#PrideMonth: Violence in Same-Sex Relationships – An epidemic yet invisible

The pointless wailings of homophobia in Nigeria – perpetrated by state and non-state actors – notwithstanding, the reality that two people of the same sex can be in love and in a relationship — Civil or otherwise, remains thriving. This is not to say this irrational loathing doesn’t have indirect consequences on queer relationships in addition to the direct violence it metes out.

Intimate partner violence in same-sex relationships and violence against couples in relationships remain shrouded in additional layers of secrecy uncommon in cis-heterosexual relationships largely due to the fear of additional violence that could result from reporting abuse.

Violence is common in LGBT relationships just as it is common in cis-heterosexual relationships. However, while we have people in cis-heterosexual relationships being encouraged by a culture that frowns to some extent against domestic violence, gender-based violence, and all forms of violence occurring in any form of union, civil or otherwise, such is lacking in the LGBT community.

In a 2014 article on The BBC, the story of a young man who was imprisoned by his lover 20 years ago sent shockwaves to the world and the LGBT community even as Curt Rodgers (the survivor) confessed that “I didn’t identify it as domestic violence due to the images out there about domestic violence being an issue experienced by heterosexual women.”

In that same year, a study published in the US suggests that members of the LGBT community experience higher levels of domestic violence in relationships (defined or not, might I add) than heterosexual relationships. Where Curt Rodgers might have thought that there was nothing wrong (as unimaginable as that reads) with the violence he experienced at the time — I mean, they were just ‘men being men,’ his ideas are somewhat shared by many LGBT persons experiencing violence with their partners or outside their relationship.

For varying reasons, queer Nigerian survivors of intimate partner violence hold on and stay too long in relationships that hurt them. And this writer had the unenviable chance of interviewing one. There is a theory rattling in my brain about being outcasted for so long that one forgets they are deserving of wholesomeness – a love that is tender – which may explain the footdragging.

Yinka* whose first relationship lasted four years, only 1 of which was all roses and glitter, excused 3 years of abuse on the grounds of empathy for her lover’s struggling mental health.

“Our first year was like a chapter lifted out of a romantic novel – not of the tragic kind – she was everything I wanted in a girlfriend.  I still seek out what I had with her in potential lovers. Then she began having issues with her employer, and everything went downhill from there,” she said.

Her lover will have long periods of melancholy and she will be responsible for taking care of her, followed by periods of mania that always end up with physical, verbal, or emotional violence.

Yinka took it as her labour of love to endure this abuse for years. “I told myself that love is for better or worse, and state by her side doing my possible best to make her seek help. It took 3 years of abuse and scars” a star-shaped scar still decorates a patch of skin near her sternum where her ex flung a kitchen knife at her, “then it dawned on me that this woman wasn’t serious about seeking help – this life of pain could be mine until she finally kills me. So I left. I still hurt because I am expecting an apology that is not forthcoming.”

Her fear of ending up dead isn’t hyperbole. There is a trend in the LGBT+ community – of lovers conniving with criminals to extort their lovers which in some cases ends in murder – reported by family as anything but because the shame of being queer in death is graver than the violence of murder to many Nigerian families.

A popular events manager in one of Nigeria’s major cities popular for its shroud of soot died in circumstance members of the LGBT community in that city know to be a case of Kito gone wrong, likely orchestrated by a lover. His family did everything they could to keep the aspect of queerness involved in his murder and his killers remain at large.

Violence against LGBT persons perpetrated by LGBT persons against their peers or partner is something that only floats on the surface of the community. In South Africa where the laws are regarded as one of the most progressive in Africa as it concerns marginalised groups, members of the LGBT community — especially lesbians, have been at the far end of violence from their peers for the longest. An image search for “South African lesbians” has well documented graphic images of lesbians that have experienced violence by their partners and/or by homophobes.

Now that we have established that violence exists in the LGBT community, the question remains: Why is there little or no attention being drawn on establishing a culture that preaches against violence in LGBT relationships? How are members of the LGBT community navigating violence in relationships where they exist? What legal changes have been made to help survivors or apprehend perpetrators of violence to LGBT persons in relationships? The impact of homophobia against LGBT persons and by LGBT persons means that LGBT persons may have a significantly more difficult time finding and receiving appropriate help than their heterosexual counterparts.

For the LGBT community in Africa (and the world at large), silence has always been sold to survivors as a means to shift awareness from the atrocities being done to them and as a means to not associate a lot of negativity with the community. And where they are unable to even speak to the authorities for fear of discrimination and even more abuse, the culture of silence continues to grow and fuels the epidemic of violence in LGBT relationships. This culture of silence has also resulted in little or no data existing to show that violence exists in LGBT relationships.

However, in Nigeria, a queer media platform, Kito Dairies, documents activities of violence done against LGBT persons as well as by LGBT couples but it never goes beyond the posts on their platform, there are no further steps taken to bring justice for the survivors that are documented in said posts. This is largely because there are no laws that protect survivors of violence in LGBT relationships. Moreso, there is cultural heteronormativity that has also played into the fueling of the epidemic of violence in LGBT relationships.

Circling back to Curt Rodgers and Yinka’s story, many LGBT persons stay in unhealthy relationships without even realising it. And this is because certain heteronormative cultures are somewhat applied in some LGBT relationships. The ‘man’ in the relationship expected to channel male aggression, the ‘woman’ female docility, never mind that both partners are of the same sex.

In some cases, it is the classic case of dependency, low self-esteem, family history and its psychological impact. Many LGBT persons would rather stay with someone whom they’ve concluded that their lives depend on even though the person constantly abuses them. Many who have self-esteem issues count themselves lucky to be in a relationship at all and would stay with their abusers. And many also, having lived in a history of abuse in their family, have concluded that it is a norm after all, for them to be abused. All these examples and hypotheses are also present in cis-heterosexual relationships.

The only difference is that where help openly exists for heterosexuals with laws and sanctions against offenders, it is lacking in the LGBT community – except by the intervention of support groups and NGOs which do little more than bring momentary succour.

In conclusion, more needs to be done to draw attention to violence being experienced by people in relationships where they exist and violence done against LGBT couples in countries where they thrive. More help and counselling are highly needed in the LGBT community for survivors of violence and silence should never be the answer or sold to LGBT persons as it only fuels the epidemic of violence.

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