Gone are the days of spouse plus black eye equals abuse. Domestic violence can take many forms and with as many as one in three same-sex relationships affected, Tim Warrington takes a closer look at this most intimate form of abuse.
Almost 12 years ago to the day, I returned home from work with a bottle of Dom Perignon and a packet of Camel soft pack 20s. I didn’t smoke and I rarely drank champagne, but that didn’t matter, I had something to celebrate. As I walked through the living room I pushed over a large Waterford crystal vase full of lilies (his); kicked a soccer ball (his) through the kitchen window (mine, oops) and zapped several pictures of him in the microwave. God, it felt good… good but not great. It needed a little something. I finished my champagne in one gulp and hurled the glass (a gift from him) at the wall. Much better. I then followed suit with the rest of the champagne flutes, the wine glasses (red and white) and the Villeroy And Boch Vinoble Mouthblown Wine Decanter (his, his, his). Smashing. After that, I proceeded through the house with a rubbish bin, collecting every single item that reminded me of him. CDs, books, letters, a pair of underpants, soft toys, more clothes; things he had left behind; things he had given me. I dumped everything in the kitchen sink and set fire to it. Burn baby, burn. As the flames began to caress the kitchen cupboards and race up the curtains, I took the only logical action, I pulled down my pants and peed on the flaming remnants of my abusive relationship. Heaven. I continued to sit at the kitchen table guzzling champagne from the bottle and dragging on cigarettes, watching the photographs sizzling nicely as they circled slowly in the microwave. The glowing embers of my kitchen sink inferno warmed me nicely as Carly Simon serenaded me with strains of You’re So Vain from the stereo. As I contemplated the smouldering carnage in my kitchen sink, I vowed that no one would ever lay a finger on me again. I’m not sure if this is the natural conclusion to a domestic violence story, but it was mine. And after a year of being used as a human punching bag, it was just what I needed: closure. Now, rewind 12 months. I knew I’d probably pushed my luck by accepting the dessert menu. But the waiter
was flirty as hell and hot to boot. Besides, Julia and I were having a ball and I fancied a scotch for the road. As I savoured my single malt, I eyeballed Julia and declared, “I’m in love.” Michael (him) and I had been seeing each other for three months and he was amazing. Perfect. Almost perfect. He was a little possessive and had grumbled at not being invited to dinner. But Julia had news (she was pregnant) and she had the whole first-trimester-secrecy-thing goin’ on. Nothing sinister. Michael had finally agreed to stay home. That night I left the house in good spirits – maybe just a little confused at having to explain in minute detail what I would be doing and where I would be and precisely when I would be home.
“It has been argued that domestic violence is the third most severe health problem for gay men, following HIV/ AIDS and substance abuse.” Much of the dinner conversation was spent on Michael. I could not believe how lucky I was. He was handsome, fit, well-educated, successful and so, so sweet. He used to make me a packed lunch every day. There was always a sweet note nestled between my muesli bar and banana. Who does that? In the cab on the way home, I switched my phone on. Immediately following the Nokia jingle came the first sign that something was wrong. There were 67 missed calls from Michael. I had been incommunicado for less than two hours. That’s one phone call every 1.8 minutes. I concluded that there must have been a death in the family; it was the only logical conclusion I could draw from such a pressing
need to contact me. As the cab pulled into my driveway, I steeled myself for terrible news. My booze-hindered attempts to get the key in the lock were hampered further by my haste to discover the reason for the evening’s crazed dialling. Suddenly, the door burst open and Michael appeared. He was a broad guy and filled the doorway easily. Dripping with venom he snarled, “Are you drunk?” “No, I’m a little tiddly,” I replied somewhat euphemistically with whisky-tinged breath. I continued, “What’s wrong?” “You’re late,” came the reply. “Late for what?” Signalling my frustration by throwing up my hands. He ignored me and continued, “Where have you been?” (Now, he knew where I had been so the temptation of a dismissive and highly-sarcastic response hovered at my lips for some time, but a sixth sense warned me not to and I swallowed my glib retort in favour of silence.) I looked up and collected his eye with mine, seeing his pupils constrict I knew then I was in trouble. He was red-faced and trembling. I had never seen such physical symptoms of anger and I suddenly realised I was in dangerous territory. I felt like I was eyeballing a wild animal that could snuff me out in a second. I decided I would diffuse the situation by going to bed. I announced my intention and began to walk up the stairs. Habitually tardy, I’d been faced with anger at my lateness more than once before. A surly note and a snoring boyfriend was the norm. Occasionally there were harsh words and a door slam. Warranted. But not Michael. No. Michael, my boyfriend of three months, decided that my late arrival home was best met with a perfectly executed sucker punch. Nothing restores sobriety like a punch to the windpipe. The intoxicating effects of scotch and a bottle of Chateau de la Tour Burgundy vanished completely when the love of my life decided to introduce me to the hitherto foreign concept of domestic violence. And just like that I became a statistic. According to studies, both in Australia and overseas, about one third of lesbians and gay >> DNA 57
>> men will experience domestic violence. For transgender and intersex people the statistics are significantly higher. The likelihood of us being abused (physically, sexually, emotionally or verbally), isolated, stalked, harassed or controlled financially is about one in three. According to Private Lives: A Report On The Health And WellBeing Of GLBTI Australians, “A disturbingly high percentage (33 per cent) of respondents in this sample reported having been in a relationship in their lifetime where the partner was either verbally or physically abusive.” In their book, Men Who Beat The Men Who Love Them: Battered Gay Men And Domestic Violence, David Island and Patrick Lettelier write, “It has been argued that domestic violence is the third most severe health problem for gay men, following HIV/AIDS and substance abuse.” Domestic violence is a broad term. It can happen at home, in the car, in public, online; the perpetrator can be a spouse, a de facto partner, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, an ex or simply someone you live with. Definitions of LGBTIQ domestic abuse vary from place to place but to me domestic violence was a lover who controlled me with his words, actions and fists. Michael punched me so hard he knocked me out cold. When I regained consciousness, the drunken fuzzies had abandoned me. I had vomited and wet myself. Michael had disappeared. He did not come home that night. I don’t know where he went, but when I discovered I had crabs and Chlamydia shortly after, I surmised that he had not spent the night alone. I called the police. I decided if I heard a man’s voice I would hang up. A pleasant sounding woman answered. I can only assume that she had never before received a report of same-sex domestic violence or had not received appropriate training because her advice in brief paraphrase was to call back if it happened again. [Over the last few years, police have become significantly better at responding to domestic violence and receive specialist training in understanding the needs of LGBTI victims of relationship abuse.] It did happen again. Frequently. His preferred method of attack was choking – he allowed occasional gulps of air between throttling so I can only assume that his intention was not to kill me. He never hit me in the face – the sign of a seasoned abuser I found out later – visible marks on the face lead to too many difficult questions. The location and duration of the attacks were as varied as the things that set him off. One “wrong” look was all it took for him to drag me off the tram by my hair in broad daylight and kick me in the ribs in front of a horrified
crowd of onlookers. An elderly lady eventually pulled him off me. Another time it was carbs after 5pm that resulted in an evening of screaming and shouting. “Everyone knows you don’t eat carbohydrates after 5pm or you gain weight you fucking retard.” A completely non-related incident could set him off. I never found out why he knocked me down in the living room that Sunday afternoon, or why he opened the door to the spare room and chucked a copy of the Yellow Pages at my head late one night. It was easier and far less painful not to ask why.
To all the people out there who think men don’t rape men and women don’t rape women, think again. I learned very quickly not to giggle at his mispronunciation of a word. Faux pas, number four down on the Sunday paper crossword resulted in a particularly comical interpretation from Michael – “folks poo” I think it was. The ensuing attack was brutal and I only escaped by locking myself in the bathroom. He hammered at the door for an eternity. Then there was silence, which was actually more terrifying because I didn’t know where he was. I expected him to come crashing through the window at any moment. And then I heard it. The trickle of water in the upstairs bathroom and I knew I had about 15 seconds to get out of the house. I made it in five. Dressed only in a pair of boxer shorts and clutching my phone and wallet, I ran out of the house, through the garden and up the street. Adrenalin and fear fueled, I maintained the breakneck speed for a full 15 minutes, barely registering the burning in my lungs or the scorching asphalt underfoot. It took me seven hours to build up the courage to go home. I sat on a swing in a playground half-naked for seven hours waiting for the universe to present an option that didn’t involve me returning to my house and that man. The penny should have dropped then, that only I could make the decision to leave or change the situation, but it didn’t. It took another two months of abuse and a car chase for me to wake up. He chased me down the street in his car and knocked me off my motorbike. That was the moment I decided I had to escape, or rather I had to get him away from me, because it was my house, my stuff, my life he had taken over. I returned home from work one day and told
him that they were thinking of transferring me to Sydney; how did he feel about that? He was elated. He immediately arranged a transfer, too. I had to be utterly believable for the plan to succeed, so I put the house on the market, started packing everything into boxes and bought two, one-way tickets to Sydney. He didn’t suspect a thing. One week before we were due to leave, I tearfully explained that the project I was working on had hit a snag and my departure would be delayed. Surprisingly, he was fine with it; he was totally taken in. I explained that I would follow him in a couple of weeks. My Oscar-winning performance at the airport was utterly convincing – downcast and teary; just enough disconsolate waving as the aerobridge pulled away. I changed my phone number, moved house, and resigned from my job. I never heard from him again. Why did I stay? He threatened to hurt my family and friends if I left him. He threatened to kill my dog. He threatened to burn down my house and ruin my career. He swore that if I ever left him, he would destroy my life and I believed him. The shame and fear that gripped me had dissolved my confidence and polluted my reasoning, keeping me prisoner not just in my home but also in my head. I had no money of my own as he’d taken control of my finances and I was scared. There was a long list of reasons why I stayed, but right at the top was the tremendous feeling of isolation. I felt that I was alone and that no one would understand what I was going through. The sad reality is that I wasn’t alone. According to Fair’s Fair: a random survey of LGBT people’s experiences of domestic violence at Mardi Gras Fair Day in 2006, “a high number of respondents (61.4 per cent) had experienced one or more types of abuse in their current or previous relationship … the two most common types of abusive behaviours were controlling-jealous behaviours (47.7 per cent) and humiliation (45.1 per cent).” According to recent research undertaken by the LGBTIQ Domestic Violence Interagency (to be published in early 2013) perpetrators often use relatively subtle behaviours to manipulate and intimidate their victims. Common forms of control include: threatening to out someone’s sexuality, intersex or gender; hiding medication; monitoring texts, emails and social media; preventing them from seeing friends or speaking on behalf of a partner. These subtle behaviours explain why some people have difficulty identifying that they are in an abusive relationship. Many victims of domestic violence report that physical violence is the least damaging of all the types of abuse experienced because the bruises heal. Psychological abuse can be harder to pick and
FEATURE the mental scars more difficult to overcome. In Fair’s Fair, 34.4 per cent of respondents reported physical abuse. Robert was one of them.
what sort of person believes they deserve to be beaten up and will push someone until they lash out. In his forties, Robert is attractive, well
“Michael punched me so hard he knocked me out cold. When I regained consciousness I had vomited and wet myself.” Robert doesn’t require any coaxing to tell me his story. No sooner has the little red light appeared on the voice recorder, he begins. “It was my birthday. I hadn’t planned anything because Gary had been pretty effective in isolating me from my friends. He was working and I went out to the supermarket to get some groceries. I bumped into a friend. We decided to go for a few drinks at the local pub. Before I knew it, there was quite a crowd, an impromptu gathering for my birthday. We were having a blast. “I realised that Gary would be home soon and he was expecting me to be there so I got on the phone and told him what had happened and invited him down. ‘No. Get your arse home now,’ was the response. I asked a friend to try to coax him out for a drink. He refused, but reluctantly agreed to me staying out for another hour. “I lost track of time because I was having such a lovely evening and before I knew it the hour had passed. As soon as I realised, I became a little worried. He hadn’t ever been violent before, but he had a filthy temper and didn’t want a scene when I got home, not on my birthday. I called him again and pleaded for him to come join us. Again he refused and screamed that I better be home in 30 minutes before slamming down the phone. I think I already knew at this point how the evening would end, but I thought I might as well enjoy the half-hour I had left. Almost immediately, Gary burst through the front door of the pub, picked up my drink, threw it against the wall and dragged me out by the scruff of my neck. When we got home he beat me black and blue. I couldn’t go to work for almost two weeks. That was the first time. “I think I probably deserved it,” Robert declares nonchalantly as he grabs a straw and stabs at a lemon slice in his highball. “I’ll have another.” He necks the drink and then affirms the previous statement. “Yes. I did deserve it. You see I’m a button pusher. If I know someone has a volatile nature, I like to push them. I enjoy getting a rise out of them. It’s sick, I know.” As I stare at Robert, I wonder
dressed, articulate, educated, employed and streetwise – he doesn’t look like a victim. There is a mischief dancing behind his dark eyes, but to me it seems more playful than malevolent. “Stupid,” he announces suddenly. “It was sheer stupidity.” I nod knowingly and interject, “I was stupid, too. I should never have stayed.” “Not me,” he snaps. “I’m not stupid. I’m talking about my boyfriend, Gary. He was stupid, dumb, ignorant. That’s how it all started. We only argued when we drank. We drank a lot so we argued a lot. I was self-medicating with chardonnay; it was a vicious cycle. “He couldn’t win an argument with common sense, intelligence or sound logic. He would become frustrated that he was losing the squabble and resort to violence.” Robert takes a long drag on his cigarette and as the smoke lingers at his lips he begins to laugh. “It was like a showdown between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, except he was more like Sylvester Stallone. I was Liz: quick-witted, icy, tempestuous… he was like a drunken Sylvester Stallone with itchy fists. I never hit him. Not once. Occasionally I would throw things at him, trying to fend him off – usually wine glasses – God knows how much money I spent replacing all the crockery I hurled at him.” [The Impacts And Costs Of Domestic Violence On The Australian Business/Corporate Sector report estimates that “the economic cost of domestic violence on Australian businesses exceeds $1.5 billion a year.”] Robert shivers at the memories before continuing, “I can’t remember the first time he hit me. It happened so often it’s hard to pinpoint the beginning. It was a long time ago. I was 21 and Gary was 18. I supported him financially. He was shiftless and work-shy; it was like living with the walking dead and he was perennially moody. He would spend days in front of the television watching re-runs of oh, I can’t even remember what… some rubbishy sitcom. We were about the same height but he was much more solid; much stronger. When we were having a barney, he didn’t stand a chance. I could run rings around him. I would delight in humiliating him – it
was payback for the violence. And I loved having the whip hand – those brief seconds of victory before his fist connected with my face. It would drive him crazy and I could see the storm clouds gathering. I knew he was going to get violent but I kept pushing. He would start pointing holes in the air with his finger – one finger point for each angry syllable – it was a sure sign that the fists would start flying. I knew that it was coming so I would bait him to get it over and done with. I would deliberately say something really unpleasant.” It’s hard for me to listen to Robert. No one deserves to be hit but after hearing him, the thought enters my head that maybe he did. And I’m ashamed for even thinking it. The interview is not going well. Perhaps it’s my head in my hands that gives it away, or the “I can’t believe what I’m hearing look on my face.” So I ask him. “Why? I don’t understand why you would push someone to the point that they would attack you?” He takes a long time to answer. He smokes an entire cigarette before he utters a word. It begins to rain and we continue to sit, staring at each other. I don’t repeat the question and finally as his face becomes a wistful mask he replies, “Maybe I didn’t like myself. Maybe after being bullied by my father, bullied at school and bullied at work; perhaps after twenty-odd years of being told I was worse than useless I ended up believing that I was worthless and that maybe deep down I deserved it in some way. “My dad was a very violent, scary man and I had quite a few beatings from him. Do you know how he toilet trained me?” It’s rhetorical and he continues, “He sat me on a toilet and hit me and hit me and hit me until I peed myself. I was so terrified the next time he put me on the toilet I peed straightaway. I was two years old. “Sometimes he beat me up and I had no idea what I’d done wrong. I remember one time I was about 10 or 11. ‘Dad, can I watch Gilligan’s Island?’ He ignored me so I repeated, ‘Dad, can I watch Gilligan’s Island?’ I probably said it about three or four times, throwing in a couple of ‘pleases’. Eventually he got up out of the armchair very casually, picked me up by my throat and threw me across the room. He then proceeded to beat me against the wall. Do you have any idea what it’s like to live with that kind of fear? To not understand why you’re the victim of violence but to live in constant fear of the next attack. “So, when I grew up and found myself in a domestic violence situation, I realised I couldn’t stop the attacks but I could control the timing. You want to know why I provoked him? Well here’s your answer. He’s going to >>
>> hit me anyway so let’s get it over and done with. And you want to know why I stayed? Because I was tired of being alone. I’d been picked on all my life and I just desperately wanted a boyfriend. At the time I thought being in an abusive relationship was better than being alone. I didn’t have low self-esteem, I had no self-esteem and that’s why I stayed.” Adam looks like he needs a good feed... and a hug. This is take-two at the interview. The first time I spoke to him in Melbourne, his tale was generic and oddly impersonal, particularly considering his domestic violence experience was so recent (last year). When I returned to Sydney and began typing up his story, things weren’t adding up so I noted down some additional questions and points I needed clarifying. When I tried to contact him, he appeared to have dropped off the face of the earth. Phone calls rang out; emails went unanswered. Eventually, one Sunday afternoon, my phone rang and when I answered I heard a faint voice, “I lied to you.” “Excuse me?” I replied. “It’s Adam and I lied to you. I was scared.” This time Adam is in Sydney. He’s still frail; clearly damaged, but there’s an aura of quiet determination. Maybe it’s the distance between him and the ex partner who terrorised him. Adam laughs nervously as he begins to talk. Despite being in his thirties, he retains a childlike vulnerability – he’s masculine and devastatingly attractive. He makes no eye contact at all, nervously dragging on his cigarette between gulps of coffee. After several false starts and effusive apologies, he tells me his story. “This is a bit embarrassing, but when it started I just thought that he liked rough sex. It wasn’t something I was particularly into, but variety is the spice of life. I enjoyed really passionate lovemaking, but my tastes are definitely more towards the vanilla end of the spectrum. I’d always been a top and that wasn’t something I wanted to change. But almost from the very beginning he seemed completely obsessed with the idea of dominating me sexually and that included wanting to fuck me. “Whenever he was drunk, which was often, he would start talking about it. He’d say, ‘I reckon it would be really hot if I topped you tonight.’ I was uncomfortable because I had said no but he kept pushing the idea. I resorted to laughing or going silent whenever he brought the subject up because I didn’t know what else to say. This went on for about a couple of months. And then one day he raped me.” It’s not the content of Adam’s revelation that surprises me, but the delivery. He’s so matter-of-fact about it, like someone reading
FEATURE the next item on their shopping list. “Eggs, flour, toilet roll, sexual assault, bread…” He looks up to gauge my reaction and I scribble imaginary notes furiously, terrified he’ll lose his confidence and fall silent. He doesn’t. “It’s such a hard concept to come to terms with, that you were raped by your partner. And who could I tell. I felt like I was living some cheesy courtroom drama, ‘the defendant said no when he really meant yes’.” [In the National Survey On Community Attitudes To Violence Against Women carried out by The Social Research Centre and VicHealth in 2009, 13 per cent of people still agree that women, “often say no when they mean yes” and roughly one in six (16 per cent) agrees that a woman “is partly responsible if she is raped when drunk or drug affected”. It’s an assumption, but a safe one to make considering other similarities between mainstream and LGBTI domestic violence that similar opinions apply to victims of same-sex rape.]
“Maybe I didn’t like myself. After being bullied by my father, bullied at school and bullied at work… I ended up believing I was worthless, that I deserved it.” Even though my eyes are fixed on my note pad I can tell Adam is crying. His voice trembles with emotion. “Men don’t get raped?” I’m not sure if it’s a statement or a question. The silence suggests the latter and that I’m supposed to answer him. “Yes Adam, they do.” And in an attempt to firmly dispatch the notion that men are immune to forced sex in domestic violence situations, I offer him some statistics. According to Private Lives, of the male respondents who experienced domestic violence, almost 20 per cent classified their type of abuse as forced sex. It’s 25.1 per cent for women. According to Fair’s Fair the number of LGBTI people who have experienced sexual abuse in their current or previous relationship is 16.8 per cent. So, to Adam and to all the people out there who think men don’t rape men and women don’t rape women. Think again. Adam doesn’t offer details of the rape and I don’t ask. He didn’t report the attack to the police or tell anyone what had happened. Why?
“He told me that if I said anything he would tell my parents I’m gay and out me at work, too.” Adam is not alone. According to Fair’s Fair, 16.8 per cent of respondents reported a fear of outing. For LGBTI people living in small tightly-knit LGBTI communities, or rural and regional areas, the isolation or fear of outing can have huge consequences. “The rape wasn’t the worst part, although that’s what I feel most ashamed about. The worst part was being made to feel worthless and isolated. I didn’t even fight to stay in contact with my friends because he brainwashed me into thinking I wasn’t worth knowing. I didn’t report it to the police because I thought it would be impossible to prove. I honestly thought they’d tell me to stop whining and get on with it. It’s hard to ignore a black eye or burst lip but my experience wasn’t about physical violence, it was about control and domination and humiliation, and although I never displayed physical signs of the abuse I’m still carrying the scars inside.” In June 2012, The Family Law Act 1975 amended the definition of domestic violence to include emotional manipulation, withholding money and harming the family pet, as well as stalking, repeated derogatory taunts, intentionally damaging or destroying property and preventing someone from having contact with family and friends. I ask Adam if this new legislation would have made a difference. He answers in words of only one syllable, “Oh my God, yes.” And he smiles for the first time. Domestic violence is not black and white. Hopefully, the amendments to The Family Law Act will assist victims of the once grey areas, like financial control, isolation and threatening, but not physical behaviour. Fortunately, the policy response to LGBTI intimate partner violence has improved significantly and is likely to keep improving as the issue becomes more visible. More than half (56.4 per cent) of Private Lives respondents agreed that they had been treated with courtesy and respect by the police. A similar percentage (54.8 per cent) agreed that appropriate action had been taken by the police. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, seek help immediately. Don’t go through it alone. H
Are you suffering domestic abuse? Domestic violence can take many forms and a lot of people don’t realise they are in an abusive relationship. To assess your relationship, answer the following questions. Does your partner… – Humiliate you, call you names or make fun of you in a way that is designed to hurt you? – Threaten to ‘out’ you to your family or work? – Prevent you from attending gay/lesbian or other events or venues? – Have sudden outbursts of anger? – Act over-protective and become jealous for no reason? – Make it difficult to – or prevent you from – seeing friends or family? – Control your money against your will? – Threaten you with violence or hit, kick or throw things at you? – Physically or emotionally hurt your children? –Threaten to or actually hurt your pets? – Force you to engage in sexual acts that you don’t want to do? – Monitor your social media or check your phone?
ACON’s Anti-Violence Project can provide support, advice and referral options. Go to acon.org.au/anti-violence.
Or do you… – Change your behaviour or your appearance so your partner doesn’t get angry? – Avoid talking about money or other topics? – Feel scared, anxious or like you are ‘walking on eggshells’? – Cut yourself off from your friends or family?
The Safe Relationships Project run by NSW’s Inner City Legal Service is the world’s first LGBTIQ domestic violence court support and legal advice service. Most states have community legal centres that can offer sensitive and specialist advice. Go to iclc.org.au/srp/
If you tick any of the boxes in the checklist you may be experiencing domestic violence and should seek help.
If you think you might be experiencing domestic violence, there’s lots of help available. If you are in immediate danger, always contact the police. For more information about LGBTIQ domestic violence, tips on helping a friend, making a safety plan or sources of support go to anothercloset.com.au.