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Saturday, November 05, 2005

Surviving transgender abuse

By Hannah Mason
posted October 14, 2005

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The following article is part two of a series on the dynamics of intimate partner violence.

Many of us don’t think much about our gender, although it affects us constantly. Imperceptible guidelines dictate what our bodies look like, what we wear, and how we walk. Along with those come judgments; we know what a “real man” is, and we can tell exactly what a “real woman” is.

Transgender people break away from one or more of society’s expectations around gender — expectations that insist that everyone is either male or female, that one’s gender is fixed, that gender is rooted in our biological sex, and that our behaviors are linked to our gender. What about those whose gender identity does not fit neatly into traditionally and narrowly defined gender roles?

Society has a concrete way of dealing with people who deviate from these expectations. It attempts to force them back into place, to keep them in the “man” box or the “woman” box. Many transgender people deal with shame and self-doubt in confronting the pressures to conform. In addition, stories of brutal violence against transgender people are common. The fear that a transgendered person feels upon being “outed” to the wider community is directly linked to the stories of those who have had the experience with devastating results.

Imagine, then, that through this continuing atmosphere of violence, a transgendered person finds someone they truly love. Or maybe they already have a relationship with someone when they begin discovering that they feel that their prescribed gender may not be fully representative of who they really are. How do you attempt to leave your partner if society is constantly telling you that they may be the last person who will love you?

Many survivors of intimate partner violence experience self-doubt, a wish to help their batterer and protect children, a belief that the abuse they currently experience might be better than potential future abuse, lack of financial resources, and a sense that there is no where to turn. For people who do not conform to traditional gender roles, these feelings are often magnified by the experiences they have had with society forcing them to conform.

Because of society’s lack of knowledge about transgender people, and a general “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude, batterers use tactics that play off of this cultural discrimination. The threat of “outing” someone can carry with it the risk of losing a job, alienating family, or being denied medical access.

Transgender people who attempt to leave a relationship and stay in a hotel may be denied public accommodation, or be asked to leave a restaurant where they try to get something to eat. The batterer is often knowledgeable of all of these facts and is quick to remind the survivor of them.

In our efforts to support them, we need to take steps that do not create additional hazards for trans survivors and revictimize them as they are able to finally leave. Education, understanding, and speaking up against both relationship and discrimination violence opens options for us all. Since society already plays a role in supporting the batterer, every step that we as a community can take to help survivors is critical.

There are things we can all do to help transgendered survivors of domestic violence:

Check out the Survivor Project ( or GenderCrash ( Find out more about the specific differences between transsexual, transgender, cross-dresser, and other gender-variant people.

Call legislators to support H.478, which proposes that “gender identity and expression” be added to the current discrimination law, making it illegal to discriminate against transgender people in the workplace and in public accommodations.

Attend the Transgender Day of Remembrance Speakout on Nov. 19. Contact for more information.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or sexual violence, contact SafeSpace Vermont at 866-869-7341 or the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence at 800-ABUSE-95.

Hannah Mason Houser is program coordinator for SafeSpace Vermont.


Blogger padme said...

Really interesting blog post rachel...
Thanks for being there for me this last week...your the best! *big hugs*

6:18 pm  
Blogger rachel said...

Glad I could help honey :)
(Big HUG) back at you ;)

6:26 pm  

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