Yesterday I was having a quiet lunch at a favorite pub amid the constant chaotic activity that December brings. The restaurant was almost empty in the mid-afternoon, and it was lovely. I go there every Wednesday to have respite, and the staff is always welcoming. I ordered “the usual” and sat to read.
A little while into my meal, a middle-aged gay couple entered the dining room. The smaller man moved very slowly, using a cane. The larger man was scolding him at length for applying for a job that might—might—lead to too many hours away from home. The smaller man said nothing, looking down at the floor.
They sat down at the booth in front of me. I tried to continue my reading, but the one-sided conversation was sent my direction in a tone that was difficult to ignore. As my eyes glazed for lack of concentration, I heard Large engage in a nonstop barrage, berating Small for inferred slights, insulting his intelligence and appearance, scolding him for perceived inadequacies, and even criticizing him for acts that Large only anticipated might happen. Small’s responses were brief, timid and only on demand.
Witnessing this emotional cruelty was too much for me. I think Small might want that job to get away from Large. He sat and took it as the abuse rained down on him nonstop. I couldn’t stay. If I did, I’d have given Large an earful and told Small to get out as soon as he could. It took everything I had to keep my mouth shut.
I’ve seen two others in past weeks bearing bruises that were clearly the result of violence. (One had the sense to call the police and have the offender arrested; he told me all about it. The other raised his hand to try to cover his black eye, but there were too many bruises to hide.) I am shocked and outraged whenever I see this, and yet I know the solution lies in getting the victim of abuse to believe it is not acceptable. Abuse is a deal-breaker, whether physical or emotional.
These men are living lives of quiet desperation. Do they have somewhere to turn, as do women? Is there a network of help for male victims of abuse? Is there a heightened sense of shame because of cultural expectations? If there isn’t someone telling them how to escape the cycle of violence, they might never know freedom from fear.