I’m 4 months in to a 10 year lease, signed with Housing SA for my lovely unit. That followed a 1 year probationary lease. I’ve had hassles with a neighbour since moving in, which despite my best efforts have escalated into minor vandalism, and harassment in the form of hostile letters and verbal abuse. There’s a history of difficulties between other tenants and this neighbour, some of which is frighteningly dangerous (none of which involves witnesses or can be proved). Last night blew up badly, she harassed me persistently as I ignored her and tried to get from my car into my house. For the first time I lost my cool and shouted at her to leave me alone. She dumped a tirade of homophobia on me. She told me I was a dirty, filthy, deviant, freak lesbian, who should be exterminated.
I waited a very long time to get into this unit. Years of unstable housing and periodic homelessness, waiting for the dream of a home of my own. Somewhere safe and permanent, to plant my roses. Somewhere I could have a dog and a cat, work on my degree and my business, bring home a date in peace. This dream of security is being destroyed.
The reality is that my circumstances – female, disabled, poor, queer, make me vulnerable. I don’t have money to fix problems like this. Our safety net services don’t protect people like me very well. I remember when homeless, sitting outside a shelter that could not accommodate my electric scooter, having been kicked out for the cleaners to come in, and told to walk into town. I was too sick to walk to the end of the street. I sat in the gutter and wept. There is no security. Life turns on a dime.
This is the first time I’ve been personally abused since coming out. Oh, there’s been issues here and there. A waitress so uncomfortable with Rose and I that she could not make eye contact and avoided our table. An intimidating group of guys that prompted us to drop hands and walk home faster. People in our close circles who still refuse to meet the girlfriend. Friendships that randomly blew up after we started dating. A training facilitator asking us to ‘stop obviously being in a relationship’ during classes. But this, to have someone spitting with loathing as they tell me I should die, this is a first.
I feel dead inside. Because I have to. Because the alternatives were unsafe. The scream rising in my chest, the images in my mind, of running into the night, of slashing my arms and smearing the blood on her door, the despair that having run from the threat of violence and homophobia years ago, I’m still not safe. That I pay such very high prices to be safe in my life, and safety eludes me.
Last year a very dear friend of mine was attacked by a group of strangers who assumed they were gay. They escaped, hurting themself in the process. Their car was burned to the ground. This is the stuff of nightmares, the stuff that has you waking up screaming. It’s real and it’s still happening now. This is the world I live in, and the world my children would live in.
I’m used to mindless vandalism I once lived in a unit where every week, something would be stolen from my yard. I made a game of it, bringing home broken or misshapen statues from my work to leave in the front yard to be stolen. One mother’s day, half of my irises were dug out and stolen overnight. It’s demoralizing. It’s also not so hard to pity the person so broke and hopeless that stolen irises are their gift for mother’s day. This is different because it’s personal. It’s not mindless, it’s malicious. The intention is to hurt, the motivation is a narcissistic belief that they have the right to punish. It’s gutting. It’s impossible to know what it feels like to be hated if you’ve never been hated.
I have been hated and abused before. I’ve been threatened, I’ve been hurt, I’ve been screamed at, had property damaged or stolen, been touched when I said no, been told the world would be a better place without me. I’ve been given all the advice – hit them back, ignore it, don’t show fear, report it, record it, move away, try to befriend them, try to scare them, try to humanise yourself to them, fight back, turn the other cheek, disengage, empathise, deescalate, don’t make yourself a target.
I’ve followed it all, at one time or another. I’ve frozen. I’ve not shown fear or pain. I’ve cried. I’ve cut myself. I’ve reported and recorded. I’ve downplayed it and hated myself for being over sensitive. I’ve protected their reputation and kept the secrets. I’ve run.
I’ve been told “Until they touch you, we can’t intervene” (not unless, but until). I’ve been told “without witnesses it’s just your word against theirs”. I’ve been told “you bring it on yourself”. I’ve been told “it takes two to tango”. I’ve been told “you need to toughen up”.
They’re wrong, of course. It’s always easiest to blame the person being hurt, to make not being hurt again their responsibility, to offload the anger and frustration that powerlessness makes us feel onto the easiest target.
Abuse has only ended two ways for me – someone with power came along and decided I had enough value to protect me, or I ran. Hence the homelessness. I wonder, at times like this, if it was worth running if this is where I have run to? I have sacrificed so much following a dream of a life without violence or abuse, when that dream evades me like the end of the rainbow. There’s a scream in my chest that’s so loud it would tear the world in two. Not only for me, but for all those like me. The ones I’ve outlived, and the ones who live maimed by memories of torture and terror. Why run, if there is no safety? Because you cannot stay without imbibing the belief that you deserve this. That they are right, that you are perverted, pathetic, vile. That the world would be better off without you. When I ran, when I lost everything, I gained back the self respect that denies all those claims.
I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. My options are limited. Both Housing SA and the police have been involved, neither are offering me answers. I am vulnerable, and I am hated by some people, for things I cannot change or help, for things I do not wish to conceal, for things about myself that are not flaws or failings or perversions. This used to be my whole world, growing up. Now it’s a vicious corner of my universe. Those invited into my world love and respect me. It’s the uninvited who are doing the poisoning.
Rose and I are reeling, quietly. Hurt, scared, stressed. I’ve a lot of face painting coming up, which will be a welcome relief from thinking about this. Making kids happy – there’s no better thing. Admin is on hold, plans of all kinds are on hold. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other. I need to eat, Zoe needs a walk, I need a shower. I feel dead. On the phone to lifeline last night I moved out of hysterical and into numb. They were pleased and moved on to more urgent cases. In my mind I’m back at school again and I can’t escape, back in relationships that terrified me. In my mind I feel the despair settling in – that nothing works out for me, that everything falls apart, that there is no real hope.
There’ll be a way through this, somehow. I’m creative and resilient and I have much better networks these days, friends who care, counselors. But I think that dream of reaching a safe place some day, I think that’s gone. Nowhere is ever really safe like that. And that feeling – it’s like being profoundly homesick. The loss of that dream aches so badly, like a child longing for a home that has burned.