Section 19
Same Gender Abuse Dynamics

Question 19 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents |
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

Same-Gender Abuse Dynamics – Violence Against Men

Domestic violence against men: Know the signs
Women aren't the only victims of domestic violence. Understand the signs of domestic violence against men, and know how to get help.

Domestic violence — also known as domestic abuse, battering or intimate partner violence — occurs between people in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence against men can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical abuse and threats of abuse. It can happen in heterosexual or same sex relationships.

It might not be easy to recognize domestic violence against men. Early in the relationship, your partner might seem attentive, generous and protective in ways that later turn out to be controlling and frightening. Initially, the abuse might appear as isolated incidents. Your partner might apologize and promise not to abuse you again.

In other relationships, domestic violence against men might include both partners slapping or shoving each other when they get angry — and neither partner seeing himself or herself as being abused or controlled. This type of violence, however, can still devastate a relationship, causing both physical and emotional damage.

You might be experiencing domestic violence if your partner:
-Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
-Prevents you from going to work or school
-Stops you from seeing family members or friends
-Tries to control how you spend money, where you go or what you wear
-Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
-Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
-Threatens you with violence or a weapon
-Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children or your pets
-Assaults you while you're sleeping, you've been drinking or you're not paying attention to make up for a difference in strength
-Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
-Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it
-Portrays the violence as mutual and consensual

If you're gay, bisexual or transgender, you might also be experiencing domestic violence if you're in a relationship with someone who:
-Threatens to tell friends, family, colleagues or community members your sexual orientation or gender identity
-Tells you that authorities won't help a gay, bisexual or transgender person
-Tells you that leaving the relationship means you're admitting that gay, bisexual or transgender relationships are deviant
-Justifies abuse by telling you that you're not "really" gay, bisexual or transgender
-Says that men are naturally violent

Children and abuse
Domestic violence affects children, even if they're just witnesses. If you have children, remember that exposure to domestic violence puts them at risk of developmental problems, psychiatric disorders, problems at school, aggressive behavior and low self-esteem. You might worry that seeking help could further endanger you and your children, or that it might break up your family. Fathers might fear that abusive partners will try to take their children away from them. However, getting help is the best way to protect your children — and yourself.

Domestic violence can leave you depressed and anxious. You might be more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs or engage in unprotected sex. Domestic violence can even trigger suicide attempts. Because men are traditionally thought to be physically stronger than women, you might be less likely to talk about or report incidents of domestic violence in your heterosexual relationship due to embarrassment or fear of ridicule. You might also worry that the significance of the abuse will be minimized because you're a man. Similarly, a man being abused by another man might be reluctant to talk about the problem because of how it reflects on his masculinity or because it exposes his sexual orientation. Additionally, if you seek help, you might confront a shortage of resources for male victims of domestic violence. Health care providers and other contacts might not think to ask if your injuries were caused by domestic violence, making it harder to open up about abuse. You might also fear that if you talk to someone about the abuse, you'll be accused of wrongdoing yourself. Remember, though, if you're being abused, you aren't to blame — and help is available.

Same-Gender Abuse Dynamics: Myths about Domestic Violence in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Communities

Myth 1: Only straight women get battered. Men are not victims of domestic violence, and women never batter.
Reality: These myths ignore and deny the realities of same-sex relationships. Men can be and are victims of domestic violence. Women can be and are batterers. Domestic violence is fundamentally a power issue. Even when two people are of the same gender, power differences exist and can be abused.

Myth 2: Domestic violence is more common in straight relationships than it is in same-sex relationships.
Reality: There is no reason whatsoever to assume that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people are less violent than heterosexual men and women. Research on same-sex domestic violence can be difficult, given the fact that many of us are not comfortable being open about our relationships, let alone abusive ones. Research that has been done indicates that battering in same-sex relationships is about as common as in heterosexual relationships. It is increasingly agreed that battering presents one of the most significant health risks to GLBT communities today.

Myth 3: It really isn't violence when a same-sex couple fights. It's just a lover's quarrel, a fair fight between equals.
Reality: This is based on the false assumption that two people of the same gender have no power differences. It also ignores that fact that domestic violence depends on the choice of one partner to take advantage of her or his power in abusive ways. There is nothing "fair" about being knocked against a wall, being threatened, or enduring endless criticism from an angry lover. Dismissing domestic violence as "just a lover's quarrel" trivializes and excuses violence that is as real, and dangerous, as any in a heterosexual relationship.

Myth 4: It really isn't violence when gay men fight. It's boys being boys. A man should be able to defend himself.
Reality: These ideas grow out of a larger societal attitude and the primitive notion that it is acceptable for men to be violent; that is normal or even appropriately masculine. There is nothing normal or appropriate about domestic violence. The vast majority of men and women are not violent and the majority of same-sex relationships are free of abuse. "Boys being boys" may have been harmless (or was it?) on the playground at age six, but when you are an adult with injuries inflicted by your lover, it is neither normal nor acceptable.

Myth 5: The batterer is always bigger, stronger, more "butch." Victims will always be smaller, weaker, more feminine.
Reality: Experience with heterosexual battering and attitudes about traditional sex roles may lead many to fall into stereotypes of how batterers and victims, respectively, should look and act. Unfortunately, such stereotypes are of little actual use in helping us to identify who the batterer is in a same-sex relationship. A person who is small, but prone to violence and rage can do a lot of damage to someone who may be taller, heavier, stronger, and non-violent. Size, weight, "masculinity", "femininity", or any other physical attribute or role is not a good indicator of whether a person will be a victim or a batterer. A batterer does not need to be 6'1 and built like a rugby player to use a weapon against you, smash your compact discs, cut up your clothing, or tell everyone at work that you really are "queer."

Myth 6: It only happens when....So that's the problem, not battering.
Reality: Alcohol, drugs, work problems, jealousy, trauma histories, HIV/AIDS and stresses resulting from racism or homophobia may all combine with battering, but they do not explain or excuse the battering. If a person who batters is also on drugs or alcohol, that person has two serious, separate problems. Similarly a person who has been a victim of child abuse, hate crime or other trauma in their lives is not relieved of responsibility for his or her own abusive conduct.

Myth 7: Domestic violence primarily occurs among people of color, those who hang out in bars, or those from poor or working class backgrounds. No one could be a batterer who is educated, feminist, religious, friendly and likable, involved with social issues, working in the domestic violence movement, etc.
Reality: Domestic violence is an equal opportunity phenomenon. Batterers come from all walks of life, all ethnic groups, all socioeconomic classes, all educational levels, all occupations and all political stripes. This myth is helpful to those who would like to deny or distance themselves from domestic abuse in our communities, but no group is exempt.

Myth 8: Lesbian and Gay domestic violence is sexual behavior - a version of S & M. The victim actually likes it.
Reality: This myth persists in part because many people still define and understand GLBTQ people exclusively through sexual behavior. Confusing S & M (sadomasochism) with battering keeps us from facing the reality that domestic violence occurs in all kinds of relationships, and is not the victim's fault. In consensual S & M, any violence, coercion or domination occurs within the context of a mutually pleasurable "scene", within which there is trust and/or an agreement between parties about the limits and boundaries of behavior. In contrast domestic violence takes place without any mutual trust or agreement, and is not consensual or pleasurable for the victim. A batterer's violent and coercive behaviors don't just affect the sexual relationship but pervade other aspects of the relationships as well. A batterer may actually coerce consent to violent or dominating sexual behavior, or violate agreed upon boundaries. But when this happens, it's abuse that's the problem, not S & M.

Myth 9: The law does not and will not protect victims of same sex domestic violence.
Reality: In many U.S. states, heterosexuality is not a requirement for protection laws. Vermont domestic violence laws (including those granting and enforcing relief from abuse orders) are gender neutral, affording protection to anyone who has been abused or threatened by someone they've lived with or had a dating relationship with. In many cases today, the application of these laws goes smoothly and fairly for victims of same-sex domestic violence. Unfortunately, because of myths detailed here and intolerance among some personnel in the criminal justice system, this is not always true. Some police officers still fail to determine the nature of the relationship between same-sex parties to an assault, and therefore dont even consider applying abuse prevention laws. Others remain hostile or unwilling to recognize the rights of GLBTQ people. One may also still encounter court personnel or judges who are uncomfortable, unhelpful, or unfair in their treatment of same-sex cases. Because of this reality individual victims must make personal decisions, within the context of an overall safety plan, about how and when they will make use of police and court services.

Myth 10: Victims exaggerate the violence that happens to them. If it were really bad, they would just leave.
Reality: Actually, most victims tend to minimize the violence that happens to them because of guilt, shame, and self-blame attached to victimization, and because others do not believe them or refuse to listen. Leaving is often the hardest thing for a victim to accomplish, and is often harder than staying. Batterers often threaten their victims with more violence (including murder threats) if they leave. In general, incidents of domestic violence have actually been found to increase after a victim leaves. Leaving an abusive situation requires strength, resources, self-confidence, self-reliance, and good self-esteem, all of which have been eroded by life with an abuser. What is amazing is not that people stay so long in abusive relationships, but that they are able to get out.

Myth 11: It is easier for lesbian or gay victims of domestic violence to leave the abusive relationship than it is for heterosexual battered women who are married.
Reality: Same-sex couples are as intertwined and involved in each other's lives as are heterosexual couples. There is no evidence that the absence of children makes leaving a violent partner easier, and same-sex couples can have children as well. The invisibility and relatively limited supports available to victims of same-sex domestic violence may compound barriers to leaving. Many GLBTQ people lack support from their families and communities, and may not be able to rely on them for help. Victims may also be threatened by their batters with "outing" if they attempt to leave an abusive relationship or convinced that potential helpers will be homophobic and helpful.

Myth 12: Victims often provoke the violence done to them. "They're asking for it."
Reality: This perpetrates the idea that victims are responsible for the violence done to them, that somehow victims cause batterers to be violent. No matter what issues arise in a relationship, feeling frustrated, jealous, hurt, irritated, angry, or afraid of losing a lover is no excuse for resorting to violence as a way to deal with those feelings. Whatever the feeling is that preceded abusive behavior, there is always an alternative, non-violent way of responding. Abuse is the sole responsibility of the violent person. Batterers choose violence; victims do not "provoke it." This myth is common among both batterers and victims fo domestic violence and it may be a strong force that keeps victims in abusive relationship.

Lesbian Battering
The issue of lesbian battering first began to surface in the feminist and battered women's movements and lesbian communities around 1980. It was and is a highly charged issue. The existence of violence in lesbian relationships came as a shock to many feminists. Previous assumptions about why battering exists could not explain the existence of violence between women. When the first issue emerged, there were many attempts to deny its reality, to minimize the violence itself, to somehow separate the phenomenon from the battering which occurs in heterosexual relationships. There was great reluctance to even name the problem as "battering." None of this was of any help to battered lesbians who became even more isolated and afraid to speak out about the violence to their friends and communities.

False Assumptions and Generalizations about Lesbian Relationships
One of the tasks before those of us working in the battered women's movement is to confront our own homophobia and our false assumptions about lesbian relationships and battering. Following are some examples of fairly common assumptions about lesbian relationships. Like any generalizations about a group of people, these false beliefs can prove both painful and dangerous to battered lesbians when unexamined and unconfronted by those of us who are here to help.

1. Violence in lesbian relationships is somehow different than violence in heterosexual relationships. Lesbians who batter are less manipulative than male batterers and are more likely to choose emotional and verbal tactics than violence to achieve control over their partner.
2. Lesbian relationships have a more equal power balance than heterosexual relationships.
3. Women are more gentle and are better communicators than men--therefore, the battering couldn't be as serious as that of heterosexual couples.
4. Only lesbians in strict "butch/femme" relationships are violent. Feminist lesbians are not.

As mentioned above, there are fundamental similarities between men who batter and lesbians who batter -- primarily the need and the will to maintain complete control over their partners. However, there are some differences, most notably the fact that lesbian women are more likely to fight back when battered than are women who are battered by men. Because of this, lesbian relationships where battering occurs are often misidentified as "mutual battering situations." It is important to be very careful about making such an assessment. Even though both women may be violent, it is almost certain that there is a clear power differential between the couple.

It is not unusual for a lesbian who batters to claim that she is the victim. When men make this claim, it is generally quite a simple assertion to challenge, but when made by a lesbian it can lead to confusion and uncertainty. Not infrequently we find that both the battered lesbian and her battering partner seek services. In this case, it is essential to look for power differentials in the relationship while remembering just how easy it is for both the batterer and the battered woman to blame the victim.

It is our responsibility to make our services available to all victims of domestic violence regardless of age, race, class, sex, physical disability and sexual preference. In order to increase accessibility to battered lesbians, each of us must continue to examine our beliefs and the actions which flow from them. As an agency we must work to eliminate biased procedures and services, and we must challenge laws and community standards which do not give equal protection to lesbians. Further, in our work with women, we must never assume that the batterer is a man, and we must honor and appreciate the great risk involved when a battered lesbian shares her story.

Personal Reflection Exercise #10
The preceding section was about same gender abuse dynamics. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

QUESTION 19
What are two of the four generalizations that can prove both dangerous and painful to victims of abuse in a lesbian partnership?
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