Hiding in plain sight: Understanding the real fear of violence queer women experience and what we can do about it

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Image credit: Andrea Donato Alemanno

Hiding in plain sight: Understanding the real fear of violence queer women experience and what we can do about it

January 17, 2019

Concerts, in my experience, have always been events filled with excitement and uplifting emotions. That’s why hearing of a homophobic incident taking place at a Jack White concert in early November made me uneasy. At his show in Edmonton, Alberta, two women kissed each other in the audience during the legendary song “Seven Nation Army.” Subsequently, an usher nearby immediately walked over to the women, physically putting herself between the two to stop them. The usher told the women plainly that that kind of behavior was not allowed at the venue. According to one of the women’s Facebook posts about the incident, the worker then told the venue’s manager that what she had witnessed was “inappropriate sexual behavior.”

The usher’s over the top reaction begs the question—why is it seen as perfectly normal for straight-assumed couples to show affection in public, but when queer femme couples do the same, it’s a blatantly sexual act? This is something I’ve asked myself a lot, and I’ve found that the root of this problem is not just homophobia, not just misogyny, not just an issue of power: It is a combination of the three. The toxic hetero-patriarchal standards forced upon queer women and femmes are harming us all in everyday life.

We’re told by society from a young age that we need the physical and emotional companionship of a man, otherwise we can never have families—or complete lives. When queer women, like those at this concert, express the kind of affection that society deems only possible to be had with a man, they are seen as rebelliously rejecting expectations. This was why the usher unconsciously deemed their harmless, happy kiss, an act of unacceptable sexual deviance.

This same standard teaches men to feel anger at displays of queer femme affection, as they believe that they are being denied something that men are inherently owed—the love and attention of a woman. Ironically, many of these same straight men also fantasize about queer women—but only in the context of two women’s physical love being a performance to gain the affections of men. Once men see queer women and femmes expressing affection in public, however, the illusion that all women need a masculine presence in their romantic lives in order to be fulfilled is effectively shattered. This is exactly why the distinction between acceptance versus fetishization of queer and transgender women is imperative to understand.

While the concert incidence of homophobia was contained to a minor physical altercation, many other queer women, especially transgender women, experience violence because of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. Just last month, a 20-year old woman was recently attacked on a New York City subway, leaving her with a fractured spine after a man saw her share a brief kiss with another woman. The attacker struck the victim from behind out of homophobic anger, slinging slurs at her in the process. After the attack, the woman wouldn’t show her face for an interview—she also said that she’ll probably never ride the subway again because of the trauma that the attack caused her.

In another violent attack, Huffpost reported a Tacoma man had been charged with a hate crime after he assaulted a lesbian couple at an NFL game in Seattle, Washington. The incident took place on December 30, by the attacker, Jay Dee Harp. Onlookers intervened, but only after Harp was able to scream vulgar, homophobic comments, groped one women, and punched the other woman, her wife, in the face.

Violence took the life of Dana Martin, a 31-year old woman living in Alabama. Police found Martin had been shot and killed in a car in a roadside ditch on Sunday, January 6. Martin’s death represents the first documented murder of a trans person in the United States in 2019. While Martin’s killer and their motivations are currently unknown, it is possible she was attacked because of her identities as an African American trans woman, as trans women of color are disproportionately victimized by anti-LGBTQ violence.

These women all experienced humiliation, violence, and in the case of Dana Martin, the ultimate tragedy, in what were supposed to be safe, everyday, and even happy occasions. Their experiences are a reminder to all women and LGBTQ people that our greatest fears could come true. All that we can really control after something like these incidents happen is our reactions and how we can move forward in a productive way as a society.

Jack White’s response to what transpired at his concert, though, represents a momentary relief from the real life fear and anxiety queer women experience. Upon learning of the incident, White posted a black and white snapshot on Instagram of two women kissing amongst the screaming crowd at a Beatles concert in 1964. He explained how the image was beautiful to him because the women were “hiding in plain sight.” He went on to express his disappointment about the events that transpired at this show. The following night, on-stage White dedicated his song “Love Interruption” to the two women, encouraging those in the audience to kiss their significant others, no matter who they were. Having a prominent figure in entertainment like Jack White, especially with him being a straight, cisgender man, use his platform to denounce hatred and promote acceptance when it comes to issues like these is critical. We need more moments of allyship and we need allyship when the stakes are even higher.

These disgusting displays of homophobia in Edmonton, Seattle, Montgomery, and New York City are only four examples of how homophobia, misogyny and fetishization of women is alive and well. White’s reaction gives me hope that less LGBTQ+ people will have their love interrupted in the future, but it is up all of us, everyday people, to stand up and stop violence and bias when we see it.

Nicole Gemmiti is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and senior at Berklee College of Music studying music production and engineering and contemporary writing and production. She is the co-leader of Berklee’s gay-straight alliance, LGBT+ United.

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