Gay and Bisexual Male Domestic Violence Victimization: Challenges to Feminist Theory and Responses to Violence

Article excerpt

This article demonstrates how same-sex male battering challenges contemporary feminist domestic violence theory. The author shows current theory to be heterosexist and therefore insufficient to explain the phenomenon of battering among gay/bisexual men. Domestic violence theories that integrate a sociopolitical and a psychological analysis of battering are presented as more inclusive of same-sex domestic violence. Differences between battered gay/bisexual men and battered women are illustrated, focusing on how these men conceptualize and respond to violence against them. The author also examines the social context of homophobia in which same-sex battering occurs; the impact of AIDS on gay/bisexual men as it pertains to battering; the misconception of "mutual combat"; and the difficulty of seeking help. The article highlights the need for empirical research on same-sex male battering.

Through the influence of the feminist movement of the mid-1970s, domestic violence came to be understood primarily as a heterosexual, sociopolitical phenomenon with its basis in sexism, that is, gender (Schecter, 1982). As a result, the domestic violence movement historically has focused almost exclusively on the battering of heterosexual women. The feminist political view of the male-female dyad has been the basis of the movement's core philosophies, shaping everything from batterer treatment policies (Frank & Houghton, 1987; Sonkin & Durphy, 1989) to victimization theory (Browne, 1987; Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Martin, 1976; Schecter, 1982; Walker, 1979), to current domestic violence law (Sonkin, 1987). The feminist analysis of gender socialization and its role in domestic violence has been tremendously effective in illuminating the relationship between discrimination and violence against women in society at large and the at-home version of that "gender oppression": battering (Pharr, 1988).

Unfortunately, feminist theory, with its doctrine of male victimizers and female victims, has also contributed to the invisibility of gay and lesbian domestic violence because it precludes the possibility of such violence occurring. Indeed, the movement to stop domestic violence has been extremely reluctant to address and work to prevent same-sex battering (Lobel, 1986), in large part because of the fundamental challenge to domestic violence theory that gay and lesbian battering represents (Island & Letellier, 1991). The existence of female batterers and male victims defies the strict gender categorizations of victims and perpetrators that are central to a feminist analysis of domestic violence (Schneider, 1992). The dearth of knowledge about same-sex battering, particularly concerning gay and bisexual men, allows much of the current work in the field, both in theory and in practice, to remain heterosexist. Without a wider dissemination of information about same-sex domestic violence, there is little hope for a more inclusive approach to the topic of battering in general.

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how gay and bisexual male battering (and, though not directly addressed, lesbian battering) challenges the current ideologies about victimization. While acknowledging the importance, and drawing on certain aspects, of the feminist analysis of gender socialization as it pertains to domestic violence, it will be shown that such an analysis is fundamentally heterosexist and is furthermore insufficient to explain the phenomenon of same-sex battering. This article begins with a brief examination of the current gender-based theory of domestic violence and an overview of more inclusive theories. These latter theories integrate an analysis of the sociopolitical perspective with an examination of the role that individual psychological factors play in the dynamics of domestic violence. The author then illustrates several ways in which battered gay and bisexual men differ from battered women and shows how current theory fails to account for male victimization. …