Lesbian Notions – Reserve: Myth vs. Reality

When I was growing up in a nice, Jewish, middle-class family on Long Island, I was told there wasn’t any domestic violence or alcoholism in nice, Jewish, middle-class families like mine. My mother always told me, “If your father ever…,” their marriage would be over. There was always alcohol in our house. I probably dusted the same bottles for 10 years.

So, in my nice, Jewish, middle-class family, at least, there was no domestic violence or alcoholism. It took me a few years, but once I left my parents’ home, I came to realize that what they told me were just well-intentioned myths. My synagogue has an AA group, and I’ve heard the stories of abusive husbands who started out as “nice Jewish boys.”

My parents needed to believe those myths. They were part of what made them who they were. Sadly, the LGBT community has fallen into the same trap.

While no one has ever said the LGBT community didn’t have its share of people with drinking problems, we have tried to hold on to the notion that, since we struggle so much to love the ones we love, we could never, ever think of abusing them.

That’s just a myth. The reality of our lives is really no different from that of our heterosexual counterparts.

“LGBT intimate partner violence is as prevalent in our relationships as it is in heterosexual relationships,” Avy Skolnik, the coordinator for statewide and national programs for the New York City Anti-Violence Project, told me in a recent phone interview. “One in four relationships experience some type of abusive power and control dynamic.”

Just as in straight relationships, this dynamic runs the gamut of emotional and economic abuse, such as the abuser isolating the victim from friends and family, using jealousy to control the victim, or threatening to tell an employer the victim is gay or lesbian; or the abuser controlling the purse strings and forcing the victim to ask for money. In other cases, the abuser may treat the victim like a servant or engage in actual physical abuse, such as hitting, pushing, biting, grabbing, and beating. And at times, physical abuse can culminate in death.

It’s sad to think that we do this to one another and that, just like many straight women who are abused, we stay in these destructive relationships. But we’ve got to remember, not only did we grow up in this society – which is so violence-centric – but we’re doubly burdened with internal and external homophobia.

“Part of the community’s resistance to talking about sexual abuse and intimate partner violence really comes from people not wanting to feed the fires of homophobia and transphobia,” said Skolnik. “We think we always have to put our best face forward and keep this stuff quiet. We’re all exposed to seeing violence as almost normal in relationships. LGBT people have few role models of what a healthy LGBT adult is. If you’re not exposed to that, especially if you’ve been dealing with violence your whole life, what you’re experiencing in your relationship may not be that big of a deal.”

Skolnik also explained that it takes an average of seven to nine incidents of intimate partner violence for anyone to leave a relationship, and for LGBT folks it can be even harder because of living in a small community or having the same network of friends. He said that LGBT youth (under 18 years old) in abusive relationships have an even harder time breaking the cycle of violence because they have no legal rights at all, and may be trying to keep the relationship secret for family and perhaps friends.

“LGBT young people are some of the most vulnerable,” said Skolnik. “They have fewer options, and because there’s so much homophobia that they can’t always distance themselves from, their intimate relationships are more precious. They don’t want to break up. Some may even think that ‘the violence I experience out there is worse than in here.’ ”

Despite some of our common assumptions, the frequency of intimate partner abuse is pretty much the same for gay male couples and lesbian couples, and there is absolutely no correlation to butch-femme/top-bottom roles and who the abuser is within relationships.

When an LGBT person does decide to leave an abusive relationship, the next question is, where does he or she go? By and large, according to Skolnik, domestic violence shelters are not going to turn away lesbians or bisexual women – something they did with regularity a decade or so ago. But there are only a handful of shelters across the country that will admit transwomen and treat them with respect. There are even fewer shelters that will take transmen, and hardly any will take gay men.

With very few places for LGBT people to turn, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (www.ncavp.org), which is housed out of Skolnik’s shop in New York City, is working with domestic and anti-violence programs throughout the country to get them to deal more positively with this issue. Right now, NCAVP’s 37 members throughout the country and in Canada will work with victims to find them shelter through the safe home network, or provide hotel vouchers and advocacy with law enforcement and health-care providers, and accompany the victims to their court appointments.

The myth versus reality here is very clear. Intimate partner violence and abuse are dirty secrets we can no longer afford to sweep under the rug. We’re not doing ourselves any favors by ignoring the violent reality in which many of our community members live. I’m not talking about the asshole down the street who shouts “faggot!” at a gay man – I’m talking about the partner who abuses him because the bed wasn’t made just right.

Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.
Victims of Violence Can Turn to KCAVP
We at the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project (KCAVP) applaud this issue’s Lesbian Notions column and its author, Libby Post. This nationally syndicated column will provide thousands of LGBT people vital information about domestic violence in our community — a topic that some consider taboo. The type of violence that Post refers to does happen in Kansas City.

KCAVP is the only LGBT anti-violence program in Kansas City, and in fact, there are no other similar programs in western Missouri, Kansas, Iowa or Nebraska. KCAVP is an active member of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which Post referred to in her column, and collaborates with anti-violence groups locally and nationally.

Since our inception five years ago, we have helped more than 300 LGBT victims of domestic violence. Our staff provides free and confidential assistance, including:
• Providing emergency assistance to LGBT domestic violence victims, such as short-term housing, transportation, food and other necessities, so victims can stay in a safe place. There are no domestic violence shelters in the area that house gay, bisexual, or transgender men, so KCAVP is their only resource.
• Working with victims to assess their situation, identify resources and, if necessary, provide referrals to meet their needs.
• Helping victims obtain orders of protection and provide personal support and assistance during court proceedings, as well as advocating for victims in hospitals and through law enforcement.
• Providing 10 free counseling sessions to LGBT victims of violence.
Please note that KCAVP serves LGBT victims of sexual assault and hate crimes as well as victims of domestic violence. We also facilitate training sessions about LGBT violence for groups and participate in events to get the word out about KCAVP and the services we provide. If you are interested in a training session for a group or employer, contact Beth Savitzky at 816-561-0550.

Visit our Web site at www.kcavp.org for more information about KCAVP or domestic violence, or to sign up for our eNewsletter and Action Alerts. Remember, nobody deserves to be a victim of violence, including LGBT people. If you think you may be in an abusive relationship, reach out to KCAVP at 816-561-0550.
– KCAVP staff

Libby Post

Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media.

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