If you are anything like me, you will love dating shows of any description. Relationships are at the core of what we do as family lawyers and I like nothing better than watching a reality show to unwind. “The Ultimatum” franchise has recently released a “queer love” version of the format on Netflix featuring exclusively women. With the “I Kissed a Boy” series hosted by Dannii Minogue on BBC iPlayer and same-sex couples on Strictly, representation on mainstream television is growing.
For those not in the know, “The Ultimatum” introduces couples where one partner wants to marry and the other is on the fence. The couples spend a last night together, before splitting up and dating the other contestants on the show so they can pick one to “couple up” with for 3 weeks in a trial marriage. After this mini relationship, they then return to their original partner for 3 weeks in another trial marriage. At the end, the person who was given the ultimatum then decides whether they will marry their original partner, leave the show alone or start a new relationship. Not for the faint-hearted!
One particular couple stood out, due to their devotion but also because of their volatility. Tiff and Mildred were open about the fact that they had a tumultuous relationship before they came on the show and said they split up on a weekly basis. Mildred had been married before and wanted Tiff to propose to her. I will not spoil the journey they went through. However, what came out at the reunion was quite shocking – Mildred admitted to being arrested having thrown a picture frame (and shattering the glass), a dog gate and clothes at Tiff as she told her to leave their home. There was also reference to punching walls, gaslighting, and name-calling when they discussed their final break-up. The conversation became heated and Tiff left the studio crying, with one of the other guests leaving to comfort her outside.
There was seemingly no protection provided for Tiff in being exposed to her abuser in this way and Netflix did not take the opportunity to call it out. The host moved on to another couple to discuss their relationship in the last 10 minutes of the show. There were no trigger warnings and there was no signposting to abuse helplines or charities. Would this have happened with a straight couple? Is Netflix guilty of stereotyping and buying into the myth that women don’t abuse women? Or that abuse isn’t as serious in a same-sex relationship. Domestic abuse is not well recognised in the LGTBQ+ community and it has precipitated an important conversation on social media.
Some of the myths that perpetuate the silence and prevent people coming forward to talk about intimate partner abuse are:
- It does not happen at all
- That abuse is limited to physical altercations, ignoring issues such as coercive control
- It is mutual
- It is not as bad as when it occurs in a heterosexual couple i.e. a man abusing a woman
- Men can easily protect themselves
- The abuser will be the bigger/stronger/more masculine person in the relationship
- Gay people do not have families and don’t get married so it is easier to leave
- Cycles of abuse are not experienced by gay people
- Women don’t assault or rape others
- Men can’t be raped or assaulted
- Men fight so that is fine in a relationship
Since the show, Tiff has publicly stated that she now realises she was in an abusive and toxic relationship but that she questioned her reality when she was going through it. In fact, research shows that more than one in four who identify as LGBTQ+ report an incident of intimate partner abuse from the age of 16. This increases to one in three for bisexuals. Gay men are much more likely to experience abuse from another man, than a heterosexual man will from a woman. It is often not reported for fear of having to reveal their sexual orientation or gender. Research suggests that the trans community are the hardest hit from the incidence of abuse from a partner.