Abuse within same-sex male relationships is as common as abuse against heterosexual men in heterosexual relationships. While both share many similarities, a number of issues must be taken into account when understanding the complicated dynamics that exist in abusive same-sex male relationships.
There is a predominant misconception that the more ‘masculine’ person in an abusive relationship is more likely to be the abuser, or that only women can be subjected to domestic abuse. These preconceived notions make it more difficult for us to recognise the warning signs as well as the ways abuse manifests itself in such relationships. In some cases, the fear of losing the relationship, which can serve as a confirmation of one’s identity and sexual orientation, is often so great that someone could be willing to put up with the abuse instead of giving up the relationship. .
Below you will find all the information you need to help identify the different signs of abuse, specifically in same-sex male relationships.
What is Domestic Abuse?
Domestic abuse is defined as “a pattern of abusive behaviour in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.”
ANYBODY can be a victim of domestic abuse regardless of their gender, gender expression (e.g. if they present themselves as particularly ‘masculine’, ‘feminine’ or anywhere in between), age or sex. Abuse is not limited to physical violence; it involves a range of behaviours which, apart from physical and sexual violence, include the use of coercion and threats; intimidation; emotional abuse; isolation; minimising; denying and blaming your partner; using children; using social privilege such as race and class; and subjecting your partner to economic abuse. These forms of abuse do not necessarily occur in isolation from each other, but can rather take place simultaneously.
Why does it happen? Because the goal of abuser’s behaviour is to exert control over you. Abusers believe they are entitled to know and control your actions and choices. Various forms of abuse are used by abusers as tactics to dominate their partner.
Keep in mind that society tends to traditionally – and wrongly – view only women as potential targets of domestic abuse. This makes it more difficult for those in abusive relationships and society as a whole to identify abuse within same-sex male relationships.
Am I in an abusive relationship?
- feel afraid of your partner, sometimes or often?
- avoid talking about certain topics because you are afraid of making him angry?
- feel that you can’t do anything right?
- feel that you don’t meet the standards that your partner has set?
- believe that you deserve to be hurt, mistreated or abused?
- think that you’re the one who must be at fault all the time?
- feel helpless or emotionally numb?
- cry most days and nights?
Does your partner…
- humiliate you by calling you names or shout at you?
- criticise you constantly and make you feel down?
- treat you so badly that you feel ashamed to talk about it to your family or friends?
- ignore or belittle you for having opinions or put down your accomplishments at home, work or in your studies?
- blame you for making him act abusively towards you? E.g. “You provoked me!”
- treat you as his property rather than as an individual?
- act overly jealous and possessive?
- control where you go and what you do?
- tell you to ask for permission before you leave the house or go anywhere?
- keep you from seeing your friends or family?
- monitor your Facebook account?
- monitor your phone and read your messages?
- limit your access to your money, phone or car?
- demand to know all your passwords for all your email and social media accounts?
- ask you to close your bank account?
- force you to leave your job?
- force you to discontinue your education?
- curse at you or swear at you?
- force you to engage in sexual activity rather than asking for your consent?
- phone frequently and harasses you you?
- threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
- threaten you physically?
- threaten your friends or family to get you to do what he wants?
- hurt you or say he will hurt you?
- punch you? Kick you? Push you?
- coerce you into sexual acts you don’t want to take part in
- force you to do things (sexually or otherwise) which you don’t want to do?
- have an unpredictable temper that scares you?
The above points outline warning signs of various forms of abuse which, can be broadly split into three types of abuse. It must be remembered that although physical abuse and sexual assault are more strongly associated with heterosexual relationships, they can still happen in same-sex male relationships.
Physical abuse: Intentional use of force to cause pain, discomfort, impairment or injury. This can include hitting, choking, slapping, burning, shoving, restraint, using a weapon to cut, hit or puncture you, as well as intentional interference with basic needs such as withholding food, medicine or sleep.
Sexual abuse: Any sort of non-consensual sexual contact. This can include forcing you into sexual acts, intentionally passing on sexually transmitted diseases, refusing to use a form of contraception, humiliating you during sex and taking advantage of you when you are not able to give consent (for example, if you are asleep or too drunk to give consent).
Emotional abuse: Actions which aim to damage someone’s self-esteem, feelings and independence. This can include, verbal abuse (e.g. shouting, swearing), name calling, manipulation, isolation, threats, gaslighting, financial abuse (e.g. controlling your finances, stealing from you) and intimidation.
What makes same-sex male relationships different?
Domestic abuse in same-sex male relationships, as well as in heterosexual ones, is not necessarily physical, although this is not to say that physical violence between women does not occur. Violence and abuse can also be emotional or psychological. Manipulation is a common tactic among emotionally or psychologically abusive partners, which includes techniques such as lying, hiding information, using emotional blackmail and/or avoiding equal debate. An abusive partner can use these techniques to force you to do certain things, make decisions for you, help paint a distorted reality of your relationship and / or to mystify your relationship and the abuse that happens.
There are abusive expressions and dynamics that are specifically recognisable in same-sex male relationships which you may be able to identify within your own relationship:
- Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia
An abusive partner might attack or belittle your sexual orientation. For example, they might accuse you of ‘not really being gay’ because you do not act like they expect and/or because you identify as bi/pan-sexual, or have previously been in a heterosexual relationship. This may also be given as a reason by your partner (if in a monogamous relationship) as to why you shouldn’t be trusted to be faithful. If you identify as bisexual or another non-monosexual identity, your partner may try to leverage stereotypes of dishonesty and promiscuity to discourage you from reporting his abusive behaviour to the authorities, should you attempt to do so.
This type of abuse might also occur when it comes to gender identity. For example, if you don’t express yourself in traditionally ‘masculine’ ways, your partner may tell you that ‘you’re not a real man’, or vice versa, if you express yourself in a traditionally ‘masculine’ way, your partner may tell you that you can’t really be queer.
- The Threat of ‘Outing’
An abusive partner might take advantage of homophobia in society, threatening to ‘out’ your sexual orientation to others. They might force you to tell your friends, family or colleagues that you are not straight or that you are in a same-sex relationship or threaten that they will do that themselves. For example, they might say to you, ‘I’ll call your parents and tell them’.
- Hiding the relationship
Unless you have both agreed to keep the relationship private, his decision to hide it could be a sign of abuse. He might act like a stranger to you in public, or refuse to speak about the relationship itself and the problems within it, dismissing them as unimportant. This may be particularly possible if your partner is in denial about their sexuality and does not want to fully accept your relationship for what it is. Your relationship, being a same-sex one, may not be accepted by your community or in your society, and so the act of hiding the relationship may build an increased feeling of shame and insecurity within you.
- Using social privilege
Social privilege varies in different communities. In the gay community, being perceived as ‘masc’ or ‘straight-acting’ are often seen as being superior to appearing ‘fem’ or ‘camp’. An abusive partner might use this to intimidate or justify abuse towards you, repeating prejudicial comments that may have been used against him in the past. He might also use his race or class to explain why he is superior to you, if different from your own. For example, ‘You’re lucky someone like me even wants to go out with someone like you’. While you might think someone who has experienced prejudice cannot themselves be prejudiced, this is sadly not the case – often it becomes internalised.
- Distorting acts of abuse
An abusive partner may use the fact that you are both men to distort the acts of abuse by claiming ‘this is how it is in a gay relationship’. This plays on the misconception that only women can be victims of domestic abuse. He might also minimise acts of aggression against you, and say things like, ‘I didn’t hit you. Stop overreacting,’ or ‘You provoked me, it’s your fault’. These tactics can make you doubt yourself, even if you know the reality. It is common for people abusing men to use humour as a device for minimising or distorting the nature of their behaviour, both in private and within your social groups. This plays on cultural stereotypes, which position men who encounter violence as weak or deserving of ridicule.
- Using chronic illness to control and abuse
Chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc. can be used to manipulate you. In some cases, domestic abuse begins around the time of diagnosis. If your partner does not have a chronic illness, but you do, they may threaten to disclose your health status to friends, family, colleagues, threaten to leave, and even withhold medication. If your partner has a chronic disease and you do not, they may threaten to infect you, use guilt to manipulate you, and refuse or threaten not to take medication.
- Isolation within the LGBTQIA+ community
Isolation can occur if you have only recently come out; if you don’t have contact with your old social networks; or if you share friendship groups with your partner. If you share all your friends with an abusive partner, it can become easier for them to dictate your involvement in your social circles and the LGBTQIA+ community at large, to the point at which they could dangerously isolate you from the rest of society. An abusive partner may try to marginalise you within your social group, making you dependent on their presence in social situations. They might also express annoyance at your presence in front of other people.
If the abusive partner is better known in the LGBTQIA+ community, they may leverage their position or status to try and influence what others think of you. They may also use this to make you feel inadequate or marginalised within the LGBTQIA+ community, tell you that they know best because they have a more established role in the LGBTQIA+ community, and subsequently make decisions for both of you.
Recognising that you are in an abusive relationship is never an easy process. It is important to remember that you may be the only person who has the opportunity to recognise it, and that you have the right to decide how to deal with it. It is important to acknowledge that the time it takes to identify and potentially leave an abusive relationship widely differs from relationship to relationship. It is therefore crucial to remember that others should not – and do not have the right to – judge you for your journey through identifying and dealing with abuse within your relationship.
In addition to the difficulties faced in heterosexual relationships, you may encounter additional obstacles in recognising abuse within a same-sex male relationship. These problems are caused both by stereotypes and misconceptions linked to notions of masculinity in general, as well as stigmas, prejudices, and the specific social circumstances of you being a man in a same-sex relationship.
As a first important step, you should be aware of the potential difficulties of recognising abuse, and learn how to deconstruct them. This will hopefully help you recognise whether there is any abusive behaviour within your own relationships. Acknowledging these obstacles will also ensure that external perceptions do not prevent you from leaving the relationship. It is a common misconception that male relationships are by nature, equal and non-violent. However, prevalence of domestic violence in same-sex male relationships must not be underestimated and needs to be duly recognized and addressed.
Myths of abuse in same-sex male relationships
The myths or false stories that have built up around same-sex male relationships are misleading and can be an obstacle in themselves when identifying abuse. Here are just some of the myths about abuse in same-sex male relationships:
- Sexual abuse in same-sex male relationships is mutual or normal
Sexual abuse is not limited to violent and forced sexual acts. Coercion plays a vital role in sexual abuse, as does the threat of violence. You might enjoy ‘rough sex’, or being dominated, but when you do not consent, or are not asked for your consent, it is a form of abuse. Sexual violence is not about gender, but about control. If this is your first same-sex relationship, your partner might convince you that sexually abusive behaviours are normal, and that all same-sex male relationships are like this. They are not. No matter what the relationship, your partner is not entitled to you sexually. Any level of coercion can be considered manipulative and abusive. Feeling guilty for not wanting sex or for not carrying out a sexual act is a sign that you are being coerced into it.
- You can’t be a victim of domestic abuse because you are a man
Many people believe that only women experience domestic abuse. But men in heterosexual and same-sex relationships can also experience abuse. Many people feel this way because society has traditionally (wrongly) taught people that men are naturally aggressive and abusive and that this is intrinsic to being a man. If your partner is abusive, and you are not, you might think you are in the wrong, that you are too ‘effeminate’, and that you ‘just need to man up’. You might be too embarrassed to ask for help, or fear that no one will believe you if you do, but there are a lot of organisations that can help you.
- The aggressor is always the ‘masculine’ or ‘straight-acting’ man
A common misconception about same-sex male relationships is that one partner takes on the ‘male’ role and the other the ‘female’. However, this does not reflect the diversity of same-sex male relationships, where both partners might be ‘masculine’ or both might be ‘camp’ or ‘feminine’ or display any number of attributes or characteristics. Partners can be abusive regardless of the roles they occupy in a relationship and the characteristics they display.
- It is easier to leave a same-sex relationship
You might have grown up with internalised negative beliefs about yourself and others based on your sexual orientation or gender identity. As such, you might consider your relationship to have less worth or to be less ‘real’ than a heterosexual relationship, and therefore easier to leave. This is not true. Leaving any relationship can be hard because you fear that you might not find another partner, particularly if your society does not value same-sex relationships. But it is important to remember that you are valuable and worthy of love, and do not need to settle for someone who does not value you, your freedom and your happiness.
- You are likely to become an abuser yourself
If you are experiencing intimate partner violence, particularly sexual or sexualised violence, it is not uncommon to become scared that healing or moving on from this abuse will cause you to re-enact it against someone else at a later date. This is common particularly where your partner describes his behaviour as uncontrollable or involuntary. It’s important to remember that there is no reason for this to be so; the vast majority of survivors of sexual and domestic violence do not go on to become abusers. There is also no recognised causal link between an experience of adult abuse/violence and the likelihood of committing similar offences.
Further barriers to identifying abuse
Barriers that hinder the recognition of an abusive relationship are in part consistent with those in heterosexual relationships, but there are also some specific to same-sex male relationships. Here you can find some useful examples of both:
- Internalised homophobia
This is a major barrier to recognising abuse in same-sex male relationships. Specifically, if you perceive your own sexuality as bad, you may believe that same-sex male relationships are inherently bad. This can make it more difficult to identify abuse, because you may believe that abusive behaviour by your partner is a result of you being in a same-sex relationship. As a consequence, you may not realise that your partner is being abusive. If you do recognise abusive behaviour, you may feel that you deserve the abuse you are subjected to, due to feelings of low self-worth or your own negative feelings towards your sexuality and your same-sex relationship.
- Protective and defensive attitudes
If your partner is abusive, you may also feel protective and defensive towards your relationship, to avoid exposure to criticism or homophobic comments. You may know that your partner’s behaviour is wrong, but may be worried that by sharing your experience you will fuel the negative perception that your community, or wider society has of non-heterosexual relationships. You may also be worried that others might say something that makes you feel you are at fault, such as: ‘Well, if you’re going to choose this lifestyle, then you have only yourself to blame’.
- Only ‘masculine’ men are abusive
Society has traditionally (and wrongly) taught people that only men are aggressive and abusive. This is extends to more, traditionally, ‘masculine’ men also being viewed as more capable of violence than more ‘feminine’ men. This is untrue; any person, regardless of their gender expression, is capable of committing acts of abuse.
- From victim to perpetrator
As men in a same-sex relationship, both you and your partner may have been subjected to discrimination based on your sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Your partner may use the fact that he has experienced discrimination to justify his abusive actions. You may also find it difficult to call out the abuse for what it is, especially for these two reasons: Firstly, because of the strong empathy that you have for him and his experiences; secondly, because of the compassion that an abusive partner who has had a history of discrimination and violence or abuse can inspire.
- Self-harm in order to manipulate your emotions
A partner who threatens to hurt themselves or hurts themselves in front of you is subjecting you to an abusive action which could make you feel guilty, insecure and scared. Through the act of self-harm, an abusive partner can make you feel as though you are responsible for their health and that it is therefore somehow your fault when they self-harm and that you influence whether they self-harm or not. By threatening to hurt himself, your partner may be trying to force you to stay in the relationship. Acts of self-harm may establish a strong sense of fear in you: you may start to fear your own physical safety because you worry that the acts of violence he is inflicting on himself could one day be targeted towards you.
- Self pity/paint themselves as the victim
An abusive partner may portray or believe themselves to be ‘the victim’ and attempt to use this to manipulate your behaviour. He may leverage his experiences of discrimination or abuse and his self-pity in order to draw attention away from your needs and the abuse he is subjecting you to within the relationship and instead make you feel like you need to care for him. This may cause you to feel guilty if he expresses that you are not caring for him properly, despite the fact that you may be offering a lot of care, while he rarely offers you the same level of care in return.
Gaslighting is a common phrase used to describe a manipulative behaviour where the abusive partner slowly starts to overwrite their partner’s reality. They may do the following, among other things:
• Accusing the partner of misremembering events
• Withholding factual information
• Replacing factual information with false information
• Claiming that the partner is overreacting
• Twisting the partner’s words as if they were supposed to mean something different
These behaviours can slowly erode your ability to trust yourself and your judgements. Gaslighting differs from other manipulative methods because it can not only lead to a change in your behaviour, but also jeopardise your own personality. By using manipulative behaviours such as the ones outlined above, the abusive partner ensures that you can no longer be independent and that you start to question your own credibility and doubt yourself.
If you have been gaslighted by your partner, you may feel as though you are: ‘hypersensitive’, ‘unreasonable’, and ‘unreliable’.
You may also experience feelings of anxiety and confusion to the point that you don’t feel like you can trust your own judgement or memory anymore. It is important to remember that this is a result of abusive behaviour by your partner, and you are neither being unreasonable, nor are you to blame!
The context of gaslighting in a same-sex relationship may differ in some instances from that in a heterosexual relationship, due to societal homophobia, gender norms and other forms of discrimination which same-sex couples may not face.
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