The Other Side of Love, Part Two: Partner Abuse in LGBT Communities
June 13, 2013
This article originally appeared on PositiveLite.com, Canada's Online HIV Magazine.
Read Part One of this piece, in which Dave R. shares his own experiences with same-sex partner abuse.
People feel, "Why should we air our dirty laundry? People feel so negatively about us already, the last thing we should do is contribute to negative stereotypes of us."
-- Dave Shannon, (coordinator of the violence recovery program at Fenway Community Health, an LGBT clinic in Boston)
You're afraid to leave and afraid to stay. You're afraid of other people's reactions if they find out. Your gay friends will look at you differently and assume that you're a walkover or weak with possible masochistic traits and unable to stand on your own two feet. They'll snort and claim they would never allow themselves to be in that position. Your family and the world at large will jump to conclusions. You can hear them saying it; they'd really never expected anything else from a same-sex relationship; they knew nothing good would come of it. In short, the world will mock and criticize and somehow assume you must have deserved it. "After all, you're not the easiest person to live with." All these things terrify you and you're trapped, unable to move one way or the other and the keys to all your locks belong to the person you love and purports to love you back ... your abuser.
Can you imagine how lonely that must feel for a man or woman, totally dependent upon someone who batters them, whether verbally, physically or mentally? What must they do and why don't they do it? What's wrong with them? Get out already! If only it were that simple. This sort of situation has various names: domestic abuse, same-sex abuse, intimate partner abuse. The point is: It's all abuse. Furthermore, according to almost universal organizations, both LGBT and otherwise, between 25% and 33% of LGBT people are either living in, or have experience of an abusive relationship. Now statistics can say anything and frequently do. If it's true that there's evidence of abuse in a third of LGBT relationships, what about all those who never report their problem and solve it themselves? That would surely push the figures even higher, or maybe the statistics are taking that into account and thus become little more than guesswork. We're used to hot air stats in the HIV community but the point is that even if just one in a hundred LGBT people is being abused, isn't that one too many?!
But as a community we don't want to talk about it; why is that? Wouldn't you think that the LGBT community has learned over the decades that strength and support lie in unity and looking after our own? Apparently not; this subject is as taboo in the LGBT community as husband beating, for instance, is in heterosexual society.
LGBT communities have been reluctant to discuss same-sex domestic violence for fear of validating negative stereotypes and detracting from the push for legal recognition of such relationships. The relative silence on this issue continues despite the fact that individuals in same-sex relationships are more likely to be abused by their partners than beaten in an act of anti-gay violence. The political downside of discussing same-sex domestic violence is obvious. Anti-gay organizations invoke same-sex domestic violence to bolster their assertions that homosexuality is a dangerous lifestyle and that same-sex relationships are unhealthy, unstable and violent. ... Same-sex domestic violence also challenges our highly gendered (and heteronormative) understanding of domestic violence because it cannot be explained by reference to gender difference, the historical subjugation of women or the private nature of family violence.
Whether you agree with the above is for you to decide. Personally, I believe one of the main reasons why this is such a taboo subject is the shame engendered by intimate partner abuse. The victims don't want to talk about it, so impress on their immediate circles not to talk about it and so on. Going to the authorities is also seen as deeply shameful and potentially opening you up to ridicule and publicity. The only people who really want to bring it to the fore are the people who have to pick up the pieces in the hospitals, abuse shelters and LGBT organizations. They can see the results of abuse at close quarters but come up against a wall of indifference or unwillingness when they try to raise it as a community social issue.
Patrick Dati had reached his breaking point.
With a metal pin in his arm and Vicodin coursing through his veins, he picked up the phone to call his psychiatrist. Dati had undergone surgery for a broken arm after his then-boyfriend allegedly threw him down the stairs when he tried to leave their home. Now he sat on the phone with his doctor, explaining why he couldn't carry on, as he tried to overdose on painkillers.
The attempt to end his life, which landed him in a psychiatric ward for two days, resulted in part because he felt trapped in the abusive relationship and saw no way out.
"I couldn't let my boyfriend go because he wasn't allowing me to," Dati said.
Dati is one of a quarter of gay men in America who report having encountered intimate partner violence.
One of the biggest problems is that the word "abuse" is so generic and covers a multitude of sins. It may be worth reminding people exactly what constitutes abuse. It's not just a question of physical injury and bruises; there are far more damaging elements. If you recognize yourself, or any of your friends in any of the following, it may be worth asking yourself if there's something more going on than at first appears.
- Physical abuse; everything from the lightest slap, via severe injury, to food and sleep deprivation.
- Emotional abuse; from continuous criticism, to humiliation in front of family and friends. Lying, undermining, exploiting, convincing someone to behave against the grain and pressurizing them to behave against their nature.
- Isolation; reining in personal freedoms; controlling contacts with friends and family; destroying existing external relationships. Restricting information and participation in hobbies and leisure groups. Monitoring phone calls, internet use, reading letters. Physically preventing people from going out.
- Threats and intimidation; threats to harm the partner, or his family or friends or even pets. Threats to his or her job and work colleagues. Threats to inform the authorities. Threats to disclose HIV status or sexuality to family, friends, neighbors and work.
- Stalking; by turning up at family occasions, or the workplace. Following you to check up on your movements. Creating traps on internet to try to establish infidelity. Repeatedly phoning or mailing victim, family, friends or colleagues.
- Financial abuse; taking control of bank accounts, domestic finances, wage checks. Stealing money, encouraging dependence and making financial decisions without consultation.
- Sexual abuse; forcing sexual acts, rape, pressuring into unwanted sexual behavior with partner or others. Criticizing and denigrating performance.
- Destruction of property; breaking things which have emotional value to you; furniture, windows. Throwing and smashing objects in rage; destroying clothes and other personal possessions. Crashing the car.
There are more; these are just an overview of classic abuse symptoms. I'm sure most people in a relationship will recognize certain of these traits; the question is, when is the line crossed and will you be aware of it when it does? As a basic guide, you should always ask yourself if you're afraid that your partner is going to hurt you, either physically or emotionally. Are you scared of challenging them for fear of a comeback? Do you trust him or her to have your best interests at heart? Are you happy in your relationship and if not, why not? These are simple questions you can only answer after really thinking about them. Negative answers may not always mean abuse but you will know when you've lost full control of your life and surrendered important elements to your partner. After that, you need to ask yourself if the situation is going to get better or worse. Blind faith that it will get better, when this, that or the other situation improves, may reflect your own fear of change more than the truth of the matter.
In heterosexual society, women are far more abused than men, which may seem like stating the obvious but in LGBT society the statistics vary widely. In general, the pattern of abuse is thought to occur in roughly the same proportions for both sexes. Lesbian abuse is therefore as big a problem as gay male abuse and both seem to be growing across all LGBT communities. The occasional lurid headlines and reluctance to bring the problem out into the open, have led to a number of myths and misunderstandings about the nature of same-sex abuse. These myths persist even in the LGBT communities who should know better.
- The first is that aggression in LGBT relationships is largely mutual, on the assumption that both partners are physically and mentally equal, in contrast to the obvious strength advantage in heterosexual relationships. It's nonsense of course, because most often physical strength is not the driving force behind abuse. The need for control of another person is. However, initially a same-sex partner may well try to fight back.
- Same-sex abuse is based on something sexual; a sort of extension of S&M practices. The receiver of the violence either enjoys it or puts up with it to satisfy the partner's desires. More complete nonsense. Violent behavior is never sexual. There is no mutual contract as with S&M relationships. The victim is unwilling and the aggression is enforced.
- The victim needs to change his or her behavior in some way and then the violence will stop. No, the person who needs to change and stop is the perpetrator. Battering is a behavioral choice. If the person being abused is forced to change behavior then there is no reason to assume the abuse will stop there.
- Victims exaggerate the extent of the abuse. If it was as bad as they say, they would leave. Actually, most people being abused understate their experiences to the outside world. Self-shame and guilt prevent them telling the full story. If they eventually find the courage to leave, they have to leave everything they know behind in order to find some peace and the fear of being pursued is very real. Perversely, it may sometimes feel easier to stay.
- The victim gets the blame. It's true; many people look at the victim of abuse and subconsciously feel that they should have done something about it and if they haven't, why not? They should have read the signs. In fact, the emphasis should be lain on the abuser and his or her reasons for resorting to aggression to get their way. They deserve the criticism, not the victim.
- Alcohol, stress and drug use cause domestic violence. In many cases, they can be the triggers but it's all about responsibility for decision making. Abusers themselves use drink or drugs, or stress as excuses but that's just shifting responsibility away from themselves. After all, they don't attack their bosses, or the bar staff for serving them too many beers.
- Females are by nature not violent and won't physically abuse their partners. Many women put more faith in their female partners, especially if they also have experience of dominant males in their lives but lesbians are just as capable of controlling and aggressive behavior as anyone else. Abusive behavior is actually non-discriminating in this sense.
The following paragraph perfectly sums up how abuse begins and develops:
Domestic abuse is always about power and control. One partner intentionally gains more and more power over his/ her partner. Tactics can include physical, emotional or verbal abuse, isolation, threats, intimidation, minimizing, denying, blaming, coercion, financial abuse or using children or pets to control your behavior. Domestic violence runs in a cycle. Typically, things are wonderful at the beginning of the relationship. Gradually, tension starts to build. Finally, an act of violence occurs. This may be verbal or physical. The victim is shocked. The relationship then moves into the "honeymoon" phase. The abuser is remorseful and attentive, and the victim wants to believe the abuse was an isolated incident. Again, the tension gradually builds until another violent act occurs. The longer the cycle goes on, the closer together the acts of violence happen.
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