Identity-based abuse is the use of personal characteristics that are central to who one’s partner is to demean, manipulate and control them.
Abusers often believe they are superior to their partners and that they are entitled to control and abuse them. This belief is often based on aspects of their own identity that give them privileges – race, educational level, religion, income, intelligence, ability, gender, gender conformity, etc. Tactics based on anti-LGBTQ bias work well against LGBTQ people, just as racist tactics work against people of color and sexist tactics work against women.
Regardless of what the entitlement feelings are based on, the identity-based tactics are very similar. They include:
- Using negative feelings about partner’s identity as an excuse for abusing them.
- Demanding that partner choose which part of their identity is most important to them.
- Demanding obedience.
- Making unilateral decisions.
- Expecting unlimited access to partner’s body, feelings, caretaking, time, money, labor, personal service and attention.
- Negatively stereotyping partner.
- Ridiculing or questioning partner’s identity.
- Keeping partner from connecting with their cultural or religious community; threatening to out partner to their other community.
- Accusing partner of being oppressive.
It is crucial to understand that victims are not being abused because of their identity. Rather, their identity is being used as an excuse for abuse, and as a weapon. Victims are abused because of their partner’s attitudes and choices, not because of who they are or anything they have done.
- Making anti-LGBTQ remarks.
- Claiming that violence is normal in LGBTQ relationships: “All guys fight.”
- Violence is not a natural part of any relationship, nor is it limited to any one kind of relationship. Most men, gay or straight, are not violent or abusive toward their partners, and some women, including some lesbians, are.
- Demanding that partner change their appearance, behavior, or friends in order to look straight, not look straight, or not look attractive.
- Pressuring partner to come out.
- Blaming partner for “converting” them.
- Demeaning partner for wanting – or refusing – to play roles (butch/femme, top/bottom).
- Telling partner they should “get off the fence” or that their bisexuality is “just a phase” – or treat partner’s non-bisexuality as a hang-up.
- Accusing same-sex partner of calling themselves bisexual just to protect themselves against homophobia and keep their heterosexual privilege.
- Stereotyping bisexuals as promiscuous; accusing partner of unfaithfulness.
- Destroying partner’s other relationship (if any); using it as an excuse for abusive behavior; threatening the other partner; demanding threesomes
- Blaming their abusive behavior on the fact that partner is bisexual.
Tactics aimed directly at a victim’s transgender identity may include3
- Assaulting surgically or medically altered body parts, or body parts that partner is embarrassed about; e.g., forcing them to publicly expose surgical scars.
- Forcing partner to undergo unwanted medical or surgical treatment to make their body what the abuser wants it to be.
- Treating partner as a sexual object; refusing to engage in non-sexual aspects of the relationship; e.g., refusing to introduce partner to family and friends.
- Labeling partner abusive because of how hormones influence their behavior; criticizing how hormones affect partner’s sexual performance.
- Refusing to spend money on transition-related health care, medication, hormones or clothing for partner.
- Destroying clothing, hormones and personal items needed for partner’s gender expression.
- Ridiculing partner’s appearance, dress, voice, or mannerisms.
- Refusing to use partner’s name or preferred pronouns; referring to partner as “it; refusing to allow partner to talk about gender identity."
If both partners are transgender, the abuser may also claim to be more “real” than their partner.
Context is everything
Nobody is only their sexual orientation or gender identity. What victims experience also depends on what else is happening in their lives. An LGBTQ victim may reside in a rural area, have a disability, or be an adolescent, old person, female, immigrant, parent, unemployed, ill, a member of a religious group, unable to speak English, etc. The partner who abuses them may use tactics that target any combination of their specific identities or vulnerabilities. For instance…
Adolescent abusers use tactics specific to the world of adolescence, such as:
- Putting down partner’s developing body.
- Pressuring partner into sexual activity they are not ready for.
- Stopping partner from doing schoolwork or engaging with friends.
- Threatening to out partner at school or to parents.
- Harassing partner online, through social networking.
An abuser who has HIV/AIDS may use tactics specific to that situation, such as:
- Blaming their partner unjustly for infecting them.
- Forcing partner to engage in unprotected sex.
- Sexually assaulting partner for requesting safer sex practices.
- Demanding that partner take total responsibility for caretaking in order to trap them in the relationship.
- Making partner feel guilty about wanting to leave a sick person.
An abuser whose partner has HIV/AIDS may:
- Limit partner’s access to health care, caregivers, food or sleep.
- Prevent her/him from taking HIV medication.
- Force her/him to take drugs that interact dangerously with their medications.
- Threaten to abandon her/him without a caregiver.
- Make cruel remarks about her/his HIV status.
- Destroy partner’s medications, medical records, proof of benefits, etc.
- Use “caregiver stress” as an excuse for abuse.
- Other tactics may be found in Forge’s Transgender Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Resource Sheet.