Society

“I started stabbing my hand with a knife so that I don’t hit him”: domestic violence and LGBT.

СПИД.ЦЕНТР

Any conversation regarding domestic violence implies a patriarchal behavioural model: when a male aggressor hits a women. However, that 'typical' model of domestic abuse leaves some people, those who do not fit into those norms, in the so-called 'grey area'. This area includes gay people, transgender man and women, lesbians, non-binary people and the rest of those who are a part of LGBTQ+.

At the same time, recent research performed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services in 2013 suggests that a member LGBTQ+ is more likely to come across domestic violence. According to the research’s data 43.8% of lesbians, 61.1% of bisexual women, 35% of heterosexual women, 26% of gay men, 37.3% of bisexual men and 29% of heterosexual men have been a subject of domestic violence and abuse.

The mechanism of domestic violence and abuse is always the same, regardless of people’s sex, gender or sexual orientation of both partners. It is a long process, when one partner always has a feeling of guilt and fear, he/she thinks, that it is always his fault and that all of his actions are wrong. The aggressor controls both actions and feelings of his/her partner: devalues the individual by means of verbal abuse (insults etc.), limits his/her contacts and communications with other people, controls the financial side of things and also uses physical power in order to control another person. Domestic violence is cyclic: after the aggressive episode partners reconcile, the aggressor repents and the importance of what happened is denied and underestimated. After that tension grows and the aggressive episode reoccurs; this vicious cycle keeps repeating itself. Every new episode gets even more violent and physically traumatic, and the periods of reconciliation become shorter.

AIDS.CENTER had spoken to both victims and those who were the ones causing the abuse; and, as a consequence, figured out the way it works within LGBTQ couples.

Illustration by: Elena Lukyanova

Sasha, 34y.o. (the name has been changed)

She wrote to me when she saw my dating profile. She came to our date slightly tipsy but as it had progressed she got absolutely wasted. I was shocked and didn’t want to meet up with her again. Yet, we accidentally saw each other again and she suggested that we should go to the cinema; I agreed since I’ve been single for two years. I felt lonely and so I thought that I’m not losing anything. Why not? Couple of months later we moved in together. She would be quite inadequate after a couple of drinks: at first she’d want to talk, and a closer contact with me, but later on it wouldn’t be enough and she’d start 'figuring out some questions'. All that would happen in a scary and aggressive form: I tried not to object or move too much, because a 'nervous' response would make her even angrier. Afterwards, the aggressive attempts to sort or figure out the situation could occur with no alcohol involved.

Once, she got drunk more than usual and in that inadequate state she kept following me around, she wanted 'to talk'. She was just like a zombie and she kept doing that for a couple of hours. It got to the point that I started hitting her because I wanted her to get lost and calm down. I had never thought that I could end up in a situation like that and act out in such a way. I felt hopeless and repressed; every time I thought that this is the end that I shouldn’t put up with that anymore. However, I couldn’t cut her off, so I kept hoping for a miracle to happen; I loved her despite the fact that it would come down to actual physical violence. Then these situations would be forgotten and put aside: “She’s not always that way; it all good between us, mostly”.

No one would find it strange or peculiar that two gay men were fighting. They are men; they just have a rough relationship! Plus, they are gay, so they are supposedly more emotional.

Once, when she got drunk again, she reminded me of a situation when I had hit her. And so she started beating me up. I couldn’t escape that: she’d grab my clothes, drag me back and kept hitting me; she’d grab my hair and even threw a chair at me. I managed to escape. I grabbed my keys and my phone; I locked her in the apartment and asked my friend to come over so that she could help get her out of the flat.

We moved apart, but she didn’t want to break up and so we kept on dating. She didn’t express her aggression for some time, but then she got drunk again and told me everything she thinks of me. She wouldn’t let me go for five hours. I was sitting down trying not move; I was crying out of mere sense of fear and because of what she was saying. My tears made her react even more since, according to her, I pushed the situation to the limit so why would I be crying? The next day I told her to leave. We haven’t been in contact since then.

Polina Zakirova, a psychologist from “The Resource Centre for LGBT, Yekaterinburg”, that the myths surrounding same-sex relationships are one of the reasons why domestic violence in such is not spoken about: “Sometimes I can hear: “ When two girls are dating everything should be nice and easy, what could possibly go wrong?””

At the same time, the victims who suffered from domestic violence in LGBT couples are already judged for the fact of being in such a relationship: “In our society, the view on LGBT relationships is not the way it should be; the attitude towards people who went through domestic abuse is not entirely correct. That implies double stigma”. The following was noted by the director of the centre 'Violence.net' (Насилию.нет) Anna Rivina: “It’s like you have been fighting for something you really wanted, you’re dating despite the society’s view on that, but at the same time the same society dictates the following: “Didn’t you want this relationship? Then get it. Just keep it quiet. Oh well, you, however, come and complain about domestic violence. Weren’t you the ones who fought for that?””

В то же время Ривина подчеркивает, что это сложная повестка и для феминистского мира: «Считается, что мир жесток из-за патриархальности. Но оказывается, что модель поведения, которая ведет в том числе к абьюзу, существует и без мужчин».

Boris Konakov, 31y.o., LGBT-activist, queer-painter.

We came across each other 8 years ago through some mutual friends, which is a typical case. Added each other as friends, started liking each other’s posts, sharing stuff like songs, met up in real life and then started dating. We were dating for three years before we broke up. We were keeping in touch after that because some co-dependent medium had been created. I’d call it 'post-relationship', because it was as if we were single, yet we would see each other all the time.

I do remember the first episode of aggression. We were drinking at our friends’ before we came home, so we were slightly tipsy. He called me by some other name and I slapped him. That really hurt, emotionally! I didn’t understand back then that what I was doing could be classified as domestic violence. It happened again half a year later on the Valentine’s Day. I was getting ready waiting for him, before he came home absolutely drunk. He didn’t really like his present. I got really sad and started drinking with him. Afterwards, I started pushing him and he retaliated by verbally attacking me back. In order not to hit him I took a knife and stabbed my hand with it. Four times. I didn’t feel the pain. The blood was streaming all over the place. He got scared for both of us. Together with my neighbour they were trying to stop the wound from bleeding and I kind of ended up being “the victim” in this situation.

I didn’t have dishes around the house, so I started breaking everything else. It is also one of the forms of psychological manipulation. As time progressed, it would get worse. Bruises, bashed head, foot injury (I had stepped on it with my boots really hard, which of course was done on purpose). After every similar episode, I would beg for forgiveness, I’d cry, I’d go with him to an emergency room. Every single time I used to promise, that it would never happen again.

There were often insults coming from him as well: “Stupid, crazy, arsehole, you’re nobody, just some kind of salesman”. I have a degree in journalism, but at the time I couldn’t get a job in this area straight away. He knew that this was my weakness and he used it against me. I still have to work on myself I order to get back the understanding of the fact that I am a self-sufficient person and that my personal qualities do not depend on somebody else’s presence in my life and outside judgments.

The worst episode occurred four years ago, when we had already broken up and were trying to be friends. We were hanging out at our friends’ house when at some point he started an argument; he was insulting me in front of everyone. I realised that I was reaching a point when I could do something bad so I went to the bathroom. I thought that I should sit there for some time and that I should not react; I thought that I was strong enough to handle that. It got quiet so I left the bathroom. But as I got out of there he started doing this again. Afterwards, it felt like my brain got switched off and I started kicking him with my legs. The next day he texted me: “I can’t get up, I think you have broken my rib.” I couldn’t believe it, but my friends told me that they really did go to the emergency room. How could I have broken his rib? When I came to the realisation of what happened it was as though I had sobered up. In the legal terms it was intentional moderate bodily injury. People tried to persuade him to tell the police. Even I was saying: “Do whatever you want.”

It is commonly thought that if two men are fighting, then it’s kind of normal. Fighting for the territory, power, even someone. After they sort it out through a fight they just keep on living. This patriarchal myth is often projected onto same-sex relationships. When we used to fight in front of witnesses, they would all say, in a patronising way, something along the lines: “Well, yeah, you got into a fight, whatever. Not even like ‘normal’ men, but just like gays waving hands at each other.” No one would find it strange or peculiar that two gay men were fighting. They are men; they just have a rough relationship! Plus, they are gay, so they are supposedly more emotional.

I had to break his rib to understand that I was doing something wrong and that at some point I might even commit unintentional homicide. Before that moment, I would often blame him: he started it first, he attacked me, he didn’t do what he said he’d do. At that time I already had friends who were a part of the feminist movement, and I would perceive myself as a person who agrees with their ideology, a person who thinks that domestic abuse is wrong and that hitting a woman is wrong. Yet, I still felt that hitting a guy in a gay relationship is rather normal.

I blocked his contacts and lost all means of communication with him. I lost my job and had almost no money at all. I had a nervous breakdown. I decided to deal with all that on my own. I lost the battle against my depressive states, so I started seeing a psychotherapist, but I was way more successful in a battle against my episodes of anger and aggression. It was crucial for me to work on those patterns in order to make myself safe for my future partners, but I understand that this is something I have to keep working all the time. I openly talk about that so that people understand that all these talks regarding the domestic abuse culture are not a joke.

The Resource Centre for LGBT in Yekaterinburg is conducting research about the display of abuse in LGBT-relationships all around the country. So far, they have only been able to obtain preliminary results (which we have a hand on), but they are quite dramatic: 46.9% of the respondents are victims of verbal insults and devaluing comments, and the manifestation of physical abuse has been the case for 4.8% of the interviewed. Almost a half stated that in a relationship with their partner there had been some form of abuse. Out of the total of 1091 people who filled out the survey, only one person had contacted a lawyer regarding the matter.

Polina Zakirova, the member of the team which organised the survey, notes that people do not address the matter with a lawyer or with a psychotherapist simply because it is tough for them to admit that they are in an LGBTQ+ relationship because of homo- and trans- phobias and speaking about domestic violence is even a more significant stretch. Also, if one addresses the matter with a lawyer who is not a part of an LGBT organisation than there is a high chance that they will out the victim.

Illustration by: Elena Lukyanova

Irina,  29y.o.(the name has been changed).

Ten years ago we had a short-lasting affair. Five years later my previous relationship was over, and since I was emotionally hurt, I really needed moral support. I called her, and we agreed that I could live at her place for some time before I would find a new place.  Half a year later, after I had already found where to live, we decided to build a family, and so we moved into my apartment. We had been together for three years until we broke up.

One of the episodes got carved in my head. I was in a car with her, her mother and two cats. We were on our way to my mum, since she lives in another city. We were all talking and I commented on her words rather harshly. She stopped the car. She started hitting me. I was defending myself and then she left the car and said the following words: “Ok, now I’m gonna go and commit a suicide.” Her mum looked at me and said: “ It’s ok, it’s ok, just hold it, it’s gonna be over in a minute.”

The basis of domestic violence is the fear to lose control over the partner. Violence, most and foremost, is a way of establishing power and control over another person.

Her aggression got worse as time passed by. She hit me, threw stuff at me, dragged me by my hair, kind of similar stopping of the car; but there weren’t any severe traumas. Was there any sexual violence and harassment? I think yes, but I still cannot fully grasp whether it was the case yet. What do you consider as sexual violence and harassment?

The tension grew stronger. I could predict when she ‘blows up’ again. If I expressed my opinion, the stones would be thrown at me, in a metaphorical sense. After those episodes, she would always say that she was sorry and that she didn’t mean it. However, after it would always happen again.

It all suddenly ended. My friend expressed all her concerns in a very harsh way and it was like a cold shower. I pulled myself together and decided to end it once and for all. I got the support from two of my friends. One of them told me before that she’s concerned by the aggressive reactions of my partner. But at that point it seemed as though it was easier to put up with that rather than with being lonely. No one knew about the physical violence before I ended the relationship. It was both feeling of shock and empathy. Right now I am trying to deregister her from my flat, which is a very exhausting process.

The basis of domestic violence is the fear to lose control over the partner. “Violence, most and foremost, is a way of establishing power and control over another person. And when the aggressor feels that the victim doubts his/her power, the aggressor uses power to re-establish the status. Therefore, violence is a projection of power established within the society, and right now the most relevant and vivid case are the relationships between men and women”: the following was stated by Andrey Sinelnikov, the vice-president of Centre ‘Anna’.

Tanya, 32y.o. (the name was changed).

We have known each other since 2005.  Five years later we met again, moved in together and then lived with each other for about one and a half years. The issues started occurring almost immediately. First of all it was jealousy: I was in contact with my ex-, because the break up was rather ‘soft’. The new girlfriend used to always say that I intended cheating on her and that I want sexual contact on the side. This had never been the case before we moved in together, so I would ignore it and tell myself that it was all because of stress and so I waited for that to go away. Even tried to logically explain my point of view. Sometimes she stopped, but then, say, if I got a message on VK, then she’d start all over again.

All my acquaintances, close friends, and even random people would always end up in that ‘danger’ list. There were a lot of screaming, harsh insults and emotional tension; even when she had a break from these scandals it was still kind of tense. The reconciliation could almost definitely lead to a new scandal. Also, she didn’t allow me to wear certain things: she saw it in a way that it was my attempt to attract attention, because I looked good and sexy in such clothes, according to her. If I put on a T-shirt without a bra, there would be scandal, but I just feel more comfortable without it. If a T-shirt was too short and you could see my belly, there would be a scandal. We studied together and she would be jealous all the time: with regards to both guys and girls. I almost couldn’t talk to anyone. Then I put a lot of effort in trying to explain how it made me feel, and I hopped that this misconception would get easily resolved.

At first, I couldn’t come back home because she was there. We lived in my room and it was hard for me to kick her out with a kid; plus she didn’t want to break up.

Then she started trashing the dishes. Her child began living with us shortly after and I was worried that he had to witness all those quarrels, tears and inappropriate language. At the time, I wouldn’t tell anyone about what was going on at home; I would only occasionally joke about her nerves but I would never spare the details.

Then objects of her jealousy became definite. At any moment I could get in trouble for looking at a person from her ‘list’ in the ‘ wrong’ way. Once I gave up on all that and slapped her. I sort of lost the contact with the reality: I didn’t understand where I was, I used to take days of work, I tried to just eat, sleep and comprehend what was going on. After another conflict I called a guy from her ‘list’. We decided to have tea together, so I came to his. So I decided to follow the scenario she got jealous about on purpose. I don’t really remember what I was thinking, but I decided to do something I was previously accused of.

After that we went to uni. It was winter. She suddenly grabbed me and started dragging me around the snowdrifts, plunged into my face with her nails and started hitting me, I think… It was late and no one noticed, even though I was screaming for help. Twenty minutes later I broke free of her and went down the snowdrifts towards the university, so that I could find some help against her. There were our classmates; she kept screaming at me in front of everyone. They held her off; I called my friends and said: “Could you please pick me up? Otherwise, she’s just gonna kill me.” It was really scary, because she wouldn’t calm down. I sort of sobered up. My friends picked me up and lived at their place for some time.

At first, I couldn’t come back home because she was there. We lived in my room and it was hard for me to kick her out with a kid; plus she didn’t want to break up. After that moment we are still in contact and we’re friends; our relationship right now is as good as before we became a couple.

Polina Zakirova from ‘The Resource Centre for LGBT, Yekaterinburg” doesn’t think that LGBTQ+ are more vulnerable when in a relationship: “Both LGBTQ+ person and heterosexual person have the exact same chance to end up in an abusive relationship. No one is protected from that.” Nevertheless, she notes that in LGBTQ+ relationships there are some specific dangers and ways to pull strings: “You can out a person, threaten to limit the visits to the biological mother, limit the expenditures (when it comes to buying the essential medicine) and so on”.

Also, just like in a situation of our next respondent Alexander, there can even be threats to throw away medical references and the medication required to go through the transgender transition.

Illustration by: Elena Lukyanova

Alexander, 37y.o. (the name has been changed).

We dated each other when we were teenagers but we broke up because she was overly aggressive. Back then I didn’t understand what was the matter with me due to the lack of information, so I thought of myself as a lesbian. Many years later we met up again, started chatting; later we decided to give our relationship another chance. I thought that her aggression was something she would grow out of, but with the time her behaviour didn’t change. When we dated, every time there was an argument she would grab the phone and say: “The guys are gonna come and break your legs; they are gonna come with a gun.”

It all started with insults: she used to say that no one needs me, that it’s difficult dating a freak; she used to reproach me for not having a penis: “What kind of a man are you if you don’t have a dick?” At the time I was in the process of a transgender transition (a transgender transition from a woman to men). Then it turned out that within her circle of friends they didn’t even call me by my real name but ‘freak’ or ‘*****’.

The aggressive ‘explosions’ started occurring more often with the time and they were becoming rougher. Every day I used to think: I hope it gets late sooner, and I hope that nothing happens so that we can finally go to sleep. She used to say sorry every time it happened; she would say that it was the last time. However, it would always happen again and every new argument would be even more violent: the next time she broke my nose. She was provoked by something really minor, something like home routine issue, which can be solved peacefully, like where should we put the armchair. Every time she would start attacking me again I used to ask her to leave my flat. Then she’d call ‘the guys’ and take away my keys. I even saved the screenshots of our texts with her threats: I took them for the safety reasons of course.

I never felt safe at the time since I would always expect a scandal to happen. When I realised that I couldn’t handle it anymore

My biggest fear was that she would take my hormones and do something to them. Or with the medical references: I needed to collect those for the operation. There were the times, when she could take the ampule and say that she would throw it away, knowing that for me these drugs were vital and that I could not miss an injection. She new that getting these was really hard and took a lot of time.

She was a very jealous person even though I never gave her any reasons to question my fidelity. She used to call me all the time, and then she would ask questions. If I went to my friends, I would always take her with me. Once she started a domestic fight when we were at my friend’s place and they politely asked me not to bring her over again. Then I stopped hanging out with them even though she didn’t directly forbid to.

She would never hit me in front of other people. If anyone called or walked in, then she would always pull herself together and say: “Oh, we’ve just had a little argument.” Yet, she used to always justify her actions by saying that she just couldn’t control herself. This is why no one ever knew what was going on at our place.

I never felt safe at the time since I would always expect a scandal to happen. When I realised that I couldn’t handle it anymore, I broke up with her. He couldn’t let me go and she still texts me every now and then. When I got a boyfriend, she would try threatening him over text messages. Once, I was coming back home when I got hit in the face by one of her ‘bros’. Also, she tried blackmailing me: she said that she would show my intimate photo where one can observe my genitals in the middle of the process of hormonal therapy.

I still cannot understand her. When she said sorry, she would always be sincere, she used to say “I love you to bits”, she’d be jealous and she would let me go; she would insult me and threaten me the very next moment though, and I could see how much she dislikes me.

Andrey Silnicov, the vice-president of the Centre ‘Anna’, believes that the victims of domestic violence can be elderly parents, and children, and partners of any gender and sex: “Despite the fact that we always look at violence as a gender-related issue, which implies the misbalance of power in a relationship, that men have more power, and that women take a rather passive position, this is still projected onto the same-sex couple.”

“Healthy relationship occurs when both partners can equally make each other happy and sad (to the same extent, equal rights in a relationship kind of thing).” That was the statement by Anna Ravina. She also said the following: “In any relationship, one can make another person happy or act like an inadequate prick. However, the essence of domestic violence and abuse is that one partner is trying to suppress the other partner. The victims are often those people who have very low and damaged self-esteem, who see the situation from the aggressor’s point of view. That’s why it is more likely to hear ‘it’s all my fault’ rather than ‘he or she hurts me’ from the victim.”  

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