02/09/2016 01:59 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2017

How Heteronormative Paradigms Ostracize Queer Populations in Intimate Partner Violence Research

This blog is a rendition of my work in public health, focusing on trauma and violence in and among the diverse queer communities. References are provided at the end for individuals interested in further research.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a severe public health problem in the United States and across the world and continues to plague women and members of the LGBTQ, sexual and gender minority populations at disproportionate rates. Domestic violence, sexual violence and rape are occurrences that affect women much more than men -- a reality that exists due to cultural norms and education. Today, most research investigating IPV and other forms of sexual and partner violence focuses on heterosexual women as victims and heterosexual men as perpetrators, a notion that is justifiable in the realms of empirical evidence. However, when focusing on development, implementation and evaluation of effective intervention strategies to address IPV, current models are subject to heteronormative biases under the dominant gender binary paradigm. Though it would be dangerous to overlook the disproportionate amount of violence women experience compared to men, concerns for studying IPV in LGBTQ, sexual and gender minority populations cannot eternally utilize strategies that fall under these paradigms. In the work by Claire Cannon and Frederick Buttell, we observe how these biases affect future implications for public health strategies and intervention programs to address IPV among queer folks, why they persist, and how researchers may support a feminist approach to violence without using a strictly heteronormative lens.

Like what Cannon and Buttell mentioned in the earlier half of the article, the point of making these arguments is not to denounce any current efforts to research and address IPV, sexual violence or rape. Most of the literature has shown that research on IPV is "focused on heterosexual male offenders and heterosexual female victims" (Cannon & Buttell, 2015). The argument for why this occurs is frank -- men rape far more often than women do. While this feminist perspective accounts for the specific populations who are disproportionately victimized, such as women, it does not explain the social and behavioral implications for why non-heteronormative individuals become victims of IPV. Cannon and Buttell (2015) mention that a limited amount of empirical research is a reason why subsequent policy and intervention proposals may not effectively target and help queer individuals who are either offenders or victims in IPV situations. Despite the need for more research on non-heteronormative populations, there is data to show that not only heterosexual men and women are involved in situations of IPV at high rates, but also self-identified lesbians, gay men and bisexual women, who experience some of the highest rates of IPV (Black et. al., 2011). To sum this up, "Same-sex relationships are rendered deviant and invisible by the same patriarchal system that legitimizes male violence, as a bid for control, against women" (Cannon & Buttell, 2015).

The article, by identifying these gaps in research of IPV among LGBTQ populations, informs us of the complicated realm of LGBTQ health disparities. There are three reasons why the discussion Cannon and Buttell pursued may add to our knowledge of LGBTQ health disparities: gender-neutral language, intersectionality and heteronormative bias. Research and policy must expose heteronormative assumptions in order for professionals to pursue the development and implementation of effective intervention strategies that address IPV in all communities (Cannon & Buttell, 2015). As in other health studies, white, heterosexual men and women flood the human subjects base and thus, data reflects the social and behavioral implications of heteronormative cultural values. As researchers, we make assumptions and predictions based on data that is found, but do we take enough time to acknowledge the disparity of this data and how it reflects, and speaks to, a dominant sector of our population?

Language is a fundamental component to researching LGBTQ health disparities and subsequently developing programs and policies that address these disparities. Our society relies heavily on language to distinguish people and allow them to identify in a multitude of ways. Though progression has occurred, feminist approaches to IPV continue to use gender-specific language -- he and her pronouns, male and female identities and so on. Merely using a male-female binary in our language ostracizes many of those who identify outside of traditional gender norms, such as nonbinary, genderqueer, transgender and other self-identifications. By exposing this limitation, researchers may be better equipped to investigate how and why invisible, gender-bending populations experience alarming rates of IPV (Black et. al., 2011). Language is elastic and as the queer liberation movement progresses, such as recent spotlights on transgender health disparities and risks of becoming a victim of violence, we must include language that includes all identities, gendered or not.

Intersectionality refers to the interconnectedness of identity categories, such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation (Smooth, 2013). Future research on IPV should account for intersectionality and how various systems of violence and oppression, such as racism, classism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia contribute to the lived experiences of LGBTQ couples, leading to instances of IPV. When we think of health disparities, especially among sexual and gender minority populations, we cannot fail to include the implications of intersectionality. Cannon and Buttell (2015) make a great point when stating how intersectionality provides space to ask such questions like: "What ways does the intersection of gender and sexual identities contribute to IPV?" These are the questions that researchers should ask in future studies to address IPV in the LGBTQ populations specifically. Likewise, our society is primarily heteronormative. Like the dominance of heterosexual men and women being subjects in public health research, values and norms of heteronormativity, such as marriage, make non-heteronormative couples and populations more invisible in violence research (Cannon and Buttell, 2015). In order to better serve gender and sexual minority populations, researchers must take into account the effects that identity, intersectionality, heteronormativity and gender norms have on IPV and other forms of violence.

Addressing heteronormativity is difficult due to its dominance in everyday society and ties to cultural values. While we should never denounce the work of feminism and addressing negative impacts of systemic overhauls, such as patriarchy, current models may not adequately address the social, emotional, cultural or environmental effects that lead gender and sexual minorities to become perpetrators or victims of IPV. Future research should support the feminist paradigm while integrating non-heteronormative values when working on and addressing LGBTQ health disparities. Whether it is IPV, domestic, sexual violence or rape, research tied to heteronormative values may leave behind certain sub-populations, leading to ineffective treatment interventions.



Black, M. C., Basile, K. C., Breiding, M. J., Smith, S. G., Walters, M. L., Merrick, M. T., Stevens, M. R. (2011). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

Cannon, C., & Buttell, F. (2015). Illusion of Inclusion: The Failure of the Gender Paradigm to Account for Intimate Partner Violence in LGBT Relationships. Partner Abuse, 6(1), 65-77. doi:10.1891/1946-6560.6.1.65

Smooth, W. (2013). Intersectionality from theoretical framework to policy intervention. In A. R. Wilson (Ed.), Situating intersectionality (pp. 11-42). New York, NY: Palgrave.