The Silent Epidemic: Helping GBT Men Speak Out About Domestic Violence

As a professional editor who has spent a lifetime as a passionate reader, I know that we yearn to see our stories reflected in the books we read. We turn to literature to find out how others love and overcome loss – we hunger to read narratives that illuminate what we face and feel in our own lives. When I experience painful events in my own life, I often look to books for comfort. If, as Louise DeSalvo says, “writing is a way of healing,” then perhaps this is even more true for reading.

For those gay, bi, and trans men who experience same-sex domestic violence, there are not many places to see their experiences mirrored back to them, especially when it comes to breaking free of the abuse and building a new life. It’s not that the numbers are too small in the LGBTQ community to warrant such a literature; in fact, the statistics are staggering: according to the Centers for Disease Control, 26% of gay men and 37% of bi men are victims of domestic violence.

Behind this dramatic data are millions of gay and bi men. If same-sex domestic violence is reaching epidemic proportions, it’s also true that the response to it is wholly inadequate. The silence is deafening, both in terms of our literature, and the lack of funding and resources needed to protect men who suffer at the hands of their partners.

Books about female victims of domestic violence are plentiful (Anna Quindlen’s novel Black and Blue is just one example of a growing number of books that deal with the subject with searing honesty). But there are a dearth of novels and essays that specifically depict domestic abuse in male same-sex relationships. While there are clinical reference books that address the subject, they are usually written for therapists, physicians, and academics. One book that does address the subject head-on, the groundbreaking Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them was published a quarter of a century ago. The firsthand accounts, even in this day and age of personal essays and memoirs, are hard to come by. (One notable exception: The Huffington Post’s Queer Voices has been on the forefront of publishing articles by and about survivors of domestic violence.)

It’s not just the scarcity of books about same-sex domestic violence that’s puzzling. Though there are hundreds of shelters for battered women throughout the country, there are almost no safe houses that a gay, bi, or trans man can go to if he’s feeling threatened and wants to escape his partner. One gay friend has told me, “I didn’t know where to go to escape.”

We can’t just blame politicians and advocacy groups for often turning a blind eye (and a deaf ear) to this aspect of domestic violence. Too often, gay, bi, and trans men have been silenced not only by their abusers – the men who “love them” – but by their own community, which feels that speaking out will harm the progress made in LGBTQ rights. But can we afford to avoid the reality of what is happening all around us? The problem won’t go away if we “sweep it under the rug.”

To counteract the silence, I am at the beginning stages of putting together Speaking Out for Our Lives, an anthology of 25 essays that tell the stories of gay, bi, and trans men who have survived same-sex domestic violence. I have been heartened by the response of some and saddened (though not surprised) by the reaction of others. For every person who says that the time for such a book has come, there are others who question its value. One male publishing professional questioned whether there needs to be a book of firsthand essays about same-sex domestic violence when there are already plenty of books by heterosexual women writing about their experiences with abuse. That’s like saying, why should we have gay love stories when literature is already crowded with straight love stories?

For some in the LGBTQ community, the mindset is: we made such strides in recent years – why air our dirty laundry in public, especially now? But if not now, then when? How many more men need to be injured – or die – before we take action?

When HIV/AIDS began to cut such a terrifying swath through the gay community in the eighties, there was a fierce activist response that began in our own community. Members of ACT UP protested in the streets, speaking out when no one else would. The signs they held up then are relevant now for a very different epidemic: Silence = Death.

I’m speaking out because I feel I have no other choice. I’m speaking out for all the millions of men who can no longer speak for themselves, and the men who feel they cannot risk sharing the truth of their situation. The heartbreaking thing is we don’t always know who is at risk. When I was talking about the subject with one bright, successful gay businessman he looked nervously around, lowered his voice, and said, “It’s happening to me.”

It’s time to do something. A book of essays may not solve the problem, but it will show how victims of same-sex domestic violence have survived. Perhaps it will give hope, and the courage to break their silence, to those men living in abusive relationships. If nothing else, they will finally see that there are others who have endured the same nightmare and were able to get out.

If you have information to share about your own personal experience, please contact me at mark@markchimsky.com. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, that’s okay. At this point, I am interested in gathering as many stories as possible, to help inform my own knowledge and for possible use in the book. If you’re hesitant about sharing, I want you to know that it’s fine to use a pseudonym if your story does appear in print. Sometimes, we can only begin to speak out for our lives if we don’t reveal our identity. But it is a start. The more stories we share, the more we will realize it affects all us. Whether it’s a brother, an uncle, a father, a son, a friend, or a coworker we probably all know someone who has experienced same-sex violence. If you are a victim of domestic abuse, and you are seeking help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.

You are not alone.

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