Abuse is abuse, and it can happen to anyone.

Abuse is abuse, and it can happen to anyone. Abusers can’t be identified by size, gender, gender presentation, sexual orientation, masculinity, or status. Victims of abuse in any relationship face similar patterns and cycles of abuse; however, victims belonging to the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and asexual) spectrum often face unique methods of control targeted at their identities as well as particular challenges when seeking help.

Some distinct obstacles and issues include the reality that:

  • Abuse tactics like blackmail, threats, invalidation, and isolation are more effective and powerful when the victim does not live in a community or society that supports and accepts them.
  • Communities and local resources for helping victims leave abusive situations are often sparse in terms of accessibility to people belonging to the LGBTQIA spectrum.
  • Most domestic violence shelters do not allow or have space for men, leaving many queer men with nowhere to go.
  • Victims belonging to marginalized identities are more reluctant to seek help from the community or law enforcement, since that may mean revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Even when they do reach out, police enforcement frequently lack the knowledge and skills to properly analyze, understand, and handle a case of domestic violence or abuse in a queer relationship. (For example, they may automatically assume two men living together are just roommates or that the woman perceived as more masculine must be the abuser.)
  • Hospitals may allow another man or woman to visit the victim without suspecting that they are the abuser (since they may be expecting to look out for someone of a different gender).
  • Survivors of abuse from queer relationships lack the same legal protections and recognition as non-trans and heterosexual people in many states. Filing reports of abuse, adopting each other’s children, and other legal proceedings often meet many barriers and complications.

There are many different forms of abuse, and they are all difficult and traumatizing to experience. They are all very serious, harmful, and wrong; no one deserves to be abused in any way. Abusers often employ tactics from multiple forms of abuse to maintain power and control over their victims. Explore each of the sections below to learn all the ways abuse can manifest, especially in queer relationships, so that you can more easily identify them.




Physical Abuse

Do you feel…

  • Guilty for making your partner angry?
  • Worried about your partner hurting your children?
  • Unsafe and scared around your partner?


Behaviors

  • Punching, slapping, scratching, choking, kicking, biting
  • Pushing, shoving, grabbing, or pulling you
  • Holding you down
  • Throwing things at you (phone, plates, books, etc.)
  • Using a weapon to threaten or hurt you (gun, bat, kitchen knife, box cutter, etc.)
  • Physically preventing you from leaving or forcing you to go somewhere
  • When you fight back in self defense, they use it as an excuse to intensify the abuse, point to your actions as the “real abuse,” or claim that it’s “mutual abuse.”

Safety Tips

Physical abuse is illegal. There is no valid reason for physically abusing someone. Know that the abuse is not your fault, and you deserve to feel safe. There is no such thing as mutual abuse; there is a difference between using violence to assert control and power over another person and using violence to defend yourself. Because violence and abuse often happens in cycles, there is nothing you can do to change your partner’s behavior, and “fixing” them is not your responsibility. However, there are many valid reasons for being scared, feeling trapped, or feeling like you need to stay. If you are not ready to leave, here are some things you can do to keep yourself safe:

  • In an emergency, when you are being attacked, try to stay away from the kitchen or other rooms where they can easily find a weapon. Also, stay away from closets and bathrooms where they can easily trap you inside. You don’t always have much choice in where the abuse takes place, but keep it in mind when you are able to move to another room.
  • Always take pictures of bruises and injuries for evidence.
  • Teach your children not to get in the middle of fights, since that increases their chance of getting injured or used as leverage.
  • Teach your children how to get to safety and how to call 911.
  • Plan an escape route out of your house from every room and teach it to your kids.
  • Abuse typically happens in cycles. Learn to recognize these patterns, and if you notice any signs that your abuser is about to get violent, remove your children and yourself from the situation if possible.
  • Talk to a friend, family, or community member whom you trust. Come up with a code word that represents a call for help during an emergency.
  • Do not accept or make excuses for your abuser’s behavior. Remember that physical abuse is not your fault.


Emotional Abuse

Do you feel…

  • Everything you do is wrong?
  • You need to watch every move and decision you make?
  • Isolated and distanced from all of your friends and family?


Behaviors

  • Threatening to “out” your sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV/AIDS status to family members, employers, community members, or others
  • Threatening to report you to an authority (e.g. immigration)
  • Normalizing abuse as an expected part of LGBTQIA relationships
  • Warning you that no one will help you or believe you because of your sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Telling you that speaking up about LGBTQIA domestic violence will be harmful towards progress (or that it portrays LGBTQIA relationships as inherently dysfunctional)
  • Invalidating your identity, saying your sexual orientation isn’t “real,” or that you’re lying about it

  • Using the wrong pronouns on purpose or calling you “it”
  • Incorrectly portraying “real abuse” as something that only happens to women or something that is only perpetrated by men
  • Normalizing abuse as a positive behavior or desirable expression of masculinity
  • Using derogatory slurs towards you
  • Hiding your clothes, binders, wigs, or hormones from you
  • Putting you down, calling you names, insulting you
  • Yelling and screaming at you
  • Controlling where you go or what you say
  • Intentional public humiliation
  • Isolating you from your friends, family, and any other support systems
  • Damaging or breaking your things and property
  • Constantly accusing you of cheating or being jealous of your other friendships and relationships
  • Emotionally blackmailing you by threatening to kill themselves, harm themselves, abuse drugs, or otherwise holding you responsible for their decisions and actions
  • Threatening to hurt, take away, or kill people or pets you care about
  • Starting rumors about you
  • Blaming you for the abuse

Safety Tips

You deserve to be in a relationship where you are treated with respect and acceptance.

Emotional, verbal, or psychological abuse is the mechanism that abusers use to trap, manipulate, and control their victims into staying with them, despite the harm and pain. It is difficult to recognize because such a big part of this form of abuse is invested in convincing you that the abuse does not exist, is rational, desirable, or happens because of you. You deserve to be in a relationship where you are treated with respect and acceptance. However, if you are not ready to leave, here are some things you can do to keep yourself safe:

  • Hang on to your support system as much as you can. They may be frustrated with your situation, and your partner’s intentionally disruptive actions can make things tense and difficult.
  • When you hear it repeatedly from someone you love, it’s easy to start believing awful things about you. “You’re stupid; you’re ugly; no one will love you.” Constantly being criticized destroys self esteem, so it’s easy to start to blame yourself for your abuser’s behavior. Remember that abuse is never your fault. Don’t believe them when they put you down; their behavior reflects on them much more than it does on you.
  • Understand that your abuser’s demands and expectations (that they claim you are failing) are not based in logic or reality. There is nothing you can do to satisfy those manipulative and unfair standards. To help you understand why they do certain things and where your feelings of inadequacy, doubt, and etc. are coming from, learn more about cycles of abuse, warning signs, gaslighting, and common manipulative tactics.
  • Know that you have the power to combat toxicity and nourish self love. You’re not worthless, and just by being here you are proving that you haven’t given up yet. Come up with your own compassionate affirmations and validations to keep in your head whenever your abuser starts insulting you.
  • Find joy in small things outside of your relationship, and hang on to them.
  • If you find it hard to validate your own pain from the abuse, keep a list of all the ways your partner has hurt you or made you feel worthless as a reminder that the abuse is real.
  • Do not accept or make excuses for your abuser’s behavior. Remember that emotional abuse is not your fault.


Sexual Abuse

Do you feel…

  • Ashamed of your body and/or sexuality?
  • Sexual acts are expected from you regardless of your feelings or consent?
  • Invalidated, attacked, or blamed for sexual abuse because of the way you look or your gender identity?


Behaviors

  • Any sexual act or behavior that demeans or humiliates you (unconsensually), sparking feelings of shame or vulnerability
  • Ridiculing your body and appearance (particularly in relation to invalidating intersex or trans identities and bodies)
  • Telling you that you don’t have a real man or woman’s body (particularly to trans and intersex people)
  • Coercing you not to pursue medical treatment that you need for your mental or physical health and/or your gender validation for sexual reasons
  • Infecting you with HIV or another sexually transmitted infection without your knowledge
  • Threatening to infect you with HIV or an STI deliberately as punishment
  • Any coercive sexual behavior meant to assert power and control over you
  • Forced or coerced participation in pornography, sexual activity in the presence of others, or prostitution
  • Unwanted kissing or touching
  • Sexual activity that is rough or violent in a way that was not consented to
  • Rape or attempted rape
  • Restricting access to birth control, refusing to use a condom, or lying about using a condom
  • Sexual contact while you are unconscious, drugged, very drunk or high, or otherwise unable to give clear and informed consent
  • Threatening, forcing, or pressuring you to perform sexual acts
  • Using sexual insults

Safety Tips

There is no acceptable form of nonconsensual sex. Sexual assault, sexual coercion, deliberate and nonconsensual infection of HIV, rape, and threats to do so are illegal. No one deserves to be sexually abused. Unfortunately, stigma against sexual assault makes it difficult to report and talk about sexual abuse. Remember that you don’t have to fight back for the assault to be abuse. Freezing is a common, automatic response when you’re being attacked; you have to do what you can to survive. Experiencing sexual violence is never your fault. You deserve partners who respect your boundaries, comfort, and consent. However, if you are not ready to leave, here are some things you can do to keep yourself safe:

  • If you are worried about pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider about reliable birth control methods that give you control over your body. Many solutions can be discrete and kept secret from your abuser.
  • If possible, get tested for STIs regularly. At many clinics, if you ask them to be respectful of your privacy, they will provide options to notify you of your results without calling your home phone or contact you through email.
  • Abuse typically happens in cycles. Learn to recognize these patterns, and when you notice signs that your partner is about to be abusive, get your children and yourself away from the situation as much as possible.
  • When you notice signs that your partner may be about to assault or abuse you, avoid drugs and alcohol as much as possible for your own protection. (However, remember that no one has the right to rape or sexually abuse you, no matter how drunk or high you may be. Sexual assault is never your fault.)


Financial Abuse

Do you feel…?

  • You are not allowed to make decisions about your money?
  • You have been coerced into becoming entirely dependent on your partner?
  • You never get to spend money on yourself, even though your partner buys things for themselves?


Behaviors

    • Denying access to medical treatments or hormones
    • Coercing you not to pursue medical treatment that you need for your mental, sexual, or physical health and/or your gender validation for financial reasons
    • Taking advantage of your HIV+ or other health status to assume sole power over your economic affairs
    • Giving you an allowance and/or closely watching what you buy
    • Taking your paycheck or otherwise denying access to your personal funds
    • Stealing your money or pressuring you to give it to them
    • Forbidding or limiting the hours you work

  • Forcing you into career choices you would not choose on your own
  • Deliberately getting you fired by harassing you and/or your coworkers at your workplace
  • Using money from a joint savings account, tuition fund, or credit card without your permission
  • Using your social security number to obtain credit without your permission
  • Using your child’s social security number to claim income tax refunds without your permission
  • Refusing to give you money for food, rent, clothing, and other essentials, especially when you are financially dependent on them
  • Using their money to hold power over you because they know you are in a less fortunate financial situation

You deserve to be in control of your financial situation and future and to live a life free from abuse.

Safety Tips

Financial abuse is a huge limiting factor to escaping abuse. When your partner has total control over all of your assets, it feels impossible to leave and start over with nothing. You deserve to be in control of your financial situation and future and to live a life free from abuse. However, if you aren’t ready to leave, here are some things you can do to start regaining control of your finances.

  • Whenever you can, stash money away in a secret area, fund, or bank account.
  • If it is possible to safely do so, start transferring your assets into a separate and personal bank account.
  • Make inquiries into where your household’s assets are and how much debt you have. Keep copies of important papers like bank statements, social security numbers, and other legal documentation.
  • You can start to work on building or rehabilitating your credit. Get a credit card that you keep at a friend’s house so that it’s unknown or inaccessible to your abuser. Use it when you have the money to pay it off right away.
  • If you manage to earn extra money, keep that with a trusted person as well. You can rely on it when you leave, and your abuser won’t be able to access it.


Digital Abuse

Do you feel…?

  • Your online presence is constantly being scrutinized and criticized by your partner?
  • You aren’t allowed to honestly share your thoughts, feelings, or ideas for fear of punishment?
  • You have no privacy on your computer or online?


Behaviors

  • Controlling your online and social media presence, dictating what you post or who you can be friends with
  • Sending you insulting, negative, or threatening emails over the internet
  • Using social media to keep tabs on you
  • Posting negative, disrespectful, and insulting comments about you on social media
  • Sending you unwanted, explicit pictures and/or demands them of you
  • Stealing or demanding your passwords
  • Constantly texting you and making you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear of punishment
  • Looks through your phone frequently, checks up on your pictures, texts, calls, browsing history, and etc.

Safety Tips

You deserve to be in a relationship where your privacy and time are respected.

Social media and digital technology has opened up new channels and methods of abuse. No one has the right to make you share your passwords with them. You have the right to shut off your phone and not respond to every call or text. You deserve to be in a relationship where your privacy and time are respected. However, if you’re not ready to leave, here are some tips to stay safe:

  • Record disturbing, insulting, offensive, and otherwise threatening messages sent to you digitally. This may help you later in filing a report or asking for a restraining order.
  • Don’t “check-in” with location data on social media like Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, and etc. This helps your abuser potentially track you down to your current or frequent locations. Also, ask your friends not to tag you or check you in when you are trying to keep your location secret.
  • Consider getting a secret phone with a pay-per-use plan that you can use to call emergency services, domestic violence shelters, local LGBTQIA organizations and resources.
  • Do not accept or make excuses for your abuser’s behavior. Remember that physical abuse is not your fault.

Escaping Abuse

Are you constantly walking on eggshells, trying to avoid upsetting your partner? Is your partner perpetually mistrustful of you, treating you like a child? Do you feel like anything you say or do will always be wrong? Do they keep hitting you, even when they’ve promised to stop? You deserve better.

You deserve better.

There are many reasons you may not feel ready to leave: fear, finances, concerns about children, isolation, feeling trapped, or still being in love with your abuser. These are all understandable and valid. It takes time and a lot of courage to end a relationship with someone who is actively trying to manipulate, trap, and hurt you. Do your best to stay safe with the tips and information provided above.

Getting out of an abusive relationship is challenging, scary, and can be traumatic in itself. Unfortunately there’s no single, foolproof way of getting out safely. The abuser may threaten you, they may stalk you, or they may decide that if they can’t have you, no one can. Ask for help, and keep your safety a priority. Here are some things to keep in mind when planning and making your escape:

  • Know that the abuse is not your fault. Your feelings and identities are valid. You deserve to feel better and to be treated with dignity. You have the right to be in healthy relationships free from all types of abuse.
  • Your partner’s emotions and decisions are not your responsibility. Don’t let them emotionally blackmail you into staying with threats of self harm or otherwise blackmail you with threats of outing or hurting you. Turn to your support system and stand your ground. Save proof of threatening messages.
  • Look for local domestic violence shelters or LGBT organizations that can help you find a place to stay, a job, information on getting back on your feet, health care, and emotional support.
  • Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or community group to see if anyone has the resources to house you for a while as you escape your abusive relationship.
  • Pack a bag with things that you may need in case you need to leave quickly and place it somewhere you can easily grab on your way out or give it to a trusted friend to retrieve later.
  • Memorize emergency phone numbers.
  • If your abuser has moved out, change your locks and your home security passcodes. Consider installing home security cameras and increasing the number of doors and windows you have secured with sensors.
  • If you get a court order against your abuser, keep a copy with you, at work, and at your children’s schools.
  • Change your routes to work and other familiar routines.
  • Remove your name from joint bank accounts to protect yourself from further debt being incurred after you’ve left.
  • Change your passwords and PIN numbers to something that would not be identifiable by your abuser.
  • Blacklist your abuser on all social media sites and update your privacy settings.

Take your time, be kind to yourself, and stay safe.

For further reading, check out these resources: