The Secret History of Unkindness

by Allie Shyer

CW: Mentions of abuse

On Friday evening in the garden of a common Pilsen art party I whispered to a dear friend, “It is starting to feel like I don’t know anyone who has not been affected by domestic violence.”

I found myself accidentally crying. Luckily the majority of the revelers had fled the plummeting evening temperatures to return to the lukewarm beers and radiator heat of the kitchen. My friend was wearing two sweaters, I was wearing only a pink silk robe, but the cold felt like it was hitting me in a different way, as if it was a manifestation of my own hopelessness and exhaustion. “I don’t know what to do anymore, I feel so angry.” My friend stood holding me in silence against the cold October evening. The feeling that the world was penetrating me persisted far into the next day.

            To tell you (reader) the truth. Every day,

     every day I find myself more capable

            of telling the truth.


                                    A man called me a witch on the street last month.

                                      Well, first he told me to smile,

                              because he was rich, and he could own me,

                                   if he wanted to.  

            This is to say there is a secret history of unkindnesses that sweetens me like a bruised fruit. This is to say that my friend’s boyfriends are scared of me because I am frank and articulate, I am only five foot four and I have a very high pitched voice, that I like to exaggerate the feminine cadence of when I become angry. But here’s the big secret;

             Well I’m a dyke, so I thought I could hold all that stuff in the third person, I thought when I got older I could choose a life that did not include violence against women in my most intimate circles but so far, that has not been the case.

             Queer women are victims of domestic violence and intimate partner violence every day.

 I have had five friends come to me this year alone after being physically or emotionally abused by someone close to them.

I don’t know what to do about this.

I provided each one with as much support and compassion as I could. I tried to make sure that they had the resources and confidence necessary to get themselves out of toxic situations. I let them know that I would try to help them find safety in any way I could.

When I was seven, the son of my father’s business partner chased me around the house until I tripped on an electrical cord and fell. “He is acting that way because he likes you,” my mother said.

“What patterns are we repeating and re-enforcing in our communities, why are we re-enacting patterns that we have worked so hard to escape?” I asked another friend the day after the party in a text message.

            A few months ago I was at a queer dance party and I stepped outside to get some air. People were gathered in clusters chatting and smoking cigarettes, a few steps from the entrance I saw a couple who had been inside dancing. They appeared to be arguing, I saw one push the other against the glass window of the photo shop next door. Nobody turned their head.

            “He is acting that way because he likes you,” my mother said.

In college I walked every day past men I knew to be rapists and abusers. I would see them on the pathways coming to and from class. I would see them in the common rooms of dormitories. I would see them, and hear in my head the voices of friends who told me that the rape crisis hotline told them not to press charges, or that they were too scared to come forward because they feared upturning their lives.

            I thought after college I would find a safe haven in the queer culture of a big city where we worked together to break patterns that foster silence and abusive behavior. So far I still have not found a place that is safe.