I was talking with various friends the other night in the bar, and the topic of abuse and violence in gay relationships came up. I was amazed at how widespread it is. Some guys viewed it as an inevitable part of men being together, and not too damaging. Others were less sanguine about it.
For me, violence in a relationship would equal the automatic end of it. It's over. Locks changed. Police called. It's just not acceptable for me. And then later this week I was talking with someone else and he told me of being in a violent realtionship when he was younger. I still just have this visceral reaction - you leave if he hits you - it's that simple. Easy to say I know, but I think that's how I'd react.
But violence and abuse can take many forms, it doesn't just have to be physical. Emotional and mental violence, manipulation, guilt, insults and undermining can also be powerfully aggressive ways to attack the person you're with, the person you're supposed to love and who's supposed to love you back. And emotional violence can be harder to counter, it can be passed off as "Just joking" . Constant lying, deceit, can also be seen as a deliberate act of abuse, something that will hurt the other person, and is equally shameful.
I had a relationship that turned out to be built completely on lies. The guy was leading a double life. He was, and is, a shit. I was astounded when I talked to others to discover that my experience was not that uncommon. I can't say it was hundreds of guys, but far more than I'd expected reported a similar experience. Men who present a charming front, who seem to be so wonderful and loving, but then, when it all crumbles, reveal their true nature. And usually not a hint of regret.
We have another form of violence as well, that combines physical harm with lies. That is the act of lying to someone about being HIV+ and then luring them into having unprotected sex, pretending to love them, manipulating them, and when they eventually find out they are infected, promising to still be there for them, even though they're infected. It is disgusting, it is criminal, and it is intolerable, but it happens. I'm not talking about two guys getting a bit out of it and forgetting to use a rubber, I'm talking about HIV+ men who deliberately enticing someone into their lives with the aim of getting them infected. They exist, unfortunately. You only need one or two to produce a rash of new infections. Unless someone complains though, very little can be done to stop them.
So then there is the added burden of dealing with a new diagnosis, discovering the man you thought loved you in fact has betrayed you on the most fundamental levels, shortened your life-expectancy by 20 or so years at least, and left you not knowing where to turn or what to do. That is a real act of life-destroying violence.
I know that a few years ago there was research being carried out into aspects of sexual violence in gay male realtionships, but, if I recall my facts correctly, the researcher ended up finding the stories too traumatic to continue (apologies if I have that wrong).
I don't really know how to view all this. Is it internalised homophobia ? Perhaps in some cases but I doubt that explains every case. Is it something inherently masculine? Again, I don't think that stacks up - I've heard too many reports of the same behaviour in lesbian relationships. I do think part of it comes from the way NZ is actually quite a violent society. But I don't know what the answer is. That doesn't mean we shouldn't stop asking the questions.
And if you're in a violent abusive relationship, you don't need to be. You don't need to stay there. I'd suggest calling OUTline on 0800 688 5463, or one of the other help lines such as lifeline.
We have enough in our lives to put up with from the straight world - when those who are closest to us, who are supposed to love us abuse us, then we have to bring this out in the open, and get them out of our lives. Abuse is not acceptable or normal ina loving relationship, in fact it shows the realtionship is anything but loving.
We don't have to take it.
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