Making the invisible, visible: Recognising abuse in relationships between men
Domestic violence has been gaining traction in the media of late, not enough by anyone’s standards.
Some of the content of this discussion may be upsetting. If you would like to talk to someone about domestic violence call 1800RESPECT/ 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. For LGBTIQ specific information go to www.sayitoutloud.org.au.
Domestic violence has been gaining traction in the media of late, not enough by anyone’s standards. Nonetheless, it should be acknowledged that one of society’s dirty secrets is finally being brought out into the open. And with a changing of attitudes it looks like we may make some progress on not only helping victims and punishing culprits, but also educating our youth on how to deal with anger, and that violence is simply unacceptable.
It should be noted however, that there has been little attempt to help those in non-heterosexual relationships suffering from domestic violence. Kai Noonan, coordinator of ACON’s Domestic and Family Violence Project sheds some light on the effort, or lack thereof, from government to help victims in same sex relationships, as well as giving insight into what ACON is doing to help those that find themselves in this position.
Facing the reality of domestic violence
I recently met a 24 year old man looking for crisis accommodation. He told me that he had left his own home, which he owned, to get away from his partner of 5 years, his partner who started abusing him, emotionally, physically and sexually about 2 years earlier… though in saying that, my guess is the emotional abuse started even earlier, if you count grooming, gaslighting* and manipulation as abuse… which I do. This man, Matt*, had been trying to leave on and off for the last 2 years. When he finally did leave, just 3 weeks ago, he went to his close friend Jason’s* house. Jason’s advice was to: “just hit him back. It’s normal, it’s how all men sort out their issues”. Domestic violence among gay and bisexual men has been under-researched. This has resulted in a lack of consensus in its definition. Estimates of gay and bisexual men who have been a victim of domestic violence in at least one past or present relationship, usually sits between 20% – 40%.This is a lot higher if you also happen to be trans, with one piece of research estimating as high as 80% of transgender people have experienced domestic violence.
A recent NSW study, ‘Calling It What It Really Is (2015)’ found that 22% of gay identified participants self-reported physical aggression by a partner. 11% reported being pressured by a partner to engage in sexual behaviour they weren’t comfortable with, and 25% of male participants reported that their current partner was emotionally abusive. Matt, who I have already introduced you to, described the impact of his friend Jason’s reaction to his ‘coming out’ about domestic violence as downplaying his experience and essentially making it invisible. This is because Jason did not recognise that there was a possibility Matt was in a violent relationship, and perhaps based on cultural teachings, believed the abuse was ‘typical’ male behaviour.
“Jason did not recognise that there was a possibility Matt was in a violent relationship, and perhaps based on cultural teachings, believed the abuse was ‘typical’ male behaviour.”
An abuser will often isolate his partner, again making him invisible. David, a 27 year old man described the isolating effect of his abusive relationship: “Apart from my massive social withdrawal, the effect on my sexuality was really destructive. I became ashamed about being gay, about being sexually attractive and about having sexual desires. It was like going back in the closet”.
Jason accepted an archaic stereotype and standard about it being normal for men, even men who love each other, to hit each other. Jason even expected Matt to accept this standard.
“Jason accepted an archaic stereotype and standard about it being normal for men, even men who love each other, to hit each other.”
Domestic violence is not just physical abuse, it is almost always psychological and emotional, and is sometimes financial, sexual and can involve stalking and harassment. Domestic violence is about gaining and maintaining power over another person, controlling where they go, who they see, how they behave so that the person being controlled feels like they are ‘walking on eggshells’ and having to adapt their actions to suit their partner.
It isn’t easy to recognise abuse and then to know what to do about it. ACON is doing a lot of work this year in the area of intervention groups and also workshops later in the year to help equip community members with the skills needed to intervene and protect their friends and community. In the meantime, you can access information through this website: www.sayitoutloud.org.au
And in case you are worried about Matt, while he continues to be caught in the thick of his situation, he is now fully supported by the police, a counsellor and a friend, who did believe him and has given him a safe room to stay in.
You can read David’s full story and others like it here.
All of this may seem fairly heavy, and it is, but there is some help out there. If you need help please check out www.sayitoutloud.org.au – or contact the local LGBTI organisation in the state or territory where you live.
* Gaslighting: is a common victim-blaming form of psychological abuse where information is twisted to favour the abuser or false information is given with the intention of making the victim (and witnesses), question their own memory, perception and sanity. An abuser can twist information to friends and family and service providers and police to make the victim seem “crazy”.