Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate. Domestic violence isn’t just something that happens in heterosexual relationships. It does not exclude people based on age, race, gender, ethnicity, sex, or orientation. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is a time for victims and those who help them to speak out as one to combat domestic violence. It can happen to anyone. It happened to me.
“What’s going to happen when you aren’t beautiful anymore? Who will you be then?” I will never forget that question or the night my partner asked it. I will never forget the hostility behind her words. I will never forget the embarrassment I felt having mutual friends hear my partner talk to me like that. But conversations like that had become my normal. My formerly loving girlfriend was struggling with unemployment, insecurity, and increasing boredom. Over the last year the things she once loved about me became things she loathed about me. When I’d get a compliment at the bar, we had a fight about it. A mutual friend would take my side when they’d overhear how she spoke to me, suddenly they were fighting too.
I wish I could say that those sentiments were the worst that I was subjected to. I wish I could say that our relationship didn’t get physical. We were together for almost 2.5 years. That relationship represented so many firsts for me. She was my first long term relationship. She was the first person I brought home for the holidays. She was the first girlfriend I ever lived with. She was the first, only and last lover to ever hit me. I wish I could say that I left the first time she hit me. What I can say is that I should have.
Same sex violence for me seemed like something that didn’t really exist. I had always been taught that men should not hit women. I was hardwired to know that was a hard no, a deal breaker. But we’re not taught to know what to do if your same sex partner hits you. I’ll admit, I was raised that if another girl hit you first, you hit her back. But that was a grade school lesson my parents gave me on self defense against bullies. What happens when the girl who hits you is your intimate partner?
According to studies in 2013, intimate partner violence in LGB (Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual) couples is actually similar to or higher than in heterosexual ones: 61.1% of bisexual women, 43.8% of lesbian women, 37.3% of bisexual men, and 26.0% of homosexual men have experienced IPV during their life, compared to 35.0% of heterosexual women and 29.0% of heterosexual men experienced IPV. (M.J. Breiding et al., 2013).
Lack of study about same sex domestic violence can lead people to believe that it is a rare phenomenon. Stereotypes about intimate partner violence stemming from male aggression can present an obstacle for women who experience violence in lesbian relationships. These victims may not even recognize that a partner’s behavior is abusive and not normal.
Allow me to state again for clarity: Intimate partner violence is NOT NORMAL in ANY RELATIONSHIP! The first time my girlfriend hit me, we were at a friend’s house drinking all day and got into a verbal argument. When she hit me I was so surprised and shocked that I hardly remember making the decision to hit her back. Friends pulled us apart and we took the night to cool off. We both apologized the next morning and I told her if she ever hit me again, we were done. I wish I could say that was the last time. What I can say is I survived.
The night our relationship ended, I fought for my life. A long day of work for me, a long day of drinking for her and an accusation of cheating culminated in a night I’ll never forget. I was hit, knocked to the floor, kicked repeatedly in the back and shoulders, and choked. My phone was thrown and broken when I tried to call the police. I barely made it out of the house. I managed to army crawl out of the front door of our home with her grabbing at my legs. My screams woke the next-door neighbors. I ran to their house bruised and bloody and asked to use their phone. The police came and asked me if I wanted to press charges. I asked them to get my belongings out of the house so I could safely leave.
My best friend took pictures of my face that night. Over time, people have a tendency to romanticize the good things and lessen the memories of the bad. She wanted to make sure that I remembered why I left. For that I will always be grateful. It took years of therapy to get to this space, this place where I could write this to try and help someone else.
The thing no one told me about domestic violence is this:
It could happen to anyone. Even men. Even the most confident, self-assured, fun loving women.
Domestic violence is not just a “man” problem.
It is ALWAYS wrong. Regardless of age, race, gender, orientation, sex, or ethnicity.
You should leave … the FIRST time.
The shame is not yours to bear. This October, we unite to send this message.