Timothy McLemore Talks About the Darker Side of Pride... and Relationships

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday July 27, 2022

Timothy McLemore
Timothy McLemore  

Summertime — especially June and July — seems like a paradise of gay celebration with Pride events and other warm-weather fun happening all around the country and all across the world. Though our rights, our families, our youth, and our community may feel more under attack now than at any other point in recent history, rising anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislative action in the U.S. only underscores how much we have accomplished, how much we have to be proud of, and how much we need to protect.

But even Pride has its darker undertones, and our struggle for the equal recognition and respect our families deserve implies the imperfections that come with the essential equality of our deepest and most intimate connections. Just as heterosexual unions have been marred by the specter of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, so too are our own families and relationships.

This is a painful subject, especially for those who have survived it — or who may be embroiled in such a relationship even now — but South Florida-based author and community organizer Timothy McLemore, a survivor of domestic abuse himself, is determined to do something about it.

McLemore and his former partner had made a mark as Instagram personalities. McLemore still maintains the Instagram page Gays with Stories, an account that posts photos of same-sex couples and shares something about their lives together. But to bring attention to the problem of intimate partner violence among couples within the LGBTQ+ community, McLemore decided to come out as a survivor and write a book, "Love is Not Abuse" (due out later this month), that delves into the subject with compassion and honesty about what he's been through, himself.

McLemore has also established a nonprofit, Essential Haus, which — while not a house in a physical sense, at least not yet — makes it a goal to provide resources and support for LGBTQ+ people struggling to get out, and stay out, of abusive relationships.

McLemore took time to chat with EDGE about intimate partner violence, the ways in which it's more complicated in the LGBTQ+ community (such as the threat of outing being used as leverage or to punish a victim, and the social impact of "coming out" as a victim in our close-knit circles of friends and chosen family), and what we can do to help ourselves and each other.

EDGE: You've focused in the past on the more positive aspects of LGBTQ+ life and relationships with your Instagram page Gays With Stories. Now, though, you've brought out your new book "Love is Not Abuse," timed for release with Pride season, where you talk about darker and more painful subject matter. What's behind the book and the timing for its release?

Timothy McLemore: I wrote the book after getting out of a physically abusive relationship. It was therapeutic for me writing the book, and I also wanted to bring awareness and educate people who may find themselves in this situation.

I wanted to bring it out during this time because everything may be peaches and roses during Pride month, but I also feel like we should educate ourselves [about our] forgotten brothers and sisters that are in terrible situations.

EDGE: This isn't an easy subject to talk about. It involves so much deep emotional pain, and so many conflicting, powerful impulses and desires.

Timothy McLemore: Even now, I'm still working on how to process the details [of my experience with] of domestic violence, and how to share it without it sounding so scary or uncomfortable to talk about, you know what I mean? I want people to have these conversations. One of my chapters is called "Please Love Your Children." I really want parents of queer children to love them and establish that self-esteem and self-love, because they could end up being victims of domestic violence themselves, and not even be aware of it.

EDGE: Was it a difficult decision for you to put yourself out there and address your own experiences in an abusive relationship in such a public manner?

Timothy McLemore: Oh, yeah, a fear of social impact was definitely a huge thing for me, especially [since] he and I used to create content together and post on Instagram. It was almost like going back into the closet, because I was hiding what was really going on behind closed doors from my friends, my family, and my Instagram community. I want to shine a light on that, and I know there's other people that are in intimate partner violent relationships, and I want them to get out. I want them to love themselves a little bit more and seek help.

EDGE: One chapter of your book is made up of diary entries in which you are addressing your ex, and you're acknowledging the conflicting, confusing emotions toward him that you're working through. Did you ever actually share with him what you wrote there?

Timothy McLemore: I haven't shared it with them, because as I said in the journal, I wrote it for him, but it's actually for me. That's what I'm honoring: keeping it for me. I mean, if he goes out and purchases my book when it comes out later this month, maybe he'll see it. But including that in the book was very powerful for me, and therapeutic as well.

EDGE: Intimate partner violence isn't always physical. Can you say a little about what forms that abuse can take, and how to recognize when it's actually happening?

Timothy McLemore: I think a lot of us, specifically in the gay community — particularly me — are hopeful romantics. So, when we get into these relationships, we tend to get very passionate about it. Though that's a good thing, it could also be a major red flag. At times, you're kind of stuck with your heart and your mind going against each other, and nothing's more confusing than that.

[In terms of the forms abuse can take], there's definitely verbal [abuse]. There's outing, which didn't particularly happen in my most recent relationship, but it did happen in my second relationship, where I was outed and exposed.

EDGE: It seems like this kind of violence is about control and jealousy.

Timothy McLemore: Oh, yeah, definitely, and that actually pertains to my situation as well. I mean, there were plenty of times we would go out places and maybe a nice gentleman would give me a compliment. I remember someone came up to me and said, "Hey, you should smile more." I obviously did not ask for the compliment. I wasn't seeking it. But later on in the evening, my partner decided to take it out on me; somehow, that was my fault. It was always somehow my fault, the "You made me do this" type of scenario.

EDGE: The cry of the abuser.

Timothy McLemore: Very much that, and when you're in these situations it's almost like you create a bond. It sounds terrible, but it's like a trauma bonding. These violent situations build, in a weird way, a deeper relationship. A lot of times in my personal situation, he wouldn't even remember what we were arguing about in the first place, but here we were, left with all this damage. [When] there's violence and you can't even remember what set you off, that's definitely a big red flag.

EDGE: It seems like another possible factor in abusive relationships is that people who are victimized sometimes come into these situations, or even seek them out unconsciously, because of their own past experiences.

Timothy McLemore: That's right, and I touch on that a little bit in my book. My father was physically abusive. One thing he always did tell us growing up is that he loved us, and I know he meant it. So, subconsciously, you kind of wire in there, "Someone that loves you might hurt you in this way." And I think that's why I put up with it as well, because my father was like that towards me.

EDGE: As I understand it, poor people, racial minorities, and transgender people tend to suffer intimate partner violence at higher rates than other groups. What's going on there?

Timothy McLemore: Statistics certainly show that domestic violence is more prevalent and complicated in LGBTQ+ relationships compared to heterosexual relationships, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

You'd be shocked that a lot of our trans brothers and sisters and lesbian and bisexual women experience more harassment, stalking, and rape compared to heterosexual women. It was very shocking to me [to learn that] as I was doing my research, because true crime channels [depict] sexual violence cases as being related to heteronormative relationships, or [a matter of] women being victimized. But a lot of that happens in the trans community as well, and the lesbian community, and in the bisexual community. We're victimized. We're hurt a lot. It's just no one really knows about it. It's underreported.

EDGE: How badly underreported?

Timothy McLemore: Only 26% of men who experience near-lethal intimate partner violence — which does pertain to my case — actually report it. There's a lack of state laws and a [lack of] trust between authorities and the queer community. We're not speaking up for ourselves. We're just allowing these behaviors to keep going. I feel like a cycle needs to be broken, and that's what I'm here for.

EDGE: What can friends and family do if they are concerned for a loved one they think might be a victim of intimate partner violence — and what can a victim do for themselves?

Timothy McLemore: Well, first of all, if you see something, say something — and that goes for everyone. If you see your friend is not acting like themselves, speak up on it. Because not only are you helping the victim raise their awareness that the situation they're in isn't normal, you also establish yourself as a resource for them when they're ready to get out.

Another thing to do is report it to the authorities, even though that kind of sounds very contradictory. It's great to have a paper trail. From my experience, when you're trying to prove these things, I've noticed that the authorities just have huge question marks — like, they just don't get it. I'm much bigger than my previous partner, so they couldn't really envision him as [the aggressor]. Obviously, they saw the blood leaking from my eye and the aftermath of the destruction he caused. But in the courtroom, he just doesn't look like an abuser. He's very charismatic.

EDGE: Did the idea for Essential Haus come about at the same moment that you knew you had to write a book?

Timothy McLemore: Yeah, it [all] kind of [happened] together. Once I experienced my near-lethal incident with him, I knew that was my breaking point and I realized I shouldn't have been in that relationship for as long as I had. [But] I had no resources for myself. There was nowhere for me to go; there was no LGBTQ-friendly shelter. I want something where if you're trans, if you're Black, if you're bisexual, if you're a man, if you're a lesbian [you have a place to go]. I want a safe house for us, and I realized that it was lacking, especially here in the South Florida area.

EDGE: If people who find themselves in abusive relationships want to get out of them and want help, how can they find you?

Timothy McLemore: Instagram has been my main source of communication. You can reach out to me personally at essentiallytim, or you can follow us on Facebook and Instagram. We don't have a physical house yet. We're still in our donating phase. But we do have a virtual house on Facebook, a Facebook group where victims share their stories and resources.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.