Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and the Trans Community
Beyond Pride Month
By: TH Housing Navigator, Victoria Schofield
As we continue our series regarding serving the LGBTQ community, this blog post focuses on gender identity and expression, and the intersections of domestic and sexual violence. It is important for service providers to know how to uplift, support, and celebrate individuals within the community. Gender identity and expression within the Trans community is fluid – from people who identify as the opposite gender than was assigned to them, to people who do not feel connected to any specific gender (non-binary). The community encompasses an array of experiences with gender, sex, and identity, which affects how individuals move through the world around them, and the unique intersections of their identity.
The social and systemic discrimination often experienced by this community can be lethal. It would be a disservice to this community if one did not acknowledge the deaths of Trans women of color in the United States. In 2019, at least 10 confirmed Black Trans women have been murdered. According to the Dallas Police Department, at least 3 of those murders have occurred in Dallas. This lack of safety in public has a compounding effect when coupled with the threats transgender people experience in their personal lives. When one layers other identities such as race, ethnicity, or class, there is an increased proximity to violence.
In order to contextualize this issue, one must discuss the nature of “passing.” Passing is a term for a Transgender person who successfully meets the societal criteria for the gender they identify as. Some people who identify as Trans do not have access to resources to “pass,” and for others, they choose not to access those resources for personal reasons. For people who identify as non-binary or gender fluid, it can be more complex since their gender expression is not institutionally recognized. Trans people are punished for not meeting the strict standards of gender. Some people report experiencing violence when they are outed, based on claims that they “tricked” someone or “lied.” There are strict laws in several states for changing an individual’s legal paperwork to change their name or the gender assigned at birth, and this further complicates the process of acceptance of one’s gender. They might be called the incorrect name, labeled with incorrect pronouns, and experience others refusing to accept their identity. This can create legal complications, often resulting in Trans people having to out themselves to strangers in order to access resources. Validation and acceptance is important because it creates safety, personal well-being, and inclusion.
The Trans community shares similar struggles to their LGBQ counterparts, although the manner in which it manifests and the results look very different. Housing and employment are two such examples. It is still legal in several states, including Texas, to fire a person because of their gender expression. Gender identity and expression are often left out of non-discrimination statements. Many people will be barred from employment in the first place, making financial stability difficult to achieve. As a result, it is common for people who are Trans to enter into sex work. Since sex work is so heavily criminalized, it often results in interactions with law enforcement, increasing the likelihood of a criminal record, further barring them from employment. Transgender people also face discrimination in regards to housing, which can be a result of their criminal record, the complication regarding their paperwork, or transphobia.
There are several other compounding issues that could be entire blog posts in of themselves: Trans people and struggles with safe and adequate healthcare, their safety in the criminal justice system, or mental health. All of these issues can create a strain and result in compounding trauma when coupled with complex issues of DV and SA. According to the 2015 United States Transgender Survey, 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted during their lifetime. For Black Trans women, that number is higher, with 53% reporting experiencing SA. That same study reported that 20% of the transgender population who were incarcerated experienced SA at the hands of facility staff. Trans people are often put in prisons, jails, or juvenile detention centers that do not match their gender identity, which decreases their safety. SA is often used against Trans people as punishment for defying stereotypes of gender. It is meant to punish the person for their identity, as it is to exert power and control. The transgender community faces verbal harassment, including sexual harassment, specifically focused on their gender identity.
A study by the Williams Institute found 30-50% of Trans people experience relationship violence in their lifetime. There are few healthy relationship models for this community to look to that are not based in traditional gender roles. The lack of conformity to these gender roles are used as an abuse tactic against Trans people. Their identities and the relationship dynamics are used as a means to isolate them further from their support systems. Similar to their LGBQ counterparts, the Trans community faces obstacles to reporting and accessing services. Their gender identity will often be used to gaslight experiences with violence or delegitimize identity. The threat of being outed is present in these relationship dynamics, but there is often an increased risk of engagement with law enforcement that might deter someone from reporting DV in the first place. With Trans men, there is a pressure to conform to gendered stereotypes; many will feel pressured to “take it like a man” or to minimize the experiences of violence perpetuated against them. Because most DV and SA services are female-centered, it might be difficult finding affirming, safe resources or accessing shelter. Trans women will often receive messages that they “had it coming,” because of their identity. Many will face discrimination from staff, from other clients seeking services, or from the criminal justice system.
There is always more to learn and ways to develop so that service providers are working to create safe and accessible services for all survivors. Below are some possible next steps.
-Create an environment that normalizes asking for another’s pronouns or offering your own. Include them when you introduce yourself in meetings or to new staff. Include them on name tags or in staff directories. Consider the language you use to ask about pronouns, sex, and gender to staff and clients. Use inclusive language when talking about coworkers whose identities have not personally confirmed to you.
-Be mindful of the environment of the workplace itself. Is gender identity and expression considered in your nondiscrimination statement? When discussing professional attire, is it heavily gendered? Is there validation of all forms of gender expression?
-Consider how your agency presents itself to the community. Have you created a space for Trans people to feel safe? Are the bathrooms gendered? Are the messages marketed by your agency heavily gendered? Look at your website, agency materials, social media accounts, and even the physical space of your office. Consider including staff pronouns in your public facing communication, such as business cards or in email signatures. Use statistical and research about the Trans community in your outreach and community education.
-Encourage your staff to attend LGBTQ-specific training, including training on serving the transgender community. Find opportunities to collaborate with LGBTQ-focused or Trans-specific agencies in your service area, region, or state. Include discussions of gender dynamics, gender roles, and identity in staff trainings.
-Ask yourself what language you use when asking a client about their sex, gender, pronouns, and name. Consider distinguishing the name they use and the name listed on their documentation. Ask open-ended questions about gender identity and pronouns and mirror the individual’s language. Acknowledge their identity and the compounding violence they have experienced. Acknowledge how they face specific obstacles to accessing safety and ask them if there are challenges they face you have not included in the case management. Be mindful of any referrals given to the client.
-Be graceful when making mistakes. If you identify someone with the incorrect pronouns, correct yourself, apologize, and allow them to identify their feelings. Center the person and not yourself or your apology. Correct coworkers, other service providers, or anyone who interacts with the client if they misgender someone.
-Speak out on violence perpetuated against the transgender community. Encourage community partners to work with you in eradicating transphobia. Include the Trans community and Trans activists in this work. Expand your recognition of this community all year round.
If you or anyone you know is a survivor of Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault, our Crisis Line is available 24/7: 940-382-7273 | 800-572-4031