Opportunity to Abuse: Isolation



Stages of Healthy Gay Relationships

Intro To Domestic Violence

Introduction to Gay Male Domestic Violence

Treatment Of Domestic Violence

Treatment Of Domestic Violence

DV Links


Domestic Violence in Gay Couples
History of Abuse

Power Differences




Gender Roles

Mental Illness

Isolation may seem to be minor concerns in this day and age of much larger cities, the internet, and at least some acknowledgment of gay and lesbian relationships. However, while gays in large cities may have access to more services and community support (though this is far from the norm), gays in in small towns and rural areas have even less support. Martin and Hetrick (1988), in their discussions of adolescent experiences, discuss 3 kinds of isolation - cognitive, social, and emotional - which are equally applicable to adult gays.
  Cognitive Isolation refers to receiving very little information about gays and how gay couples function, as well as lack of information about how gays deal with the problems they face in society, such as heterosexism, rejection from families, being devalued as parents, and struggling with spirituality when organized religion rejects them. What's more, not only can the lack of correct information cause isolation, the presence of incorrect information can make this isolation worse. Leading gay youth to believe that gays can not form stable and rewarding couple relationships, that all gays contract HIV, and that it is impossible to resolve spirituality conflicts makes gays feel even more isolated.

Social Isolation results in part from cognitive isolation. Martin and Hetrick discuss how a negative sense of self interferes in a gay adolescent's social interactions and growth. When gays are devalued or ridiculed, it becomes harder for other gays, the "gay friendly," and parents and friends to offer support. In some cases, such as that of Matthew Shepard, this kind of isolation may be deadly.

Emotional Isolation also stems from social isolation. Some gays feel they can not come out to family, on the one hand, due to the risk of rejection, either in the form of an outright expulsion from the family, or in the form of continued devaluing and marginalization. On the other hand, the strain of hiding one's sexuality, one's closest friends, and one's relationship is also very costly. 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.

While isolation is an issue for any victim of domestic abuse, isolation is more so an issue for gays and lesbians. Gays and lesbians are far less likely to receive community support, as there are very few shelters for battered men around the country, much less for battered gay men. When a battered woman's shelter does meet a lesbian woman, staff may not know how to counsel her, she may face prejudice from other victims, or be denied services once she comes out as a lesbian (Jablow, 2000; Allen and Leventhal, 1999). Further, seeking services means being "out" about one's sexual orientation, which in some communities is dangerous.

Gays and lesbians are less likely to receive support from their families. While many are rejected by their families after coming out, some remain in contact and are exposed to continuing heterosexism. Merrill (1998) tells of one battered man who turned to his family for support after being abused, and was told, "That [abuse] comes with the lifestyle you've chosen." Gays and lesbians are less likely to receive support from their churches and synagogues. Gays and lesbians are still considered to be sinful in most churches; alternately, the church may have made the meaningless distinction of "loving" gays and lesbians while "hating" their sin.

Gays and lesbians in large metropolitan areas may have friends they can turn to. However, the batterer may have worked hard to offend and drive away, or reject and end contact with anyone the victim might be able to turn to. Some batterers do so with purposeful efforts to control their victims, while others do so due to unreasonable jealousy. However, gays and lesbians in rural areas may have few if any other gay friends nearby, and may not have come out to neighbors and coworkers. The batterer may also purposely use negative social stereotypes of gays ("No one around here is going to think anything other than 'pervert' if you look for help!"), abusive language ("Why would they care what happens to a stupid faggot?"), and blaming ("How can two guys 'batter' each other? You're just weak little sissy!") to further convince the victim that he has no options and nowhere to turn (Allen and Leventhal, 1999).

Gays and lesbians have also been less likely to receive support from the mental health field. Island and Letellier (1991) noted that many gays and lesbians were fearful of therapy and being pathologized. Mordcin and Myers (1990) reported that 40% of the gay men were unwilling to seek professional help for a problem in their relationship. While these numbers may have changed in the last 10 years, it is still not uncommon for gay and lesbian therapy clients to seek "gay affirmative" therapists advertising in gay and lesbian community newsletters.

One stress that is unique to gay and lesbian couples is that of being "hidden" lovers, or "passing" as heterosexual roommates. This has been empirically linked to relationships dissatisfaction (Berger, 1990). Some gay and lesbian couples 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 many interpret this term to mean only a sexual relationships), 22.5% used the term "partners," and 15.7% used "friends." Such generic terms only increase the ambiguity of gay relationships, while straight couples have clearer terms such as boy/girlfriend, fiance, and husband/wife.

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.