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Learn About Coercive Control and Psychological Abuse

The Dynamics of Intimate Partner Abuse has some unique perspectives in LGBTIQ Relationships

– Posted in: LGBTIQ

Last year a practitioner from USA, Eve N. Bogdanove (MSW, LICSW), contacted me asking if I would be willing to create a list of tactics used by one partner to control the other partner, specifically for people in LGBTIQ intimate relationships. In response I have prepared this blog, Power and Coercive Control Wheel, and an eBook for the LGBTIQ community. I welcome constructive, civil comment to the blog, and professional practitioner feedback via my Contact page. Thank you, Clare Murphy PhD.

After exploring the motivations, attitudes and external pressures that contribute to the risk of being abused and controlled by your partner, I have published a 10 page list of tactics in the form of an eBook. The wheel and list of tactics provide guidelines to assist both mainstream heterosexual and LGBTIQ Domestic Violence Service Practitioners, victims and survivors.

Glossary. At a training that I gave last year to practitioners, based on my research with heterosexual intimate partners, I mentioned to the people in the room that I had developed an in-depth list of tactics, used by intimate partners in LGBTIQ communities. Someone in the audience asked, “What does LGBTIQ mean?” I realised at that point that, for my blog on the issue of intimate partner coercive control and domestic abuse in LGBTIQ communities, I would need to provide a glossary to explain this acronym more fully. [Go to LGBTIQ GLOSSARY – Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transwomen, Transmen, Intersexual and Queer]

Hopefully, if you are living with an intimate partner, you’ll know the potential for a wondrous lifelong relationship. But, if you have difficulties within your relationship, this blog exposes intimate partner coercive control and other forms of abuse.


The terminology that best describes the experiences of victims of an intimate partner is “power and control” and “coercive control”. Equally, these terms are used for heterosexual and LGBTIQ intimate relationships.

Also, equally, the most common forms of abuse in heterosexual and LGBTIQ intimate relationships are non-physical forms of abuse and coercive control, and are the most misunderstood by outsiders, as well as by the victims experiencing the abuse [1, 2].

Intimate Partner Abuse (IPA) is a pattern of intentional behaviour used by one partner against the other.

If you are being abused and controlled by your partner, you may be experiencing violation, isolation, domination, manipulation, degradation, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, physical and sexual violence, coerced sex, economic abuse, social abuse, spiritual abuse and more.

It’s important to know that patterns of coercive control tend to escalate and get worse over time.

Another pattern that tends to happen is you may find that your abusive partner can confuse you by denying they are doing anything wrong, or they may minimise the harm they are causing you, or they may blame you for any ongoing abuse.

Why does your partner want higher status over you?

The common goal of intimate partner abuse (IPA) is for the abusive partner to gain and maintain power and control over you.

But why would they do that if they love you?

Some reasons why your partner abuses or controls you, may be that they have a sense of entitlement to have what they want, when they want, and how they want. And they may use coercive control to achieve this. Some people have a need to be in charge, to be right and to have higher status than their partner. Perpetrators tend to need to control the finances and decision-making.

The society we live in encourages and supports hierarchies which create power differences – men above women, white people above coloured, able-bodied above disabled, rich people above poor people, straight people above LGBTIQ people. Usually, the partner who is using abuse is attempting to achieve and maintain higher status over the other.

Introducing my 10 page list of abusive and controlling tactics that can be played out within LGBTIQ intimate partner relationships. It’s Free.



There are higher rates of intimate partner abuse among sexual minority groups in comparison with heterosexual people.

Transgender women experience intimate partner abuse, violence and sexual abuse at significantly higher rates than any other group of people.

The USA National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs 2014 survey of intimate partner abuse, found that transgender women had the highest risk of experiencing threats, intimidation, harassment, and injury by their partner compared with people who did not identify as transgender.

Research shows that gay men, Bi-sexual people and lesbian women experience IPA (Intimate Partner Abuse) at rates that are equal to or higher than IPA in heterosexual relationships [2, 6].

Research with gay men found that HIV-positive men reported higher levels of psychological abuse from their partner than HIV-negative men.

The USA National Coalition of Anti-Violence programs 2013 intimate partner violence report found the following people “experienced the most severe forms of intimate partner violence” . . . .

“Gay men, LGBTQ, HIV-affected communities of colour, LGBTQ youth and young adults, bisexual survivors, and transgender communities” [3].

Gender non-conforming people have a greater threat of experiencing higher rates of unemployment and homelessness, compared with heterosexual people [3].


Next, I want to explain the role that stereotypical rigid heterosexual gender norms may have in influencing how LGBTIQ people choose to behave in intimate relationships.

Our society carves us up into ‘him’ and ‘her’, ‘he’ or ‘she’, ‘male’ or ‘female’ — as if these are natural fixed facts of life.

Dominant social messages tell us loud and clear that only two genders are permissible – heterosexual males and heterosexual females.

Everyone internalises these dominant social norms whether we believe in them or not. However, these norms have a significant negative impact on LGBTIQ individuals who do not conform to these norms.


In reality masculinity is not determined by living in a male body, and femininity is not determined by living in a female body. These are made up concepts. It is adamantly not true that there are only two patterns of gender. Ignoring this fact causes a wide range of social problems.

Women and girls can, and do, behave in masculine ways, wear so-called masculine clothing, have deep voices, hairy armpits and play ‘masculine’ sports. Masculine behaviours and masculine identities can go together with female bodies.

In her book, “The men and the boys”, Raewyn Connell, a researcher and writer on masculinities, said “It is actually very common for a biological man to have elements of feminine identity, desire and patterns of conduct [8].

But the language of dominant social messages is influential in shaping heterosexual and sexual minority gender roles in intimate relationships. This could mean you may feel the need to force sexual identities into two camps – femme or butch – weak or strong — submissive or dominant. Whereas, I believe the preferable position is one of authenticity and creating a society that enables us all to choose how we each do gender [21].

Gender stereotypes suggest that only females can be victims and only males can be perpetrators [9].​ This belief is influential in how LGBTIQ people decide to behave in relationship.

Patriarchal culture characterises gay men as lacking masculinity. Gender socialisation of boys and men leads many males to feel pushed to defend their masculinity for fear of being emasculated – in other words, fear of appearing to be a sissy. For example, they may abuse their intimate partner to gain ‘masculine’ kudos.

The greater the conformity to dominant masculine norms, the greater the chance the masculine partner may be the one using violence.

Alternatively, if male identified individuals don’t characterise gay men as masculine, they may not believe gay men are capable of using violence against their lover [11].​

These societal messages influence both heterosexual and LGBTIQ people’s choices and behaviours.

In reality, there are untold diverse expressions of gender and sexual orientation. But stereotypical, rigid gender role ideas are highly influential on everyone’s behaviours regardless of sexual orientation.


When physical violence occurs between two intimate partners, say for example two lesbians, others may assume it was merely a ‘‘cat fight’’ and therefore was not serious or dangerous. But in reality, there does not always have to be a physical power difference for physical harm to be caused.

In another example, the abused person may fight back. Jude Irwin [1] suggests lesbians who fight back against their female partner can be contentious because the women themselves, as well as practitioners in domestic violence support services, may assume the abuse was mutual.

It’s important to know how to detect who the primary perpetrator is when helping LGBTIQ people experiencing intimate partner abuse. There are ways to detect whether the perpetrator might be masquerading as the victim. If any physical violence appears mutual, it’s important to note whether potential injuries are far in excess of the other partner’s violence.


Jaffee and colleagues [13] make the following suggestions to be able to detect who is the primary perpetrator and who is the primary victim. The main question to ask yourself is, “who has the ongoing power and control in the relationship?”

The perpetrator tends to lack empathy and minimise what they have done. Or their explanation often does not make a lot of sense. They may also talk about how they intended to control or punish their partner. It’s important to find out which partner is the physically stronger person, and therefore could possibly be more likely to cause physical harm.

However, this can be difficult to detect. It can be helpful to see any physical injuries. If your partner has had a Protection Order against them in the past, this may be a clue that the perpetrator of the current abuse may have a predictable history of using violence. If yes, this could be a pattern that indicates who the current perpetrator might be [13].

Survivors tend to provide more detailed and plausible accounts of the abuse. The survivor may try to stop the abuse by placating or being protective. Check if it is possible to detect if any physical injuries are actually defensive wounds? The partner who is resisting violence, tends to only use enough force to defend, or protect themselves [13]. Many gay couples assume stereotypical heterosexual “male and female” roles. This can lead to assuming the partner who has been subjected to violence is the weaker or feminine partner. However, Kevin Kirkland [14] makes the comment that, “The use of physical force does not necessarily have any relationship to relative size or strength.” Also, emotional abuse and coercive control are more likely to be the type of abuse that’s occurring.


Compared with victims in heterosexual relationships, there are additional social factors at play that create risks of you being harmed by your partner, because of the influence of society’s ugly bias towards your sexual orientation. That is, your partner might be drawing on society’s stigmatising biases towards homosexuality, that can influence your partner’s abusive controlling behaviours.

It is believed that the higher rates of intimate partner abuse within LGBTIQ communities (compared with straight couples) is partly attributed to the stress and abuse that is regularly, and extremely unfairly, thrown onto all minority groups. If you’re not white, not middle or higher class, and not heterosexual, it’s entirely possible you will have experienced being marginalised and stigmatised outside of your intimate relationship.

In the early 1960s, Erving Goffman wrote the book “Stigma and Social Identity” [15]. He explained that the term ‘stigma’ stems from the ancient Greeks when they made physical marks on the bodies of people who were considered immoral, a traitor, tainted, corrupt, or bad in some way. The stigmata etchings on the people’s skin sent a sign that the stigmatised people were considered to be a threat to society and so they should be avoided and ostracised, especially in public.

The stigmatising of sexual minorities is a form of institutional power and control. Negative attitudes towards sexual minorities can lead to stereotypes, to being marginalised, threatened, persecuted, devalued, or scapegoated.

For example, your partner could ‘out’ or threaten to ‘out’ you to family, friends, colleagues, your employer, landlord, church or other place of worship, police and the wider community.

In the late 1960s, Dr. George Weinberg, a heterosexual psychologist, conceived the term “homophobia” to describe the ‘irrational emotional reaction of fear, disgust, anger, discomfort and aversion to homosexuality’.

Naming this experience ‘homophobia’ helped LGBTIQ people to have a voice. However, the amount of prejudice and stigma that has been thrown at LGBTIQ communities still has not gone away.

Many LGBTIQ intimate partners internalise negative social attitudes about homosexuality. Internalising homophobia leads to potentially believing the toxic homophobic messages. This in turn can lead an intimate partner to become abusive towards themselves and/or towards their lover. 

In a study of gay men’s intimate partner abuse, Bartholomew and colleagues [7] found that the main predictor that one partner might abuse the other, was the fact these men “internalised homophobia”. Likewise, Calton [12] and colleagues noted that trans-phobic, and bi-phobic stigmatising attitudes may also be projected onto an intimate partner.

The term ‘homophobia’ refers to heterosexual men who have fear that other people might think they are gay. However, it’s important to know that homophobia is not actually a true phobia. In reality, homophobia is a type of attitude toward others. Homophobes see their anger as justified. They use aggression against the target. They consider the person to be inferior and tainted.

Whereas, people who have true phobias are motivated to change their issue or​ condition. There is also a power imbalance between so-called “normal” people and “stigmatised” people. Socially stigmatised groups are classified as having less power, whereas power differences bear no relation to developing a phobia.

Rather than the term “homophobia”, what is actually taking place, is prejudice and discrimination, which can then lead to social stigma. Gregory Herek [16] regards sexual prejudice as a social evil – and so do I.

Holding sexual prejudice attitudes can be threatening to heterosexual men who are influenced by society’s sexual prejudice that men are not supposed to act or identify as feminine in any way. To cope with this prejudicial social belief system, some men pretend they are so-called “real men” in front of their mates. But in reality, many of those men with this fear do not actually believe in these messages. One man I interviewed told me that for men to challenge unjust social messages, men just have to have the courage to change their attitudes in front of their friends.


‘Homophobic’ panic over LGBTIQ sex acts is very influential politically and philosophically.

More than 70 countries have criminal laws against (LGBTIQ) people, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA.) Currently, only 22 countries recognise marriage as legitimate and 28 countries recognise partnership [18].

Rostosky and colleagues [19] explain that ‘minority stress’ is a chronic experience of social stress that results from belonging to a stigmatised social category that is beyond the regular stressors of everyday life. Minority stress that relates to LGBTIQ individuals includes (a) experiences of discrimination, (b) anticipated rejection, (c) hiding and concealing one’s identities, and (d) dealing with ‘internalised homophobia.’

Social prejudice can lead to both partners being vilified, stigmatised and hated. This adds another layer of abuse and stress to be handled beyond the intimate relationship abuse.

In 1963 Erving Goffman [15] wrote the book “Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity”. He said that concealing your gender identity can reduce life opportunities and “shame becomes a central possibility” – as does “self hate and self-derogation”.

Concealing your gender identity means you may never know what other people are really thinking about you, which can make you feel self-conscious and you may develop psychological stress.

As a result of this prejudice and discrimination [15], suggests that stigmatised individuals may become “either too aggressive or too shamefaced.” Hence, this indicates the connection between social stigma and intimate partner violence.

It seems to me that the furthest away that one’s gendered behaviours are from the dominant gender norms, the higher the chance of experiencing prejudice and discrimination and being pilloried by society.

The intensity of this bias means you cannot even guarantee that you’ll find a safe haven within an intimate partnership. Research shows rates of intimate partner abuse within minority groups in intimate relationships to be higher than in heterosexual relationships.


Research shows that living with a stigmatised gender identity increases the risk of stress, which in turn can increase the potential of perpetrating intimate partner abuse [2].

LGBTIQ individuals experience abuse in similar ways to heterosexual survivors, however they have the unique burden of having to cope with the cumulative impact of living in a world that uses prejudice and discrimination towards sexual minorities.

Some LGBTIQ people who conceal their sexual orientation may cope with stigma by distancing themselves, or by avoiding or rejecting other LGBTIQ people who are ‘out’, in an attempt to hide their own sexual orientation.

Many LGBTIQ people become psychologically harmed by these stigmatising stressors, whilst others may develop resilience and positive coping skills. Resources such as group solidarity and cohesiveness can serve to protect minority members from the adverse mental health effects of minority stress [20].

LGBTIQ people who have not previously revealed their gender identity or sexual orientation may risk ‘outing’ themselves when seeking support from professionals or friends and family or colleagues who do not know about their minority status.

Similar to the experience of heterosexual domestic violence victims, LGBTIQ people are aware that they are having “relationship problems”, but may not recognise their experience is actually abusive. This is especially so for individuals who are new to being in a relationship with a LGBTIQ person because they lack a sense of what is acceptable or “normal” behaviour in this context.

If this is your first LGBTIQ relationship, you might conclude that your partner’s abuse is because of your sexual orientation.

If your partner is abusing you, you are not to blame. Nor can you change your abusive partner’s behaviours. Your partner needs to take responsibility and go through the, often lengthy, task of learning what a healthy relationship truly involves. The person using power and control must take responsibility for changing. For the perpetrator to change, this would mean acknowledging their sense of entitlement and their beliefs and attitudes that lead to controlling and abusing you.


On a positive note, personal acceptance of your LGBTIQ identity and the experience of living with domestic abuse and coercive control — and surviving it — can actually make you more resilient than you already are. Your experience of being abused can bring opportunities for personal growth and the ability to flourish and help those who come after you [20].

If you don’t go to a professional for help, choose someone who you know will believe you and confide in that trustworthy person. Your partner’s abuse is not your fault. Intimate partner abuse gets worse when the abuser refuses to take responsibility. If your abusive partner denies the harm they are causing, or if they minimise what they are saying or doing, or if they don’t take responsibility, or if they apologise but never change — that is not your fault!


Although many heterosexual survivors are reluctant to disclose what’s happening in their relationship, this reluctance is even more palpable for LGBTIQ survivors – partly because of the multiple barriers you may face.

If you live in a close-knit community, you may experience embarrassment about your partner’s abuse, or your abusive partner may have turned friends and family against you.

One of the main barriers to seeking help is not knowing where to go, what your rights are, or if there are indeed any service providers in your area who deal specifically with LGBTIQ intimate partner abuse.

There’s a lack of professional services for LGBTIQ people. Not all heterosexual domestic violence services have knowledge or understanding of the unique needs and issues that you may face.

Also, potential helpers may have a limited understanding of the range of other issues you may be facing because of prejudice and discrimination.

Or, if you go to a mainstream domestic violence service, there is the potential for being exposed to helpers who are homophobic, transphobic or bi-phobic.

Many LGBTIQ survivors end up having to face what is termed “a double closet”. This means potentially facing shame for seeking help from domestic violence services. And secondly, seeking help that means having to reveal your sexual orientation.

Therefore, many gender non-conforming people do not get their needs met when seeking support.

Additionally, if you want support for intimate partner abuse, you may be hesitant to seek help because you might be blaming yourself for the abuse, or because your potential experiences of feeling stigmatised and discriminated against, may reduce your trust in would-be helpers. These issues can lead to debilitating beliefs that you’re not good enough, or having a sense there’s something wrong with you, or you may feel inadequate, stupid, and not wanted. Being abused by your partner is not your fault!

Some gay men who have attempted to pass as heterosexual, find it difficult to seek help because of reluctance to disclose their sexual orientation to police or family or health providers [14].

Likewise, if you are transgender the service provider may focus on your gender as being the problem, rather than attending to the abuse you are experiencing [27].

Some “law enforcement officers tend to rely on gender stereotypes to identify perpetrators in instances of partner abuse. This reliance is based on so-called feminine behaviour, such as hysteria and passivity, size and strength, and feminine/femme and masculine/butch behaviours”.


As the victim/survivor you should expect professional helpers to:

  1. Evaluate the power dynamics in your abusive relationship, rather than focusing on the masculine and feminine attributes.
  2. Explore possible risks to your life or wellbeing [12].
  3. Assess what you need and advocate for those needs to be met.
  4. Be given information and resources to support your ongoing needs.

Providers need to link you and your abusive partner with resources including shelter services, information about intimate partner abuse, counselling and health services.

A New Zealand organisation called TOAH-NNEST, suggests that when you seek professional support, you should be given the opportunity to choose a practitioner who matches your gender choice. If this flexibility is not possible, the next safest form of professional help should be a domestic violence specialist for cis straight women if you have been assaulted by a male. Especially as males and females tend to feel safer talking about intimate issues with women [28].

You should expect professional support people to be non-judgmental, open and honest, as well as being empathetic and respectful. These attitudes will enable providers to assess potential mental and physical health status for you.

You may need to search online for domestic violence and LGBTIQ friendly organisations in your area. Alternatively, there may be professionals on the internet who could support you via Skype or other social media platforms. This is something I do and my clients find that it works well for them.

If you are transgender, you have the right to request any support person to refer to you by using the pronouns of your choice [27].

If you find resources to be lacking, providers should act as advocates for improved services.


Your safety and freedom should be prioritised. If you have not told your family or friends about your sexual orientation, it can be helpful for you to complete an ‘Outness Inventory’ that is sensitive to your level of outness. Here is a link to an ‘outness inventory’ authored by Mohr and Fassinger (2000) http://socialidentityteam.weebly.com/measures.html, which was developed by the Social Identity Lab at the University of Maryland, College Park. This link will also have other resources you may find helpful.

You could also check your level for risk of danger by using this assessment measure at this link created by Shakira Cruz Román & Tre’Andre Valentine, The Network/La Red: http://docplayer.net/21146821-Intimate-partner-abuse-screening-tool-transgender-glbt-relationships.html

This tool is called “Intimate Partner Abuse Screening Tool For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Relationships.”

If you tell your partner you want to leave, or if you actually do leave, you may need to make a safety plan and take honest heed of your gut instinct, as separating from an intimate partner can be a dangerous time. Some jealous and possessive partners may harm or kill their victim, or they may harm or kill the children, or harm or kill the new partner. This link goes to a blog post I wrote that refers to safety planning for women survivors, but is equally useful for any gendered survivor of intimate partner abuse and coercive control: https://speakoutloud.net/helping-victims-survivors/safety-tips-for-leaving-a-controlling-partner


One recommendation is the use of gender neutral and inclusive language in all intake and screening processes. Suggestions entail not assuming everyone is heterosexual, and ensuring gendered language does not exclude LGBTIQ people.

Domestic violence organisations need to develop a best practice document that addresses LGBTIQ intimate partner abuse that recognises diversity and inclusivity and that links in with coordinated collaborative partnerships that include advocates for LGBTIQ people.

Ultimately, Gregory Herek argues that our society should not merely seek tolerance of sexual minority groups, but must challenge and dismantle the rigid black and white notion of gender that fuels the distinction in the first place.

If you don’t already, you should revise domestic violence posters and pamphlets to contain more inclusive language of diversity, and advocate for shelter space dedicated to LGBTIQ abuse victims/survivors [25].

Survivors of intimate partner abuse, regardless of sexual orientation, deserve dignity, equality and the right to be someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, intersexual, queer or living with HIV.

Sandra Dickson from Aotearoa (New Zealand) highlights the necessity of providing LGBTIQ training for mainstream specialist domestic violence services [29]. There is a need to train mainstream services to be culturally sensitive to the needs of LGBTIQ people. There’s also a need for an increase in accessible counselling services for LGBTIQ people in cities and for rural, regional and isolated LGBTIQ people [30].

Introducing my 10 page list of abusive and controlling tactics that can be played out within LGBTIQ intimate partner relationships. It’s Free.


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  20. Miller, C.E., et al., Trauma informed approaches for LGBT* survivors of intimate partner violence: A review of literature and a set of practice observations. 2016, The GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project: Boston, MA.
  21. National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected intimate partner violence in 2012, A program of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, Editor. 2012: New York.
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  23. Riggs, D.W., et al., Domestic Violence Service Providers’ Capacity for supporting Transgender Women: Findings from an Australian Workshop. British Journal of Social Work, 2016.
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  25. SafeLives, Toolkit for Marac LGBT voluntary and community organisations. 2015, SafeLives: Service manager, LGBT domestic abuse organisation, Cardiff.
  26. Stiles-Shields, C. and R.A. Carroll, Same-Sex Domestic Violence: Prevalence, Unique Aspects, and Clinical Implications. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 2014: p. 1-13.
  27. TOAH-NNEST Good Practice, Principle 6: Gender Choice: Responding to Sexual Violence in Aotearoa (New Zealand). n.d.
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