Episode 102: "What can abuse look like for transgender and nonbinary people?"Support the show
On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about what intimate partner abuse can look like for transgender and nonbinary folks.
This is Jessica Skultety, Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services to survivors at no charge for over 40 years.
Today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, What can abuse look like for transgender and nonbinary people?”
Transgender peoples’ gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth, and nonbinary people live outside the gender binary, which is the two gender categories of male and female. Much of the world traditionally sees gender divided like that, into a binary, but in reality there is a spectrum of gender identity and expression.
Some people believe that abuse doesn’t happen to gender diverse people or even in queer relationships. This isn’t true. So today we’re talking specifically about gender diverse people.
Unfortunately, a partner may use their partner’s gender identity as a way to gain power and control over them, which is the definition of abuse. 1 out of 2 transgender and nonbinary people experience violence from an intimate partner in their lifetimes, according to the 2015 US Transgender Survey.
We want to emphasize that this abuse is NOT the survivor’s fault. A person chooses to use violence against their partner. If the abusive partner is using someone’s gender against them, that is their fault.
People are allowed to be who they are and gender diverse people are people who deserve respect, equality, and healthy relationships just like everyone else. Also, there are many gender diverse people who have healthy and equal intimate relationships.
Today, we do want to talk about abuse, to bring more awareness. Transgender, nonbinary and gender diverse people may experience abuse differently, and here are just a few examples – there are more.
Abuse and violence can be physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, digital, or stalking. Generally, their partner might treat them as less than worthy of respect because of their gender identity. Their partner may try to “out” them or reveal their identity to others if they aren’t already out in certain spaces. This can make them feel immediately unsafe and it is a huge violation of trust but the trans or nonbinary partner might feel like they have to go along with it because they’re committed to the relationship.
On the other hand, a partner might also pressure their transgender or nonbinary partner NOT to reveal their identity and might threaten them. In a healthy relationship, people need to have the ability to make choices and decisions for themselves. Sharing a gender identity with other people is a personal choice and should only be decided by that person, not their partner.
Their partner might try to control their expression of gender to the world by making them wear or not wear certain clothing, hairstyles, etc., or even harm or destroy items that make this person feel comfortable or affirm their gender.
Their partner may say that they aren’t a “real woman” or a “real man,” purposefully calling someone “it,” or use the wrong pronouns to embarrass and shame them. If someone is transgender, a partner might not only misgender the other person but also might use their dead name, or the name they used before they transitioned. They may say that no one will believe you because of your identity.
If someone is transitioning, the other partner might try to use the cost of transition to control them. Or, they might try to deny them access to medical treatment.
The LGBTQ+ community has faced harm from American society for a long time. Some might say that if a transgender or nonbinary person exposes abuse in their romantic relationship, they’ll be harming the community further. In reality, it’s all about safety for the survivor, and that is the most important thing.
Transgender and nonbinary people might also find difficulty accessing safety and services. Just trying to go to a domestic or sexual violence service means they might have to out themselves, and expose themselves to the biases and discrimination, whether intended or not, of service providers, like hospital employees, counselors, etc.
Service providers may intentionally or unintentionally also use the wrong pronouns or misgender someone, and they may not be trained to work specifically with transgender or nonbinary people. Some survivor services like counseling and safe houses still focus on women or even have “women” in their name, so survivors who aren’t women might feel immediately misunderstood or disbelieved.
Again, these are just a few barriers people might face. The more we can talk about abuse in specific communities, the more we can lessen the stigma for reaching out for help and empower survivors of abuse to find safety how they want to.
To speak with an expert about dating or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning.
Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit our website at www.safe-sound.org/ask-ava. Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.