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The relationship conversations we need to have

Posted in: Living Well, Features
By Jacqui Stanford - 12th May 2015

Educator Vicky Wood wants to start a conversation about healthy relationships in our communities, and will begin with a workshop for queer and trans young people in Auckland this Saturday, looking at the issues we’re just not talking about.

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Vicky Wood
Wood’s mission ultimately stemmed from looking back on her own relationship history and realising there were some serious problems. “I’d come out of one particular relationship that would clinically probably be considered an abusive relationship. It wasn’t physically abusive. But the more I thought about it I realised I had been relationships where for example I had been punched by a partner. I had been physically assaulted.”

She says she realised that she had been in a situation where someone should have noticed. “Someone should have picked up on it, but they never did – they figured ‘oh it’s just two women’ and that it wasn’t the same somehow.”

The Scotswoman wondered if it was just her, and when she went digging could find little information on abusive same-sex relationships. “But of what had come out, it was pretty clear that the rates were exactly the same as for heterosexual couples. Then there are all these layers of difference as well around, say, for people who are in transgender relationships and facing sexual violence, for lesbians facing physical violence.”

The more she looked into it the more Wood found lgbt people who were saying ‘oh yeah that’s happened to me’ or ‘I was in a really badly physically violent relationship’.

Yet there was no education for lgbt people in the area. ”Bugger all” as Wood puts it. “There wasn’t anything for us specifically. All of it was based upon heterosexual understandings of domestic violence.”

That’s changing. RainbowYOUTH has worked with Ministry of Social Development’s ‘It’s not OK’ campaign to create a booklet about healthy relationships for the queer, takataapui and gender diverse community. That was released just this month.

And this Saturday Wood is running a free workshop for young queer people called 'Good Relationships don't just happen'.

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It’s being supported by the Disability Commission at the Human Rights Commission. Wood is someone who lives with mental illness and went through a Commission course which supported people with disabilities to promote human rights in the community.

“I wanted to do something that was relevant to my lived experience not of illness but of my life and identity as a gay woman and promotes positive mental health for young people in our community,” she says.

“So, that’s what led me to design a workshop that will explore these issues. I want people to come out of this workshop thinking about 'what do I want from a relationship?', 'what can I give?', 'what are healthy boundaries/healthy ways to communicate?', 'what can I do if I am in an abusive relationship?'”

While not a counsellor, she is an educator. “I work casually for RainbowYOUTH as an educator and have spent probably far too many years doing education in the community, so I make no claim to tell others what is wrong or right with their relationship, I want to help our young people to think about what they deserve.”

Though some people may consider the topic somehow too controversial, Wood says we need to discuss it. “There is a huge amount be proud of in New Zealand, with same-sex legislation and all the rest of it. But now I believe it’s time to start looking at more than that. We’re just not having the conversation, and sometimes I think we’re like ‘we can’t let the straight cisgender people know that maybe our relationships aren’t all as amazing as we like to make out’.”

Wood says it helps for people to know others have been through what they are facing. “There is no role modelling. There’s the odd couple that have been together for 45 years, but realistically, and probably because of heteronormative values, we don’t really hear a great deal about long term same-sex relationships.”

She says the things we learn from the likes of straight parents’ relationships growing up don’t necessarily apply. Then there’s the fact not everyone is out, something partners can use as a power game by threatening ‘I’m going to out you if you don’t do this’. “And I have read in transgender relationships there can be high prevalence of sexual violence, stopping people from taking hormones, different things that are going on that are very specific to our communities.”

Services are another problem. Wood says while Women’s Refuge do include lesbians in their charter, there are no specific services - and there is nothing for gay men or transgender people.

“Our relationships are different. Just by the fact that they’re not cisgender and they’re not heterosexual. In their nature they function differently. Our needs need to be met, in that sense.”

Research would also be a massive help. “We know there’s a problem, but the information is all over the place. There are some reports that say actually bisexual men are at the highest prevalence of sexual violence. But there is a lot of research around the world that says lesbians have the same rates of domestic violence as heterosexual couples. I don’t know if those things are true here. We know there is a problem, but there is nothing New Zealand focused.”

Wood says we know we are all capable of having healthy relationships, but it’s something we need to talk about.

She’d love the workshop just to be a start, as while this one is focused on youth, the issue is important across all generations. It all depends on the ability to find funding – mostly just to pay for venues. She’d love it if agencies who deal with sexual health education and relationship education would consider taking the cause on and give it a home.

You can contact Vicky Wood at kiaoravicky@gmail.com

 

Jacqui Stanford - 12th May 2015

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