A new report from the Williams Institute shows that bisexual women and gay men experience higher rates of domestic-violence victimization than people of other gender-and-sexual-orientation combinations. The stats about bisexual women, unfortunately, came as no surprise. The fact that bisexual women are more likely than women of other orientations to be abused by their partners has been reported on before, as covered in the book Bisexual Health (published by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force). However, this is the first time I've seen a study that showed that gay men have this particular thing in common with bisexual women. And the Williams Institute takes the research one step further, noting that the vast majority (95 percent) of the bisexual women who are in abusive relationships are, like gay men, in relationships with men. So what we have here is a situation in which people who not straight, and who are in relationships with men, are being abused by those men. The study, then, is not so much about the experiences of bisexual women or gay men but about those of queer people who date men.
Before I continue, I have to say that I am in no way implying that men are always violent or only violent, or that women are never violent. Talking to bisexual women and lesbians across the U.S. over the years, I've heard plenty of stories of victimization and abuse at the hands of female partners. A lesbian in San Francisco told me that her last girlfriend, also a lesbian, had raped her. A bisexual woman in North Carolina told me that a woman she was seeing had beaten her up. I'm not going to write a laundry list of abuse stories here, but these are just two examples of the woman-on-woman violence that exists in our community. Unfortunately, I can only give you those stories as anecdotal evidence, because I have yet to come across studies on the rates of domestic violence between female partners. But the shear volume of anecdotal evidence that I carry around from my travels as a bi health educator could probably fill a book, and it leaves me with no doubt that such studies are necessary.
But we have to move forward with the research we do have, which shows that queer people in relationships with men are being abused by those men at disproportionate rates compared with everyone else. It's important to note that this does not cover all queer people in relationships with men, however. For example, bisexual men -- some of whom date men, we can assume -- are not experiencing this level of violence. But if bisexual women and gay men are, then there's something going on there.
Let's look at what else bisexual women and gay men have in common. Studies on bisexual women's health show that bisexual women, compared with straight women and lesbians, have higher rates of drinking, smoking, drug use, depression and anxiety. Studies also show that gay men, compared with straight men, often have higher rates of many of these things. If you're struggling with addiction and mental illness, you're vulnerable and may have a harder time with self-advocacy and choosing, negotiating and maintaining egalitarian relationships.
This is not a blame-the-victim point, just an attempt to contextualize the research findings. The only person to blame in a domestic-violence situation is the perpetrator. And who is the perpetrator? Because gay men don't usually date women, we can assume that the men that bisexual women date are straight or bi. (And because straight men make up about 45 percent of the adult population in the U.S. and bi men make up only about 1 percent, we can assume that most of the men that bi women date are straight.) We can also assume, given that straight men don't usually date men, that the men that gay men might date are gay or bi. So what we can guess is that in relationships involving violent men, the men abusing bisexual women are probably mostly straight, and the men abusing gay men are probably mostly gay or bi.
Here, then, is where a difference emerges. If a straight man beats up someone who is queer, whether that person is a stranger or his own girlfriend or wife, it's clear that a hate crime is occurring. If there weren't some element of homophobia or biphobia behind the abuse, then we wouldn't see higher rates of domestic-violence victimization among bisexual women compared with straight women. (Hopefully, stats like this will put to rest the stupid idea that all straight men fantasize about or want to be with bisexual women.) But if a gay or bi man beats up his boyfriend or husband, is that still a hate crime? I think it is. In this case, the hatred might spring from internalized homophobia, as opposed to externalized biphobia (as in the case of a straight man abusing a bi woman). Yet it's still in the realm of hate crimes; otherwise, again, we wouldn't see higher rates among gay men compared with others.
Our community has a far road to travel when it comes to healing ourselves and each other.