In the Dream House and A Little Life: Representing LGBTQ+ Pain

By Anne-Charlotte Fabre

Pride month shouldn’t just be about the positives – there are negatives too that we need to focus on

TW: Domestic Abuse

In recent years, LGBTQ+ couples have been the focus of many new films and novels, increasing their representation and visibility in pop-culture. However, a common complaint of these stories has been that the couples always suffered a tragic end, and that this in turn perpetuated the idea that LGBTQ+ love is doomed.

I agree that these characters too, and ultimately people, should be treated like any other straight couple, and given real, happy, lives of their own that extend beyond the simple facts of their sexual identity. However, abusive relationships are a very real threat in the LGBTQ+ community, still, and one that goes unheard of because of the abuser and victim’s gender: how can a man be a victim of abuse? How can a woman be the perpetrator of abuse?

It seems as though discussing LGBTQ+ pain within their relationships has almost become taboo, something that we don’t want to acknowledge for fear that it may shatter the community’s image.

image via @sunkissedpages

Carmen Maria Machado discusses this point extensively in her memoir-in-flash In The Dream House (2019). In the book, Machado goes through the motions of her abusive relationship with a woman, detailed through many creative vignettes. It is a very startling and gripping view of the insidiousness of abusive relationships, and the shame felt by the victims of them, especially LGBTQ+ ones.

In her chapter Dream House as Ambiguity (p.157), Machado discusses the ‘paradox’ that talking about domestic abuse in LGBTQ+ contexts brings forth. She references a real life case in which a female abuser failed to be sentenced for her crime for the simple fact that she was a woman, and that it was believed women could not be perpetrators of abuse. Additionally the case was shrouded in shame.

Machado discusses the shame of talking about domestic abuse in an LGBTQ+ context because of the fear that it might unravel all the progress the community has made, and strengthen the beliefs of those who deem LGBTQ+ relationships to be wrong.

If gay and lesbian relationships cannot prove themselves to be constantly happy and healthy, then why should they be regarded as equally valuable as straight, functioning relationships? Does the truth of domestic abuse within queer relationships prove that these relationships cannot function?

image via @sunkissedpages

Hanya Yanagihara’s novel, A Little Life (2015), received a lot of praise and controversy for the depiction of the main character, Jude’s, life. Leading an immensely devastating life, some people have called A Little Life ‘torture porn’ with no meaning behind all the pain, and that it was exploitative of both the characters and the communities that they represent.

In one pivotal scene in the chapter The Axiom of Equality (p.321), Jude is brutally abused by his partner and left for dead. It is an incredibly graphic and violent scene, one that upset me a lot when I read it, but I also believe it, along with the entire novel, to be an incredibly important scene.

As I said before, I believe it is important to give marginalised communities positive representations, but it is still very important to show the negatives, the behind-closed-doors truth of it. To only represent LGBTQ+ lives in a rose-tinted view is to neglect the very real problems that lie behind it and offer no solutions for it.

In the fashion of many domestic abuse victims, Jude keeps his assault a secret from his friends, and this in turn perpetuates his already deeply-rooted ideas that it was his fault, he deserved it, because of who he is.

image via Pinterest

To ignore cases of domestic abuse in queer relationships, for fear of the shattering of the illusion and progress built, would be to condemn the victims and offer them no believability or aid. Ultimately, this would be extremely harmful to the community as a whole as well – no level of abuse should be swept under the rug.

Novels like Red, White & Royal Blue, or Heartstopper offer wonderful and positive representation of queer relationships – the couples are happy and beautiful, and this kind of representation is needed! But, with proper content warnings and modes of representation, as well as extensive care around the matter, LGBTQ+ pain needs to be talked about if only for the victims sake. We must accept that gay and lesbian relationships can be filled with domestic abuse, and it must be dealt with correctly. Machado’s novel is an immense step in understanding the insidious problem and how we can deal with it.

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