The damage that masculinity can do to queer relationships
I caught up with researcher Rob Williams for a look at the research that he’s currently conducting into same-sex relationships.
Is there an assumption that suggests that behaviours in same-sex relationships are different to behaviours in different-sex relationships?
Research shows, in general, that the occurrence and form of violence may not be different to heterosexual relationships, but there are important, nuanced differences specific to SSM relationships, including gender role stress – for example, if both identify as male in a heteronormative world, what role stress does that create, even subconsciously? Other differences could include the role of hypermasculinity, as well as behaviours likely to be unique to SSM relationships such as the threat of outing the other as a means of control, control over knowledge of HIV status, or the dynamics of an open relationship.
Your research is focusing on same-sex relationships where both parties are male – would you expect to find different behaviours where the parties are both women?
It’s possible, given the extra variables. Nearly all of the intimate partner violence – IPV – research focuses on female victims, so we’re looking at a male perspective. Initially, we’ll focus on male perpetrators, whose overlap with heterosexual male perpetrators is greater, then we’ll focus on male victims in a subsequent piece.
What are we comparing same-sex relationships to?
In this research, we’re not comparing relationships – of any gender or sexuality – to each other. The use of the variable ‘SSM in a relationship’ is just to filter down our participant pool to a particular subset of the community, given that the existing research is rather female-focused. Because this is not experimental research, there doesn’t need to be a ‘control’ or ‘norm’ to which results are compared.
What are some of the negative behaviours that your research might identify within same-sex male relationships.
Most people associate physical violence, in its many forms, with intimate partner violence, but we, as a community, are finally recognising that there are many other forms. The main goal in abusive relationship behaviour is to assert power and control. As a result, physical violence is not the only way to assert power over someone or to control another. While physical violence is the most obvious, the other forms are much more subtle and are often put down as – that’s just how he is.
Other forms of power or control include:
- Social – controlling who the person can or cannot see, or checking their phone messages.
- Emotional or psychological – name calling, or body-shaming.
- Sexual – using sex as a weapon, coercion into sex, or threats.
- Cultural – use of other’s religion, nationality, or race to control, or threats to out the other to a religious or conservative family.
- Financial – controlling the other’s spending, ridiculing purchases, putting the other on an allowance with conditions.
Are these sorts of gender roles learned behaviours, or is there some sort of genetic basis for our behaviour in relationships?
The hypothesis is that much is learned or is ‘nurture’, but that ‘learnedness’ could have many components, including a ‘nature’ component. Research seems to be clear that those who come from abusive homes or who have witnessed intimate partner violence in other close contexts will be more likely to repeat these modelled behaviours. However, given that this is a quantitative project, it’s unlikely that the nature/nurture question will be furthered. There are plans to undertake a qualitative version of the project at a later time.
How are you recruiting people to be part of your study?
We’ve been recruiting through social media, as well as through LGBTQ organisations throughout the world. This is the link for anyone who wants to take part.
How many people do you need to take part in your research?
We’re looking around the 500 mark, but the more who complete our survey, the stronger our results will be.
We welcome all people who identify as male to take our survey, even if they were not in a relationship that might be classified as abusive and even if they are no longer in a relationship. This will allow us to form some sort of idea of the prevalence of controlling behaviours in our sample population. For those no longer in long-term relationships, the questions should be answered based on your last relationship.
Are you drawing on any personal experience in this context?
I don’t have direct personal experience of being in relationships that could be classified as controlling or abusive, but we’ve all made comments once in a while with goals to control a person or an outcome. Most of us hear it as soon as we say or do it, but the repetitiveness – or otherwise the escalation from little comments to more obvious controlling behaviours – distinguishes these one-offs from a traditionally abusive relationship.
My professional life is full of resolving conflict, so at home I’m pretty relaxed and uncontentious.
Will the results of your research help us to have better relationships in the future?
There is a social goal of the research, but also a clinical goal. Socially, it would be good to put the focus on non-physical forms of violence, which often times are more cutting, more dangerous, but less obvious to the eye than physical violence. Clinically, as psychologists, it will also be helpful to know what our focus should be while working in this niche area. While many of the larger tenets of intimate partner violence cross over with those in a heterosexual relationship, there are important differences when working with the LGBTQ community, and further nuances when working with same-sex attracted males. The research is not clear what these differences are, so it’s time to gain some clarity.