No More Secrets: Violence in Lesbian Relationships

No More Secrets: Violence in Lesbian Relationships

No More Secrets: Violence in Lesbian Relationships

No More Secrets: Violence in Lesbian Relationships


Myths: Violence is a male biological trait. When women fight, no one gets seriously hurt. Lesbians don't abuse their spouses. The truth revealed in Janice Ristock's groundbreaking book is that lesbian relationships sometimes do turn violent. Based on interviews with more than one hundred lesbians who have suffered abuse and seventy-five case workers, No More Secrets is the first in-depth account of this startling phenomenon. Although one in four gay and lesbian couples are affected by domestic violence, the problem has remained hidden for several reasons. By giving voice to the victims, Ristock helps women to address violence by breaking silences, sharing secrets, and naming the forms of abuse.


What’s Written on the Body

In presenting the material tale of women’s experiences of relationship violence, Chapters 3 and 4 revealed a number of differing contextual factors. the women that I interviewed spoke of experiencing many different forms of violence and of power dynamics that were entrenched and unchanging for some, and fluctuating and shifting for others. Their personal responses to abusive relationships were also varied and included contradictory feelings of shame and anger, strength and passivity. the material tale, then, gave voice to many different stories of violence in lesbian relationships. Yet, sometimes the language available to us to talk about violence assumes one story and requires the reproduction of one familiar plot line, no matter how the cast of characters and the setting change.

This chapter marks the beginning of the discursive tale in which I examine our struggles with categories and concepts to expose who and what are included and excluded by the assumptions embedded in our discourses. This chapter explores the efforts of feminist service providers to assess whether a relationship is abusive, the power dynamics within a relationship, and who the victim and the perpetrator are. It also raises some of the controversies with which they are grappling, such as the existence of the category “mutual abuse,” whether consensual sadomasochistic (s/m) practices are inherently abusive, and whether they should provide services to batterers.

Feminist service providers are aware that the patterns, contexts, and experiences of women in abusive lesbian relationships are different and varied. Yet most often, they rely on certain assumptions about abusive power dynamics based on understandings from feminist theorizing of heterosexual relationships. Focus group discussions provided an opportunity to bring forward some of the dilemmas they encounter when trying to re-

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