“I Just Want to Live — Without You:
The Violence of Silence About Domestic Violence in Same-Gender Partner Homes”
2 Samuel 13:1 Now David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister named Tamar. And Amnon, her half brother, fell desperately in love with her. 2 Amnon became so obsessed with Tamar that he became ill. She was a virgin, and Amnon thought he could never have her.. . 11 But as she was feeding him, he grabbed her and demanded, “Come to bed with me, my darling sister.” 12 “No, my brother!” she cried. “Don’t be foolish! Don’t do this to me! Such wicked things aren’t done in Israel. . . 14 But Amnon wouldn’t listen to her, and since he was stronger than she was, he raped her. 15 Then suddenly Amnon’s love turned to hate, and he hated her even more than he had loved her. “Get out of here!” he snarled at her.
Angelou said that a “loving” and “wonderful” man she had been dating picked her up after work one day and drove her to a romantic spot in San Francisco. “I thought we were at a romantic place out by the bay,” Angelou said in the interview. “And he hit me with his fists — and he had been a prize fighter. He hit me, he beat me. Sometimes I’d go unconscious.”
A promising Columbia University graduate student (Devon Tyrone Wade) described by colleagues as ‘brilliant’ and ‘kind’ was killed after an argument with his boyfriend at his home…
The reason Tamar’s brother could exploit her compassion and mercy had as much to do with his conniving lust as it had to do with her being in striking distance.
The reason Ms. Angelou’s lover could plummet her into unconsciousness had as much to do with his strength and skill as a prize fighter as it is a fact that she was in striking distance.
The reason Devon’s boyfriend could pull the trigger twice to end his life had as much to do with his refusal to let Devon live — without him — as it had to do with him being in striking distance.
The idiom “in striking distance” describes an intimacy that gives one access to the body, mind, and spirit of another. This intimacy, at its best, is fertile ground for developing life partnerships — whether sexualized or not. This intimacy, when sullied by abuse, creates living hell, unforgettable scars, and even death — for the one who just want to live without their abuser.
Tamar. Maya. Devon. Me.
Incestous. Heterosexual. Gay. Lesbian. Queer.
In more than just a cursory reading of 2 Samuel’s record of Tamar being raped, she furtively appealed to her rapist to not rape her; and cited her expectation that the laws of the land would protect her and persecute him. Still, Amnon raped his sister; and her brother Absalom required her silence. Likewise, Ms. Angelou’s man beat her often and much; and she tells the story of his parading her around friends who kept silent at his bragging over her black eyes under dark shades. However, when her mother caught wind of the abuse, she organized a council for street justice and vindicated her daughter’s abyss of abuse. Unlike when 8-year-old Maya was raped and fell mute for five years, her mother would not tolerate another day of silence on behalf of domestic violence.
Research indicates that domestic violence among same-sex couples occurs at similar rates as domestic violence among straight couples.Ergo, there is the urgent need for the church to bear comparable wattage of illumination on the pandemic of same-gender femicide, homicide, and violence upon partners — in striking distance. Whereas the church was the tail and not the head around marriage equality and adoption for LGBTQI persons, it is imperative that we sound the alarm on DV regardless of who is affected; and especially because LGBTQI persons are comparably negatively impacted. And, church, we must do more than merely wear purple ribbons in October.
I realized that I must leave a former partner after a few weeks of being afraid to fall asleep; after discovering one of my original paintings had been destroyed; after the only time I felt safe was on my commute to work. Nights were long. Weekends were longer. Silence was deafening. My emotional and cognitive paralysis was an incremental implosion to a nervous breakdown. I became hyper-vigilant to watch her unpredictable behavior, to secretly stash a few personal belongings at my office, and to stop spending money on anything aside from food, medicine, and transportation. Living in striking distance took on intimate meaning as “50% and 75% of domestic violence homicides happen at the point of separation or after [the victim] has already left [her abuser],” says Cynthia Hill, director of HBO’s Private Violence. #itcouldhavebeenme
Like Tamar, I appealed to the courts to give me a TRO just long enough for me to get in, get my stuff, and get out. The magistrate on bench was clearly impatient with my plea. He asked only one question, “are you talking about a woman?” I answered affirmatively. He denied my request. I went to the church I was attending and asked the pastor for emergency housing support — hotel, shelter, couch. She told me that the church was not equipped to get involved.
When I finally told a good friend, a clergywoman several states away, she prayed, lamented, and held my confidences. I unfairly — albeit, desperately and shamefully — imposed upon her to hold my private pain; that is, until and unless I became a statistic. She called me every morning and texted me twice a day for over six months. Her plea, was the same: leave everything behind and just get away. However, the impact of the emotional, financial, and sexual trauma was so debilitating that I could not move fast, and seemingly, not at all.
There are few details about Devon’s deteriorating relationship with his same-gender intimate murderer. What is clear about that fateful night, however, is that Devon was in his own home; Devon asked his murderer to leave more than once; and that Devon’s murderer returned to his home, uninvited and armed. Domestic violence seldom escalates from zero to murder. I imagine that there had been other indicators that lead Devon to no longer welcomed his murderer in his home or heart. Like Amnon, Devon’s murderer now hated him comparable only to the measure he had once lusted for him. Devon’s same-gender domestic violence story mirrors any of the many we know of and speak of on prayer lines and at testimony services. Yet, awareness and action on behalf of same-gender persons living in and leaving abusive relationships is but another closet out of which we need to come and justice cause we need to herald.
With distance in years and miles now between the relationship I longed for and came to lament, I am more cogent as to the response I hope the church will hear:
● Believe that women abuse women; and that men abuse men; making one a victim and the other the abuser in the same manner of heterosexual domestic violence.
● Acknowledge that there very well may be a disparity of financial equity and access that prevents her from just getting up and leaving.
● Affirm that your church is safe space, your clergy is LGBTQI culturally competent, and your trustees/deacons know where the shelters are located.
● Have a plan of action for all DV victims; and intentionally include plans that take in consideration needs unique to trans and gender-nonbinary persons.
● Become the head and not the tail on doing justly, showing mercy, and living for God as it pertains to LGBTQI persons in church and community.
At the time I am writing this, it is not clear who will eulogize Devon Tyrone Wade. I only pray the preacher of the hour will affirm Devon’s passion for people, activism on behalf of the disenfranchised, and life as an out gay Black man. I also hope there are culturally competent domestic violence counselors on site at the post-interment repast. In the meantime, I am triggered and treating the trauma of the survived reality that it could have been me; when all I wanted was to live — without you (my same-gender partner).
In striking distance.
Tamar. Maya. Devon. Me. You.
Incestous. Heterosexual. Gay. Lesbian. Queer.
We just want to live — without you.
Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer and pity every groan.
Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou, Random House, 2013
Center for American Progress|LGBT Domestic Violence Fact Sheet
The Reverend Raedorah C. Stewart is preacher, poet, writer and embodied womanist, queer-femme, mother. A resident of Washington, DC, she is on the ministerial team at Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ; is faculty at Wesley Theological Seminary; and is CEO of iWrite.Solutions LLC, a boutique writing consulting firm.