Run Anyway: Real Talk About Abusive Lesbian Relationships

Abuse. It’s a tiny word for such an enormous thing. And it’s a word that we rarely find used to describe behavior within same-gender relationships. As queer women who are put down by the rest of the world on a daily basis, it’s really scary to think about one of our own committing the same abusive acts as the people who oppress our community. The legal system often doesn’t recognize our abusive relationships as such, and we often don’t have access to the resources we need to get help. It can feel like there’s nowhere to turn, and asking for help is so, so hard. But people are people, and we need to talk about the way we treat each other and how we hold each other accountable.

“Mistrial #4″ by Carol Jacobsen

Olivia Q at the Hairpin writes,

The day my girlfriend and I broke up for the fifth and final time was the day Barack Obama announced that he supported gay marriage. I let out a laugh that was more like a bark, took a Xanax, and slept on and off for the next two days. My friends brought me water and pizza, sat next to me in front of television shows I don’t remember.

The next week was akin to rising up in an airplane above a city in which you have lived for a while, and suddenly understanding the shape of it — the curve of the coast or the sinewy motion of a river, the grid of streets. As I began to feel human, I resumed eating. In our kitchen, my roommate said to me, “You’re coming back. You’ve gotten loud again.”

I hadn’t realized I’d been quiet for so long.

I am not normally afraid of words, but I was afraid of this one. I was so afraid of it, I lied to my friends, my teachers, my no-nonsense therapist.

Abuse. Abuse. Abuse. Even the syllables sound ugly, debased. Even my friends who knew something was wrong couldn’t say it. “Something is not right.” “I’m not sure what’s happening is entirely healthy.” “I just wanted to make sure the thing I overheard is something that’s being addressed in your relationship and is not considered normal.”

The further away I got, the clearer it became. She had been my first serious girlfriend after a succession of boyfriends, and I was more in love than I had ever been before. But the relationship stretched and accommodated behavior I likely would have never taken from a man…

Read the rest at the Hairpin, and please share your thoughts with us. The more we talk about abuse in our community, the less stigma it has. And the more we can educate ourselves and each other about what is and what isn’t a healthy relationship, the stronger and happier we can all be.

Avatar of Gabrielle

Gabrielle writes facts and feelings from an old brick house in an outer borough of New York City. When she's not writing about lesbians, she's editing/writing/producing things at her day job in the beauty department of a well-known online style magazine. In her spare time, she helps organize the New York City Dyke March and makes up songs about her dog.

Gabrielle has written 96 articles for us.

74 Comments

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      Its something that is seldom addressed. Within South Africa women are asked how can a woman beat up another woman, you two are just fighting. This leaves a lot of women feeling trapped and alone. I am glad this piece was put up…thank you for it….

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    This is not my first time posting about myself in regard to this topic. But I will continue to do so if only to help one person. I spent 10 years in an abusive relationship with what I can best describe as a “master manipulator”. It started with small things..Comments, put downs even backhanded compliments. Over time, it grew worse. By the end I was so far from who I’d been that I didn’t even recognize the woman in the mirror. Eventually I got out and spent the next 2.5 years in therapy trying to understand why and how it had happened. Here is what I now know: Abusers abuse. It’s what they do and the why doesn’t matter to anyone other than the abuser and hopefully their therapist. It isn’t about you. And if it weren’t you, it would be someone else. Most likely when you go, it WILL be someone else. But go, you must. You can’t change her if you stay. But if you stay, she will change you. She already has. She will continue to stamp out of you everything that makes you who you are. She will destroy all that is beautiful about you until you see yourself how she wants you to see yourself. It’s already happened. There is nothing redeemable about this relationship. There is nothing to save but yourself. You love her. You want to help her. You can’t. Only after leaving will you truly understand how staying will have prevented any change. No one deserves to feel as you do. No one deserves the abuse. You can’t save her. You can’t change her. You can’t stay with her. You have to go and don’t look back. And once you go you need to get your ass to a good therapist and avoid getting involved again until after you’ve had a chance to rediscover that little piece of you that’s been buried so deep inside. That piece that held on. That piece of you that knew..that has known all along that you desrve better. She’s in there. She’s the piece that reached out for help. You aren’t alone. Turn to people who love you. Turn to friends for support. Hell, message me if you need to. You are not alone. You are stronger than you know. You are worthy. You have value. You are beautiful. Now get out. Go. Save yourself. And know you are not alone.

    • Thumb up 11

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      “She will continue to stamp out of you everything that makes you who you are. She will destroy all that is beautiful about you until you see yourself how she wants you to see yourself. It’s already happened.”

      This. This, this this. It’s so hard to explain what it’s like to look up one day and not know who or what you are anymore. To think you’re pathetic, or stupid, or just generally awful when a year ago you were confident and daring and driven. To look up and not even realize whether you like coffee, or action movies, or video games. To fear even opening your mouth around your girlfriend, because you know one wrong step, one wrong word and she will spend the next two to six hours turning a spilled cup of coffee into proof that you’re thoughtless and stupid.

      It’s so important to remember that if someone makes you feel less than you are that someone doesn’t deserve your love. It’s not your fault. It’s NOT. If you have gotten to the point that you think it is your fault, that you think you deserve what she is saying or doing to you (and I’m not judging because I believed that once) get help. Talk to your family, if that’s an option, or seek out your friends if it’s not. They love you. She doesn’t, no matter what she says.

      It’s so important too – if you see a friend in a situation like this, call it out for what it is. Don’t ignore it. Don’t avoid the word. It’s abuse. It’s abuse and they are being abused, and being soft with the word won’t help the situation. Tell them it’s wrong. Tell them they deserve better. Don’t let them draw away from you emotionally. Isolation is dangerous here.

      Even if nothing happens immediately they’ll know you love them. They’ll know you care, and they’ll know where to seek help when they’re ready.

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        “This. This, this this. It’s so hard to explain what it’s like to look up one day and not know who or what you are anymore. To think you’re pathetic, or stupid, or just generally awful when a year ago you were confident and daring and driven.”

        Yes yes yes. I was in this relationship for three years that — I don’t even know if I would call it abusive, that seems too harsh, but definitely toxic with some (unintentional?) emotionally abusive elements by the end. Its continued existence rested on me believing that black was white in some aspects of my life, and my ex was good at that.

        When it started I was this confident, outgoing, pretty loud pretty amazing person, and by the end I was sad, quiet, socially isolated, mentally ill, incapable of making basic decisions and (I believed) pathetic. But I didn’t realise, at all, in any way that those things were connected to the relationship until I got out of it — until I’d been out of it for months, and my ex fucked me over yet again, and I suddenly realised that actually everything was utterly fucked and I wasn’t the problem and I hit rage, where I’ve been ever since.

        You never know how much of it is due to the relationship until you manage to get out. Don’t accept the things this relationship or this dynamic or this person is making you believe about yourself. Just get out of there, and feel what it’s like to breathe again. You don’t even know. Remember who you were, and try and get out and refind that person. She is waiting for you. She never left.

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          Oh, and also, this person had a pattern of cheating behaviour and manipulating her gfs to make it seem like them/their behaviour/their attitude was the problem, so that she was free to do what she wanted while they tied themselves in knots about it. I, obviously, believed that I was the exception (bc she told me that) and that she could change, and if I just fixed everything that was wrong with *me* either she wouldn’t want to sleep with other people anymore, or I would stop being so uncool about her trying to transition us to a non-monogamous relationship without ever ever having that conversation with me or being honest that that was what she wanted.

          Yeah. People with a pattern of cheating/emotionally abusive behaviour don’t change. They are who they are and it is not your fault. Their genius is in making you feel that it is your fault. Refuse.

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          “and I hit rage, where I’ve been ever since.”

          I hit rage one day while driving home from work. She’d called me (after we had broken up – I’d still pick up the phone any time she called) while I was working. I was in the middle of a meeting, so I called her back an hour later. She then screamed at me for not being able to answer the phone while working. Said she was talking to someone “who really cared” now.

          I finally just snapped. The hypocrisy of what she was doing… knowing what she would have said if the situation was reversed… I lost it. Called the one friend that had stayed in touch with me throughout this “relationship” and sobbed so hard over the phone she thought someone had died.

          The first words I could get out were “I’m so angry”.

          I think that’s the hardest part for me? That I’m still angry three years later and worried it’s killing something good inside of me.

          This article has reminded me that I’ve not necessarily healed yet. Hah. It’s sort of a wake-up call I guess. Counseling is probably a good thing! Go get some, Meghan!

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          Rage is good. Rage is necessary. But it’s time to move past it. If counseling is what you need to get there than do it. DO IT! Look at the relationship. Take it apart piece by ugly piece and look at it. Really look at it from every angle. Understand what it was that brought you there. And how you will keep from ever going back, with her or anyone else. And once you’ve done this, put it away. Leave it behind you. Move forward. I wish for you and everyone whose been where we were, felt as we have, the peace of mind that comes from not caring about that person being in the same world we live in. Move forward. Your life is waiting.

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          “When it started I was this confident, outgoing, pretty loud pretty amazing person, and by the end I was sad, quiet, socially isolated, mentally ill, incapable of making basic decisions and (I believed) pathetic. But I didn’t realise, at all, in any way that those things were connected to the relationship until I got out of it”

          All of this is exactly me, but I think I only got to the realisation part after reading this article and the comments. It was definitely toxic and unhealthy and draining though I don’t think it was abuse exactly – I had my own awful moments to her and I don’t think it was intentional on either part. Its been a few months but I think the shock is wearing off and its all hitting me now. Are there ‘It Gets Better’ videos for people who need to be reminded that calling her again is an awful idea? Willpower is so hard, so is not crying.

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      digger i don’t know what to say except thank you. thank you for sharing something so personal and deep inside you. i got chills reading your comment. i think your words will help people and i thank you so much for sharing them. i am so glad you got out. a million hugs to you. <3

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      I too have been there in an emotionally abusive relationship, once with a woman much older than I was when I was still a teen and once with someone my own age. And these are the wisest words spoken and I wish I had heard them at the time I was in the abusive relationships. There is such a taboo for us to speak about this and I remember how I felt I would be maligning the image of lesbian relationships if I spoke to anyone or admitted that yes lesbian woman can be abusers too! I blamed myself and thought if I loved her enough it would change. I needed to love myself more and when I did I got out and it has been a long road with a few years of therapy and much needed celibacy but am stronger and know I am worthy and loved.
      So anyone in an abusive relationship listen to Digger’s wise advice and save yourself!

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      Oh yeah, this makes a good point – ‘trying to save her’ more often than not ends badly. Only she can save herself, really. Meanwhile you will just be along for the hellish ride.

      Here’s what I’ve learnt after many years of such experience: proper functioning healthy relationships require BOTH PARTIES to be responsible and capable of meeting halfway to care for each other. If one or the other is doing more of the work, trying to shoulder the other more, it will not work. That relationship will collapse in a heap of resentment, lack of trust, and bad communication.

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      Digger – Thank you for sharing this and please know your words have only confirmed that packing my things and leaving was the right thing to do. I feel now that I have reached the first week mark of not being in that abusive environment, I have taken a hard accounnting of my past relationship of four years. Excuses about my ex’s behavior flowed past my lips because I was in love with the person that I fell in love with…not the person who would occasionally “show up” in our relationship just to use me as an emotional punching bag. While narcissism is stereotypically aligned with men…ladies, it is alive and well with female abusers. I have learned in the past seven days the extent that I made myself “small.” I bought her story about who I was, am, and will be hook, line, and sinker…and most of it revolved around a perception of lack and how I didn’t “serve” her needs. Ladies, run if this is anything you are experience. Run far. Run fast. Because the only thing you are responsible for in this life is being the best YOU and creating YOUR life. You are not responsible for “fixing” anyone except yourself. By cutting ties and healing (with therapy and self-care)- I know I will be the best ME ever and that life will unfold and provide me with a true, healthy partner. Digger, you are a beautiful soul and thank you for sharing!

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    There are also specific resources for queer survivors of abuse, including:

    nwnetwork.org (free phone counseling and other resources for wherever you live-but they also have relationship skills classes if you live in Seattle!)

    and lots of others.

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    I think it’s incredibly important to discuss all abuse, but especially in same-sex relationships because I feel there’s a trend to hide the bad aspects of relationships within the LGBT community. Like if we want to have the same rights as heterosexual couples, then we can’t let them see anything wrong. Abuse is abuse is abuse.

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      “Like if we want to have the same rights as heterosexual couples, then we can’t let them see anything wrong. Abuse is abuse is abuse.”

      YES. I strongly agree with this. It often feels like we have to portray all our relationships in the sunniest way possible just to validate the fact that we HAVE relationships that deserve the same amount of respect as hetero ones. And that leads to a certain amount of turning a blind eye to the nastier sides of relationships, like abuse, even within our community. It’s like we’re internalizing this belief that we have to have perfect relationships in order to be “equal” to heteros, even though we don’t expect the same from them. It’s really weird.

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    Right now I’m watching two friends in a relationship and to be honest, I think one of them is abusive to the other. Now, the abusive one is a kind, loving person, and is otherwise what I guess you would call “progressive”, so it feels weird putting the abuser label on her. But when this side of her comes out, it is ugly. Trying to isolate her partner from friends/family. Put-downs that go beyond couple banter/teasing. A way of propping herself up, above her partner, that seems to indicate a hidden insecurity. It makes me so uncomfortable and uncertain and I wish her partner could see that the goodness and fun of the relationship shouldn’t outweigh that disrespect and ugliness.

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      A colleague came to me a few weeks ago telling me that she was dating someone in the office, and that this person was stalking, harassing, and threatening her. The guy she was talking about was consistently described as being sweet or teddy-bear-like by other co-workers. But when I helped her get away from him he suddenly became aggressive, intimidating, and threatened to kill me. I think many abusers are excellent at hiding this side of themselves most of the time. If they were psychotic and controlling from the outset they’d have a much harder time finding people to victimize.

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    The day I walked away from an abusive relationship was the best day of my life, even when it felt like the worst. I’d tried about six times before that to end things, and it had never worked out. If you’ve been struggling to get out, please let this be the message that tells you to go. Leave now. Remove their number from the phone. Take what you can. If you can’t take it with you, don’t worry. I am owed about $100, but I know that I’d pay more than $100 to erase that part of my life. Go, and don’t look back. It’ll be okay. You can do it.

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      This is so true. In the end, you have to just finally END it. I’ve been in a similar situation, tried to end it multiple times, but in the end you have to cut everything off. It’s scary, especially if you’ve been in this for a while and have been isolated from (previous) friends and family, and it seems like you don’t have a network…you eventually need to make a game plan and leave. From personal experience, it was so hard, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

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    thank you for posting this. this is exactly how i’m feeling to a scary degree.. this article made me sob haa sounds so cheesey but really, its nice to know i’m not alone. <3

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    Sat through a three hour lecture yesterday about Domestic violence and Sexual violence. Pretty horrible actually. But it bugged me because the lecturer basically said masculinity was to blame for it all, and didn’t spend more than 20 seconds on LGBTIQ issues. I guess she just couldn’t fit everything in. But still.

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    Great article. I’m a queer chick, and was in an abusive relationship when I was younger. The physical abuse is nothing compared to emotional and mental abuse; it’s sad how abuse in the LGBT community gets swept under the rug, because when it comes down to it, there are abusers out there regardless of gender. Heck, I’ve had hetero male friends who have been in abusive relationships with women; a situation which is also skimmed over.

    Everyone needs to realize that abuse isn’t usually the type you see in the movies, a drunk-ass no-good violent male d-bag; it can affect anyone in any demographic

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    Especially after tonights PLL episode I’m even more convinced that Emily is in an abusive relationship & that she should dump Paige before she ends up in a hospital again or dead.

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    Thank you. This is wonderful.

    All this that you’re describing, in the article and in the comments, are exactly what I experienced for three years with a woman I loved (and who made me really realise I’m a lesbian) and who I wanted to marry.

    We broke up at least three times, everything was invariably ‘my fault,’ and I gradually lost confidence in myself and belief in others. Leaving her finally felt like an addiction withdrawal, but allowed me to start fresh (on another continent, no less).

    It does get better, though. Much better. In fact I’m happier now, in my new life, appreciating small details of life and everything that is my own choice, than I’ve ever been. I think maybe experiencing that – a relationship that alternately burns and freezes and suffocates and stabs – does at least teach you what to value and to appreciate by comparison afterwards. You get a really good lesson in what a good relationship looks like compared to a bad one. And, I think, once you’re finally clear of that experience, it can help you better appreciate your life in all its choices and small pleasures because it’s YOURS. Not hers or anyone else’s to control or criticise.

    I think the fact she was one of the first women I really loved and was properly attracted to is, as in the article, a relevant thing. Because if you don’t know enough other queer women, and know our population to be small, then maybe one thinks one has to put up with the bad because ‘how many options do I have among women?’ Maybe as more women come out, and queerness becomes more normalised, we’ll be better aware of having more, better options among girlfriends.

    In any case, all of you, know yourselves to be worth more than the crap way some bitch treats you. You don’t deserve to be someone’s punching bag.

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      Oh that is such a good point about not knowing enough queer women and therefore feeling like you have to “settle”. While I was reading through all of this, I started wondering whether I narrowly avoided entering into an abusive relationship with the first girl I ever dated. I didn’t know many queers, and I wasn’t even very attracted or interested in her, but I thought maybe this was all I was going to get, even though sometimes she made me feel really uncomfortable. When I broke it off, all of her kindness and humor just evaporated and she got really cold and scary and… I ended up being even more glad I was ending it! But, anyway, I do think that can happen, if you don’t get to know more queer women, you can sort of trap yourself by thinking you’re just being too picky.

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    Thank you so much for this. I was in one of these relationships, I think, but sometimes still when I think about it I feel like it was all my fault and I was the crazy one. Doesn’t help that my ex girlfriend is very popular and respected and a women’s/gender studies major to boot. It lasted almost two years. On the day I finally managed to leave I immediately felt the air return to my lungs. I was scared (and later angry) but it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

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    My first relationship was an abusive one. It lasted four years. Four long damaging years. It’s been nearly ten years since it ended but it’s still not something that is completely behind me. A relationship like that leaves a mark.

    The abuse was only physical on occasion; mainly, it was mental, emotional, and verbal. In my opinion, that is just as damaging, if not more so. I feel like it might have been easier if that had been reversed… Physical healing is easier than mental healing. It fucked my head up bad. We didn’t have a tumultuous relationship full of break-ups and insane drama. It wasn’t standard fights and screaming. It was more like a quiet manipulation and complete control and slow destruction. Looking from the outside in, you just wouldn’t know. She wasn’t always evil. When other people were around, she relaxed and was funny and social and together, we appeared happy and in love. The truth was very far from that.

    Before I met her, I was ambitious and outgoing and bubbly and happy and put together and confident. With her, not so much. I sought her approval for every move I made. I feared setting her off so I walked on eggshells constantly. I never had an opinion about anything, I never disagreed with her, I never stepped a toe out of line. I was subdued into a hollow shell of myself and just kind of existed, trying really hard to make myself completely unnoticeable to her.

    I am married now to the most amazing woman and it is a healthy and happy relationship, but it’s not always easy. I get uncomfortable about things or feel bad about things or get weird feelings about things… there’s nothing wrong now, it’s just like a leftover automatic response to a situation, if that makes sense. It all kinda comes and goes — sometimes I feel better about myself and I feel worthwhile, other times I feel those bad feelings creeping back. When something becomes your normal and it lasts for years, it’s hard to return to actual healthy normal.

    I wish I would have gotten out of that relationship sooner. I wish I hadn’t allowed myself to become so… damaged. I’m not blaming myself or anything like that; I just wish I would have had the strength at the time to stand on my own feet and walk away. For reasons I never truly understood, that woman eventually decided to end it with me and let me go. Every single day, I am grateful that she did. I know myself. If she wouldn’t have ended it, I never ever would have. I didn’t have it in me… That’s what happens. You get so broken down and so broken inside that you just can’t imagine pulling yourself out of it. You just can’t imagine anything else.

    My relationship now with my wife is a stark contrast to that first relationship. My life with her is cake–she adores me and spoils me and likes to make me laugh. We are genuinely happy and enjoy our life together and actually like each other as people. She’s everything I could ever ask for. Maybe if I would have known back then that this type of woman and this type of relationship was possible, it would have been easier to tell myself I deserved more.

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    I have not been in an abusive relationship myself but have seen a friend go through it. I just don’t understand it. You cannot truly love someone if you are willing to subject them to your violence, be it physical or emotional.

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    I need any advice I can get. After reading this article/comments ( @Digger thank you a million times. That was beautiful.), I realize my family and friends were right. I was in an extremely abusive relationship, and was manipulated so much that I didn’t even see it! This is crazy. My mind is blown. And NOT in a good way.

    What I need help with: my ex is still someone I need to see/interact with almost on a daily basis. As in, we’re on the same rugby team, and I love it and my other teammates too much to quit just to get away from her. How do I keep myself from being abused as an ex-girlfriend while still being a teammate? How do I keep the two separate? I’m sorry if I’m not being clear, my head is still swimming from this article.

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      I don’t think anyone can tell you how to handle it for sure. The first step though is to definitely seek counseling if you can.

      Do you have any free counseling services near you? Either in your city, or if you’re still in school on campus? If not, there are some other people in this thread that have posted some free resources that can help counsel you for free over the phone.

      Your counselor will help you navigate this far more effectively than I ever could, but is being around your ex continually causing you damage? Is it worth that damage for the benefits that being on this team bring you? Are there people there that can support you through any barbs she might throw?

      You deserve respect and love. Respect and love yourself enough to get the help you need to process.

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    Oh man, so many feels about all of this.

    My father is a master manipulator, and I spent the first 18 years of my life living in a home where my parents’ relationship was emotionally, verbally, sexually, and eventually physically abusive, and my father neglected and emotionally and verbally abused us kids. It took my mother 22 years of marriage to leave, but she finally did.

    Now there’s this epic battle between my desire to cut off contact completely with my father, other family members’ lack of understanding why, and my mother’s insistence that I not sever ties just because he’s my father. So I communicate with him the bare minimum I can get away with, and try not to see him while I’m home. Holidays are considered non-negotiable and I have to see him at least for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and every encounter just leaves me sad and angry.

    Now I’m 23 and have never had a romantic relationship. The idea of it now freaks me out. What if my partner were to turn abusive? what if I turned into the one perpetuating the cycle of violence? What does a healthy relationship look like anyway? Does love even exist?

    If you’re in an abusive relationship, get out. Get out NOW, before it poisons you. And definitely don’t raise a child in that kind of environment, because it will poison their life too- they’ll come out of it either damaged or as an abuser themselves. And the world has enough of both of those already.

    Have to say though, when I took a semester-long family violence course, they did a good job, and covered all the bases in terms of also discussing interpersonal violence in queer relationships, as well as the additional problems that people in a same-sex relationship face in terms of seeking and receiving the help they need.

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      Ashley, replying to give you mad hugs. Have a very similar relationship with my dad and mom, and am still feeling the pressure to maintain relationships. I had to put my foot down- I worked so obscenely hard to get myself into a safe space and get rid of the toxicity that they always bring into my life. It’s our right to take care of ourselves physically and emotionally, and boundaries are our bestest friends.

      And about your fear of being in an abusive relationship I SO FEEL YOU. After working my way through a bunch of not-great ones, going to therapy and learning to listen to my inner voice (sounds lame I know but it’s so true) I’ve realized that as a survivor of abuse we’re taught not to listen to our emotions- to constantly try to rationalize or ignore when something inside of ourselves says DATZ NOT OKAY. I guess I don’t have any real pearls of wisdom to throw your way, except to share that for me, in my journey to being a whole person instead of a crazy shell of a human being, I had to start loving myself again in a way that my parents couldn’t (didn’t? refused to?). Once I got there, I could start listening to myself again, and making good decisions about love, life, and everything in between. Ok I’m gonna go hug my puppy now.

      xoxo fellow queermo abuse survivors.

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        hugs to you, too. The road to gaining sanity in your life, and love for yourself can be a long one.

        And even though I would never wish feelings like mine on another person, it makes me feel less crazy to hear I’m not the only one with these thoughts/feelings.

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      I was in a similar situation when my parents finally got divorced. I chose to complete cut myself off from my dad and didn’t speak to for about 3 years. My brother and sister, however, stayed in contact with him so I completely understand how it feels to be the only one expressing a problem with the abuse. I constantly felt like I was over-reacting and making everyone’s life difficult. But, fuck it. I needed that time to work through my feelings and redefine my relationship with him. We are now back in touch and have been for the last 10 years. We get along fine, I love him and I’m no longer scared of him or angry about the past. We’ll never be super close but I’m fine with that.

      I was also worried about emulating my parent’s relationship and, more than anything, worried that I would be the abusive one. My father and I have similar personalities – low confidence (we both had abusive father’s so, no surprises there!), shyness and a short temper – so part of felt it was inevitable. My first relationship (aged 19) became pretty nasty. We basically had nothing in common and it wore us down. She would pick on me for being too butch or grungy and eventually manipulated me into wearing make up (that she chose) and dressing more femmey in a gross mainstream way (I wore body glitter against my will you guys). A part of me knew that it was a fucked up situation but I convinced myself that we were in an opposites attract situation instead. Eventually we started picking each other to death and I came to the heart-breaking realization that Paula Abdul and that cartoon cat lied to me.

      However, I’m now in a fantastic relationship with the coolest, sweetest person ever. It’s full of love, support and heart-gasm. I still have to check myself from time to time as I developed the horrible habit criticizing other people when I was feeling bad about myself or I felt intimidated by someone. I rarely get the urge to do that anymore because my girl is constantly reminding me that I’m actually pretty awesome. Also, she blushes and smiles when I remind her of her awesomeness so, I pretty much want to do it all the time as well.

      Shit that was longer that I meant for it to be but, in conclusion, your feelings are valid. Do what you need to do to keep yourself safe emotionally and physically. Be self aware but also understand that recognizing that you have the potential to emulate your father probably means you won’t. And, above all, love does exist and it doesn’t have to be scary, dramatic or soul destroying. When it happens for real, it’s actually quite calming.

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    Are abusive friend relationships ever really talked about? because i know we place a lot of emphasis on partner abuse, as it should be, but can friendships be almost the same? I just ask because someone who was my gfs best friend, now considered by said person to be ‘only friend’ or at least repeatedly told so, definitely appears to be abusing that relationship.

    They’re constantly trying to get her to break up with me, using of all things a seriously contrived claim that I am being abusive (i have a bad trigger-y thing with self harm, it makes me feel sad and angry enough that i don’t want to be around my gf when i know she’s done it, we’ve come to an understanding over this) which is horrible for me and my gf. This has gone on for 3 years now, since we started going out.

    They also keep trying to make her talk to someone who they’ve been obsessing over for years now, who simply isn’t interested in them and recently got sick of this sort of treatment from them, with threats like ‘if you were really my friend…’ and insults which seems to me a horrific hypocrisy considering the previous point.

    The last major point (that i know of) is how they pretty much refuse to spend time with anyone but her, and even then will regularly flake out on stuff they arranged to do, citing they don’t feel like it.

    All i see from my gf back is a little annoyance mixed in with an ‘i can fix them, if things were different i could be in her position, she wasn’t always like this, it isn’t really her’

    Sorry for dropping this in to a thread about partner abuse it just feels like it’s so similar and i want to scream and shout at this girl and stop my gf from putting herself through it any more and need a little help.

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      No need to apologise. In a word, yes. Friend-abuse can and does happen. Essentially, anyone to whom you’re vulnerable – emotionally, psychologically, physically, sexually, whatever the way(s) – has the opportunity to be abusive.* Follow your intuition. If the situation doesn’t smell right, it’s likely not right. Especially because this isn’t particle physics. It’s a relationship. It’s based on feelings and intangibles. For balance’s sake, try to be clear-headed and rational, yeah. But you don’t have to prove in, like, an externally valid theorem that something’s amiss.

      *Not looking to spark paranoia here kids; in my experience, most people aren’t, no worries. But the tendency to abuse someone I think does correlate with how damaged the abuser is his/herself. Remember the abuse is not really about the victim. The victim is just a placeholder. A symbol. It’s actually all about the abuser trying to fix, in a screwed-up way, whatever is hurting him/herself. Whatever inadequacies the abuser feels.

      And actually, I’d really say don’t even bother trying to figure out the logic of their abuse, because it doesn’t actually matter to them or to you whether ‘you did something bad like rearrange the furniture’ and now the abuser’s shrieking at you for it or something; whatever the episode is, it only functions symbolically. The real issue will be something like, the abuser’s fear of uncertainty and resulting need to control. That realisation – that you and whatever the abuser’s angry at you for is only a placeholder for the abuser’s deep-seated psychological issues – can be very freeing, at least. Because their abuse really IS NOT ABOUT YOU. If you weren’t there to be abused, they would be abusing someone else.

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      Yes, yes there is friendship abuse.
      I don’t know if the fact that it’s “just” a friendship and not a romantic relationship makes leaving easier. I guess not.
      Now it feels like I was able to end the abusive friendship I was in rather quickly, but leaving, the “breaking up” wasn’t easy, and at first – when the friendship became abusive and I was afraid to lose my friend – it felt like my life would end. It felt like I would die, or rather die, than be without my friend’s love.
      And that friendship really wasn’t about love, it was about her being in charge. Because she held me so close, and as long as I hadn’t made a mistake yet I hardly realized I almost always agreed to her opinion, to her taste in things.
      Then I made the mistake of not telling her about my new (that was then) boyfriend for two weeks. After I told her a living hell started – I had betrayed her and how could she ever trust me again. I went from being her closest friend to someone who was not trustworthy, who had to fight for her affection every fucking time I saw her. She made me make up for it for months.
      She screamed at me, when she was drunk she would hit me or kick me, and people would say that I had to live with it because “that’s just how she is, but we all know and noone cares because we love her”.

      If this is a situation that doesn’t scream “run, don’t walk” or “abuse” than I don’t know.

      So yes, it’s a thing, and I think my friend back then really obviously was an abuser (and also someone who couldn’t handle alcohol). The problem is – with every abusive situation – that your gf would have to make the decision to end the abusive friendship herself. You can talk to her and state that you think she’s being abused and that you are worried, but ultimately it’s up to her what to do about the situation.

      (I just thought about another relationship I know that I once classified as verging on being abusive. a good friend of mine is best friends with the probably abused partner and as much as I am afraid she is being abused I find it very very sad that her gf is being judged for being mentally ill. this is just tough shit and not always black and white.)

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    J:On a really pretty day we were sitting in the grass, her head in my lap and she suggested we play a game. “what thing do you hate about me and think that if you told me I could change because I probably just don’t know this about myself?” I said I didn’t really want to play, but we had been together for a few years and she felt like we were close enough to have this talk. She gave me an example, her last girlfriend said she sometimes needs conditioner and that minus 25 lbs she’d be great. Her first boyfriend another lifetime ago said her cleavage was sluttier than she probably thought or realized.
    I felt really bad for her because this game seems abusive. She seems to seriously long for somebody to tell her how awful she is. I told her sometimes when she is explaining things she talks over people or doesn’t try to break it down for them. She smiled and said thank you. Her criticism of me was that sometimes I burn the coffee.
    L: We aren’t together anymore, but we are working on the friendship and I am working on me. Abuse is tough, it plays games with your feelings. I sometimes feel like real love hurts and I have a hard time trusting or feeling comfortable when somebody loves me, because I don’t know what to do and I feel like its a lie. For a long time the people who loved me most said the worst things to me and even though it hurt I felt like they were making me better. I even did that to J, I tried to make her better, but I did it by encouraging her to do things that made her happy. I am mostly just glad that we are getting to a place where it isn’t silent anymore. Love doesn’t have to hurt and while I don’t know what love is (I just do as I’m told) I think being able to give it a name, my problem, has done a lot of good. It is abuse, it leaves scars, it matters.

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    First, thanks to everyone to who shared their stories. It’s so important to get the message out that there abuse comes in different forms and situations and from all types of people. It’s awful how politics has tried to subcategorize and trivialize abuse, silencing those who don’t fit into the “regular” standard of abuse.

    Second, it’s astounding how little there is out there about same-sex and same-gender abuse. I remember being so infuriated and frustrated when trying to find information on the topic for a documentary class. I was forced to change my topic in order to write my paper, which made me even more flustered because of how clearly narrow the general perspective on abuse is. As if it isn’t hard enough for people who have been abused to come forward.

    Everyone should be educated and aware that abuse is not defined by who people involved are (ie: gender, race, age, sex, etc) or the type of relationship they are in (ie: married, divorced, acquaintance, friends, etc). It is defined by the actions and the consequences of those actions. The focus on the people involved is harmful; it takes away from the big picture that human dignity was violated and prevents groups of people from coming forward to claim justice they deserve.

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    One of the issues I see with queer abusive relationships is the way the person doing the abusing is often themselves abused by family or seriously discriminated against. I used to think that such unsurprising abusive behavior (from me or from others) nurtured by family patterns was tolerable because I confused acceptance of abuse with compassion. I have since gotten wiser but it was a lesson I learned the hard way.
    When I was younger I was dealing with a lot of illness/loss and during that time I said things to people that I now deem verbally abusive or toxic at the very least. I have a lot of remorse but I can’t avoid the fact that I said what I said. I learned toxic behavior from how my family treated me/others; because I wasn’t as extreme as them and didn’t raise my voice or threaten people, I didn’t see my problem for what it was. At the same time, I have had several relationships with people whose behavior towards me went from toxic to plain abusive, and all of them had others who abused them as well. There was the woman who screamed at me, whose father had spent her whole childhood screaming at her. I made unreasonable demands from her and crafted excuses for both of us. Another girlfriend was dealing with her abusive mother and brother stalking her for most of our relationship. I justified and enabled abusive behavior from her because in contrast to her family, she was much healthier and her behavior made sense in the context of her childhood environment. When we finally broke up she took off all her clothes, demanded I have sex with her and refused to leave my apartment. I finally called a friend of hers to come get her: if she’d been a man I probably would have called the police. Today I don’t speak to her at all though I know she’s in therapy. I don’t want to contact her, condone what she did or pretend that she’ll change overnight but I can’t say it doesn’t make sense why she turned out the way she was when I knew her and I hope she changes for the better.

    I was lucky enough to go to therapy and accept that admitting I had a problem (both being toxic and allowing others to violate my boundaries/abuse me) wasn’t synonymous with being an innately bad person. I think therapy is the only thing that can adequately deconstruct where abusive behavior comes from and what skills are needed to grow into a healthier person. The key for me was making no excuses for the way I have acted while not condemning myself with a totalizing label, separating the person from the behavior. The fact that I’m not a bad person or have good intentions or I’m under a lot of stress doesn’t entitle me to say toxic things or demand things from people. The fact that my ex wasn’t a bad person and was in a difficult position similarly didn’t give her equal license.
    I am grateful for friends having cut me off because it stopped me from further harming them, modeled healthy behavior and forced me to confront myself. Now I’m in a place where I could sustain a healthy relationship based on sharing joy, respecting boundaries and communicating effectively. I won’t be abusing/toxic to others and won’t allow them to abuse or be toxic to me. I wish the skills I learned in therapy were taught in school, as many of us don’t learn them at home.

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    Wow, I’m so grateful for this article and to all of you who shared your stories. This is so, so, so Important. Love and hugs all round. My heart aches for all the pain you lived through and I admire your strength.
    I’m so lucky to have been spared this experience, but I did come close once… I felt completely disoriented, having no idea if my feelings were justified or if I was imagining things. Because each incident on its own seemed like no big deal, but there was a pattern. I am so grateful to my friend for saying: ‘with feelings there is no right or wrong — how you feel is how you feel.’ It seemed obvious after she said it, but I really, really needed to hear it at the time.

    Trust. Your. Feelings. If something feels wrong, it probably is.

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    My first girlfriend and I were both in bad places two years ago. She’d start fights, I’d finish them, and we would get drunk. I should have left after the first time, I know now- we both did horrible things to each other. I moved away and we didn’t speak until last week. We talked on the phone and cried- she and I both have been through therapy for our issues and we’re both in really good places. However, I couldn’t trust anyone for a long time and it took me three years after the fact to start liking myself again. I’m a stronger, healthier person for healing from all of it, but I wish that I had walked away after the first time.

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    I have never been in an abuse situation with a romantic partner, but it does remind me of another taboo subject and that is same-sex parental abuse. Six years out of leaving home, I realized a lot of the manipulation, emotional, physical, and (possible) sexual abuse I experienced as a kid were not normal. And one of my moms emotionally abusing the other was also not okay. But I felt this strong need of upholding this image of being a perfect adopted by-product of lesbian parenting — for my queer community and for the “family values” naysayers– and a fear that no one would believe me. For so long, I have also feared that if I disclosed this abuse, it would invalidate my own queerness as well. I am just beginning to reflect on this experience and working through it, but it is also frustrating and lonely to feel like im the only one with this experience.

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    Thanks for tackling this issue. From reading this and all the comments I have to say that I feel less alone for past abuse suffered. I rationalized the physical abuse and emotional manipulation as “just part of female relationships with other females.” Even though it’s been 7 years since I’ve seen her I get occasional impulses to seek her out, to apologize, to do something. I think this has reinforced my resolve to never go back to that. So thanks.

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    Thank you so much for posting this information. I was also abused by my girlfriend. After I finally got the courage to leave her, she stalked me. When I went to the police after she threatened to kill me (again), they laughed at me. When I tried to get a restraining order after she sent me videos and pictures she had taken of me, the clerk at the court laughed and denied the r.o. saying that since she was shorter than I, I could probably kick her ass.
    I was lucky enough to live in an area that had a lesbian counselor for survivors of same-sex domestic violence, as well as a lesbian survivors’ group. I healed, slowly but surely. I also moved away.
    I’m glad this issue is being discussed more now. I think it needs even more visibility, esp. with the police and court systems. Violence between women is no joke.

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    Yes yes yes.

    The main thing I learned, in retrospect, from my last relationship was that if the relationship is making you unhappy/depressed/not yourself, GET OUT. Love does not equal happiness, in fact it often feeds unhappiness. It is not rational, and you do not have to be rational about it. Believe your instincts, don’t be afraid to be selfish, and run if you need to.

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    Thank you so much to everyone for sharing your experiences! Reading the comments of this have been an extremely moving experience.

    I have had a number of relationships with people who had abusive tendencies, and luckily with the majority of them I was able to get out in time before things turned dangerous. Once when I was a baby gay, a friend said to me that “a girlfriend is a girlfriend is a girlfriend,” and that really basic advice was actually really life changing. Like, once you take on additional roles like therapist, mother, narc, or someone’s entire support network because they’ve alienated everyone else in their life, etc, it is time to reexamine the situation.

    Anyway thanks again all of you for your bravery and your strength. Let’s make sure to keep talking about this.

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    I am 33 now, have been out since age 19. It’s funny how my views on being a lesbian have changed since then. When I was coming out, I naively thought that because I was dating women, they would inherently be “nicer,” play less games, and basically just be more mature in relationships. (even though I had only ever dated really nice guys, just wasn’t into them at all). I have definitely found myself in the “victim” role a little too often, and it has taken me a long time to recognize this and the control I have over my own life. Women, like men, can be controlling, jealous, codependent, emotionally immature, and selfish; and it is up to all of us to recognize this both within and outside our relationships. If it weren’t for a few close friends or my sister speaking up a couple times about some of my exes, I may still be in those unhealthy relationships.

    I once dated a person who yelled at me in front of all of my friends on a camping trip because I asked her what I could do to help clean up the campsite. (?) And because I once gave her a hug and patted her on the back at a bar (which was too much like a “friend” and not a “girlfriend” pat on the back), which she then used to justify her then flirting with another girl all night. When I FINALLY tried to break up with her, she called me every night threatening suicide until I got back together with her…only to be dumped by her several months later when she found someone new that was 14 years younger than her. Oh the control games abusers love to play.

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    I don’t know what to do anymore. It seems like I am the experiment of conditioning. Every month she builds me up just to break me down and do it all over again. This month had a special curve ball. She was never actually in love with me and come to find out on our computer today she had been looking at plane tickets to go see a girl I had questioned only to be reassured I was crazy and I was only doing It to myself. The sooner I stopped thinking that way the sooner id be more at peace. Two days after her monthly freak out and she’s already making plans to go see this girl…. But she also told me to give her space and show her respect. “Actions speak louder then words she says” but She’s the one flying across the country to see some random we met once. Really? Oh and texting me all today how she hopes I have a great day! And she got something to brig home for us! What do I do? I forgot to mention we live togherter and I am in no financial position to move out. My sister hates what she does to me ad my friends (of what I have left) say ses abusive.

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    For Anon from Jan 20, 2012 – I am very familiar with what you describe here. Even down to the plane travel and the happy like nothing ever happened & wait I thought of you/ I have something for you suspense texts. These are contradictory messages. What to do – confusing messages are confusing!

    I absorbed heartbreaks silently. It was trouble to bring up: having to justify the complaint, or having the tables turned and needing to take care of her hurt feelings because she thought I was saying she was a bad person. I hopped around on the diminishing lily pads of nice times, trying to avoid thinking about the things that were hurtful to me. Between hope and denial, how long would I have held on?

    My friends? Some called it like they saw it. Some said, when you get tired of it, it will stop. Others asked, is this what you want? You ask what you should do. Dolly Parton said once on NPR, what I can remember: Decide how you feel or what you want in your heart & your mind – that will help you take the first steps, and then the ones after that.

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    One time….i cried in the cereal aisle because it had been 3 years since I had picked out the kind i liekd and bought it for myself.

    Abuse sucks.

    Just run away people. RUN.AWAY.

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    I have been in an abusive relationship for 2 years now. Actually, today is our anniversary. I was ‘made’ to walk home 7 miles because she had ‘more important things to do than wait 5 minutes for me to run and grab a prescription from my dr. I never thought I could be in this place with another woman. All of my past gf’s have had issues, but nobody has EVER treated me this way. I told her that I have never actually had a 2 year anniversary, so she went on to presume that I have been a whore for my adult life, and called me one. I just haven’t found a lot of women that I WANTED to have an intimate, monogomous relationship with. Let alone one at all. She gets mad at me when I don’t give her enough money, yet she refuses to work because that’s ‘my place’. She has told me, now that I have finally started college at 32 years old, that she is going to do everything in her power for me to fail, just to throw it in my face. These are her words… she tells me I’m stupid for starting college so late and its a waste of HER time.
    I know I need to leave, but she takes ALL of my money, and I have absolutely nowhere to go. Even ‘our’ friends think I’m crazy because she’s a master manipulator and everyone thinks she’s this perfect angel. All they see is me cry, or try to walk out of the room because she’s whispered something horrible to me. They don’t see who she really is, and its hard. They think I’m the one who’s mean when I go hide in a bathroom to cry or just escape. She actually hit me for the first time last night, and just blew it off saying it was an accident.
    She comes back from the land of cruelty for a few days at a time and I think it might get better. But I know I’m just fooling myself, and its only going to get worse.
    Any suggestions on how to ‘get away’?

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    I’m not sure if I’m welcomed here at all but here goes: I was an abuser in my previous relationship.

    She broke it off with me and i’m finally trying to understand everything. it’s all too late, but that’s my consequence i’ll have to deal with. if it were up to me, i would discontinue communicating with her but she says she wants to remain friends.

    I’m currently undergoing therapy and I’m educating myself on appropriate behaviors and empathy and just finally trying to turn around. she waited for me to do this for 4 years. I’m just at the guilt stage really. I don’t know how long i’ll feel the guilt. I want to be supportive as best as I can without overreaching her boundaries

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