Every person, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, deserves to feel safe, respected, and loved in an intimate relationship
This week is Transgender Awareness Week, a time to raise the visibility of transgender people and address the issues they face. Transgender people are at high risk for abuse, with as many as 50% experiencing intimate partner violence at some point in their life. Like other survivors, they may be subject to emotional, economic, physical, and sexual abuse from their partners. Transgender survivors also face distinct abuse tactics and challenges accessing support.
How abusers target transgender survivors
Abusers may use a person’s gender identity to shame, coerce, and control them. They may threaten to out them to friends, family, or their employer. This can be especially frightening to individuals who are transitioning or are afraid of losing their children. Abusers may also try to undermine their partner’s identity. This could include denying their partner access to medical treatment, hormones, binders, or preferred clothing, using pejorative natives, and using the wrong pronouns or their dead name. Abusers may use hurtful language like “you’re not a real” woman or man or “no one will ever love you or accept you for who you are” to keep survivors from leaving and looking for a healthier relationship.
Transgender survivors are often isolated from families and childhood friends who have rejected their gender identity. As a result, they often have smaller support systems and are more likely to experience unemployment and homelessness. Survivors with other marginalized identities, especially BIPOC transgender individuals, experience unemployment rates four times the national average. These factors make them vulnerable to abuse while making it harder for them to leave unhealthy relationships.
Challenges of leaving an abusive relationship
When transgender survivors try to leave, transphobia makes it difficult for them to access the support and resources they need, especially when it comes to housing. Trans women may experience discrimination when trying to enter a women-only shelters while trans men may feel unwelcome in healing spaces traditionally held for women. Transgender individuals, especially BIPOC folk, experiencing domestic violence may be reluctant to seek help from medical providers, law enforcement, or the courts because of past discrimination or abuse.
How you can support transgender survivors
Listen and believe survivors.
Reassure them that what they’re experiencing is real and it’s not their fault.
Work to make spaces welcoming to transgender individuals.
Advocate for shelter options that are more accessible to transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.
Educate yourself and others about domestic violence and its different forms.
The NW Network is a national leader on domestic violence in LGBTQ communities and works to support and educate domestic violence organizations and advocates about culturally appropriate responses.
FORGE is a national transgender anti-violence organization.
Gender Justice League is a gender and sexuality civil and human rights organization based in Seattle.