Love hurts, and sometimes it hurts a lot. We’ve all been there, waiting by the phone for it to ring, wondering why he cheated or if anything he ever said was actually true. Unfortunately, many gay males have found themselves in difficult relationships. Unlike our straight brothers, there are few guidelines to assist us in creating and sustaining positive and healthy matchings. We are all making it up as we go along.
But, hopefully, we can agree that no matter the structure of your relationship (friends with benefits, fuck-buddies, monogamous, open, polyamorous…etc.), Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a non-starter and deal breaker! This article is mainly about physical violence. We will address mental and emotional violence in detail in other pieces but since they usually over lap we will do our very best to educate about all three (3) along the way. As usual, there have not been many studies about gay male IPV, but what has been researched is troubling.
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this not often enough discussed topic, we at GMJ want to stress the fact that we don’t believe in the concept of “toxic masculinity” or the notion that men are inherently violent. We do believe, and numerous studies have confirmed, that violence is learned and that males are not often given and taught the tools to deal with their emotions in a healthy fashion. This includes proper communication techniques, learning how to “agree to disagree”, walking away to cool off, and the troubling belief that it is never ok to hit a girl…which is too often interpreted that is is perfectly ok to hit another guy. To the contrary most guys are taught that all of the above are not manly and for “sissys”. So, even though we are obviously homosexual, much of our male socialization has been from a hetero-normative perspective.
Finally, every behaviour that is learned, can be unlearned. Bad habits and traits can be corrected with hard work, support, therapy and the desire to make better choices on the part of the aggressor. But those who have been victimized have choices and strength in this matter as well. Seeking out help, therapy and coping tools to avoid negative relationships in the future are in his best interest. We refuse to believe that any man is helpless in his own life. Anyone can be victimized but you do not have to remain a victim.
We’ve done a lot of research on this topic and decided to print directly from the sources as not to make any errors along the way. First off, we picked up some very important stats and information from our friends at the Williams Institute that should start us off right.
- 33.3% of gay men had IPV in their lifetimes, a higher prevalence than the CDC’s general population estimate.
- 16.4% of gay men reported ever experiencing severe physical violence by an intimate partner, which is also a higher prevalence than the CDC’s estimate of 13.8% among men in the general population.
- Five other studies used purposive sampling and found a lifetime IPV prevalence ranging from 13.9% to 44.0% and
- a past year IPV range from 26.9% to 40.0% among gay men. Of these studies, all five asked survey participants to self-identify their sexual orientation.
Now, this is another time when we will never know the true breath of the issue at hand, but it’s not just because of homophobia, which is still a big deal. What it means to be a man and how men are allowed to react in situations of violence also control how those victimized will be treated, what resources, if any, they will have access to and if the incident(s) will even be reported. The National Institute of Health speaks to many of these issues in one of the few studies that addresses gay male Intimate Partner Violence. Below are some key take-aways from their study:
Little is known about the patterns and types of intimate partner abuse in same-sex male couples, and few studies have examined the psychosocial characteristics and health problems of gay and bisexual men who experience such abuse. Using a cross-sectional survey sample of 817 men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Chicago area, this study tested the effect of psychological and demographic factors generally associated with intimate partner abuse and examined their relationship to various health problems.
- Overall, 32.4% of participants reported any form of relationship abuse in a past or current relationship;
- 20.6% reported a history of verbal abuse (“threatened physically or sexually, publicly humiliated, or controlled”),
- 19.2% reported physical violence (“hit, kicked, shoved, burned, cut, or otherwise physically hurt”),
- 8.5% reported unwanted sexual activity.
- Fifty-four percent of men reporting any history of abuse reported more than one form.
- Age and ethnic group were unrelated to reports of abuse.
- Depression and substance abuse were among the strongest correlates of intimate partner abuse.
- Men reporting recent unprotected anal sex were more likely to also report abuse.
Men in same-sex relationships experience abuse rates similar to those faced by women in heterosexual pairings, and by as much as three times higher than those reported by men involved with women. Despite this high prevalence, few studies have focused on abuse in same-sex male relationships. This lack of attention occurs in the face of growing evidence that intimate partner abuse among gay and bisexual men may pose a significant threat to health outcomes, including sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.
In this diverse, urban sample of MSM, reports of current and past intimate partner abuse did not significantly vary by ethnicity.
- 33% of African Americans reported abuse,
- 33% of Whites,
- 35% of Latinos, and
- 27% of Asian/Pacific Islanders and other ethnic groups.
- Nearly 40% of the sample reported having a primary partner.
- There was, however, no significant difference in intimate partner abuse reported by men who had a primary partner versus those with no primary partner.
We hypothesized that younger men would be more likely to report abuse, as would those with lower education and income. Contrary to our prediction, age was not significantly related to abuse. Controlling for age and ethnicity, abuse was least likely in the highest Socio-economic standing (SES) group, and increasingly likely among middle and lower SES men, 30.1% versus 33.5% versus 36.5%.
At GMJ we think it is great that some organizations are beginning to study IPV within the gay male community, but this is only part of the solution. As we mentioned earlier, Western thoughts on masculinity and how we are allowed or supposed to behave make reporting these crimes and seeking assistance much more challenging, even when seeking assistance from LGBT organizations. Sexism within these “safe spaces” is troubling. Not only are there few, if any, gay male intake and counselors on hand, most hire straight white women with little to no community involvement with gay men and specifically gay males of colour. This is coupled with the concept of how a “battered” person is supposed to react and respond. If he doesn’t fit the image of a crying, fallen apart, destroyed “victim”, he may not even be believed by the the very people put forth to assist him. Further, if, as in many cases, his abuser claims to be the victim first, as many batterers do, this will cause immediate harm to him as he will be locked out of services that he desperately needs.
From the criminal justice perspective, things are even worse. The common thought is that only women can be victims of domestic violence and that when two guys are fighting, cops just let them settle it out. Even if one is bloodied and battered. Many officers of the law refuse to even arrest the abuser, or worse, in inter-racial relationships, racism will rear its ugly head and the man of colour will be arrested, and charged even when he is the obvious victim.
Along these lines are the thoughts of the one victimized. As a male, most don’t want to be seen as “victims” but also society will not let him claim this status even when he needs it for healing. He is looked at as less than a man and probably deserving of whatever he got because he couldn’t/ wouldn’t defend himself well enough. These are married with sexist concepts that men can always handle themselves and that the real victims of crimes, are women, who need to be protected from all men, including gay males that have been victimized themselves. This is evident in the lack of support services and shelters for gay males. How is a man to stand back on his feet without services and support but is also demanded to relinquish those parts of him that are male, just because he is gay and been victimized?
Why is IPV such an issue in the gay male population?
In 2013, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released figures showing people in same-sex relationships experience levels of domestic violence just as often as those in heterosexual relationships.
But the conclusions of another study in 2014 by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago – a review of data from four earlier studies, involving 30,000 participants – go further.
“One of our startling findings was that rates of domestic violence among same-sex couples is pretty consistently higher than for opposite sex couples,” says Richard Carroll, a psychologist and co-author of the report.
Intrigued by their findings, Carroll’s team started to look into the reasons why this might be.
“We found evidence that supports the minority stress model – the idea that being part of a minority creates additional stress,” he says.
“There are external stressors, like discrimination and violence against gays, and there are internal stressors, such as internalised negative attitudes about homosexuality.”
The external stresses on a same-sex relationship include what Carroll describes as the “double closet phenomenon” when victims are reluctant to report abuse because they do not want to be outed to the authorities.
But it is the internal stress, says Carroll, which can be particularly damaging.
“Sometimes homosexual individuals project their negative beliefs and feelings about themselves on to their partner,” he says.
“Conversely, we believe that victims of domestic violence in same-sex couples believe, at some level, they deserve the violence because of internalised negative beliefs about themselves.”
Yes, that was a lot to take in, so take a deep cleansing breath, because we found even more information which may help you or someone you love. These are great tips and pieces of advice from IPV experts at the Sexual Assault Support Centre.
Abuse includes but is not limited to:
• Physical Abuse – hitting; choking; slapping; burning; shoving; using a weapon; physically restraining; intentional interference with basic needs (e.g. food, medicine, sleep)
• Isolation: Restricting Freedom – controlling contacts with friends and family, access to information and participation in groups or organizations; locking up in a room / restricting mobility; monitoring telephone calls
• Psychological & Emotional Abuse – constantly criticizing, ridiculing (self, family, and friends, past); trying to humiliate or degrade; lying; undermining self-esteem; misleading someone about the norms and values of the gay/lesbian communities in order to control or exploit them
• Stalking / Harassing Behavior – being followed; turning up at workplace or house; parking outside; repeated phone calls or mail to victim and/or family, friends, colleagues
• Threats & Intimidation – threatening to harm partner, self or others (children, family, friends, and pets); threatening to make reports to authorities that jeopardize child custody, immigration or legal status; threatening to disclose HIV status, threatening to reveal sexual orientation to family, friends, neighbors, and/or employers
• Economic Abuse – controlling or stealing money; fostering dependency; making financial decisions without asking or telling partner
• Sexual Abuse/Harassment – forcing sex or specific acts, pressuring into unwanted sexual behavior, criticizing performance
• Property Destruction – destroying mementos, breaking furniture or windows, throwing or smashing objects, trashing clothes or other possessions
- Abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser and is always a choice.
- Victims are often blamed for the abuse by partners, and sometimes family, friends and professionals excuse or minimize the abusive behavior.
- It is difficult for victims to leave any abusive relationships.
- Abuse is not an acceptable or healthy way to solve difficulties in relationships, regardless of sexual orientation.
- Victim often feel responsible for their partner’s violence and their partner’s emotional state, hoping to prevent further violence.
- Abuse usually worsens over time.
- The abuser is often apologetic after abusing, giving false hope that the abuse will stop.
- Some or all of the following effects of abuse may be present: shame, self-blame, physical injuries, short and long-term health problems, sleep disturbances, constantly on guard, social withdrawal, lack of confidence, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, feelings of hopelessness, shock, and dissociative states.
- Very limited services exist specifically for abused and abusive gay men.
- Gay men often experience a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the abuse when reporting incidences of violence to a therapist, police officer or medical personnel.
- Homophobia in society denies the reality of gay men’s lives, including the existence of gay male relationships, let alone abusive ones. When abuse exists, attitudes often range from ‘who cares’ to ‘these relationships are generally unstable or unhealthy.’
- Shelters are for abused women and may not be sensitive to same-sex abuse. Abused gay men have even fewer places to turn for help in that there are no agency-sponsored safe places to stay.
- In gay male relationships, there may be additional fears of losing the relationship which confirms one’s sexual orientation; fears of not being believed about the abuse and fears of losing friends and support within the lesbian/gay communities.