by Carolyn Wysinger

No one actually knows this story but me and God.

Seven years ago I was in a relationship with another woman. She was beautiful, smart and had a great career. We shared a mutual respect for family, food and good times. The woman was also an abuser. I didn’t know that at the time. I wouldn’t come to understand that until a couple of years later. I don’t think I ever considered it abuse for two reasons. The first was that, as a masculine-of-centre (MOC) identified woman, I internalized the idea that I shouldn’t admit to exhibiting any type of behaviour that is considered weak. Admitting that you were being abused by your femme partner is a definite no-no.

The second reason is that, like many, I did not know where the line between submitting to your partner and being abused actually lies. We have grown so accustomed to seeing dramatic scenes where lovers yell, argue, throw things or get physical with each other that we think nothing of the harm that it does. We are all familiar with the “dating game” and how it sometimes works in the context of emotional abuse without realizing what it actually is. It can begin subtly with mental or emotional abuse. Once the abuser is certain that they are in the position of power, they are able to start making more and more demands on your life and, in the worst cases, they maintain their control by physical abuse.

As I tried to process what exactly happened in this relationship, I started speaking to my friend Giovanna Martinez. Giovanna has been working in the Domestic Violence (DV) community for 14 years. She currently works at the Women’s Shelter of Long Beach in addition to being a board member of Long Beach Pride Inc, which produces the city’s annual Pride celebration. She is a fierce advocate of DV services tailored to the LGBTQ community. “It’s important for us to recognize that domestic/intimate partner violence is happening and we need to start conversations on how to make these services visible to the LGBTQ community,” says Giovanna. “It should be part of the framework of our fight for equality.” Giovanna suggested that I consult the “Power & Control Wheel” and use it as a sort of guide in understanding the relationship. The Violence Prevention Initiative of Newfoundland Labrador, Canada notes that the Power & Control Wheel is“used by workers in the Domestic Violence community to demonstrate how power and control issues are at the core of abusive behaviours and to illustrate the different dimensions of abuse and violence.” The diagram provides examples of where abuse begins and how it progresses. There are some differences that are specific to LGBTQ partners. For this reason, an “Equality Wheel” was introduced that includes types of verbal and emotional abuses particular to LGBTQ relationships.


The big question is how does Domestic Violence or Intimate Partner violence manifest itself in the LGBTQ community? According to the Advocate, “the National Violence against Women survey found that 21.5 percent of men and 35.4 percent of women living with a same-sex partner experienced intimate-partner physical violence in their lifetimes, compared with 7.1% and 20.4% for men and women, respectively, with a history of only opposite-sex cohabitation.” The numbers suggest that gender does play a huge part in LGBTQ domestic violence. Giovanna confirmed this assumption is correct. It’s not the numbers that lie but the stereotypes that we bring to the table that distort what the numbers actually say. Most people labour under the assumption that mostly masculine-identifying individuals are the abusers. This is rooted in the fact that aggression is typically listed under traits considered masculine. It is for that reason that so many cases of domestic violence in the LGBTQ community either go unreported or continue unaddressed for an extended period of time.

Unfortunately, there is not much data about gender identity in terms of masculine vs feminine in same-sex relationships. Even data on sexual orientation is relatively new. Information about such differences usually comes from empirical evidence based on case studies. Providers in the field have taken to coupling the current data with the lived experiences of their clients to start laying the foundation for this identity-based research.

Through this approach, we can see where some of the panes in the Power & Control Wheel resonate particularly in same-sex or queer relationships. In the relationship that I was in, most of the actions were rooted in fears and myths about masculine-of-centre (MOC) women. Starting with the myth that MOC women cannot be trusted or are womanizers. My then partner’s insecurities about where I was going, what I was doing and with whom I was doing it led to extreme isolation. According to the wheel, that manifests as controlling what a partner does, whom the partner sees or talks to where the partner goes, limiting outside activities, using jealousy to control, making the partner account for their whereabouts, and saying no one will believe the victim because they are gay/lesbian male/female.

Source 'Lesbians love' PInterest
Source “Lesbians love”, Pinterest

Then there is the jealousy factor. Most of us have been socialized to believe that a person doesn’t care about us if they are not jealous. In lesbian circles, we laugh and make jokes about women being the most jealous of all and how that’s doubled when you have two women together. The insidiousness of our cultural relationship to jealousy has led to the creation of entire shows such as Basketball Wives and Love & Hip Hop dedicated to the violent behaviour that it breeds. Because of this, most are unaware of the fact that this behaviour is actually abusive. When my partner started on me about where I was or what I was doing, I didn’t think anything of it because I thought it was all about accountability. When she wanted to stay on the phone with me ALL THE TIME I just thought it was because she wanted to talk to me, not realizing that the logic was if I was on the phone with her I couldn’t be on the phone with anyone else. Never mind that the conversation usually centred on her anger about some other random issue. I mean, it was my job to soothe any and all fears that she had, right?

The second highly charged pane on the Power & Control Wheel is emotional abuse. This is the one that practitioners see the most. Emotional abuse can manifest in such a way that people never know they are actually in it. In the Power & Control Wheel, it is defined as putting down, making their partner feel bad about themselves, playing mind games, making their partner feel guilty, humiliating their partner, questioning if victim is really lesbian or gay, and reinforcing internalized homophobia. Many of us have been socialized to have certain beliefs and fears about gender and sexuality, so the easy way to victimize a same-sex partner is to use these same ideas, some of which are already being leveed on the individual from others in their life. Challenging them with “you aren’t man enough” or calling a person derogatory names like “sissy” or “fag” as a way of stating they are somehow not living up to their gender identity or their gender presentation can be a huge part of emotional abuse. This includes phrases like “you aren’t butch enough” as a way of demoralizing a MOC-identifying individual.

The threat of outing is also another very specific threat and type of emotional abuse. It isn’t limited to just the abuser threatening to tell their partner’s family or friends. DV practitioners have also found that some victims decline to report abuse at all because that would link them to a sexual or gender identity. Many victims have already faced stigma, shame and disconnectedness from family or friends and do not want to face more by adding the concept of “victim” to that list. This threat effectively locks them in a cycle of abuse that they cannot get out of until it is sometimes too late.

Dealing with the gender issues associated with LGBTQ domestic and intimate partner violence is an imperative part of supporting not just the victims but the aggressors as well. A femme-identified friend who admitted being an aggressor told me:

“I think people get side-tracked and stuck on labels, meaning if a woman is MOC they are naturally aggressive, which isn’t always the case. Actually it has been my experience that MOC women are very sensitive and gentle.”

My experience says this is certainly a fair opinion and contributes a lot to the conversation about how gender identity is treated in conversations about DV.

In expressing our gender identities we are constantly pushing back against stereotypes and trying to avoid being shamed or emotionally taken advantage of and one negative result is where we end up hurting each other with the same tools that are being used against us. We must take into account those amongst us that have been abused based on their sexual orientation or gender long before they ever met us. How are we supporting them in their journeys before they start abusing? There is NEVER an excuse to abuse anyone or display violent and destructive behaviours but it is important to ask if we being proactive or reactive in offering services to individuals who have been put out into the streets by family or have survived their own trauma.

And what ended up happening with that abusive partner of mine? Well, after the grooming period of mental distress came the violent and emotional fits. The thrown pieces of furniture. There was the night I woke up and she was just standing there like she was going to do something. The emotional scenes in front of family. All in an effort to gain control. Finally, when she felt she was spiralling, she cheated on me and I left. What I remember most about how it ended is the way I changed after it was all over. It opened doors to anger and aggressive behaviour that I had never before displayed. The relationship taught me to distrust and that brought with it all the unhealthy behaviours that come with it. The relationship lasted all of one year. But…it’s seven years later and I am just now telling this story.

Source for featured photo “Lesbians love” here

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Carolyn Wysinger is a thirty something masculine of center womyn from Richmond, Ca. She is a writer & Social Entrepreneur. She earned her B.A. in English from California State University, Long Beach and her M.F.A. from Antioch University. She has created queer events like LA’s NFL Sunday Funday and the Long Beach Blue Party. She has served on the steering committees for BUTCHVoices and Black Lesbians United.  She is a board member of the NIA Collective for same-gender loving women of African Descent. Her first book “Knockturnal Emissions: Thoughts on #race #sexuality #gender & #community” is currently available on Glover Lane Press. Twitter @knockturnalpro Instagram: theknockturnalproject

This article was edited by Sunili Govinnage


10 thoughts on “Power and Control: Domestic and Intimate-Partner Violence in LGBTQ Relationships

  1. I’s like to thank you first for your story. It touched me to hear about same sex partner abuse. I am a black women, labeled as fem. My ex was is all over. She was fem/soft aggressive/ now mainly masculine-ish identified.

    We were married, now divorced, co parenting a little boy whom I carried.

    I was in an abusive relationship. It is still hard to say. She was abusive in many many ways. It started off with the prepping stage.. Emotional abuse, mood swings, (light) physical abuse.. gas -lighting. But the turn around, the pleadings and crying to never do it again was hard to ignore.

    She’s been violent, by screaming slamming things, breaking my phone, spitting on me, breaking my computer, dragging me out of bed, depriving me of sleep, trying to keep me away from family and friends, prevent me from going to work. She would say that I’m selfish by saying that I am choosing work over her..

    She’s threatened me, erratically driven our car, speeding and saying she’s going to crash. Stolen money, my keys, taken my wallet so I couldn’t leave the house, attacked me while I was pregnant, physically.

    It was a hell, I couldn’t escape. I felt trapped by my silence and by her ability to switch back and forth. No one would believe me, I thought. She was charismatic, friendly, magnetic, everyone loved her..

    When our son was born, she was jealous of him and berated me for spending time with him, for going to him for middle of the night feeding. She felt neglected. I worked full time, went to school part time and took care of our baby.
    She is an actor, real estate agent, teacher, and she was jealous of my stability.

    So I guess she was spinning and feeling neglected so she cheated on me with our “family friend”, on the night of our 3rd wedding anniversary- because I was at work that day..

    Our subsequent separation and divorce was filled with so much.. She broke my door, slashed my tires, followed me, stalked me, stole money from my account, from my credit cards, called child services and made up outlandish stories.
    I even had to pay her interim spousal support during the separation because I made more money that her.
    In the end, the family judge chalked it up to divorce “acrimony” and said since she adopted our son, we had to work out a parenting plan..

    So now, we co parent. So now, she’s living with the ex-friend who would once borrow money from us, sit at our table for dinners, attend church with us, watch out son when we went out.

    I feel angry at myself at times because I am complicit in my own hurt and pain. Because of my dysfunctional childhood filled with devaluing and abuse, I allowed someone else to devalue and abuse me.

    Also, I didn’t have the emotional strength to follow through with a permanent restraining order.

    Consequently now, I have to constantly engage with a person who was so terrible to me.

    On the other hand, I have realized that this experience has helped me grow. It has opened my eyes. It gives me the resolve to value myself, trust my instincts, and never settle. I know now, what expressions of love truly are and what they aren’t..I know who I am and know, my worth.

    I may not have had parents to teach that to me.. But I had to learn it. I have a son to raise and knowledge I need to impart onto him. I’d do anything to give him the best. That anything was, Therapy.

    Therapy has allowed me to learn and grow and become the best woman I can be.. For myself and for my son.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing this . I to was in a controlling abuses relationship. I once was a abuser to my ex years ago. We had a 10yr long relationship, what made me stop what I was doing to her. Was my mother she informed my mother of what I was doing to her. My mom sat me down and talked and ask me never hurt this lovely lady woman again. I promise her it will never happen again .

    My past relationship of 4yrs my partner (fem)was the abuser. When we started dating she told me she likes her stud to take control and tell her what to do.. That was my RED FLAG. At that time in my life she knew I was sick and broke and lonely from the break up of a ten years relationship. So she did everything to win my heart. She spend ,brought, and gave me anything. Again to win my heart. I was very much enjoying the attention and what I was thinking was her love and affection. We started dating and I moved in with her and her family. To show her how much I cared and loved I took full responsibility of her kids well being. Did everything for her and family. She worked mornings and I worked nights.
    Mind you before me and her getting together she would leave her kids home alone and she had a 8yr kid watching a 5yr old and a 7month old grandchild.. To go sleep with her then girlfriend every nite.
    Her household was really mess up no any or anything goes in that home…
    A year after I moved in she started to change she did not like my friends. And never wanted me out her sight. And I laughed it off.Until she was not able to hold me down she started breaking T.V.’s destroying any and everything in her path.
    When I told her I was leaving she would cry and beg plead for for givness.
    My last yr with her she went to jail for assault and weapon .A whole month before the arrest she was sending me text messages from fake phone numbers. Saying I was with other women and me talking with people saying I was only with her for money it was a nitemare. I got so fed up with the crap I told her I was leaving . Everything was in her name she would not allow me to use her car to move. She tried to cut me up with a machete. I never called the police I just wanted to leave. After she got herself together( Bipolar) she agree to drive me to my moms place. We was on our way and the woman pull a straight razor out her pocket and started trying to cut me. I put the car and gear and jumped out and ran. A passing driver called the police and reported what he seen. She was arrested . To this day the woman has not taken responsibly for what she done. That put her in jail. After being jail she let her kids go into the system. Tell the police she don’t want me with her kids. After all the mess I was granted full custody of her kids. After a yr the kids returned to her care. I tried to show her I cared for her and wanted us to work. But she allowed her so called friends to tell her what to do and it broke down our relationship. I been gone now 6 weeks and I will always wish her well . And want the very best for her and the new partner. She and her lady just celebrate a One year anniversary. Two weeks after I left..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First off you are so brave for surviving what this woman put you through. Second…man I had a flashback at the end when you talked about here having an anniversary with a new lady right after you left. I found out after me and my ex broke up that she was cheating on me damn near the whole time. And SOMETIMES that also contributes. Their anger at the deceptions THEY are carrying out. It will take time to heal from this but you will do it! And you will be able to help others by sharing your story. Thanks for contributing!


  3. I have just admitted to myself my partner emotionally, verbally, and mentally abuses me. She controls my every movement, embarrasses me, and berates me on a regular basis. I reached out to someone who laughed at me. I feel stuck and afraid what will happen if I leave. And I thought I was alone…..thank you for sharing your story


    1. Don’t be ashamed. You are not alone. I don’t know where you are but if you get a minute you can find crisis hotlines in your area of people who will listen and know what you are going through and won’t laugh at all. It is serious and scary. I know. I didn’t put half of the fear that I felt during that time into this post. It’s so scary. And if nothing else my twitter is embeded in this article twitter: knockturnalpro. You can DM me or email me anytime I am no pro but I will listen and not shame you. Be well and stay safe.


  4. wow, thank you for your bravery in sharing your experience because I have and still am trying to leave a toxic and abusive same sex relationship. It’s hard to let go . I find myself second guessing myself all the time. You have given me hope and I thank you for that.


  5. Thank you for sharing and having the courage to share this with everyone. I know reading this article hits close to home as I just recently left a very toxic situation some of which you’ve touched on in your writing. It’s scary to share these moments with friends and family, I know for myself I didn’t want to be seen as another woman, a woman of color, a lesbian woman being a product of domestic violence. But truthfully being able to finally come to terms that yes, I’m a woman who was in a same-sex domestic situation, doesn’t sit well, but I’m finally able to acknowledge what happened to me .To finally be able to share with other individuals, my family and close friends or even those who might have gone through the same things as myself allows other individuals to speak up. I appreciate very much for you sharing.


  6. Thanks for your courage and insightful analysis in writing this piece. My lesbian mothers’ relationship was sadly a textbook case for your study. My bio mom, the “femme”, abused my “butch” mom-of-choice with all these tactics, including shaming her for not conforming to feminine gender presentation, and the stigma of being gay in the 1970s kept us isolated. Thanks to our local domestic violence shelter for helping mom-of-choice get free. We are lucky to live in an unusually LGBTQ-friendly community. I feel bad for bio mom that she never addressed her internal homophobia. We need more DV services and public info campaigns for queer families in this society. This article really helps break the silence!


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