Domestic Violence, “Mutual Battering,” and Being Accused of Bullying

One of the things that made it easier to accept the fact that I had been abused was a class I took on women in the criminal justice system.  Unsurprisingly, a big chunk of that class focused on domestic violence, and some of our readings were about domestic abuse in queer relationships.

In heterosexual domestic violence situations, when the cops show up, it’s generally fairly obvious who the victim is.  (Yes, there are men who are battered by their female partners. If you want people to remind you that these men exist, refer to a generic victim of domestic violence as “she,” or worse, refer to a generic abuser as “he.”  Someone will almost immediately correct you.)  When one partner is considerably larger or stronger than the other, it’s pretty evident that any damage done to the bigger partner is self-defense.  A scratch on the hand isn’t comparable to a black eye and a fractured cheekbone, after all.

In a queer relationship, that kind of demarcation is much more subtle.  Isabel is taller than me, with broader shoulders. I am smaller (and not by more than a couple of inches), but solidly built. The police were never involved in any of our altercations (some of our neighbors must have been pretty deaf, especially when we were living in apartments), but most of the time, it wouldn’t have been immediately obvious which of us was the abuser.

After the jump, I talk about having been a victim of abuse with occasionally graphic detail. Please be warned, and take care of yourself first.

As a result, the other situation that you run into in queer domestic violence more often than heterosexual is that the victim has a greater ability to fight back. When Isabel hit me, I hit her back. Sometimes, in response to particularly brutal emotional violence, I hit first.  (She became quite talented at pushing my buttons to the point where I felt like the only thing I could do was slap her, which would give her license to react with greater violence.) I was the one who generally ended up wearing long sleeves and heavy makeup, because I bruise easily (and I suspect she hit harder), but when she resorted to physical violence, I tried to give as good as I got.  (Later she learned ways around this – it’s hard to fight back when someone is on top of you with her hands around your throat on an unstable surface, for example.)

It is as a result of this that the concept of “mutual battering” developed. There wasn’t a victim and an abuser, there were two people abusing one another. I bought wholeheartedly into this concept, even before I had a name for it – there were times when I thought *I* was the abuser (remember how I hit first sometimes?).

Further research into domestic violence proved that this idea was inherently flawed.  Abuse wasn’t about who committed an individual act of violence.  An abusive relationship is about power and control – and only one person was allowed to have power: the abuser.

That’s why I can stand here today and say, “Yes. I was a victim of abuse.”  Only one person was allowed to have control in my relationship with Isabel, and it definitely wasn’t me.

The reason I’m bringing this up today is that the blame-the-victim mentality still exists, and one of the things that triggers it is if the victim fights back.

I was participating in an online discussion the other day, and one (straight, white, cis, male) participant made an offhanded misogynistic comment. I called him on it, as I am prone to do in safe places, among friends (I counted him as one, in fact).

The details aren’t important. What’s important is the reaction, which included being suddenly ostracized by someone who referred to my very civilized request as “bullying tactics.”  (She’s the kind of young woman who thinks letting men get away with sexist comments in front of her will make them like her more. I used to be like that. She’ll learn.)

Bullying, like abuse, is about power and control.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about who had the power in that situation, but let me suggest that it probably wasn’t the thirtysomething queer woman voicing an unpopular opinion about discrimination.

But deep down in my psyche, there’s still the fear of my own ability to be violent, so I took the accusation very seriously – seriously enough that it’s bothered me for several days. I’ve pored over my comments to him, and his responses to me, and all our previous interactions, while my well-trained conscious mind shouts things like “This is textbook derailing!” and “He’s obviously trying to silence you!”  (When I went to look up that link, I discovered a silencing tactic called “You’re the bully.”  Thank you, Geek Feminism Wiki.) This is the part of my brain that decided that somehow I was abusing Isabel at one point, and seriously went to the library to find books on how to stop my abusive behavior in order to prevent her from leaving me.  (That is the best example I could possibly come up with to demonstrate how being in an abusive relationship rewrites your internal perception of reality. Would you like to know why your friend or daughter or sister doesn’t leave her abuser? She may be at the metaphorical library looking for books on how to stop abusing her partner.)

I suppose that’s the point of this post – to remind myself that I’m still damaged, even after three years of healing. If you dislocate a joint, it will forever after be prone to dislocation. Recovering from abuse is like that.

~ by Amber on August 7, 2012.

4 Responses to “Domestic Violence, “Mutual Battering,” and Being Accused of Bullying”

  1. I never knew it ever got to that point (though I can’t say I’m greatly surprised.). Much love to you. ❤

  2. Glad you are looking into ways of identifying and healing. Best wishes. x

  3. Thank you for your post and your honesty. I just left an abusive relationship several weeks ago and have been going through a lot of the same guilt and doubt about whether or not I was the abuser at times, though deep down I know I was the victim. I would really like to email you to discuss further. If not, that’s okay. I’m just glad I came across your blog and can finally relate to someone, since so much of the lit on domestic violence barely addresses queer relationships, if at all. Take care.

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