Accountability & Healing: On Gay Men & Intimate Partner Violence

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(This post originally Appeared on the Huffington Post)

I’m writing this article for the gay men and boys we all know. For the gay boys struggling with self esteem. For the gay men trying to hold back tears and trauma through clenched smiles and cynical social media status updates. I’m writing this article for the gay men who will never share what happened to them. The gay men too proud to talk about how another man held them down and hurt them. The gay boys who will never mention the time they hit someone they loved. The gay boys who can’t navigate the confusion and the pain intertwined with the longing and the desire. I’m writing this article for them. I’m writing this article for you. I’m writing this article for all of us.

You are not alone. The statistics on domestic violence tell a sad story. But what’s even sadder, is that we know the statistics only reflect what is reported. There is so much more pain out there that will never make it onto a researcher’s spreadsheet.

But before we discuss further; let me be clear — American culture is born and bred in violence. That this violence is in our homes and relationships is nothing more than a reflection of society as a whole. And like the society as a whole, a great deal of the gay community is dealing with generations of untreated trauma. Where there is untreated trauma, there will be violence. Where there is violence, there is untreated trauma.

I’ve seen this firsthand. For three years I worked as a family intervention counselor, working with men who had assaulted their partners. What I found were everyday men, not boogey monsters and ghosts. I found men who could be my uncles, brothers, cousins. Men who were nuanced and complicated. Men who were often victims of violence themselves. They were not horrible people. They were people who had made horrible choices and needed to be held accountable and led through a process to unlearn their behavior. For the past few months, I’ve shifted my focus to looking speficially at gay men and trauma- with an emphasis on black gay men. The evident impact as well as lack of connection to services has been devastating. I’ve come across more men than you can imagine who have been beaten or raped but thought it was nothing. But minimizing trauma doesen’t stop it from impacting our choices. And for so many of us the pain remains in control.

Gay male culture is still struggling to come out of the psychological specter of shame that has encased our desire for hundreds of years via homophobia,misogny and racism. Yet what is unique about gay male communities is that we have largely been held exempt from an analysis of these issues. It is this lack of analysis and activism from within gay male communities that has carved out a culture where sexual harassment, rape and violence are just seen as “boys being boys”. Where stalking or predatory practices are not named abuse. Where inappropriate and disrespectful statements from strangers are just another day out with the boys.

Katrina Kubicek, of the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, has conducted research which has revealed what an abusive and violent present many gay men live in. Kubicek’s research, conducted amongst a group of young men in Los Angeles, gives us depressing numbers:

Up to 43% of respondents report pushing or shoving a partner.
20%  report hitting or kicking a partner.
30%  report being slammed against a wall by a partner.
25 %Kicked or bit a partner.
6 % reported being forced to have sex.
37 %report feeling coerced to have sex without a condom.

When asked about the research, Kubicek shared:

“When we first asked them (young gay men) to define or describe what they consider to be partner violence or domestic violence, they saw it as something that happens between a man and a woman. They felt that violence between two men was just seen as “two men fighting”. In addition, when initially asked to describe what they consider to be violence, most did not initially identify emotional or psychological abuse as part of it…”

She then further states:

We have done a pretty good job in educating the public that domestic violence is not OK; however, the images we see and the stories that are told are those of heterosexuals, mainly women. Society, and as a result, many young men themselves, have a hard time labeling what is going on in their relationships as partner violence.

This leads us to many questions: Where do you go as a gay man who is trying to navigate abuse? Where do you go if you are gay men in a relationship where you both physically fight each other? Especially if you are gay man of color? Or if you are disabled? Or trans? What if you don’t have private insurance for a therapist, or only access to therapists who don’t understand the nuances of domestic violence?

Kubicek:

Young men did not generally seek assistance from professionals. There are limited services that are designed for gay men, or any sexual minority, who are involved in violence…Very few young men {also} reported trying to access services. There was a general perception that police would be difficult to work with and would not understand the situation. However, I am happy to say that of those young men who did call the police, they all reported positive experiences.

The study conducted by Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles was small, however national studies by the CDC reflect the same challenges for not only gay men, but for lesbian, trans, bisexual and queer communities as well. Organizations such as the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, The GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project and the Northwest Network provide resources and advocacy on this issue yet in most parts of the country resources are limited or non existent. Dominant domestic violence organizations have largely failed to incorporate gay male issues into their analysis and even more so into the conversation on masculinity — so for the vast number of gay men, struggling with rage or grappling with abusive dynamics, there is often no where to go to heal. But in order to support young gay men, we need education, advocacy and culturally competent services that stop violence, hold men accountable and lead them to do restorative emotional work. We cannot wait or depend on the criminal legal system, which, especially for gay men of color, has shown in so many ways that is it not transformative nor a tool for our healing. This work is an immediate need that is intertwined with poverty, HIV/AIDS, racism, ableism, respectability, homophobia and much more. We can’t wait…….

I wrote this article for gay boys and gay men. I wrote this for the gay men reading this remembering what they did. I wrote this for the gay boys crying over what they are trying to forget. I wrote this for the gay couples trying to understand why it happened. For the gay men who want to help their friends but don’t know how to. For the gay men tracing the trauma back to their childhoods, forced to reconcile wounds that only the little boys inside them remember. For the gay men who can’t face how much they hurt someone. I wrote this article for gay boys and men. I wrote this article for all for us. I wrote this article for you. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not alone. And another way of being in the world is possible. There are people around you who want to help. Wherever you are and whomever you are, in the midst of your challenges I want you to remember: “For great as the powers of destruction may be, Greater still, are the powers of healing.”*

If you or someone you know needs help, please share the following resources. You can also use them to educate yourself on violence in Gay male and LGBT communities.
Resources:

Six Ways to Confront Your Friend Who’s Abusing Thier Partner
The Northwest Network
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
Men Stopping Violence
Gay & Lesbian Domestic Violence Wheel
7 Warning Signs Your Partner May be Emotionally Abusive

*Image By Eric Vondy.
*Starhawk

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