Abuse doesn’t look like it does in the movies. Chances are the picture you have in your head of somebody who would abuse or assault their partner is wildly inaccurate. This is one of many ideas put forth by the Eastern Michigan University Queer and Trans People of Color Collective’s Queers Without Fears Conversation.
“Abuse isn’t an event. It’s mistreating a power differential. Even if it only happens once, a difference of power is established,” speaker Aiden Ramirez-Tatum said.
The panel, consisting of persons of color falling on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, was held at the Student Center’s “The Intersection.” The Intersection is primarily a space for community building and while it is big enough to host panels and larger talks, it gives a much more intimate feel.
This intimate, safe feeling is very important for the QTPOCC to maintain in order to facilitate a better discussion. No cameras were permitted from anyone outside the collective, to prevent the place from turning into “a zoo,” according to co-coordinators Tay Little and Cherish Miller.
“We aimed to give a space to confront things and allow them to grow,” Little said.
Queers Without Fears was designed with the goal of giving both the attendees and speakers time to process things as questions were asked and the speakers each offered their own advice and life experiences on the subject of abuse within groups of marginalized people.
Everyone on the panel has learned that abuse doesn’t fit a profile. There isn’t a single way abuse manifests itself and often, it doesn’t begin with physical violence, with the threat of violence being enough to silence a victim and begin a cycle of abuse.
The idea that another person can be controlled through these tactics, and that this is OK, is embedded within some people across all types. It isn’t always, as one panelist put it, “a big white guy who is always shouting.” That ugliness is capable within all kinds of people.
“Across all identities and bodies, the tools of dominating people are all the same,” said another panelist.
While anybody can be abused or be an abuser alike, the recovery process is harder for marginalized people. Many find support in day-to-day existence is difficult and the places to go to escape an abuser are difficult. While resources such as the Sexual Assault Services for Holistic Healing and Awareness (SASHA) Center in Detroit do exist, the options are limited.
“I wish I could just spout off a plethora of resources,” Ramirez-Tatum said, when talking about support systems for survivors within marginalized communities, “But there just aren’t that many around here.”
This very narrow picture painted in many people’s heads, peers will write off cries for help and claims of abuse against somebody who doesn’t fit the picture they have in their head, especially within LGBTQ+ plus relationships, according to panelist Nadia Ann Abour-Karr.
The limited spaces many marginalized people feel safe in can provide an even greater challenge for abuse survivors who are QTPOC to get out of these toxic environments with the burning question of “where will I even go?” sometimes being the largest question on the panelists’ minds. People are reluctant to “disrupt the balance” in social circles, according to the speakers, and abusers will take advantage of that.
“So much of abuse is isolation, making you feel like you can’t stand up for yourself,” said one speaker. “Abusers will use their social clout to deny any accountability.”
Escaping abusers and abusive situations is difficult, but it isn’t impossible. All the speakers at the panel are living proof of this and are all on a path of healing, and learning what it means to be in a safe, healthy environment.
“I really appreciate good people now,” said Ramirez-Tatum. “Good people are amazing.”
Queers Without Fears was meant to be an empowering and introspective conversation, according to Little and Miller. It gave a chance for survivors to have a space where they felt safe and comfortable enough to reflect on their own experiences, and hopefully, to begin to heal and grow past themselves.
“What’s done is done. It can sometimes be embarrassing, maybe, but you just have to move on, and forgive yourself,” said Abour-Karr.