In understanding gender socialization and gay male domestic violence, it is important to recognize that domestic violence is not strictly the purview of heterosexual couples. In making the connection between gay male domestic violence and gender socialization, there are a number of important issues of which to be aware. First, in contemporary American society, ‘‘men are expected to be men,’’ and fitting this role includes exercising their ability to defend themselves against physical aggression. Second, due to this stereotype, men are hesitant to report any kind of victimization or violence against them to authorities. Third, most domestic violence research has focused on male/female domestic violence. Fourth, all domestic violence is generally underreported to the authorities, and most of these victims, including gay or bisexual males, feel that much of what happens should stay in the home or area of residence.
Domestic violence is a major social and health problem in the United States that affects the families in which it occurs as well as all of society and has future implications for both. Some two to four million women in the United States are physically battered annually by their partners, and 25 to 30 percent of all U.S. women are at risk of domestic violence during their lifetimes (American Medical Association [AMA] 1996; Kerker, Horwitz, Leventhal, Plichta, and Leaf 2000). Having pointed this out, the risk is also prevalent in the gay community, occurring at a greater rate than heterosexual violence because both partners in the homosexual relationship are men and each has the same probability of being an abuser. Gay men are not less violent than straight men (Island and Letellier 1991). However, gay men, due to their socialization, are less likely to report the abuse and more likely to stay with their abusive partner because of homophobia, heterosexism, and ignorance in the community regarding domestic violence in relation to homosexuality (Island and Letellier 1991; Nolan 2000).
The definitions of domestic violence may cover a broad or narrow range. However, the classic definition of male violence is a pattern of violent and coercive behaviors whereby one attempts to control the thoughts, beliefs, or behaviors of an intimate partner or to punish the partner for resisting one’s control (Ashcraft 2000; Jacobson and Gottman 1998; Lobel 1986). Intimidation and fear are the tools used to gain this control over another individual (Robertson 1999; Walker 2000). The legal definition of domestic violence is ‘‘any assault, battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, or any criminal offense resulting in the physical injury or death of one family or household member by another who is or was residing in the same single dwelling unit’’ (Title XLlll, Chapter 741, Statute 741.28). Others, including Dutton (1995) have postulated that this is too narrow a focus, that domestic violence is a learned behavior including any action or words that hurt another person. This broader definition, according to Ashcraft (2000), includes the use of threats, force, and physical, sexual, emotional, economic, and verbal abuse.
In considering types of abuse in same-sex relationships, the abusers may threaten to expose their partners’ sexual preference to family, friends, community, church, and employers (Chung 1995; Island and Letellier 1991; Renzetti 1992). This may strongly impact men who are bisexual and have a family outside their same-sex relationship. Physical abuse occurs when one threatens, hits, kicks, chokes, pushes, shoves, pulls the hair of, slaps, punches, throws something at, or uses some type of weapon against another individual (Walker 2000). Lenore Walker also includes in this category the refusal to help partners who are injured or sick, restraining partners or keeping them from leaving, abandoning them in a dangerous place, and locking them out of their homes. Emotional abuse happens when one ridicules, insults, blames, humiliates, criticizes, and purposely ignores one’s partner (Walker 2000). This may also include racial slurs or putdowns of another’s beliefs or culture. According to Ashcraft (2000) and others, verbal abuse accompanies emotional abuse as the abuser says hurtful things and verbally belittles the partner. Dutton (1995) points out that financial abuse may keep the victim totally dependent on the abuser. Usually the abuser completely controls the couple’s monetary resources by keeping everything in his own name and making the abused partner ask for money, tell what it will be used for, and account for each expenditure. Social isolation is another type of abuse and with same-sex partners, it is especially prevalent, as the values of society generally do not accept gay lifestyles (Chung 1995; Nolan 2000; Renzetti 1992). Sexual abuse may involve using gay male pornography and acting out brutal scenes of sadomasochism, raping the partner, accusing the partner of affairs, treating the partner as a sex object, cheating on the partner, forcing the partner into group sex against his will, and general sexual coercion of the partner (Walker 2000). This all leads into the cycle of violence outlined byWalker (Walker 2000). It is difficult for the gay male abuse victim to break away from this cycle.
The batterer’s traits come from behaviors designed to control another (Robertson 1999; Walker 2000). There is no profile of a typical batterer; he can come from any economic, social, ethnic, religious, professional, or educational group (Selinger 1996). Why do gay males stay in abusive relationships? According to Dutton (1995) and Jacobson and Gottman (1998), the abuser and his partner may be extremely dependent on each other. Also, many gay men fear a backlash from those in the heterosexual society who think that the gay community is ‘‘sick, violent, or uncontrollable’’ (Lobel 1986; Oatley 1994). Other reasons gay men stay trapped in the cycle of violence are similar to those of abused heterosexual women who likewise stay trapped in their relationships. Leaving the abusive relationship may lead to financial loss, retaliation, publicity and embarrassment, and physical violence, or even death (Jacobson and Gottman 1998; Lobel 1986). Many times these gay men do not know where to get help and do not have support groups or any type of domestic shelter to which they may retreat (Friess 1997).
In summary, this research paper has explored the various problems dealing with gender socialization and gay male domestic violence. It is interesting to note that there are many similarities as well as differences between gay and heterosexual partners in violent relationships. Abused gay and bisexual men become trapped in the same cycle of violence as abused heterosexual women, but with far fewer options for escape and rehabilitation. Gay and bisexual men, as well as the larger society, need to come to terms with the denial of same-sex abuse and violence by recognizing the patterns of abuse that occur in same-sex relationships. Society also needs to recognize the needs of gay and bisexual men and allow for services to fulfill these needs (Griffin 1995).
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