During the AIDS epidemic, as gay men across the globe lost a whole generation of mentors, it was the lesbian community who sat by their beds first, as the virus continued to take lives. It was the lesbian community who drove around at night, patrolling beats and gay areas, protecting gay men from attacks by the wider community, ‘To keep those who were left, safe.’ This is why the dykes on bikes lead the Mardi Gras parade today. Yet we continue to hear one another, belittling and judging our lesbian sisters.
But this crippling isolation is experienced by many in our community. This lateral violence takes form in rampant ageism, racism, body shaming, fem shaming and the ‘no poz’ rhetoric. It affects our trans sisters and brothers and non-binary siblings. It affects our HIV+ community, and our Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities. It more often than not leads our community to numb their pain through substance use or suicide. Everyone seeks to be a part of something, especially after growing up feeling isolated by the wider community that does not seem to understand us. Alexander Leon (@alexand_erleon) summarizes it aptly:
“Queer people don’t grow up as ourselves, we grow up playing a version of ourselves that sacrifices authenticity to minimise humiliation and prejudice. The massive task of our adult lives is to unpick which parts of ourselves are truly us & which parts we’ve created to protect us.”
Now the thing we fear the most is being rejected by our own peers. Which makes me wonder: “How much of the practice we engage in is authentic and how much of it is projecting this prejudice we once felt ourselves?” And also, “Is this where the everyday lateral violence in our community stems from?”
It is critically important that we understand as a community, that we cannot leave anyone behind. This means standing alongside in solidarity and in strong alliance with one another. There are those among us who are hurt, stigmatised and discriminated against to the point where shame, once again, becomes their number one barrier to accessing and seeking support. They would rather wait until they have lost everything before putting their hands up to ask for help. We are letting them down as friends and loved ones.
The differences in our community make us stronger and should be celebrated. We can take small steps to educate ourselves about these differences in our community, such as, remembering pronouns and accepting trans men into our cis spaces. That all non-binary identities are valid. That the HIV+ community gave up their bodies for drug trials that have now resulted in U=U and PrEP. That we should fight sexual racism. And that persons of colour and those of us who engage in ‘chemsex’ should not be pushed to the outskirts of our community.
It will take awareness from everyone and as much as change happens at an individual level, the only effective response will be a community-led response. I am hoping to use my platform to do just this. I will consult and collaborate with community leaders. We will work towards ending this culture of lateral violence that is slowly destroying the fibres that keep us together. To shoulder by shoulder, work towards equality for all sections of our beautifully vibrant rainbow community, to bring back that feeling of community where the wellbeing of the community comes before the self. Because without it the self cannot exist in its most authentic form either..
This article was written and compiled with the help of community consultations. The author would like to thank Ted Cook and Joel Murray.
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