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'It's (Just) the Way That I Love You': Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse in Same-Sex Relationships (Part 1)

I'm passionate about this issue because it's happened to me, and to others I've known. After Alonzo assaulted me one last time, I fought back. And with assistance from my brother-in-law, a cop, I made my "great escape." Finally I entered counseling. I was lucky.
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Closeup of woman crying
Closeup of woman crying

As long as I've known him, my very best friend has always been a masculine, self-assured, confident guy. And boy, can he rumble with the best of them! But years ago he was absolutely paralyzed when Alonzo, his domestic partner, emotionally and mentally terrorized him during the course of their monogamous relationship. This included Alonzo making harassing calls to his job -- and then showing up unannounced. And on a sunny Saturday morning one spring, after pursuing my buddy into a crowded Giant Foods, Alonzo punched him dead in the face, leaving him bruised and bloody, utterly embarrassed and totally demoralized.

My very best friend simply couldn't wrap his head around how this man who claimed to love him so deeply and made intense, passionate love with him could abuse and victimize him in this way. He loved Alonzo madly. No way did he want to leave him. And he was afraid of being abandoned.

His brain was flooding and exploding with a plethora of conflicting emotions, ranging from confusion to outrage to sadness and depression. He began to second-guess himself terribly. He asked himself, "What am I doing wrong to trigger this kind of behavior? I must be pushing his buttons! What can I do to stop?" Next he said to himself, "But there's no way I could hurt him like he's hurting me!" Then he began to seriously question his manhood.

So just what is my very best bud's name? It's Wyatt. He was I.

Anyone, regardless of size, strength, age, gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity or income, can become a victim of domestic violence and abuse, generally referred to in the LGBTQ community as intimate partner violence and abuse (IPV/A). The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs defines IPV/A as "as a pattern of behaviors utilized by one partner (the abuser or batterer) to exert and maintain control over another person (the survivor or victim) where there exists an intimate, loving and dependent relationship." Statistics show that this form of abuse occurs with similar frequency in same-sex relationships and heterosexual relationships. Additionally, new research suggests that a greater percentage of LGBTQ individuals than previously thought is living in fear of an abusive partner. Check out these estimates: Each year, between 50,000 and 100,000 lesbians and as many as 500,000 gay men are battered by a partner. About one in four LGBTQ relationships/partnerships is abusive in some way, about the same as in heterosexual relationships.

There are many signs of IPV/A. The most telling is fear of your partner, or feeling like you have to walk on eggshells around him or her. Other prominent signs include suffering frequent injuries at your partner's hands and excusing them as "accidents," agreeing to everything your partner says and does, being forced into sexual activity, being threatened by your partner with physical violence and abandonment, being isolated by your partner, facing threats of being "outed" by your partner, feeling like your partner is trying to control your actions, and being blamed by your partner for your his or her own words or actions.

Psychologists and authors Jeanne Segal and Melinda Smith write that emotional abuse is a more problematic type of IPV/A than one might believe. They state, "[N]ot all abusive relationships involve violence. Just because you're not battered and bruised doesn't mean you're not being abused. Many men and women suffer from emotional abuse, which is no less destructive. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is often minimized or overlooked -- even by the person being abused." Some examples of this type of behavior by a partner include using offensive/derogatory names, racial epithets and homophobic language.

Can abusers really control their behavior? Oh, yes, they can! Actually, they do it all the time. According to Segal and Smith, they pick and choose whom to abuse, typically saving their actions for those whom they profess to love, and they carefully choose when and where to strike and are able to stop their destructive behavior when it benefits them.

After Alonzo assaulted me again, I fought back. And with assistance from my brother-in-law, a cop, I made my "great escape." Finally I entered counseling. I was lucky.

I'm passionate about the issue of IPV/A because it's happened to me, and to others I've known. Later this year I'll be conducting workshops and seminars around the country to help others break this appalling, shameful and potentially life-threatening cycle.

If you or someone you know is experiencing IPV/A, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or the Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project Hotline (1-800-832-1901). And always remember: It ain't (just) the way that he or she loves you.