By Alexander Lowë
Alexander Lowe” recounts his harrowing personal story of surviving same-sex partner abuse, in an effort to shine a light on an issue he worries is being ignored
When my partner first hit me, I was paralysed with shock
I never saw it coming. I did not know what to do. I was unable to fight back or ask for help. He, who loved me so much, he who our first night together did not close his eyes or moved as not to disturb my sleep as we shared a single bed? How could this be?
He once put me on a pedestal, charmed in my family and friends, I felt blessed, lucky and happy, I was even hiding how happy I was and thought I did not deserve it.
He assaulted me three times that night. I ran away. I had nowhere to go, no one to confide my awful secret to. I felt ashamed, I was shaken. It was Christmas break so I ended up sleeping in the office several nights, walking the streets daytime.
It is not easy to accept your perfect life picture has shattered in a moment and seemingly out of the blue. In my culture and upbringing it was not acceptable to expose intimate personal issues to the world, and relationship failure turned into personal failure. And there was hardly any help available anyway. Christmas and holidays could be a challenging time for unorthodox families and single people, further isolating misfits from cheering mainstream into the misery of loneliness.
It got somehow soothed … and then suppressed and forgotten. There are usually cycles in abusive relationships when ‘honey moon’ periods alternate with rougher times. And it is natural to forget the signs of abusive relationships like outbursts of anger with subsequent punishment of silent isolation that started from the time we met. And I did not put the dots together, that a person who proudly says he would never apologize, shows irrational jealousy and controlling behaviour, casually mentions ‘if you betray me, I’ll kill you’, is a master manipulator but claims that all previous partners have taken advantage of him – could be an abusive person and that his love and care would turn into blind hatred one day. So years passed by. And then I had a shock of my life when on our trip to Thailand I found out that my partner had led a double life for years with a barely legal local boy.
I was the last to find out. No sense of time, nights at the airport, running back home. Humiliation, shame, pain… I had to punish myself, wipe this scum from the surface of Earth. Looking down from my apartment block, coldly calculating the ways out … Pills, my partner had a sack full of pills!
Little did I know that mixture of sleeping pills with other medication and alcohol would be rejected by my body and spare my life. But my sharp pain just turned into a long-term torture. When one has low self-esteem, one’s partner becomes everything. And a loss of partner signifies the loss all other people he represented – husband, lover, friend, farther, brother, son. It was also a loss of trust, self-worth, I was deprived not only from material things and emotional security but even of the memories of years passed by as they turned out to be cynical lies. A relationship I treasured and was proud of as the one and only true achievement in life, turned out to be my shameful and humiliating downfall.
To wake up from fantasy into reality, to see your prince and partner die for you but be unable to bury him and lament the loss in glory, with your ex still in your life like a zombie, walking dead – seemingly the same person but with hate in his eyes, ready to tear you into pieces.
I did not know abuse can be not only physical. That words could hit so much from someone who knows you better than anyone, with all you secrets, your pitfalls and utmost vulnerabilities. ‘You are just like your mother’, ‘your figure is square’, ‘you are fat’, ‘you are lazy and dirty’, ‘beyond expiry date’, ’you break everything’, ‘all your friends are losers and loonies like you.’ ‘Why are you always so useless?’ and ‘Why do you always look so gay?’
Verbal manipulation makes you feel a failure, amplifies your insecurities, makes you dependent on your ‘saviour’ who replaces all attachments, hijacks relationships and blackmails you into a ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ attachment.
I did smash a cup at one point in the middle of tirade that I found particularly unfair. I did not know that smashing plates on the floor was also violence. I did not know that violence usually involves both parties. It is often hard to distinguish the offending party as abuse can be mutual and defence can be portrayed as assault, today’s offender could be a victim tomorrow and with LGBT partners traditional gender victim profiling just does not work. Gay couples present specific issues as the police and social services are less likely to recognise their violence and struggle to identify the offending party. With lesbian families violence can even be dismissed as non-existent, as women are not considered perpetrators.
Apart from physical and verbal, abuse could be emotional and psychological, involving mind control and manipulation. There could be controlling behaviour when a partner is isolated, restricted from seeing friends, family, doing certain activities, enforced specific dress code etc. My ex-partner once made me get fired from my favourite job, change industry and get to work instead as his personal subordinate. Things turned ugly in a new company where I was isolated and bullied by other employees, which coincided with fallout with my lover/boss and resulted in my breakdown. I was accepted back to my former job and we reconciled with my ex who decided we should immigrate to NZ which resulted in him bringing me over here and making me create a home base for him to get citizenship.
Abuse can also get manifested in restrictions on financial independence. For example, we had joint account where all my salary went. However then my partner would transfer money into his personal account so that it could be invested or used at his sole discretion. I did not have access to his account, and only a minimal amount was left on the joint one. At some point my partner installed a safe in the house where he had our passports and jewellery. I was not given a password to it and had to rely on my partner to get it opened. He would also hold our money and documents while travelling so when once in the Gold Coast he snapped at me and I walked out In dismay I realised to my horror that I was completely at his mercy with not a cent on me, thousands of miles away from home, without documents or friends to help.
He would decide for me without asking, even impersonate me by providing my passwords, pins and security data. Apparently, impersonation and identity theft is also one of the unique features of same sex relationship abuse, think Talented Mr. Ripley. I was gobsmacked to find out that my partner even voted for me for city council representatives- without asking. And when the relationship hit rock bottom he even changed ownership of my car and its registration plates.
But it was not his anger, no humiliation, that struck me the most but the admission he did not love me. What broke me was his indifference, his scorn. Isolation became the hardest part. I remember breaking down when visiting a GP and opening my own bank account – I was so touched by care and kindness from strangers. I despised myself. I was hiding in the house, unable to face other people. Everything was an effort, my stress level was so high and I was unable to work as I was unable to cope. I ran away from our house saving my sanity, my principles, my soul. I have been on a long run from myself and from harsh reality since then, secretly hoping he would get me back.
I was panicking when my ex called me and pressed me to sign more papers, my heart would sink if I thought I spotted him in the street. His power over me was excruciating, I remember meeting a lawyer nearly two years after I ran away from our house with just a suitcase. She drew up what she thought would be a fair settlement which I dismissed saying: “He would not like this”. Her answer astonished me: “It does not matter what he likes anymore, what is it you like?” Only then I realised how scared and dependant I remained, I was still always putting his possible reaction first, not letting myself have my own voice/will, unable to challenge or even face him.
This remains to this day. His shadow is still hanging over me. I am still scared of what he we may say/think/feel/do when he reads this article. I feel I am a defected and rejected toy that the master had thrown away. And I feel it’s my fault that it all turned out this way. I feel sorry for my ex-partner who must have suffered because of me as he had not seen me at once for what I always was, that I am indeed what he thinks I am – evil, despicable, unfair, ruthless user who was after his money. Even though I did not get a cent of him and now share a shoebox apartment with several flatmates, while he lives alone in our mansion.
I thought I was living a dream life with the best person in the world, I still believe he is an incredible, good natured man. He loved me so much when we met; he cared about me and my family who still remember him fondly. But aren’t abusers, serial killers and psychopaths often remembered as charming though manipulative people? My ex seems to believe that it is he who is the victim and I am the despicable person. I remember that was the same with his prior relationships too, I met his last partner who seemed to be a nice guy but according to my ex was just a user even though he made him move out of the flat they shared for years with nothing, but that was normal for a Russian with no recognition of same sex partnerships. He also was married once and I knew he was hiding his real salary to make sure he only paid minimum possible payments to his daughter – I was hypnotised to believe he was the victim and that his wife was just trying to get payments for her own gain.
It should have been a different in New Zealand where we lived for seven years as a couple, purchasing property together. But as a finance advisor, my ex-partner had built his career on charming and tricking other people, finding legal loopholes and bending the law for his private gain. A millionaire, he received the dole in New Zealand as well as free education. He tricked me into signing off our property to him and into constant saving and money worries as he was travelling abroad. I am sure he has also succeeded in tricking his own mind and bending his own consciousness to turn me into the enemy and bad guy in his own eyes and for my former friends, those once despised by him ‘loonies and losers’ he managed to buy off when I ran away. He has surely succeeded in convincing me I am a loser and a wicked person … I am still collecting the pieces of my shattered life, pride and personality three years after our split.
Time to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’
We don’t talk about violence and abuse in the rainbow community. Secrecy borders with negligence in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude. And there is hardly anything else in our minds as traditional and gender-specific as family violence. There is this universal image of battered women and violent short tempered men that we recognize from the media and anti-violence posters. Victim/perpetrator roles are gender predetermined, which is reflected even in campaigns and name of charities as ‘violence against women’. Gay and lesbian relationships being outside of the traditional family pattern are expected to be immune from flaws of patriarchal power structures. How far it is from the truth.
Violence and abuse underline power imbalances, vulnerabilities as well as family and society pitfalls. Abusers may have deep-rooted issues with power and self-esteem stemming from childhood, often recreating inherited patterns of abuse, with victims presenting an opportunity by exposing trust and dependency. While in a once firmly patriarchal society gender-based patterns of violence were clearly identified, power balance and family structures have both changed dramatically since Victorian times. However it is Victorian era stereotypes still reinforced by anti-violence campaigns that come to mind when intimate partner violence is mentioned.
Domestic violence is almost universally interchangable with violence against women and that is what is typically researched and addressed. However the latest surveys of intimate partner violence in developed countries, including New Zealand, find similar perpetrator/victimisation incident rates among men and women.
While the gender symmetry (or parity) of domestic violence issues has generated substantial debate, there seems to be consensus that more physically serious and psychologically threatening assaults are more likely to be perpetrated by male partners and that male violence is perceived as more threatening while female violence is played down. There is also very little research on violence in same sex relationships, gays and lesbians are generally also believed to be as prone to violence as heterosexuals.
In NZ there is a lack of research of the same sex intimate violence but several US studies showed higher rates of intimate partner violence among same sex couples, especially lesbians, where 44% reported intimate partner violence.
And if violence against men could be underreported due to stigma and social pressure, violence among gay male couples could be even more so, for various reasons. Many gays could get used to violence, bullying and abuse from early years without realizing what it is. Only as I write it now I remembered my partner verbally abused me during our first trip abroad, speaking in native Russian so that fellow foreign tourists did not understand him, but clearly picked up his angry and threatening tone as they tried to intervene and protect me. I was surprised with it then as I did not recognize the incident as abuse at the time.
Many gay people are picked on from childhood, and even these days can be routinely bullied, harassed and casually discriminated against. They learn to edit their behaviour, to ignore, dismiss, let it go. They toughen up, putting protective armour against their heart, getting used to being abused. Some learn to prevent or divert attention by mocking others, in my experience gay people can be rather judgemental and bitchy, especially to one another. They are also restricted to compete in a smaller sexual selection pond so jealousy could get quite another meaning as partners could be both mutually jealous of and at the same time attracted to the same person.
Incredibly, with some gay guys being either deprived of loving and understanding relationships from early years in dysfunctional families or being pushed away for being different into challenging environments and without role models may even believe abuse, possessiveness and stalking to be natural for same sex relationships as expressions of love. Gay people may also be less likely to report abuse due more strained relations with police and officials, either from personal experiences, or perceptions or if they are still not officially ‘out’. There may be even explicit homophobic abuse, complicated with one or both partners being a self-loathing homosexual, and when a partner gets bullied and harassed for not being enough of a man or a woman, this is specifically demeaning for transgender and transsexual partners.
I found out that gay and bi men could be doubly discriminated against by the anti-violence system, for being a man and for being gay. Men are not supposed to be victims, they are not believed, they are failing to report offence and are less likely to look for help. They are less likely to get support, even from relatives and friends – while troubled straight couples, especially those with kids, are expected to reconcile, gay couples in need would be expected to break up.
Gay men like me have nowhere to go when running from an abusive relationship. There is blanket gender policy protection in women’s centres. While this sexist inequality locks away gay men, it at the same time potentially fails to shelter a lesbian from an abusive partner. Transgender people may also be denied access to gender specific shelters or get further traumatised by the gender identification process.
It is not easy at all, starting from the scratch and breaking up again, but I hope one day to heal and become a whole person again.
Comments are welcome and encouraged