It is very difficult to see abuse outside of our main understanding of male and female relationships. So difficult in fact that even people in the LGBTQI+ community struggle too. To help move past the boundaries of sexuality and gender, it is helpful to remember that Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is primarily defined by patterns of intimidation, power, and control. These patterns can be emotional, sexual, financial, and/or physical.
Studies have shown that in the queer community psychological abuse is the most common, followed by physical abuse, then sexual abuse at a close third. It also shows that lesbian women are more likely than gay men to report having been in an abusive relationship because of the stigma around ‘vulnerable’ men, as a result of toxic masculinity.
We spoke to two queer people about how they managed to leave their abusive relationships despite the lack of support and the dangers of being queer in Africa.
I chose freedom over fear
Any queer person will tell that you that being ‘out’ especially in a country that rejects you, is one of the scariest things they can think of. I used to think that as long as I kept my private life to myself then I’d be okay and safe… I was doing well for some time but then against my better judgment, I got into a tumultuous relationship. I really did see the signs even before we got serious; the jealousy, the way she could be extremely happy in one moment and extremely volatile the next, her hatred of everyone in my life, the way she insisted on keeping tabs on my whereabouts throughout the day…
But she was everything I thought I wanted so I silenced my intuition and let her bulldoze my life. In less than a year, I looked around and found myself completely cut off from my friends, and most of my family, high strung from her emotional extremes and unable to do anything without her. As if that wasn’t enough, she had started pushing for me to quit my job. She stopped making subtle hints and started making me late for work on purpose - one day she even locked me in the house all day by ‘accident’. It was wild!
My job was my last anchor and I knew if I lost it, I may never recover, and she would have complete control over me. It was time to go! When I blurted out that I was leaving during one of her unprovoked rages she threatened to leak our raunchy photos online and email them to my colleagues. I was terrified so I stayed… We would repeat this pattern every few months until finally, I told her I didn’t care what she did. I chose freedom over fear. Somewhere in the mayhem, I had made peace with being ‘out’ and with it happening in such a violent manner. By letting go of my fear, I took back control of my life and regained my freedom.
I had to be okay with being vulnerable
Looking at me you’d probably label me as the aggressor in any situation because I’m a pretty big guy. I played rugby in school and I’ve kept fit all my life. But physicality has nothing to do with aggression. I honestly cannot imagine consciously harming another person, even, as it turns out, in self-defense.
When my boyfriend moved in with me, we’d been together for over 3 years. It wasn’t a new relationship by any means, we ‘knew’ each other. So, you can understand how shocked I was the first time he slammed me into a wall and why I forgave him when he said he’d let his anger get the best of him.
I mean if he was a violent guy, I would have seen the signs by then, right? That’s the one thing I’ll tell anyone who will listen - abusers do not start off abusive. If they did, no one would date them.
The incidents kept happening; an arm grab that left me with bruises, pulling my dreads so hard I had a headache for days after, an elbow to the stomach, a backhand to the face… Slowly I started to tune in more because I wanted answers - why was this happening? I started to see the malice behind his teasing, and how he’d tense up whenever I did something he didn’t like. I started to sense how bad things were going to get. But, I stayed. I stayed because I kept waiting for the man I’d had in my life for years to come back and replace the monster I had in my house.
One night I refused to get intimate and my world crumbled. He beat me up so badly I had to go to the hospital. Even though it had been a year and a half of bruises, pain, and abuse, I was still surprised that this was happening to me. Help finally came in the form of my older sister. She refused to believe my fake story and held me until I let every last detail out. Can you imagine that? A big guy like me crying into my sister’s shoulder about how I was being beaten in my own house by a man smaller than me? You probably can’t and that’s the reason guys like me suffer in silence.
My sister helped me get out but only after I let her in.
We can’t all be brave and we don’t all have someone to help us out of abusive relationships. If you or anyone you know is experiencing IPV you can find support here and here