Violence in Gay and Lesbian Couples
: Richard Niolon, Ph.D. www.psychpage.com
original posting is at
battering and other forms of violence against men are often ignored in
reviews of domestic violence because it is assumed that the overwhelming
majority of victims of violence are women (Steinmetz & Lucca, 1988).
Further, domestic violence against men is often dismissed by statements
to the effect that husbands are more likely to initiate violence and be
more violent than wives and as such do not warrant significant attention
as victims (Walker, 1984). The idea behind these statements is that to
focus on men as equal victims of violence is both misleading and
damaging to women. Steinmetz and Lucca (1988) report that studies
addressing domestic violence towards men compared to women report a
ratio of 1 battered husband to every 12 or 13 battered wives. To present
men as equal victims of violence is therefore misleading.
Such statements are harmful in that they ignore the fact that
approximately 10% of the population is gay or lesbian. Gay men are not
intimately involved with wives or female lovers. Lesbian women are not
intimately involved with husbands or male lovers. Denying that men can
be victims of violence and that women can be perpetrators of violence
denies that violence could even exist in gay and lesbian relationships.
This perpetuates the acceptance of domestic violence in gay and lesbian
paper is designed to review some of the many issues involved in domestic
violence in gay couples. In light of this, there are several terms that
require a definition at this point.
The term homosexual can be considered to be conceptually equal to
"black" in that to refer to a group of people only as black is
to understand them only in terms of their skin color. To refer to a
group of people only as homosexual is to understand them only in terms
of their sexual attraction to members of the same sex. The terms
"gay" or "lesbian" can be considered to be
conceptually equal to African American, in that to refer to a group as
African American is to understand them in terms of lifestyle, heritage,
experiences in America, and minority status. To refer to a group as gay
or lesbian is to understand them in terms of lifestyle, heritage,
experiences in America, and minority status as well.
The term homophobia literally means an irrational fear of erotic
attraction to members of the same sex. The term has, however, become a
political term as well in that it is now used to refer to people,
policies, and laws which are insensitive to gay and lesbian issues. When
a person who is homosexual experiences emotional turmoil over being
homosexual, or devalues or avoids other homosexuals, the process is
referred to as internalized homophobia. Some argue that the term
"homophobia" itself is homophobic in that the term focuses on
the difference of homosexuality from the norm as an object of fear,
rather than on the difficulty of the heterosexual system to tolerate
homosexuality. As such, the terms "heterosexism" and shame
resulting from heterosexism should be used (Neisen, 1990).
In the same sense, the term lover has also become a political term.
While lover may appear to reference only the sexual quality of a
relationship, it now refers to the intimate and emotional partner of a
gay or lesbian adult.
Finally, it should be realized that ideas drawn from understanding gay
adults and couples may not be applicable to lesbian adults and couples.
In as much as being lesbian involves being attracted to members of the
same sex, seeking intimate relationships that society condemns, and
being a minority, gays and lesbians are similar. However, in as much as
being lesbian involves being a woman in relationship composed of two
women, being a woman in a male dominated society, and holding a less
valued gender role, being lesbian is very different from being gay.
Therefore, this paper is limited to presenting information about gay
couples. While many issues presented are relevant to understanding
lesbian couples, many are not and generalization to lesbians should be
Gay Relationship Development
covering domestic violence in problematic gay couples, it might be
helpful to first present a framework of healthy gay couples'
development. McWhirter and Madison (1984, 1987a, 1987b) have provided
couples therapy for many gay couples and have interviewed over 150 male
couples over the past 5 years. They conceptualize gay relationships as
consisting of six stages.
McWhirter and Madison begin their discussion of gay relationships by
discussing the climate in which gay relationships develop. They explain
"Heterosexual couples do not grapple with issues about roles,
finances, ownerships, and social obligations in the same way as gay men
do. The heterosexual couple that was concerned about acceptance by their
mutual families was exceptional, whereas this was the rule for
homosexual couples.... Heterosexual couples lived with some expectation
that their relationships were to last "until death do us
part," whereas gay couples wondered if their relationships could
survive. Heterosexual couples have a wide variety of models for their
partnerships -- Adam and Eve, Romeo and Juliet, Ozzie and Harriet,
Kramer and Kramer. Gay men have only the same heterosexual models,
including their own families, which they may try to emulate but find
unsuitable.... Non-gay people rarely question the rightness or wrongness
of their sexual orientation, but at some point gay persons do." (p.
It should be noted that Coming Out is not a single step, like high
school graduation, or even a "clean" stage by stage
progression. Often progression to one stage is temporary and regression
to an earlier stage follows. Often one may be "Out" to friends
but not to family. Often one may be satisfied with oneself but unable to
find and maintain intimate relationships, thus preventing further
What follows is a short summary of McWhirter and Madison's (1984) six
stages of gay relationships. It should be noted that couples may form
while the individuals are at any of the given stages. The individual
members of the couple may also be at different stages of the coming out
Blending - Stage 1 - Year 1
This first stage in a couple's development entails the
"unification" of the couple into a single unit. Each is very
happy to have the other and to no longer feel isolated and alone. The
couple spends most all their time together, experiences high limerence
(romantic love), show high sexual activity, and attempt to equalize the
relationship. This equalization process serves to help the couple
negotiate responsibilities, rules, mutual goals, individual strengths
and weaknesses.... It can be a very difficult time for couples, in that
the two members of the couple are socialized in very similar ways. Males
are supposed to be decision makers, bread winners, and dominant. Two men
may have a hard time giving up control, negotiating responsibilities,
learning to rely on and support each other, and being able to show each
other their strengths as well as weaknesses.
Nesting - Stage 2 - Years 2 and 3
This second stage is characterized by homemaking, finding compatibility,
declining limerence, and ambivalence. Homemaking serves to represent
their commitment to each other. Finding compatibility requires accepting
and learning to live with each other's differences, personality styles,
needs, and goals. Issues of control, power, autonomy etc. can play an
especially important role at this point. The loss of limerence (or the
"end of the honeymoon") can result in a more realistic view of
the relationship and can cause a weakening of the relationship or of the
members' commitment to the relationship. This may result in some
ambivalence, depression, or jealousy. Internalized homophobia, models
about how relationships develop, isolation from role models, ideas about
how couples act, what couples should do and not do... all come into play
Maintaining - Stage 3 - Years 4 and 5
This stage is characterized by the re-emergence of the individual,
establishing traditions and customs, dealing with conflict, and taking
risks. The members of the couple may re-assert their individual needs
and deal with the conflicts that will result. The couple does not have
the traditions provided by dating, engagement, marriage, and religion,
and has to develop their own. They may settle into traditions around
holidays, may wear rings, may deal with the issue of monogamy ... and
increase the stability of the couple. Each member may express interest
in new activities or hobbies that do not include the other, make friends
outside the couple without the other, and make career changes or
development. Each member may take risks by expressing something that
they dislike about the other. This involves the risk of hurting the
other, losing the relationship, and of admitting that one is not
everything to one's spouse. The couple learns also to deal with
disagreement, conflict, problems, and "standing differences of
opinion." The couple may get through these hard times with the
support of family, which McWhirter and Madison (1982) note, may only
come after the couple has been together for three or so years.
Building - Stage 4 - Years 6 through 10
This stage is characterized by the settling of the last stage and the
feeling of "dependability." The couple establishes the
independence of the individual partners, but also reaches a new balance
of dependence/ independence. They are now able to collaborate towards
newer goals and desires, such as career building or pooled financial
ventures. One partner who did the cooking for several years may turn the
job over to the other partner and go back to school. This stage may also
be marked by a comfortable complementarity, a decreased need to process
every issue and discuss every decision, and the ability to "know
what the other is thinking" in a conversation. This may also be
detrimental if the communication process breaks down or if members make
unwarranted assumptions about the relationship.
Releasing - Stage 5 - Years 10 through 20
In this stage the couple trust each other completely, after realizing
who they are and who the other person is. There is no desire to
"change" the other one. Close friendship and companionship are
the main characteristics of this stage, as well as higher relationship
quality (Kurdek, 1989). Money and resources are no longer shared so much
as they are simply owned by both. Each member gives themselves freely to
the other. The couple may however, begin to find life with each other as
boring. They may begin to take each other for granted, may sleep apart,
may find little pleasure in their accomplishments, and the individual
members may experience the "mid-life crisis." However, after
resolving this stage, the couple may move into the next stage.
Renewing - Stage 6
The could be called "the retirement" stage of the
relationship. The couple has achieved adequate financial security and
now has time for each other. As they move toward "old age"
together issues of health may become important. Each individual may be
concerned with his own health as well as the health of the other. Old
friends may die at this stage as well. Issues of productivity,
accomplishment, and meaning in life may become important. It should be
noted that McWhirter and Madison compiled these stages before 1984, when
AIDS was beginning to be identified in hospitals. Issues of health,
dying, financial security, and loneliness become even more important
during this stage in the 1990's. Lower self-esteem and depression may
exacerbate already present feelings of estrangement from family (Lang,
1991). Issues and conflicts in this stage of the relationship conform to
Erikson's "Integrity versus Despair" stage of psychosocial
Introduction to Gay Male Domestic Violence
There is little
information on gay and lesbian domestic violence for several reasons.
First, only since 1987 have statistics regarding gay and lesbian
domestic violence been collected. The San Francisco Police Department
reported no fewer than 100 calls per month for gay and lesbian domestic
violence in 1987. The New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence
Project reported that 12-15% of their clients sought services there for
domestic violence. Others report figured as high as 39% (Schilt et al.,
1990). Second, as most types of abuse are under reported, these figures
are probably the result of either under-reporting as well (Island &
Letellier, 1991). Further, there is a great reluctance in the
gay/lesbian community to acknowledge battering. It makes gays look
"bad" in an already homophobic society and takes efforts away
from fighting homophobic elements of society. It goes against most
feminist beliefs as well -- that a lesbian woman, a woman most likely
holding feminist ideals that women should be treated with respect and
that domestic violence is largely a gender issue, that such a woman
should hit another woman is unbelievable. Third, this kind of violence
may be misreported as well. What is really gay domestic violence is
often recorded in police logs as "mutual combat." If society
refuses to acknowledge the relationship, it is impossible to acknowledge
the domestic violence.
The only known statistic, according to Island and Letellier (1991),
regarding gay male coupling, comes from the 1989 San Francisco Examiner,
which after a national study of gay men reported that 60% of gay men
coupled. Island and Letellier cite Yollin (1989) reporting that 64% of
heterosexuals couple, so the coupling rate between homosexuals is very
close to that of heterosexuals. Island and Letellier argue that the rate
for domestic violence in gay couples should be at least the same as in
straight couples, as there is no evidence that gay men are any less
violent than straight men. However, it is also possible to argue further
that the incidence of gay domestic violence is probably greater that
heterosexual domestic violence because;
1) there are two men in a gay couple, and either could be a batterer
(Island & Letellier, 1991);
2) there is still some social norm not to hit a woman and there is no
woman in a gay relationship (Island & Letellier, 1991);
3) there are the social norms that combat between men is always mutual
combat and men should fight to resolve differences; and
4) there are additional stressors of gay and lesbian relationships not
present in heterosexual relationships
of Domestic Violence in Straight Relationships
First, a review of the factors associated with domestic violence in
straight relationships would be helpful. For a discussion of these
factors, see Rosenbaum and Maiuro (1990).
Abuse or Witnessing Abuse
in either Spouse and Spouse-Specific Assertion Deficits or Poor
Large Power or
Other Drug Abuse
Sense of Masculinity/Hypermasculinity
Lack of Resources
Domestic Violence in Gay Couples
History of Abuse or Witnessing Abuse
Martin and Hetrick (1988) report that the third most frequent problem
for gay and lesbian adolescents is violence. Over 40% of their sample
had suffered violence because of their sexual orientation, and 49% of
the violence occurred within the family, from parents or siblings.
Others have obtained similar findings (Harry, 1989). Hunter (1990)
reported that 41% of females and 34% of males who experienced violent
assaults reported having attempted suicide. Often, expulsion or running
away from home results when the adolescent's sexual orientation is
discovered and prostitution often occurs as a secondary consequence
(Deisher et al., 1982; James, 1982).
Martin and Hetrick (1988) reported 22% of their sample reported sexual
abuse. They note that, contrary to what one might expect from the
literature, many gay male adolescents are abused and or raped in the
home, usually by an uncle or older brother, but sometimes by the father.
Most blame themselves or are blamed by others because of their
preference for male sexual partners. Additional studies (Baier et al.,
1991; Watterman et al., 1989; Brand & Kidd, 1986) have found that
25-35% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual college students indicated that
they had engaged in sexual intercourse against their will because they
felt coerced to do so.
Low Self-Esteem in either Spouse and Spouse-Specific Assertion Deficits
or Poor Communication Skills
Low self-esteem, poorer relationship skills, and many other
psychological difficulties could result from problems in adolescent
development. Colgan (1987) uses Erikson's theory of psychosocial
development to discuss problems in the development of identity and
intimacy in gay males. A positive identity involves having a positive
sense of self-worth and seeking relationships that value that sense of
worth. An identity disorder involves a negative sense of self (low
self-esteem) and seeking out relationships that reinforce one's sense of
worthlessness. Intimacy is a sense of belonging, of trusting and caring
for others, and listening and responding to others. An intimacy
dysfunction involves an identity disordered male that must rely on
outside agents to provide a sense of worth. Colgan presents two extremes
that one may find in gay men as a result of failure to develop a
positive sense of identity and intimacy.
Over-separation is the act of "forming and maintaining one's
identity at the expense of emotionally satisfying human
connections" (p. 102). The goal of over-separation is to place such
a value on independence that emotions are displaced, projected, denied,
and repressed. Thus, emotional needs are denied and hard to communicate.
This leaves the man feeling very vulnerable and under-equipped. Colgan
explains that the man learns to becomes numb to his own feelings and
needs and may even learn to be very sensitive to other's feelings and
needs to act to prevent exposure of his own vulnerability.
Over-attachment is "the pattern of forming human connections at the
sacrifice of one's own separate identity" (p. 102). The goal of
over-attachment is to "preserve affective harmony" (p. 103)
and prevent negative emotions from being recognized. The man may form
anxious and insecure attachments, deny negative feelings, and neglect
his own feelings and needs. Again, emotional needs are denied and hard
to communicate. This leaves the man feeling very vulnerable and
How might gay men be more susceptible to these problems? Many theorists
(Chickering, 1969; Johnson, 1985) argue that males develop a positive
identity when there is a congruence between their own sense of self and
the responses of others. Because society is homophobic or at least
heterosexist, society's ideas about homosexuals are not positive.
Martin and Hetrick (1988) state that;
"Homosexual adolescents may accept that homosexuals are predatory
(Kardiner, 1954; Gilder, 1979), unsuitable for the "hard
professions" (Voth, 1977; Decter, 1980), unable to form mature
non-erotic relationships (Pattison & Pattison, 1980), inimical to
the survival of the race (Socarides, 1975), criminal seducers (Rupp,
1980), haters of the opposite sex (Stearn, 1962; Kardiner, 1954; Decter,
1980), immature and victims of pathological development (Bieber et al.,
1962), sexually disordered (Kaplan, 1983), the cause of crime in the
streets (Christian anti-communist crusade, 1981), the [cause of the]
second World War (Podhertz, 1977), the [cause of the] Holocaust
(Jackman, 1979), [found to have] lowered SAT Scores (Falwell, 1984), and
perhaps most damaging in recent years, the cause of AIDS." (p. 167)
There are no or at least very few gay or lesbian role models. Further,
there are no dating norms for gay or lesbian adolescents or even
available models of gay and lesbian relationships. Exploration and
attempts to meet intimacy needs for the adolescent will be thwarted and
possibly severely punished by the rejection of peers, teachers, friends,
and parents. Even associating with someone thought to be gay carries
some stigma (Sigelman, 1991; Jenks, 1991). The stereotypical
"masculine" behavior is modeled for young boys and effeminate
behavior in boys is often punished, resulting in feelings of real or
imaginary parental rejection (Fling & Manosevitz, 1972), especially
from fathers (Feinman, 1974). The stereotypic distance from affect in
males and fear of homosexual stigma may result in internalized
homophobia. The adolescent's needs for closeness and intimacy have to be
repressed for the youth to receive support, approval, and attention from
The separation by the adolescent of his needs from his sense of self may
lead to over-separation (Colgan, 1987) and feelings of cognitive,
social, and emotional isolation (Martin & Hetrick, 1988). Bell and
Weinberg (1978) reported that 20% of the gay males in their study had
attempted suicide before the age of 20. Martin and Hetrick (1988) report
21% of their sample attempted suicide before the same age. On the other
hand, the adolescent may develop anxious over-attachment and desperately
cling to anyone who can meets his emotional needs. In either case, this
rejection by others and separation of emotional needs is likely to
result in the boy labeling his difference from other children as
negative, in a severely damaged sense of self, and in poor relationship
skills coming into a relationship due to difficulty resolving identity
and intimacy issues (Colgan, 1987).
Power or Status Differential
between men and women tend to be more tolerated in heterosexual
relationships. As a result, a man with stereotypical ideas about power
in relationships, the man's role in the decision making process, and who
should make more money in the relationship may be able to find a woman
with similar ideas and expectations. However, in a gay relationship,
where power differences occur, neither male is likely to be accustomed
or socialized to accept being in the less powerful position, to have
less power in decision making, or to make less money than his spouse.
The male with lesser power may not know how to handle, cope with, or
change this. This also conjures up images of being a "kept
boy" (Harry, 1982), although this may actually be rather uncommon
(Harry 1979, 1982). In fact, Berger (1990) found that 45% of his gay
couples reported financial and career issues as being the main source of
conflicts in their relationships, perhaps due to these issues. It is
interesting to note that some data indicates that financial issues are
not as much of a concern in lesbian relationships (Reilly & Lynch,
1990). In the same sense, a female with greater power may be
uncomfortable making decisions for the couple and contributing to what
she may perceive as an exploitive relationship. Because women define,
view, and hold power in a very different way than men do, a discussion
of the effects of power in lesbian relationships is a topic beyond the
scope of this paper (see Gilligan, 1982).
Defined Sense of Masculinity/Hypermasculinity
roles of men and women have been complimentary. Men were supposed to
"bring home the bacon" and women were supposed to cook it. Men
were supposed to make the decisions and be dominant, women were supposed
to accept the husband's decision passively. Fathers disciplined children
and mothers nurtured them. Men were the strong ones and women were the
weak ones. Men repaired the home and women cleaned it. While these
values are being called into question, one only has to look at
television, literature, and the media to see that these stereotypes
Studies indicate that traditional gender roles may be less common in gay
and lesbian relationships (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Cardwell et
al., 1981). While intuitively it may appear foolish to assume so, many
assumed that traditional gender roles of masculine and feminine behavior
would be found in gay and lesbian couples, the so called
"butch-femme hypothesis." One reason this idea may have
occurred is that it may have reinforced the belief that male and female
coupling was "natural" (See Reilly & Lynch, 1990).
As to why these traditional roles might be inapplicable to gay and
lesbian relationships, Maracek and colleagues (1983) provide several
reasons. First, they explain that traditional roles are less applicable
to gay and lesbian couples. Given that stereotypical roles are
complimentary, if neither partner was willing to be responsible for at
least some of the behaviors of the other gender role, both partners
would suffer. For example, if women do all the cooking and cleaning, two
gay men would live in a dirty home and starve. Another reason that
traditional gender roles may be problematic for gay and lesbian couples
is that feminist (and profeminist) values reject traditional gender
roles. Gays and lesbians may reject traditional roles as too limiting
and restrictive, and seek egalitarian roles to further the enjoyment of
their relationship. Finally, modern gay and lesbian couples may be
actively attempting to redesign their relationships to make them very
different from heterosexual relationships. Redefining such terms as
"mom" and "dad" in a gay or lesbian couple with
children is a good example.
There are few role models for gay and lesbian couples. Consequently, gay
and lesbian couples have few examples for how to resolve such issues.
Maracek and colleagues (1983) present several ideas. They first note
that pragmatic factors may decide. The partner that comes home from work
first may wash clothes; the partner that has Saturdays off may do
housework; the partner that is most talented at cooking may prepare
dinner. A second possibility is that power issues such as income, age,
education, and status may come into play. The partner with the higher
power may assume more of the masculine gender role behaviors as they may
be more valued by society. Already noted are the problems inherent in
this dynamic. There is also the possibility that gender identity may
also play a part in the assumption of gender roles. While Maracek and
colleagues (1983) are quick to note that gender identity lies on a
continuum and is separate as a construct from gender roles, small
differences in gender identity in a same sex couple may have larger
Regardless of how gender role responsibilities are handled or decided,
they are still a problem in our culture.
Alcoholism or Other Drug Abuse
is a serious problem for both gays and lesbians (Fifield, 1975; Retner,
1988; Glaus, 1988; Schilt et al., 1990). Some (Shaefer et al, 1987)
report that gays and lesbians are at three times the risk of the
heterosexual population for developing alcoholism. Alcoholism has been
linked to non-acceptance of gay identity, and that only after attaining
sobriety for an extended period of time could alcoholic gays accept
their identity as positive (Kus, 1989). It is not difficult to realize
that alcohol is a disinhibitor, a depressant, and our society has a high
degree of tolerance for socially undesirable behaviors that occur under
the influence of alcohol (Finklehor, 1984). Alcohol may help
non-accepting gay males engage in sexual intercourse with other men
without feeling guilty afterwards; may reduce their anxiety before,
during, and after attempting such intimacy; and may be useful to
mitigate the stigmatization if caught (Kus, 1989). Many assume that
alcoholism is high in the gay/lesbian community because gay and lesbian
bars are the main area for socialization for many gays and lesbians, but
this has been disproved as a major cause of alcoholism in the gay and
lesbian community in several studies (e.g. Kus, 1989). Substance abuse
has been empirically linked to committing acts of violence and being the
victim of acts of violence in lesbian relationships (Schilt et al.,
of Resources, and Stress
poor resources are problems for many gay and lesbian couples, especially
those in small towns (Harry, 1982). Martin and Hetrick (1988), in terms
of adolescent experience, discuss 3 kinds of isolation - cognitive,
social, and emotional - which are equally applicable to adult gay and
Cognitive Isolation refers to the almost total lack of information about
gays and lesbians, how gay and lesbian couples function, how long they
stay coupled, how they determine gender roles, and how they solve
relationship problems. It also refers to the lack of information
regarding gay and lesbian couples and families, how they interact with
their families of origin, and how they parent, and how they can fit into
Social Isolation results in part from the cognitive isolation. While
Martin and Hetrick discuss the way that the negative sense of self
effects the gay or lesbian adolescent's social interactions and growth,
so too does lack of contact with positive couple models reinforce the
negative value that society places on the couple, as well as the
expectation that such coupling is "unnatural," based simply on
sex, and doomed to fail. Navigation of gender roles becomes difficult as
well in the absence of couple role models.
Finally, Emotional Isolation also occurs in part due to poor social
support and few resources. The legitimacy of the couple is denied in the
form of lower social support from families (Meyer, 1989; Kurdek &
Schmitt, 1987) possibly as the risk of "Coming Out" to family
members may be too great of a rejection to handle. On the other hand,
the strain of hiding the relationship is also considerable. If the
couple is "out" to family, the strain of only partial
acceptance of the couple's relationship by the family is also very hard.
Berger (1990) reported that 27% of his sample of gay couples reported
family conflicts as being the second main source of conflicts in their
relationships. There are fewer resources in the community, such as
shelters for battered men, much less for gay battered men. Lesbians face
the same problem in that while there are some shelters for women, they
often are not trained to deal with lesbian issues or desired by
government to deal with lesbian issues. Califia (1986) recounts how in
June 1985, Attorney General Edwin Meese stopped a $625,000 grant to the
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) because members of
a right wing group charged that the coalition supported lesbian rights.
While the grant was later released to NCADV, it was cut by over $100,000
dollars and the NCADV went without this funding for three months. The
effects of stigmatization on development have already been discussed,
but stigmatization continues to have an effect in that it may increase
the impact of stressful life events (Ross, 1990). Further, there is also
legal discrimination. Homosexual behavior is still considered illegal in
25 of the United States. Legal discrimination is demonstrated in laws
that prevent the couple from obtaining housing, health insurance,
property, and legal rights together. No state in the U.S. recognizes
homosexual unions. In Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), the Supreme Court ruled
that the Georgia police were free to enter a gay couple's home without a
warrant and arrest them for their consensual sexual activities with each
Social discrimination occurs as well in the form of religious
discrimination. Homosexuality is considered "sinful" in most
churches. Gay and lesbian couples experience discrimination in the
rejection of the couple by the church. An individual who is gay or
lesbian and religious must reconcile their own identity with little help
from their church, which perpetuates existing tensions among gays and
lesbians, their committed partners, and their non-gay or non-lesbian
family members (Clark et al., 1989). Social discrimination continues in
the form of mental health discrimination. Island and Letellier (1991)
note that many are reluctant to allow the mental health profession to
become involved in gay and lesbian issues due to their tendency to
pathologize. The exclusion of homosexuality from the DSM III r was won
less than 10 years ago, but many still pathologize homosexuality as a
disorder per se. It is interesting to note that Mordcin and Myers (1990)
report that 40% of the gay men were unwilling to seek professional help
for a problem in their relationship.
There are problems associated with being
Being "hidden" lovers, or "passing" as heterosexual
creates a unique set of stressors for gays and lesbians and has been
empirically linked to relationships dissatisfaction (Berger, 1990). Gay
and lesbian lovers don't have a clear word to describe their
relationship and commitment to each other. Berger (1990) reported that
in his sample of gay couples, 62% referred to each other as
"lovers," although this may be problematic, they note, because
the term may reinforce ideas that the relationship is based only on
sexual interest. However, 22.5% of Berger's sample referred to each
other as "partners," and 15.7% as "friends." Some
argue that terms such as "friend," "roommate," and
especially "Persons Of the Same Sex Sharing Living Quarters"
(PSSLQ) from the U.S. Census, are damaging to the relationship.
Being hidden may also decrease family support. Apparently, only about
half of gay men have told their parents they are gay (Bell &
Weinberg, 1978). Berger (1990) found that 83% of his higher SES subjects
had told their parents they were gay. While this may actually indicate
that it is safer to reveal one's identity to one's family today, it is
not unexpected that higher SES couples would be more likely to reveal
their identity to their families. Children of higher SES are more likely
to come from higher SES families and to have higher education, less
rigid sex role stereotypes, and more accepting attitudes. Higher SES
couples may also be less dependent on their families for financial,
emotional, and social support.
Being hidden can also be stressful in the occupational setting. Not
being able to bring one's partner to work-related social functions,
pressures by co-workers to couple heterosexually, pressure to transfer
to other offices in other cities, gay and lesbian jokes, as well as more
severe forms of discrimination in the work place... all can be stressful
to the couple. Currently, to this writer's knowledge, only two
nation-wide companies have a company policy extending spousal benefits
to gays and lesbians
Domestic Violence Itself is Different
The myth of
"mutual combat" is even more dangerous in gay couples for
several reasons. First, while this kind of violence still isn't really
"mutual" combat, it is more similar since both spouses in a
gay relationship may have been socialized that violence is an acceptable
behavior between men and "real men" deal with it (Island &
Letellier, 1991; Califia, 1986). Island and Letellier discuss a
"reversal" of roles, where the victim becomes violent and
harms the abuser. They conceptualize this as a case where the victim has
chosen a violent means to respond to abuse and not as a true reversal of
roles. The victim has not become the abuser and the abuser the victim,
nor are they both "abused" or both "victims." A
women who hits her husband after 6 months of abuse is not suddenly an
abuser and her husband a victim. They also note that the abuser may use
the "reversed" abuse to promote guilt and shame in the victim
to control the victim further.
Further, while Island and Letellier (1991) include in their definition
of domestic violence both physical and psychological violence and
destruction of property, they also include disclosed sexual orientation.
"Revealing your sexual orientation to others, such as co-workers or
family members" is something not usually harmful in straight
Finally, the myth of "mutual combat" is dangerous in gay
couples because it perpetuates the myth that men are not victims (Island
& Letellier, 1991). A woman may be able to recognize her
victimization and this may prompt some action. It is unlikely that a gay
man will be able to overcome this myth on his own or that others will
highlight the myth for him. Part of this myth is also the idea that men
are innately violent. Thus, men are taught to accept this as part of
being involved with a man by such statements as "If he hits you,
hit him back!" "How could he hurt you, you're just as big as
Domestic violence in gay and lesbian couples is a serious problem. Until
recently the problem has been completely discounted and thus received
little attention. Many issues involved indicate that incidence of
domestic violence in gay and lesbian couples is probably at least as
high as in heterosexual couples, if not higher. Issues such as poorer
resources, homophobia, and invisibility make identification and
treatment of gay and lesbian domestic violence difficult. While
treatment itself would be more appropriately discussed in a separate
paper, several ideas can be presented here. Treatment for gay victims of
domestic violence requires several things.
First, the therapist must be knowledgeable of domestic violence issues.
Risk factors, dynamics of abuse, the cycle of violence, physical safety,
and the inherent power differential must be addressed. The therapist
must not blame the victim. While these factors are important in the
treatment of any victim, these issues are especially important in the
treatment of gays and lesbians is especially sensitive as they are
already a stigmatized population.
Second, the therapist must be Gay and Lesbian Affirming. The therapist
must be knowledgeable of issues such as coming out, normal gay and
lesbian relationship development, societal response to gays and
lesbians, internal and external homophobia, and theoretical biases in
psychological theory. Personal biases must be labeled, whether glaring
or subtle, and addressed.
Third, the therapist must not see males as solely victimizers and
females solely as victims. To do so replicates the societal view that
domestic violence isn't possible in gay and lesbian couples and serves
to continue to deny the rights of gay and lesbian couples.
Finally, couples counseling is inappropriate in gay and lesbian couples
just as it is in heterosexual couples. While some may argue that it
under specific circumstances, such as after the violent behavior has
been eliminated, it is acceptable to see partners and batterers in
couple's therapy (Rosenbaum & Maiuro, 1990), Island and Letellier
(1991) go so far as to say that couple's counseling is never
appropriate. It is important to note that the absence of these resources
is even more important in light of the finding that even after abusive
husbands are no longer physically abusive, most do continue to be
manipulative and controlling in their relationship (Edelson &
Richard Niolon, Ph.D.
Baier, J. L., Rosenzweig, M. G., & Whipple, E. G. (1991). Patterns
of sexual behavior, coercion, and victimization of university students.
Journal of College Student Development, 32, 310-322.
Weinberg, M., & Hammersmith, S. (1981).
preference: Its development in men and women. Bloomington: Indiana
Bell, A, & Weinberg, M. (1978). Homosexualities: A study of
diversity among men and women. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Berger, R. M.
Men together: Understanding the Gay couple. Journal of
Homosexuality, 19, 31-49.
Berger, R. M.
Passing: Impact of the quality of same-sex couple
relationships. Social-Work, 35, 328-332.
Blumstein, P., & Schwartz, P. (1983). American Couples. New York:
Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986).
Brand, P., & Kidd, A. (1986). Frequency of physical aggression in
heterosexual and female homosexual dyads.
Reports, 59, 1307-1313.
Cain, R. (1991).
management and gay identity development. Annual Conference of the
Canadian Association of Schools of Social Work. Social Work, 36, 67-73.
Califia, P. Battered lovers. The Advocate, March 4, 1986, pp.42-45, 46.
Cardell, M., Finn, S., & Maracek, J. (1981). Sex role identity, sex
role behavior, and satisfaction in heterosexual, lesbian, and gay male
couples. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 5, 48-94.
Chickering, A. (1969). Education and Identity. San Francisco: Jossey
Clark, J. M.,
Brown, J. C., & Hochstein, L. M. (1989).
religion and gay/lesbian oppression. Marriage and Family Review, 14,
Cohen, C., &
Stein, T. (1986).
individual psychotherapy with gay men and lesbians. Psychotherapy with
Lesbians and Gay Men. New York: Plenum Publishing Corp.
Colgan, P. (1987). Treatment of identity and intimacy issues in gay
males. Journal of Homosexuality, 4, 101- 123.
Edelson, J. L.,
& Grusznski, R. J. (1989).
men who batter: Four years of outcome data from the Domestic Abuse
Project. Journal of Social Services Research, 12, 3-22
Erikson, Erik. (1946). Ego development and historical change. The
Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 2, 359-396.
Fein, S.B., &
Nuehring, E.M. (1981).
effects of stigma: A process of breakdown and reconstructuction of
social reality. Journal of Homosexuality, 7, 3-13.
Feinman, S. (1974). Approval of cross sex role behavior. Psychological
Reports, 35, 643-648.
Fifield, L. (1975). On my way to Nowhere: Alienated, isolated, and
drunk. Los Angeloes: Gay Community Services Center & Department of
Fling, S., &
Manosevitz, M (1972).
typeing in nursery school children's play interests. Developmental
Psychology, 7, 146-152.
Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice. Cambridge: Harvard University
Glaus, K. O.
Alcoholism, chemical dependency and the lesbian client.
Special Issue: Lesbianism: Affirming nontraditional roles. Women and
Therapy, 8, 131-144.
Hackenbruck, P. (1988).
and the "Coming Out" process. Journal of Homosexuality, 14,
Harry, J. (1989). Parental physical abuse and sexual orientation in
males. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 18, 251-261.
Hunter, J. (1990). Violence against lesbian and gay male youths. Special
Issue: Violence against lesbians and gay men: Issues for research,
practice, and policy. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 5, 295-300.
Island, D., & Letellier, P. (1991). Men who beat the men who love
them: Battered Gay men and domestic violence. New York: Haworth Press
Jenks, R. J.,
& Newman, J. H. (1991).
and perceptions of gay males. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality,
Johnson, S. (1985). Characterological transformation: The hard work
miricle. New York: W. W. Norton.
Kurdek, L. A.,
& Schmitt, J. P. (1987).
emotional support from family and friends in members of homosexual,
married, and heterosexual cohabiting couples. Journal of Homosexuality,
Kurdek, L. A.
Relationship quality in gay and lesbian cohabiting
couples: A 1-year follow-up study. Journal of Social and Personal
Relationships, 6, 39-59.
Kus, R.J. (1989).
Alcoholism and non acceptance of gay self: The critical
link. Journal of Homosexuality, 15, 25-41.
Lang, N. G.
Stigma, self-esteem, and depression: Psycho-social
responses to risk of AIDS. Human Organization, 50, 66-72.
Maracek, J., Finn, S., & Cardell, M. (1983). Gender roles in the
relationships of lesbains and gay men. Journal of Homosexuality, 8,
Martin, A. D., & Hetrick, E. A. (1988). The stigmatization of the
Gay and Lesbian adolescent. Journal of Homosexuality, 17, 163-183.
McWhirter, D. P., & Mattison, A. M. (1984). The Male Couple: How
Relationships Develop. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.
Meyer, J. (1989). Guess who's coming to dinner this time? A study of gay
intimate relationships and the support for those relationships. Marriage
and Family Review, 14, 59-82.
Miranda, J., & Storms, M. (1989). Psychological adjustment of
lesbians and gay men. Special Issue: Gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues
in counseling. Journal of Counseling and Development, 68, 41-45.
Mordcin, M. J., & Wyers, N. L. (1990). Lesbian and gay couples:
Where they turn when help is needed. Journal of Gay and Lesbian
Psychotherapy, 1, 89-104.
Neisen, J. H.
Heterosexism: Redefining homophobia for the 1990s.
Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 1, 21-35.
Reilly, M. E., & Lynch, J. M. (1990). Power-Sharing in lesbian
partnerships. Journal of Homosexuality, 19, 1-29.
Retner, E. (1988). A model for the treatment of lesbian and gay alcohol
abusers. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 5, 25-46.
& Maiuro, R. D. (1990).
of spouse abuse. In Ammerman and Hersen (Eds.) Treatment of family
violence: A sourcebook. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Ross, M. W. (1990). The relationship between life events and mental
health in homosexual men. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 46, 402-411.
Schaefer, S., Evans, S., & Coleman, E. (1987). Sexula orientation
concerns among chemically dependent individuals. Journal of Chemical
Dependency Treatment, 1, 121-140.
Schilt, R., Lie,
G., and Montagne, M. (1990).
use as a correlate of violence in intimate lesbain relationships.
Journal of Homosexuality, 19, 51-65.
Schmitt, J. P.,
& Kurdek, L. A. (1987).
correlates of positive identity and relationship involvement in gay men.
Journal of Homosexuality, 13, 101-109.
Sigelman, C. K., Howell, J. L., Cornell, D. P., Cutright, J. D., et-al.
(1991). Courtesy stigma: The social implications of associating with a
gay person. Journal of Social Psychology, 131, 45-56.
Steinmetz, S. K., & Lucca, J. S. (1988). Husband Battering. In The
Handbook of Family Violence.
Walker, L. (1984). The Battered Women Syndrome. New York: Springer.
Yollin, P. Lesbians come of age. San Fransisco Examiner (Gay in America
Series), June 6, 1989, p.18, 18.