By Anna Behrmann and Lucy Bannerman
A woman who was punched on a night bus in a homophobic attack because she refused to kiss her girlfriend in front of a group of teenage boys has spoken out against men who treat lesbians like “sexual objects”.
Melania Geymonat, 28, said that she was sick of being asked to perform for men when they realise she is gay.
She was on a date with Chris, 29, an American woman who lives in north London, when they were attacked on the top deck of a London night bus on May 30. They were travelling from West Hampstead to Camden Town.
A group of teenagers goaded the women to kiss each other, threw coins at them and shouted sexually explicit abuse. When Ms Geymonat and her partner refused, it is alleged that the teenagers punched both women in the face, robbing them of a smartphone and a purse. A photograph showing the pair bleeding and bewildered in the aftermath of the attack went viral.
Ms Geymonat, a doctor from Uruguay who is training to become a surgeon, has since had surgery to reset bones in her nose. Chris has had treatment for a fractured jaw. “They punched me twice, I felt a crack,” she said. “I still can’t move or laugh a lot because it hurts.”
Five males aged between 15 and 18 have been charged with robbery and aggravated grievous bodily harm. All five have been bailed until early July.
Although the night bus attack is the most serious assault she has suffered, the teenagers’ taunts were all too familiar, Ms Geymonat said.
“In the first place they came towards us because we were seen as sexual objects,” she said. “It’s not the first time this happens to me that I’m with a girlfriend or on a date and men tend to be excited by watching. That’s one of the things that really annoyed me. I’m 28 so it has been ten years that I’ve seen this. We are not performing. It feels really humiliating to be treated [like that].”
Asked whether she believed that the clichéd portrayal of lesbians as a male fantasy in pornography had twisted some young men’s views of gay women in real life, she said: “I do think that, of course, porn plays its own part in contributing, in treating women as objects that are there for the male gaze.”
There was surprise that such an attack could happen in London, where a million people will gather in three weeks for a Pride parade to celebrate 50 years of the modern LGBT movement. “When my family and friends found out about it, they were like ‘Get the hell out of the country’,” said the doctor, whose home country decriminalised homosexuality in 1934, several decades before Britain.
Ms Geymonat said she believed that the attack was motivated by misogyny, then homophobia. “First of all, for me it was a chauvinistic attack, behaviour that was 100 per cent machista. I was really shocked to see that these kids, a gang of kids, not only harassed women, but punched them, humiliated them, left them bleeding . . . It felt natural for them [to behave in such a way]. It probably wasn’t even the first time.”
Since the attack she said that several female friends, both gay and straight, had shared their own experiences of harassment. “But they’re afraid to talk about it. Sometimes they have talked about it and even their close familiars tend to blame them. ‘You provoked it, you were asking for it.’”
Every woman, she said, knows that sudden anxiety in certain situations when “you see one man, and you have to cross the street, you have to hide your phone, you have to take care of yourself. And that’s everywhere.”
Ms Geymonat’s original Facebook post about the attack has been shared more than 15,000 times. Some commentators have speculated on the backgrounds and ethnicities of the alleged attackers, but she said that male violence “goes beyond race”.
Teaching children in schools about LGBT relationships and gender equality might help to prevent further violence in the future, she said.
Will she be as confident holding her girlfriend’s hand in public?
“My rational opinion is that I will but if I am on the bus at 1am in the morning, I don’t know if I will do it . . . I tend to think I will, but I just don’t know.”
She hoped her experience would remind people how quickly hard-won freedoms can be lost. “This shows we have a problem. We have to realise we’re not as good as we think we are.”