It’s the sort of thing one thinks doesn’t happen here. Wouldn’t happen. Couldn’t happen. But as the arrest earlier this summer of a prominent resident indicates… that just ain’t so.
Intimate partner violence is alive and well and living in Provincetown.
Why do we assume it’s not going on here? I think it’s because, for many of us (certainly washashores), this is in a sense holy ground. I remember deciding to move here year-round and hearing a Dave Carter song in my head: “This is my home… this is the only sacred ground that I have ever known.” At some level, Provincetown has become a sort of fairytale palace, an Oz where, once you manage to make the sacrifices necessary to gain entrance, nothing can go wrong. It’s holy because of what it means to each of us: it’s where we got married, it’s the first place we could walk down the street holding hands, it’s our artistic inspiration, it’s—perhaps more than anything—a place to feel safe. Domestic violence is something that happens somewhere else.
Listen: it’s not just us. Provincetown isn’t unique in its silence. There’s a huge taboo wrapped around the issue of intimate partner violence everywhere. Shame, stigma, and fear. I remember saying once, scornfully, “I would never let that happen to me,” and yet I too became a victim. And right there’s the source of the shame: everyone wants it to be about the victim “letting” it happen; about the victim not leaving, not walking away, not being strong enough, somehow, to stand up for their rights.
It’s also the stigma and the fear: Violence prevention and intervention should never center on the victim. If we’re ever to heal, then it has to be all about the perpetrator. The person who chose the victim, who justifies violence against the victim, who “takes out” whatever is happening inside them on the victim. That’s the conversation that we should be having, and that we’re not.
I think that LGBT communities bear a particular burden in this regard. People already have to spend a lot of energy explaining themselves to family members, assuring others that they really are doing well, that their partner is fabulous, that their life together is good. How do you admit that you didn’t just ride off into a rainbow-colored sunset and live happily ever after? Admit that there are the same opportunities for abuse as in any other community, knowing that some will use it to justify their assumptions about the nature of relationships in this community? Silence seems safer.
But silence is actually what keeps it dangerous. What keeps it in the closet. Example? When PTownie reported on that recent incident, there was substantial backlash. Because we shouldn’t talk about it? Because the people involved were well known and well liked? Because we want to pretend that it doesn’t happen here?
I want you to know that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve temporarily stepped away from my involvement with Cape support programs, as I’m spending a year primarily Boston-based, but I’ve long been a volunteer for Independence House, which has a satellite office in the municipal building in Provincetown, staffed on Thursdays, and a hotline available 24/7 at 800-439-6507. Independence House has also partnered with the Violence Recovery Program of Fenway Health in Boston to offer support groups for victims of domestic violence identifying as male and living on Cape Cod.
If you’re with someone who is emotionally, verbally, mentally, sexually, or physically abusive to you, don’t feel that you have to single-handedly maintain the illusion that Nothing Bad Ever Happens Here. The AIDS epidemic was a reminder that while we may suffer individually, our strength comes from being there for each other… and from saying the things that are difficult to say, from keeping the discourse alive, from caring more for each other than about stigma.
Provincetown may not be Oz, but if we can admit to problems and listen to each other, support victims looking for help, have the conversations, show that here at least we’re brave enough to knock down the taboos, then we’re well on our way to becoming the place we want this to be.
And that’s a lot better than any yellow brick road.
-Jeannette de Beauvoir, ptownie.com, writer