I suspect that I will have a lot to say on this topic over the course of the next few years because it is the focus of my doctoral studies. Even though I am completely immersed in Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) as a course of study, I still want space to talk about this issue outside of the ivory tower of academe. Why? Cause it is happening in relationships all over the world but people aren’t talking about it and that is scary.
What is IPV?
IPV is defined by the Center for Disease Control as “a serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of Americans. The term “intimate partner violence” describes physical violence, sexual violence, stalking and psychological aggression (including coercive acts) by a current or former intimate partner” (2016).
Unfortunately, most research and treatment programs still view IPV through the lens of Domestic Violence (DV) which upholds the outdated notion of IPV as “wife bashing,” and contends that IPV can only exist between a woman and a man. You are likely familiar with the image…
A scared woman is beaten by her aggressive husband. This does happen! I don’t want to imply that we shouldn’t attend to IPV in cis-het relationships, but it exists across cultures and is pervasive in relationships of all kinds in the United States. Cis-het IPV in which a man beats his wife is not the only type of IPV being perpetrated, yet instances of IPV in queer relationships or IPV where a woman is the perpetrator go largely unreported.
In order to understand queer IPV we need to understand straight IPV.
If a woman is beaten by her husband, she is seen as weak, vulnerable, and helpless while he still retains the “masculine” qualities of aggressive power and strength. If a woman beats her husband, he is seen as weak, vulnerable, and helpless and we can’t have that. God forbid a man embody “feminine” qualities. An additional factor contributing to this misogynistic view of IPV is the labeling of the victim as weak and helpless. The victim is vulnerable to abuse but that does not make them weak. They may be an incredibly strong person in many areas, but they have become desensitized to abuse and aggression and are likely trying to support the perpetrator in some way.
How many people have heard a perpetrator say, “I don’t want to be this way. Please help me.”
While I can feel anger begin to tense the muscles of my jaw and my left arm is twitching in a rather alien way, I am trying to remain committed to holding compassion for perpetrators as well as victims. It’s hard. I feel hate. I feel anger. I feel grief and overwhelm and sadness. I want perpetrators to take responsibility for their actions instead of crying and begging for forgiveness. But underneath all that, I also understand that most perpetrators are products of our fucked up culture. That doesn’t mean I excuse their actions. No way. But I hold compassion. Or try to.
So what about IPV in queer relationships? What happens when gender roles and genitals don’t adhere to the norm? There are people who think IPV can’t exist in lesbian relationships (cause all lesbians live in lesbitopia?). Those people are wrong. ANYONE can attempt to maintain power and control through aggression and coercive acts no matter what their genitals look like.
And what about IPV that is more insidious? The subtle, verbal insults and humiliation tactics? This type of IPV is very common and highly invisible. While physical violence does occur in intimate partnership, 80% of IPV consists of emotional and verbal violence. Expressive aggression is defined as “verbal abuse or emotional violence in response to some agitating or aggravating circumstance” (Carney & Barner, 2012, p.2).
Does your partner explode when you express a feeling? Do they get angry when you set a boundary? Do they kick furniture, throw things, or otherwise act like a toddler when something pisses them off? That is expressive aggression and it’s not OK. There is nothing wrong with the Feelz; we all have them, but there are healthy ways to express anger, most of which begin with the statement, “I am angry.” We all get happy, sad, angry, and scared. Children scream and kick and bite, but they should learn how to express emotions in a safe and healthy way as they get older. Unfortunately, we live in a world that doesn’t offer parents much support in teaching kids healthy emotional expression. Most adults can’t do it! This is why some adults think expressive aggression is A-OK. It’s familiar. But it scares loved ones. And when it is directed at loved ones because of the aforementioned boundary setting or feeling expression or a myriad of other ways that are attempts to exert power and control, it is IPV.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline states that IPV affects more than 12 million people each year in the United States. They also note that “members of the LGBTQ community are slightly more likely to experience abuse than straight couples.” Yet most shelters for victims of IPV are not queer/trans friendly or queer culture informed.
It feels like time to end my silence on the subject.