It’s a problem that transcends labels and identities. So why is no one talking about this?
“You guys must never fight because you just inherently understand each other, you know, because you’re both the same gender.”
“Oh, it must be so much easier being married to another woman, you always know what the other one wants.”
How many of us have heard countless well-meaning heterosexuals say these types of statements to us? There is an assumption among many people that queer relationships are somehow immune to the scourges of fights, abuse, and violence that plague so many heterosexual relationships. Unfortunately, the silence caused at times by these assumptions can be deadly.
A recent meta-analysis of same-sex domestic violence, published in early September in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, found that the rate of physical violence in same-sex relationships is equal to or even slightly greater than that of opposite-sex relationships. Author Richard Carroll suggests that a “minority stress model” may contribute to the high prevalence rates. He states, “Domestic violence is exacerbated because same-sex couples are dealing with the additional stress of being a sexual minority. This leads to reluctance to address domestic violence issues.” The fear, hiding, and potential negativity surrounding the identity of LGBT people may play a contributing role to the high levels of violence. Additionally, most studies to date have been on lesbian women, and not on other couples. There may be an even greater stigma for men to report themselves as victims of domestic violence, possibly because victimization does not feel “masculine.”
Another phenomenon, that of wanting to publicly present a same-sex relationship as perfect and free from negative behaviors, has been enhanced by the marriage equality movement. Although of course marriage equality has been an enormously positive change for our families, it has also brought the pressure to appear more stable and more high-functioning to the foreground. Now that we are legally married, we feel the need to show the rest of the country that our marriages will be successful and legitimate. This can put even more stress and strain on relationships, and this stress can sometimes present as violence or abuse.
Health care providers should be urged to question patients about violence in all types of relationships, and not to assume that queer relationships are not subject to these same difficulties. Couples should not be afraid to reach out to counselors and therapists when violence becomes an issue in their relationship. Sadly, too many of us suffer in silence because we are unsure if we will be listened to, taken seriously, or provided with resources that are appropriate for the specific needs of our families. We need to ensure that there are safe houses and shelters that will welcome LGBT individuals in the same way that they would welcome a woman fleeing from abuse at the hands of a male partner. Connections to appropriate law enforcement and legal assistance should be clearly reachable.
If you are feeling unsafe or threatened in your home or with your same-sex partner, reach out as soon as you safely can. There are resources available specifically for the LGBT community, such as The National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has counselors catering to our community; or the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project.
Photo: Tinou Bao/Flickr