There is nothing better than a story where we, as humans, come together to make a wrong into a right. More than that, I look for a story with a strong female protagonist. I love to read about S’heroes, real or imagined. S’hero is the word I use to replace the antiquated heroine. Not only is it archaic and watered down, after reading Camilla Gibb’s Mouthing the Words, I retired it in preference to hero, adding the S’ for she.
Recently I was re-reading Napoleon Hill’s 1937 original text version of Think and Grow Rich. I struck by his scolding for those men who would consider trading in their wife for a “younger model”, not understanding their partner is an intrinsic and significant part of their success. He believed men who would consider dumping their wives once they became successful, not only discredited her work and support, it endangered the man’s standing in the universe.
Wow, I was blown away. As proof of his theory, he named a long list of Industrial Titan’s of his day, and pointed to the work their wives had contributed to their careers. Of course his narrative is dated (if this offends you, purchase the updated for the 21st century version). What struck me most was his steadfast belief that marriage was a partnership; two people conjoined in responsibility to each other. And he didn’t stop at advising men. In his advice to women he didn’t turn the table, not suggest what her job or responsibility was to her husband, but instead speaking to a woman’s responsibility to herself and her children. His advice: No woman should stay in an unhappy marriage. What he hinted at: No woman should accept abuse as the norm. In partnership, true partnership, your daily duties and responsibilities may be vastly different but how you feel and complete each contributes to the health and success of the partnership overall.
For a book written in the 1930s I was both delighted by his vision and depressed that women, and some men, today, still accept abuse from their partners. And we still don’t like to talk about it. In the LGBT community this subject is even more taboo. When we are still fighting for equality, it feels sacrilegious to admit we too have problem relationships. Is abuse worse in our community? I’m comfortable saying no, but the truth is I can only comment on my own life. Have I experienced domestic abuse? Yes. Did I seek help? Yes… in time. That’s the thing with abuse, it comes wrapped in a giant dose of shame.
So where did all this come from? Two catalysts are responsible. The first was a conference I attended in Washington DC in summer. It was a big deal for me. I was scheduled to sit on a few panels and deliver a lecture. I can’t tell you how long I was looking forward to this. Then my cab pulled up in front of the hotel and after twenty-five years of peace, she was standing there. It was a harrowing week for me. Just the sight of her was enough to shake me to my core and while she and her partner avoided me as much as one can at these things, she was constantly there, in my periphery, in my hearing range, and ever threatening. And while she never once acknowledged my presence, I began to hear the lies and innuendo she had used so successfully in the past to undermine my reputation and isolate me from our friends. Some abusers aren’t satisfied with slapping you around at home. Some revel in playing the victim. At work or out with friends they whine about their partner and cry about the injustices they’re suffering through, or worse, call into question their partners credibility. I can remember making plans to get out and calling friends for help only to be attacked for actions never committed, lies never told, and behaviours that were in complete opposition to who I am.
The second catalyst was Susan Ball’s forthcoming book Courage and Grace. I’ve been editing Susan’s book and I have to admit to gaining a better understanding the things I figured out intuitively, and damned slowly! Like Napoleon Hill’s coded plea for abused wives to get out and find happiness, Susan’s book delivers that missing factor most victims need: Permission to leave. Oh, she knows enough to add all the other things we need to wrap our heads around the situation, face reality, take responsibility for our happiness. Still she delivers something more. Susan has identified the essential myths that keep even the smartest and most self-sufficient among us in abusive relationships.
I will give her a nod to sweetness too. In her research, other professionals challenged her to include the fact that abuse can and does happen in all relations, gay, straight, whatever. Susan called me then, completely in shock. Like the fantasy our community presents, she was ignorant of abuse in LGBT relationships. Oh, how I wish this was true. Everyone deserves t
heir happy ever after. As for my ex, I pray for the safety of her partner and their child (an addition she made sure I overhead). I won’t wish ill-will towards anyone. That’s just not who I am. From experience I know some people may question it, especially those primed with stories from my ex. Go ahead. That’s what life is about. Ask questions. Get to know people in an authentic way. Share a few whale tails. After all, that’s what storytellers do but know the difference between fiction and abuse. If you can’t tell the difference, or like me, you are not a good judge of character, then ask yourself my version of the cinefilm animal cruelty proclamation: “Were any humans or animals hurt in the creation of this story?” I hope you can answer, “no”. I’ll forgive you for, like me, believing any lies you were told. After all, respect is earned but trust and faith in doing the right thing are all we have to differentiate our humanity.
Be Safe, Be Strong, and please be Authentic