LGBTQ teens in abusive relationships: a personal account

This article is personal, but still based in fact. When one of the qnotes editorial team informed me that we’d missed Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in February, I was ashamed. I, of all people, should have addressed this issue that affects so many young people, LGBTQ and otherwise. After all, it affected me not so long ago.

“Thirty-three percent of adolescents in America are victim to sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional dating abuse,” reads DoSomething.org, an activism organization for young people. “Only one-third of the teens who were involved in an abusive relationship confided in someone about the violence.”

These statistics gave me a visceral reaction. Instantly, the nauseous anxiety of my teens returned full-force.

I told no one about the abuse I suffered when a teenager in my first romantic relationship.

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Now, I can’t be silent anymore.

For LGBTQ youth like I was, the reality of dating violence means so much more than a few statistics. It may mean low self-esteem, heightened anxiety or depression, even a higher likelihood of suicide attempts. Or, as in my case, all of the above.

Yet numbers lend a sense of urgency for skeptics and are a tool of power for those who want to affect change. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reports that 29 percent of heterosexual youth reported physical abuse by dating partners. Of LGB youth, this number rose to 42.8 percent, and in transgender youth, 88.9 percent.

According to HRC, bisexual women like me experience “much higher rates of IPV [intimate partner violence] in comparison to lesbians, gay men and heterosexual women.”

I know enough now to avoid such relationships. But when I was young, inexperienced and vulnerable, I fell for a charming manipulator who alienated me from my allies and abused me emotionally, verbally — and yes, at times physically.

Love is Respect, an organization dedicated to battling intimate partner violence, is one of several resources inclusive of LGBTQ people. Its website provides guidelines of healthy LGBTQ relationships and offers an interactive quiz to help users determine if their relationships show signs of abuse.

There are other resources available for people young and old, LGBTQ or otherwise, who may suffer under an unhealthy or abusive relationship. HRC and Love is Respect are two, and the government offers a list of resources as well. Parents can learn to recognize the signs of teen dating violence and begin to learn how to help through the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness and elsewhere.

If you need an illustration of what teen dating violence looks like, you need look no further than my own experience. With a lump in my throat and shaking hands, I must come clean about what happened to me. It was subtle – insidious – quiet control and submissive obsession. If you yourself have suffered trauma, you need read no further.

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He manipulated my behavior through teasing insults and alienation of affection, refusing to touch or talk to me if I didn’t act as he wanted.

When I cut my hair short and dyed it colorfully without his permission, he said “Why did you do that? You look like an ’80s lesbian trying to be punk.” He saw this as an insult.

He told me I was worthless, and that no one but him would ever care.

When I was depressed, he told me to “just kill yourself already.”

I showed up to school with clumsily-concealed fingerprint bruises on my arms and throat. When anyone commented, I’d laugh and say it was rough foreplay.

I didn’t know I deserved any better, because he had convinced me otherwise.

Young people just starting to date may not recognize the warning signs of abuse. They may not confide in adults, and their partners may have already driven away their friends. Yet there is help for those who seek it.

Learn the signs. Raise your voice; say “no.”

Reach out.

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