By Susan Hawthorne

From the poem  'Things a Lesbian Should Know'

that the lesbian is as old as humanity –and maybe older
how to conjugate the verb to love in any tongue

(The Sacking of the Muses, 2019 p. 69)

Violence against lesbians is a core tenet of patriarchal societies. How do I know this? Forty-four years of living as an out lesbian. I have had eggs thrown at me. I have been called names. I have been denied progress in academic settings. I have experienced exclusion, even when I am the most qualified person to speak on a subject. I have had to make my own life with little support from the outside. The main people to have supported me are lesbians. As Gill Hanscombe writes in her book Sybil: The Glide of Her Tongue

No one is proud of dykes (not families not friends not workmates not bosses not teachers not mentors not universities not literature societies not any nation not any ruler not any benefactor not any priest not any healer not any advocate). Only other dykes are proud of dykes. People say live and let live but why should we? (1992, p. 7)

But there is worse violence that what I have experienced. Far worse.

•           Lesbians are raped. In South Africa this is called Corrective Rape <>

•           Lesbians have been tortured <> and torturers have said things like 'This will make you a real woman'. '

•           Parents have commissioned the rape of their daughters so they become pregnant.

•           Lesbian activists have been denied political support (An unnamed lesbian refugee from Iran says of her experience: ‘In Kashan they tied me to a car and pulled me across the ground. What should I say, who should I say it to? … Why doesn’t anyone listen to us? Where is this “human rights”?)  .

•           Lesbian activists have been murdered. FannyAnn Eddy, lesbian activist in Sierra Leone, was murdered in September 2004. <>

•           Lesbians have been incarcerated in mental asylums and called mad <>

•           Lesbians have been incarcerated in prisons and called criminals <>

•           Lesbians who are arrested for their activism are raped by fellow prisoners <>.

•           Lesbians have been denied refugee status; had to fight for not being returned to countries that have the death penalty.

•           Lesbians have been murdered by trans activists who call themselves women and thereby alter statistics about women who are violent. When I tried to re-find this article searching for "Two lesbians killed by trans", all that came up was murders of trans. This is the new erasure.

•           Lesbians have been ignored and erased in every way you can imagine.

•           Lesbians are regularly shamed and treated as outcasts. <>


I have been writing about these issues for a long time. I began in 1976 with my philosophy thesis In Defence of Separatism (published last month as a Spinifex Shorts book <>). You can read about why it took so long in the Preface.

I have written about the denial of lesbian culture (2003/4) and trying to create lesbian culture through organising lesbian and feminist events across writing, music, theatre, circus. And by becoming, along with Renate Klein, Australia's only radical feminist press, Spinifex. We have published books by and about lesbians from India, Japan, Turkey, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Palestine/Israel, Vietnam, England, Ireland, Canada, USA, Switzerland, and Australia —including Indigenous Australia.

Through my poetry I have tried to bring  out  lesbian histories from prehistory  and ancient societies including India  and  the Middle East (in The Butterfly Effect and Cow), from Greece and Rome (Lupa and Lamb) and more recently through translation and more re-writings — or perhaps re-slanting — of stories from several thousand years ago until now (The Sacking of the Muses).

My fiction has also traversed this territory. My first novel, The Falling Woman, takes up journeys into the mind, across Europe and into the heart of Australia and explores themes of disability (epilepsy) and lesbian existence. The gap between my 1992 novel and my second novel in 2017 is huge (25 years) and I had almost stopped thinking of myself as a novelist. But this novel, Dark Matters, took 15 of those years to write.

Desi who is a young lesbian is left several boxes of papers by her aunt Kate, a lesbian activist from an earlier generation. About to junk the lot, Desi decides she should at least read it before she throws it out. She discovers that her aunt had been abducted and imprisoned by an unnamed group of men and tortured over a period of 78 days. Her dog and her lover — an exile from Pinochet's Chile — had been shot and left for dead. The novel explores the terrible uncertainty, mental anguish and physical pain that Kate endures. She keeps her mind alive through stories and poetry, but nothing assuages her terrible sense of loss.

My intention in Dark Matters is to make the suffering of lesbians visible. The title is riff on dark matter in the universe which is imperceptible. Desi at one point writes about how imperceptibility is not a clue to non-existence as Vera Rubin discovered (Vera Rubin was the astrophysicist who first mooted the existence of dark matter). Desi compares it to the invisibility of a lesbian in a room full of people (p. 160). I write about how mythic elements and physics are ways of transforming our politics into lesbian poetics. The universe in which my characters exist is, as much as possible, a lesbian-centric universe. But in the end the patriarchal incursions are achingly painful and I am putting out a call for recognition of lesbians as a targeted group of violence by men.


I cry. I cry for all. For all the women. For all the lesbians. I cry because no one cries for us. In Kampala and Chicago. We are shot and raped. We are thrown from the top floor of a high building in Tehran and Mecca. When they arrest us, they put us in cells with violent men who think nothing of having their own 'fun'. In Melbourne and on the Gold Coast, we are tossed from cars, rolled into a ditch. In Santiago we are imprisoned and put on the parrilla. In Buenos Aires they insist we accompany them to dinner outside the prison. We are caught, used and banged away again at midnight. On the Western Cape they come for so many of us that even the media notices. But most of us remain hidden. There are few reports of the crimes against us. Fewer readers (Dark Matters, p. 52).


A few references to articles I have written

2003. “The Depoliticising of Lesbian Culture.” Hecate, Vol. 29, No. 2: 235-247.

2004. The Political Uses of Obscurantism: Gender Mainstreaming and Intersectionality. Development Bulletin. No. 89. pp. 87-91.

2005. Ancient Hatred and Its Contemporary Manifestations: The Torture of Lesbians. The Journal of Hate Studies. Vol. 4. 33-58.

2005. How to Count the Unrecordered, Unrembered, Unnoticed: Lesbian refugees and the torture of lesbians.

2007. The Silences Between: Are Lesbians Irrelevant? Journal of International Women’s Studies. Women’s Bodies, Gender Analysis, and Feminist Politics at the Fórum Social Mundial. Vol 8. No 3 April, pp. 125-138.

2007. Heteropatriarchy: Globalisation, the institution of heterosexuality and lesbians. Rain and Thunder, Winter Solstice, December.

2008. Do Lesbians have Human Rights? Sinister Wisdom Winter 2008-09, Number 75. pp 65-81.

2011. Footnoted and Sidelined: The Campaign for Lesbian Human Rights. Conference paper presented at Wellington Outgames Conference on Human Rights. 17 March. (unpublished)