The Piece About Domestic Abuse In A Gay Relationship And The Victim’s Denial

The Piece About Domestic Abuse In A Gay Relationship And The Victim’s Denial

[This piece was originally published on Gay Star News]

*

In my teens, I had a pretty clear idea of what domestic abuse looked like.

I had seen enough movies, plays and TV shows where the cruel, sneering man ruthlessly beat his girlfriend and every time I would think: ‘Leave! Leave! You’re worth more than him!’ I could never understand why she couldn’t just leave, why she wouldn’t hit back, why she wouldn’t stand up and fight.

At this point, I had no clue that when it comes to domestic abuse, physical abuse is only one fraction of a campaign to demoralize and control a romantic partner.

I met my ex-boyfriend in my early twenties and we remained together for two years. I had never met anybody like him. He was smart and funny and the most charming person you would ever hope to come across. He showered me with affection, gifts, compliments and romantic gestures – sending me cute messages and recordings of him singing love songs.

I was in love. I feel like that’s important to know.

It’s taken a long time to accept what happened between him and I. When I was in the relationship, I refused to acknowledge that how he acted could have possibly been abuse. When I was out of it, I refused even harder.

He couldn’t have abused me – he loved me. I muttered this to my mum as I cried in the back garden of my parents’ house on the day the relationship ended.

“James, sweetheart,” she said. “He hit you.”

 

The Warning Signs

It seems bizarre to say this but the physical abuse started off as almost charming.

In the first few weeks of us dating, we went out dancing and a guy came up to dance with me, quite harmlessly. Before I could do or say anything, my ex threw the guy across the room, ending up in a small fight and him being thrown out of the club. My ex grabbed on to me and dragged me out.

Although I was a little taken aback, this was the first time a guy had ever been possessive over me. I hadn’t been hurt and although my ex seemed angry and aggressive, he clung on to me for the rest of the evening and… it was nice.

Over the next few weeks, things started to turn a bit more against me. We had gone to a bar in town but this time it was just the two of us. We walked into a room to find that the bar was pretty full so I wandered to the left to see if there was another bar in another room. I felt a hand round my wrist and he pulled me back demanding to know where I was going. I said I wanted to see if there was another bar with a shorter queue and he immediately started shouting. He told me not to lie and that I was going to go and see if there were other boys in another room.

People looked.

I reassured him: “No, of course not!” But he threw my wrist back at me and stormed away.

When I found him again, it was as if nothing had ever happened. He kissed me and I felt like maybe I had been a bit stupid and I shouldn’t wander off again.

 

A Pattern Of Abuse

Moments like this continued to occur nearly every time we went out, but I just pegged that down to alcohol and, really, who isn’t a bit of an asshole when they’ve been drinking?

I let him pull me out of bars.

He grabbed a drink out of my hand and threw it across the park because I had asked a friend to do some work for me and hadn’t asked him first. I apologized to the bar staff because they sent a member of staff over to check if I was OK because he was shoving me against the wall and wouldn’t get off.

I picked up the picture frames when he slammed a door so hard in my face, they fell off the wall and smashed.

But this was all fine. We were passionate, that’s all. I thought to complain about this would be to belittle what real survivors go through.

I was fine.

 

He Hit Me Again. And Again. And Again.

Then he hit me.

We had gone out dancing and had had a great time, smearing glitter on new friends’ faces and kissing in the middle of the dance floor.

Then he suddenly announced that he wanted to leave and left the club, but I wasn’t done yet! I danced for about five minutes but I wasn’t having any fun without him. So I made my way out of the club, where the bouncer stopped me. She wanted to know if a boy matching my ex’s description was my boyfriend. I said yes and asked if everything was OK. She told me to go and collect him from around the corner as he had been screaming and swearing at them about wanting to come back in. I desperately apologized and went around the corner to see him on the other side of the road. I called his name and he saw me and stormed over.

Out of the blue, he swung his arm around and hit me in the face.

When I fell to the ground pretty quickly, things felt very slow. I thought that was it and we would argue or something, when he hit me on the back of the head. I gasped “Stop” but he hit me again.

And again.

And again.

I lay on the floor and pathetically waited for him to stop. I rolled into a ball and sobbed into my hands, waiting for the blows to stop. Eventually they did, but I didn’t want to look up. I waited for a long time and when someone touched me, I jumped. A stranger had seen what happened and offered to help me up. (Fun aside: the stranger mugged me).

I don’t think my ex remembers doing it; we never talked about it. I didn’t talk about it to anyone – I didn’t tell my friends, I didn’t tell the police. If I had done that, I would have gotten the man that I loved in trouble. He was my boyfriend and we had an apartment together – a life together. He loved me and I loved him. I felt like what he had done wasn’t that bad. He hadn’t broken any bones. To complain about this would be to complain about nothing.

I thought: ‘He didn’t almost kill you, so it doesn’t really count?’

I think it’s to do with emotional abuse. By the time he hit me, I was already in a position where I would write the physical attack off as nothing to be concerned about. I had already lost faith in my judgment, doubted my strength and cared very little about my own worth. At home, every attempt was made to bring my self-confidence lower and lower.

 

Emotional Abuse

Even from early on in the relationship, my ex seemed to rejoice in calling me names. On a daily basis, he’d call me stupid, incompetent or talentless. I’d be the butt of jokes, if it was just us, if we were home with our flatmate, or worse, at social events.

Calling me “so socially inept I’m basically autistic” was one of his favourite punchlines. I asked him to stop but he said he’d only done it once and that I should stop overreacting. Except I remember every time he did it.

I would leave every social event I attended with him feeling like I didn’t deserve to be around him, like I didn’t deserve to be at any event we attended together.

At home, he treated my hobbies and interests as bizarre. If I showed him something I was proud of, he would respond in disdain.

I began to fear making mistakes because I knew this would result in a severe telling-off. Whatever I seemed to do would result in me being called an idiot. I couldn’t be too early, too late, too loud at an event, too quiet at an event.

I was told to stop talking to boys I knew at work. I came home one day to tell him I had been chatting with a guy I worked with who was also gay. He demanded to know what we had been talking about, why I’d been talking to him. When I mentioned we had been in the pub with around 8 other colleagues and we had been talking about sex, he hit the roof. He screamed that I should never have discussed sex with this guy, that I had no business talking to him and that he was furious I had done so.

I didn’t like upsetting my boyfriend, so friendships were cut. Meeting him and knowing that I had upset him would feel like I was walking to the dentist. I came to expect a scolding and then long periods of silence where I would have to apologize over and over to get him to talk to me again.

A man collapsed on the tube and as I helped him and helped the emergency services, all I could think was: ‘I can’t be late to meet him… I’ll be in so much trouble… He’ll be so angry if I keep him waiting.’

 

Gaslighting

If I was to bring this up with him now, he would probably tell me I was making this up. This is something I came to expect.

I wasn’t aware what gaslighting meant until after this relationship. When talking through with a close female friend, she explained that if a partner is making you question your own sanity – if their response to your complaints is “that never happened” or “you’re making that up” – they may be putting you through a form of abuse called gaslighting.

It’s hard to argue your case if your partner dismisses it as fiction.

Constantly being told you’re crazy or overreacting to events starts to gnaw away at your own self-belief. Events which were true the day before would be denied the day after. Arguments which had been and gone would suddenly become twisted to having been your fault. Words would come out of his mouth, which, if brought up again two minutes later, would be refuted with “I never said that”.

I was constantly told I was overreacting, constantly told to not make a fuss.

When I found he had been sending photographs of himself in only his underwear to men, I was told to “stop overreacting, I’m only doing it for my career.”

He would disappear for 14 hours when due home – no phone contact, no messages, nothing. Then he would reappear and tell me I “wasn’t allowed to be upset.”

He denied every circumstance that could potentially upset or hurt me. I was frankly not permitted to be upset over things and if I was upset, I was unjustified and crazy. If I was to continue getting upset at things like that, he would leave.

This is what gaslighting feels like.

I never wanted him to leave, so I shrunk. I grew smaller and quieter and then I stopped making a fuss as I told myself to stop reacting. He was right and I was crazy. I was dramatic. I was just some idiot who couldn’t understand why the boy he loved scared him so much.

Why couldn’t I accept what he was doing to me? Why do I still find it so hard to say abuse? Is it because friends who know the truth about us, know that he hit me continue to be his adoring friends? Or is it because I meet strangers who tell me “he’s so kind and charming and what a lovely person” he is?

Is it because I know that he would stop to give money to homeless people, that he squeals at puppies and that he fiercely loves his family? Or is it because he crushed my self-confidence, made me question my emotions and ignored or refused to admit to any time he grabbed me, pushed me, belittled me, punched me or screamed in my face?

Or is it because to acknowledge what was happening to me was to acknowledge my own abusive behaviour? To sit and think: ‘Is what I’m going through abuse?’ forces you to reflect on your own behaviour.

 

Was I An Abusive Partner Too?

In past relationships, I had certainly been cruel.

I had called partners names, I had made mean comments on things which I knew they were insecure about and I had belittled them in front of friends for a cheap laugh.

Was I an abusive partner too?

Was this merely a case of what goes around comes around? In this new relationship, I certainly wasn’t a saint. I was manipulative, needy and possessive. I asked him to do things which were unfair and controlling. I overreacted to moments that did not need a reaction. I was impatient and insecure.

For a long time, this led me to think that maybe he only reacted like that because of how I behaved and how abusive I was.

The thing is, we have such a warped idea of what abuse looks like. To most of us, it’s an abusive man and a fragile, smaller, abused woman. I can give you dozens of examples from TV and film of that cruel, physically abusive man and that timid, terrified woman. But most of us don’t know what an abusive gay couple looks like.

I’m a 6’2″ man (188 cm) and people asked why I didn’t hit him back. Well, I didn’t want to. Why would I hit the man I loved? He wasn’t the dribbling, hulking monster that you see in movies or on TV. He was a kind, affectionate, sweet guy – or at least, he could be.

 

It Felt Like…A Kiss

There’s a really hideous line at the end of a very famous Batman comic where one of the characters (Harley Quinn) is lying in bed in hospital after her abusive boyfriend (The Joker) has just pushed her out of a window. The doctor asks her how she feels knowing that she let herself be controlled by such a man and she replies: “It felt like… a kiss.”

What I went through doesn’t feel like abuse. I don’t think that anyone who lives through abuse will ever feel like they can admit wholeheartedly that’s what they went through. Someone I love very much was abused over 40 years ago and she still feels like it was her fault – that somehow, she asked for it.

That’s how I feel.

At the end of the plays, movies and TV shows I saw as a child, it was black and white. The abuser was cruel and defeated. They slunk away, never to be seen again. The survivor remained, innocent, gentle, triumphant, strong, powerful.

Neither of us were those figures.

Occasionally, I see a photo of him online, liked by a friend or retweeted by a colleague. He smiles out at me, surrounded by friends. I don’t know if he recognizes what he did.

Meanwhile, I see myself. I am single. I find it hard to make new friends. I am afraid of any form of relationship.

While I have grown to acknowledge that my own faults do not excuse the treatment I received and while I have grown stronger and prouder and louder over the past two years of being single and free, I continue to doubt myself. This is even to the point where I don’t think getting punched by my boyfriend counts as abuse.

But it does.

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13 Comments

  1. Lyon
    October 21, 06:16 Reply

    I wouldn’t let any man do that to me, no matter how much I love him. Like he said, one’s weaknesses are no excuse for one to be abused in any way. Sadly, though, most guys are putting up with abusive boyfriends. Why press on when you’re obviously incompatible?

  2. Colossus
    October 21, 07:01 Reply

    A lot of guys are in this kind of relationship because they feel they can’t get another guy. To them, relationships are so rare in this part of the world they’ll just about remain in an abusive one.

    It doesn’t have to even be about the physical abuse, the emotional abuse could be so severe that you keep doubting your every step, every word, and every action.

    I hope you break free from such relationships

    • Pink Panther
      October 21, 09:18 Reply

      This exactly!!! This feeling that because relationships are rare, you better stick with the one you have, however abusive it may be, is the unfortunate reason we have gay men sticking with their abuse.

      • Cee Jai
        October 21, 23:25 Reply

        I’ve been in a similar situation, reading this brought up some buried emotions, I thought I dealt with the scar but apparently I haven’t. Guys, if u notice at the first stage, don’t pretend to be the angel that will change him, coz they mostly never changed. I suggest you pull ur shoes, put it on ur head and run, coz the scars are more than the physical injuries.

  3. Goldheart
    October 21, 07:52 Reply

    This was literally me…. I still wonder if I’ll ever move on from holding on to him, even though he’s now dating some other person, the effect of what he did to me still haunts Me, I feel I’m not capable of a lot because of what he continually said to me to bring my self worth back. I’ve been in several rebounds thinking they’ll make me forget him, but it just doesn’t happen. No one really deserves this….. I miss him but really don’t want him that way. Some times it just feels likes a spell that’s casted on you and you can’t just help it. #sadreality

  4. Arian
    October 21, 09:38 Reply

    I dated someone who was so adept at emotional and psychological manipulation that I am still picking up the pieces of my psyche.

    I was with him for seven years.

    The sad part is, on the outside looking in, we were the perfect couple; Him: Older, Stable, Adoring, Protective. Me; Younger, Effervescent, Confident.

    All my friends loved him. Which made it hard to tell them about his philandering. And his subsequent dismissal of any evidence when confronted.

    It drove me to weed and alcohol. Like I’ll just get high in order to numb the pain.

    It got so bad that my friends thought I was overreacting.
    So, at the expense of my dignity and my sanity, I decided I was going to gather proof.

    It took me two years. I collated it. Including picking up his used condom. The stories I could tell [sigh] Including, “You drove me to it. You accused me falsely, so, I decided why not? But I’m sorry. You know how much I love you.”

    It took two years for anyone to believe me. But by then, it was too late. My soul was crushed. It still is.

    Was I a saint? Hell no. Did I cheat on him? Absolutely. Did he give me reason to? Hell yeah. Am I proud of it? No.

    See, the thing about abuse, whether physical, emotional or psychological is, the abuser always make it seem like there is no way out. “No one will love you better than they can”. And you believe them.

    Let’s get this straight, my ex never laid his hands on me but he is very skilled at emotional manipulation.

    And that is the hardest to proof – That you’re being manipulated, Since no one knows the circumstances of the relationship, you don’t know how to ask for help.

    It’s never black and white.

    • Patrick
      October 21, 18:20 Reply

      Perhaps you could email PP a complete story…

      I’m sorry about your abuse

  5. Bells
    October 21, 10:07 Reply

    Oh gaslighting it is ain’t it? Hmmmmmm

  6. Ebi
    October 21, 10:09 Reply

    This is sad.

    It’s easier said than done to tell someone in an abusive relationship to get out but honestly it’s not easy especially when this person is someone you love and this person has succeeded in making your life revolve around them. If it was easy I’d have left that idiot who abused me emotionally earlier than I did…. a girl I know would have left the ass hole she calls her husband a long time ago if it was easy but it’s not.

    Sometime ago I watched a video, an interview with a gay couple and the ass hole had been abusing his boyfriend to the extent he stabbed him and of course the boyfriend made excuses and then lied to the police officers and like that the case died. I also read the news where a guy shot and killed his boyfriend. Saw a video where a woman drives into a filling station with her girlfriend in the passenger sit, she proceeds to the gas pump and then pours the fuel into the car with her girlfriend still inside and lights the car killing her girlfriend.
    Abuse in gay relationships are very existent.

    I was with this doctor once a Hausa guy and at the begining I liked him well that was until one day we had been talking and he made this stupid comment on feminine guys and plus sized guys and I called him shallow…. Jesus I didn’t know someone who saved lives for a living could be so violent… he tried to hit me (and if he had I’d have slapped the living daylight out of his face) he cussed and screamed and then asked me to leave… I just packed my phone cleaned my bum bum and ran as fast as I could. Blocked him on facebook, a week later he called to apologize I accepted and then deleted his number. Last month he replied my whatsapp status( a picture of me) with a lol, I blocked him there too…. just yesterday he sent me a request on this account and then texted to ask how I was. I accepted and that’s where it ends. The guy changed my view on Hausa men (I know it’s wrong) but I don’t think I can date a Hausa man…. and this man looks so warm and happy on his profile you’ll never suspect and oh some of ya’ll are friends with him.

    I’m glad the writer talked about gaslighting. I was talking to a friend about it and he was arguing there was no such thing. Got to learn about it from the movie “The girl on the train” if you’ve seen the movie you’ll understand.

    Abuse in gay relationships is very much real.

    Nobody is worth your peace of mind and happiness.

    • J
      October 21, 13:10 Reply

      Yes the girl on the train is a very interesting movie, I am glad they killed the idiot at the end.

      The moment a person makes me feel uncomfortable, I flee from them!

      I have developed resistance, I’m taking no shit from no scum no more.

      If you notice you love someone very much, control yourself and don’t show it to them completely otherwise they will abusive it. It’s in the human nature, most people are ungrateful and manipulative.

  7. Black Coffee
    October 23, 04:04 Reply

    Sad but true.

    Had an experience with an abusive boyfriend. Crazy to think this one could be loving and sweet. Then again, the emotional torture was out of this world.

    Was it times when I had to apologise without end for an offence I committed, or was it the blames I get for making advances at someone I never know, down to me crushing on someone who’s nonexistent??? The list just goes on and on and on.

    It sure was a sweet poison as I was broken after we parted ways, but crazy to think I’m simply unable to go into another relationship months later.

    I pray I could get the courage to tell my story some day, perhaps I’ll be able to move on.

    • Pink Panther
      October 23, 04:10 Reply

      Do try. Maybe putting it out there in the open would help you heal and move on.

  8. Sworld
    October 24, 03:19 Reply

    Sigh!. can we call it obsession or what?. Anyways, I am glad you have out grown that bastard.
    Real Love will happen to you in due time!.

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