Compounding Violence in
Queer Relationships

Compounding Violence in Queer Relationships with Iona Sky

Jenna Mayne: Welcome to she is your neighbour, a show where we discuss the realities and complexities of domestic violence. This podcast is brought to you by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region, a charitable organization in Ontario, Canada. I’m your host, Jenna Mayne. Join me as we talk to different people each week to learn how domestic violence impacts people from all walks of life. She is your neighbour, and we all have a role to play in ending domestic violence.

This episode is called compounding violence in queer relationships with Iona Sky. Iona is a social worker, an educator, and an equity, diversity and inclusion consultant. After experiencing domestic violence in a past relationship, Iona recognized a gap in messaging and support for queer people. In this episode, Iona talks about some of the unique struggles that are faced by people with intersecting identities. We also talk about the importance of highlighting intersectionality when talking about complex social issues. This episode is part of an eight episode series called when violence escalates, which explores how violence builds, leading to severe incidents and death.

I really enjoyed this conversation with Iona. There were so many different parts of her story that stood out to me. She identifies as queer, as an immigrant, as a parent, as a person with invisible disabilities, and she’s also a survivor of domestic violence. We talked a lot about layered trauma, about not having a one size fits all approach when we’re supporting individuals experiencing domestic violence. We talked about microaggressions and knowing and understanding that domestic violence happens to people of all backgrounds, and we need to be able to provide support for them and meet them where they’re at. Before we get started, I’d like to note that the following episode includes a discussion of domestic violence and abuse, which may be distressing or traumatic for some listeners. Please take care of yourself and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.


Jenna Mayne: Hi, Iona. Thanks so much for being here today.

Iona Sky: Hi, Jenna. It’s lovely to see you, and I’m thrilled to be here today.

Jenna Mayne: Oh, I’m so excited to chat with you. We’ve been looking forward to this. I know we’re going to have a great conversation today, so I just really, really appreciate you being here.

Iona Sky: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Jenna Mayne: So, can we just start by you sharing a little bit about yourself for everyone to get to know you a little better?

Iona Sky: So, my name is Iona sky. My pronouns are they, them, she, and her. And I am just thrilled to be on this podcast for myself. A little bit about me. I’m a social worker by background. Majority of my career was in child welfare. I’ve also been doing, consulting on the side in equity diversity and inclusion. And I teach at the university in the social work program. other bits about me. I am an immigrant to Canada. I wasn’t born here. I’m from India, and I grew up in the Middle east. And I moved to Canada, when I was a teenager. I am queer. I live with invisible disabilities. I’m a mother. I’m a partner. and I’m a member of, this, community here in Kitchener Waterloo in beautiful province of Ontario. And I’m really proud to be a part of this project and get to talk about how domestic violence impacts on different communities.

Jenna Mayne: Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing a bit about yourself. We’re so excited to have you here today, and I’m just really excited for our conversation to get talking and learning from you. So I’m just really grateful. So today we’re going to be talking about how violence can escalate, especially in the 2SLGBTQ community. And we’re also going to be talking about why intersectionality is such an important part of this conversation. So I was wondering if you would be able to start by maybe just sharing a little bit about your own story with us.

Iona Sky: Yeah, absolutely. so, for me, Jenna, as I was preparing for this interview, I really reflected on my journey, both in Canada and as well as. As a child and for myself. I’ve experienced different versions of domestic violence and violence, whether it was being a survivor of sexual abuse as a child and as a teen, to witnessing domestic violence in. In friends homes and as well as also experiencing it as an adult, as somebody who is queer. As I shared, I live with my own, identities and intersectionalities. And so, for me, all of the different parts of not only who I am, but my, journey, so far, through different countries and now in Ontario and in Canada, have really impacted how I have come to understand how domestic violence can manifest in different spaces and places and communities. And so I think it’s really important to think about how do we support one another? How do we support, people who are experiencing intimate partner violence? Because as somebody who has lived through it, and I’ve just turned 50, I finally feel like I am free from, that violence and in a safe place that I want to share and bring visibility to how intersectionalities can impact on how communities experience violence, and particularly when we think about domestic violence and intimate partner violence.

Jenna Mayne: Thank you so much for sharing that with us. I really appreciate you sharing that. It really means a lot. And you talked about a few interesting things there. Just talking about how the intersectionalities, of who we are can impact our experiences. I was wondering if maybe you would share a little bit more about that.

Iona Sky: So, for myself, growing up, I never heard about domestic violence. There was no language around it. I saw it and I witnessed it in different spaces, but did not know. I didn’t know that that was not okay. And moving to Canada and Ontario and being in this, country for now, almost 30 years, you know, it took me a while to understand, what does domestic violence look like? Because there is a lack of visibility. We don’t talk about domestic violence, as much as we should, just for everyday conversations, let alone how it manifests in, marginalized communities, whether you are racialized, whether you live with disabilities, whether, you are part of the two s. LGBTQIA communities, whether you are, experiencing poverty. Classism is a huge intersectionality that we don’t talk about how that impacts on people and impacts on also not only how to get support, but also what do we do after that, and how do we not only recognize what is happening and seek and get the right supports, but also how do we move forward and heal, and live our best lives? Because for myself, I never saw myself represented in any of the communications, in any of the flyers, the websites, as not only a racialized person, but somebody who’s queer. There’s a lot of invisibility, as I shared, about, domestic violence as it is. And then when we add on the layers of, for example, being queer, I had somebody say to me, and this is a senior leader, say to me, what? That domestic violence exists with lesbians, with queer folks. I thought with two women, it would be perfect. So thinking about, you know, what are the stereotypes that are out there? Because, you know, as it is, we have to fight for our rights every day, especially as we see the cyclical nature of, societal homophobia and transphobia and racism. And we only need to see what’s happening in our communities to see that right. As it is, we fight for acknowledgement of our basic human rights and then to have to also say, no, you know, we are also a microcosm of the larger society, and domestic violence occurs across all cultures, all identities, all races. And when you don’t see yourself not only represented, but also people talking about how dysfunction can occur in relationships, you know, there’s always this pretty picture of healthy and what relationships should look like that. I never had any visual representation of how struggles might occur in relationships. And there’s that difference between regular couple struggles that happen where different people in relationships, of course we’re going to disagree. I say to my partner, if we don’t disagree, then something’s not happening right here. Right? So there’s that. Those regular differences of opinion, and then there’s abusive behaviors. And when we don’t talk about or bring visibility to what those harmful behaviors can look like, it’s very hard to seek help, because it’s very hard to also recognize it, because as somebody who lives in my body, during the time when I experienced abuse in previous relationships, I did not. I was under so much. I say it was a haze, because it was a haze of control, and I lost who I was. And so I not only lost who I was, I also couldn’t recognize what’s healthy or what’s not healthy, because I also didn’t have any representations of that. And so when I think about the future and how do we support people? How do we support and make changes? Like, you know, I start that, and I’ve always started that, even in my own home. And how we raise our son, the conversations that we have with him, because it’s also bringing visibility, not, only as an adult, but also for what young people hear and what they see. Because I truly believe that if you don’t have safety and peace and well being as a child, it’s very hard to find that as an adult. And for me, you know, this is why I do the work that I do with bringing visibility to issues of diversity, of inclusion, of belonging, of equitable outcomes. How do we make changes so that everybody receives the best level of service and supports from organizations such as yours, Jenna, and the good work that you all do. Right. How do you provide, that service for everybody who steps through that door? Because my experience has been, is that systems and organizations have been structured through the lens of a one size fits all. We are unique human beings, each and every one of us. So how can we provide supports, services, and engagement and conversations, right? And I think, all of those intersectionalities and all of those parts of my identity and the oppressions that I face through the intersectionality, the mixing of, you know, racism, homophobia, classism, all of those things, they have impacted, you know, my ability to not only seek out support, but to, Because I didn’t know what was out there, but to also get to a place where picking up that phone call or opening those doors, that’s where, you know, it is creating that sense of community. And I love the name of this podcast and this awareness campaign of she’s your neighbour, because we are all neighbours in this together. And so that’s why also, it breeds my passion, my intersectionality, my experience of intersecting systems of oppression in my life have impacted what I do and my passion for this work, and which is why I’m on this podcast, to bring visibility for the people who might not have seen themselves in the past, and that violence happens in all relationships, and it’s not okay that that happens and that, together, you know, we can make a change together to not only, you know, proverbially help people, who are in the river, help pull them out of the river, but also find out how are they being pushed in on the top. Right? Who’s push. How are they being pushed in the river? Through systems of patriarchy, of sexism, of oppression, of classism? How does that manifest and have barriers and. Yeah, yeah. So those are all different ways that, when I think about my identity identities and the, the things that I have faced in my life have really contributed to not only the barriers that I experienced in seeking help, but also the ways in which those barriers have been removed to help me towards healing for my future.

Jenna Mayne: Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that. It’s really just amazing to hear about your journey and kind of what you’ve gone through and how it’s led you to become a social worker, to become a consultant working in equity, diversity, and inclusion. It’s really cool to hear your story and why you’re doing this, to kind of break down those barriers. So I really, really appreciate you sharing all this, Iona. I think it’s really impactful. You said some really interesting things there, too. You mentioned that you yourself identify as a racialized person, you’re a queer person, and you explained that because of that, there are different barriers that you face. And, you shared that one story of someone who you worked with who didn’t quite understand your scenario. I’m wondering if you could explain, are there other kinds of unique struggles that queer people experience when it comes to domestic violence? I’m wondering if you are able to elaborate on this a bit more and why a queer person might not come forward if they’re experiencing domestic violence.

Iona Sky: Yeah, absolutely. I think that there are many reasons. I think there is still the shroud of shame, when it comes to talking about domestic violence, when it comes to it existing, in families, and when you layer that on with the, homophobia, the transphobia that exists, and also the heterosexism and cissexism that exists, and what that means is the assumption of relationships being a male or female and female that dichotomy and the assumption that everybody is born into the body that aligns with who they are. And so some of the barriers and why I say this is that, because I experience some additional barriers, like when seeking help, count made the assumption that, you know, because I present in a certain way that is more non binary than perhaps, say, some of my ex partners who presented in a more stereotypically female looking presentation, people made assumptions about where the problems of domestic violence were. So talk about layering of violence that you experience when you’re trying to get help, being assumed that you are the person who is harming the other person when you are in fact, being harmed. Other things that, queer folks in particular might not want to come forward is not knowing whether they will be safe in a shelter. Will they experience people who understand the unique struggles that they may have? Because as, as I shared, you know, there’s already a lot of stigma and shame and silence around domestic violence in heterosexual relationships, let alone queer relationships, right. I have been involved in a lot of advocacy work for queer rights, throughout my time here in Canada, right, from the rights to same, sex marriage, to spousal rights to having children, to all sorts of things. And so when you sometimes when you fight for those rights, right, there’s this additional pressure to also appear like everything is fine and because you feel that extra pressure, whether it’s perceived or real, right. that you have to represent your community well. And so to then seek out supports and say, no, you know, we are our microcosm of largest society. And that just like racism exists in the queer community, that. That was a shock to me when I came out. I didn’t expect to experience that. also I’ve experienced that lack of understanding in the helping professions and experience homophobia, heterosexism from, people, not only who don’t understand how those things can manifest, because I think when people think about homophobia and transphobia, their mind always goes to the violent acts, the physical acts, the things that show up in the media. And absolutely those are forms of violence. There are those everyday acts of aggression. Some people call them microaggressions. And the micro is not because it’s small, it’s because it happens every day on an individual basis, right? And it’s those microaggressions that people may experience by making assumptions about what relationships, what queer relationships can look like on where and on how the violence can manifest for me, you know, other things that would have been really helpful, living in my identity, would be being able to see, getting the information on how domestic violence can exist in its various forms and having that information accessible. Right. to me, to be able to understand it at that time on where I was. And so when I think about how can organizations do better and do differently, it’s about also thinking about how do you communicate, not only on your website sites, your written material, but also within your organizations, with the people who you support, both in the shelters, with your outreach, understanding the unique struggles that they experience. And so I want to expand the conversation, if I could, Jenna, to not only about career communities, but also other marginalized communities and how intersectionalities can. Can contribute to their experience. One thing that I’ve also seen as areas of growth for organizations, and this is not only the organization supporting survivors, but also all organizations, whether it be healthcare, child welfare, mental health, is an understanding of intergenerational trauma, understanding of war, understanding of embodied trauma, how we embody the, what has happened to us. Thinking about also the lack of services that marginalized communities face on. On an everyday basis, whether you think about access to employment, to food, to childcare, to transportation, all of these things exacerbate and add to the safety or lack of safety that people might experience. Because when you think about also class, and we know that racialized women make the, least amount of money, when we think about income earners and people and racialized people who live with disabilities, who are queer talk, then it goes even more. And so those are some of the barriers that might keep people in relationships where it’s unsafe for them. Because, you know, I’ve had to think about in my lifetime, where will it be safer for me, where I am or going somewhere where I might experience all sorts of other things? Because. Because people do not understand not only me, but what I experience in the world. Because when you compound, once again the oppressions of racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, sizeism, all of these things, right? Those are. It’s like it adds one on top of the other, and those are heavy loads for people to carry on their backs. And so I think about, how can we as people in the helping professions, and also not only in the helping professions, we are on this earth together and together, you know, I do believe that we can make change. And this is why I do the work that I do. Because, you know, as especially now in these times, budgets are getting crunched, and so, you know, organizations are struggling to just meet their mandate. And so when you think about then going deeper into their mandate, moving from a one size fits all to a serving everybody in the best way that meets their cultural and identity needs. We need a team approach and a community approach, from the governments to the funders to the organizations to you and me as members of this community, Jennifer, because, you know, some of us have, heavier knapsacks to carry. And so I believe, especially as social workers, you know, we have taken it upon ourselves to help alleviate some of those burdens through podcasts such as this, through advocacy, through moving through advocacy, from education to action to implementation. When you think about how can places change, right, first you start with educating yourselves, educating yourselves on what are people experiencing, and also how do systems, continue, right. How do we change? How do we change how we’re doing? And then to move to how do we create organizations through policies and procedures, through communication, through how do we represent, people in our walls, in organizations, on our websites, on our, how we communicate out to the world, who do we engage with? How do we bring visibility to all communities, right? And recognizing that violence can also disproportionately impact certain communities. And I’m sure that for yourself and the other staff who do the work that you do every day, you see those disproportionalities by the women and children who walk through your and the identities and their lived stories, right? And also, I think another thing that’s really important, when we think about intersecting identities and intersectionalities and how they can contribute to, domestic violence, there are a lot of myths and stereotypes that are out there about different cultures, different religions, different identities. And as I said before, we know, we know through research, through data, through lived experience, that domestic violence impacts everybody. And so what I always say to folks is, you know, we are trained through what we see, through what we experience, to, get a certain picture in our brain when we think about domestic violence, when we think about anything, those are our biases and how we are we, how our brains work, right? And so I always say to folks, challenge yourself. Because when I, when something comes to my brain, I always say, oh, no, why did you think of it in that way? Right? Why did you cross the street? Why did you go, oh, I’m a little bit worried about that person? Why? Right. And ask yourself that. Challenge your assumptions. Because when we look at violence, and particularly domestic violence, through the lenses of myths and stereotypes, we’re rendering certain people invisible. And not only invisible, by rendering them invisible, then they’re not only represented, but they have no voice at all. And so then we’re further harming them.

Jenna Mayne: Thank you so much for sharing that. I think it’s so important, and it makes me think of something you said earlier in the conversation, about when you were experiencing domestic violence, that you lost who you were and that you were in this hate. And I think thinking about that, that just shows why it’s so important that organizations show that they are accepting and supportive and putting the messaging out there to marginalized communities that we are here to support you. Because when someone is in a haze or a fog like that, how are we going to get through to them? It’s even harder, right? Especially when there’s all these layers that you’re talking about that will already prevent them from seeking support or coming forward in the first place. So I just really appreciate you sharing that, and I think it makes so much sense.

Iona Sky: Thank you, Jenna. Yes, absolutely. It really. I did feel like. Like I was in a haze, and that’s the impact of what violence can do to you physiologically. and so you hit a really key piece about. About the importance of having visibility and representation, because, you know, for myself, as a queer person, my eyes are trained to look for that rainbow. Look at spaces for a rainbow sticker to show whether people identify themselves as a queer friendly space. Because I always say to folks when I do this work through my, through my consulting as well as through my university, teaching, is that please do not put a sticker up unless you’ve done the work to educate yourselves. Because once you put that sticker up, you are indicating to people from the US LGBTQ community, from whatever community, whatever sticker you’re putting up that anybody in that organization is a safe person for them to speak to, to come out to. To share their worries to. And the worst thing is that you have somebody come out to somebody who’s not safe, and they feel further silence. And so I always say to people, please do the work of educating yourselves. You know, really thinking about, what does this mean for your everyday practice? What does this mean when you’re sitting across from somebody who, you know, has taken that step to make that phone call, to enter that form online, to say, I need help, what. What do you need to do? How can you approach them in a way that further supports them and doesn’t shut them down? And so. So, yes, representation, visibility are key, and then do that after you’ve done the work behind it. Awesome.

Jenna Mayne: thank you. So much. I also want to ask you, we always ask podcast guests how we can all be better neighbours to those experiencing domestic violence. And I know you have touched on this a bit already, but I was wondering if you had any final thoughts on this.

Iona Sky: Yes, absolutely. Because I believe that we can all be good neighbours in supporting one another. And when you see something, say something, do something, and it doesn’t have to be a big thing. I’ll share one final story of something that, happened to me and my son when I was at a local mall here. And this is when he was about ten years old. He and I were shopping, and, I noticed that there was a young couple who were walking into the store, and they were arguing. And I noticed that the, male partner, I kept, like, pushing her, and she was crying. And I said to my son, I told him, okay, please just stand here. Just watch what’s happening, but don’t come with me. And I went and I talked to the couple, and I went, well, I didn’t talk to the couple. I talked to the woman, and I said, hey, are you okay? Is he bothering you? Do you need any help? And she was like, no, it’s fine. And, they were okay. We talked it through, and she thanked me, for coming and checking on her. It didn’t. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. All it is just saying, are you okay? Do you need help? You know? And what was also important there is that my son saw that when you see something like that happening, because I talked to him after about what happened so that he could understand what he witnessed. Right. And because I want him m to grow up to be a good man for whatever his family might look like. And also, when he sees something, to do something, I think it’s really important also, as neighbours, to educate yourself and your children. Just like how I talked with my son, you know, as I said, there’s a lot of, shading and silence that occurs. We all know somebody if we really think about it, and if we really listen to what people are saying and also really think about what we see and how we see people and people changing. My family said to me, after I left a harmful relationship. they said to me, we saw that you had changed. You were no longer the Iona that you were, but they didn’t know what to do. Right. If you see somebody changing like that, say something, because that person might not share at that immediate time, but they’ll think about it. Maybe they might reach out to somebody and get the help that they need. And so all it takes is for us to care for one another, because I do believe that together, we can make a change to the present so that the future looks different for our children. So that’s why I do what I do.

Jenna Mayne: Thank you so much for being here today, Iona. I really appreciate it, and I love what you had to say there. And I love that story as well there at the end, because I think when people know that we see them and we acknowledge something is happening to them, and we plant that seed that we’re here to care about them, whether it’s a friend or family member or just someone in the grocery store, you pass. Who knows? Someone sees me, I think that can go a really long way towards them, getting support in the future. So thank you so much for sharing that and for being here today. I really, really appreciate it.

Iona Sky: Thank you, Jenna. It’s been my, profound, honor to be a part of this and to share a little bit of my story. So thank you.

Jenna Mayne: That wraps up this week’s show, but the conversation is far from over. We want to hear what you think. Use the hashtag, she is your neighbour on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, or Twitter, and join in the conversation.

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