to their age. We need LGBTQ+ inclusive, consent-based, comprehensive and medically accurate sex-ed curriculum, and we needed it decades ago.
- Prepare for the minority, not just the majority when it comes to youth services—you never know when you’ll need to support someone who doesn’t fit your idea of a survivor. When I was in middle school, I first came forward with my story of sexual assault to a guidance counselor. I was quickly met with hesitation and fear, and while it was in their efforts to support me, it made me feel like I was the villain. Be prepared, if you’re working with young people in any capacity, especially queer, neurodivergent and/or disabled young people. Abuse is rooted in power imbalances and privilege.
- The lack of resources available for providers has a complete and total detriment on LGBTQ+ young people’s mental health. I found myself looking at an LGBTQ+ specific Intimate Partner Violence organization’s tables at every Pride event I went to (and sophomore year I went to five that year alone) and their brochures were so meaningful to me. The organization, The Network/La Red, had informational brochures about if your partner blames it on bisexuality, if your partner is using your Trans identity to abuse you, and so on. Their resources became the best knowledge I could find, and if I could go back in time and give it to my therapist, guidance counselors, and family, I can assure you my life would have taken a very different turn and my mental health would be in a significantly better place than it is now. If I had found that information for myself earlier even, I would be in such a better place. Make it a point in your practice to seek out and educate yourself on topics pertaining to LGBTQ+ people and Survivors.
As you continue in your work, it is important to acknowledge the work that is already out there and fighting to ensure LGBTQ+ survivors’ needs. It is vital to do your own research. This will help equip you to support everyone who walks through your door. To summarize:
- Discard the image you may have in your head of what a survivor may look like and do the research on their culture and needs.
- Be intentional with your support directed toward LGBTQ+ youth and their needs.
- Throughout your practices, normalize LGBTQ+ identities and weave them in your practice, however that looks to your profession.
- In addition, don’t assume people are not in danger of Intimate Partner Violence due to their age.
- Make sure your materials, be it magazines, posters, etc. represent all people of all different identities.
- Prepare for the minority, not just the majority, when it comes to youth services.
Sawyer Keegan is an activist by heart. With an extensive background in fighting for comprehensive sex-ed in public schools, volunteering with the Statewide Gender and Sexuality Alliance Council in Massachusetts, and hosting Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaigns about how intersectionality impacts sexual violence, Sawyer, an 18-year-old non-binary, Mad* and disabled activist has been receiving care for sexual assault and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) for five years. They are proud of their queer identity and acknowledge the hardships LGBTQ+ people endure when going through intimate partner violence, which is far more common and harder to address than that of their cisgender heterosexual peers.
* The reclamation of the word “mad” is meant to symbolize the activist identity of psychiatric trauma survivors.