a blog and resources for trans survivors and loved ones

  • Empowering.
  • Healing.
  • Connecting.

In late June, 2017, the military was still negotiating exactly when it will begin welcoming in new military members who are transgender (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/06/23/military-chiefs-want-6-month-hold-on-transgender-enlistments.html). At the same time, they’re estimating that approximately 80 people in the Army and about 160 people in the Navy are currently in the process of transitioning, and they’ve already begun compulsory “transgender sensitivity” trainings for current military members (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/06/13/transgender-troops-defense-secretary-jim-mattis-army-marine-corps/102822598/). Even without permission or welcome, however, trans people have always served in the military: the recent U.S. Transgender Survey (2016) found that 18% of trans people are veterans or currently in the military (http://www.ustranssurvey.org/report).

While efforts to open the military to more trans people are welcome, they do have a dark side: military sexual trauma (https://maketheconnection.net/conditions/military-sexual-trauma). Large percentages of people in the military experience sexual trauma there (https://www.publichealth.va.gov/epidemiology/studies/new-generation/military-sexual-trauma-infographic.asp)/ The military has responded by developing Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Offices (SAPR), training, and online services (http://www.sapr.mil/). These programs seem to be aware they need to be ready to serve transgender MST survivors; several SAPR programs are currently working with FORGE to set up trans-specific sexual assault training for their personnel.

If you are a trans MST survivor, you are welcome to check out the links in the paragraph above to see if any of the existing services are of interest to you. If you’d rather wait until more SAPR personnel are specifically trained around trans survivors, there is another option: a self-help guide by Lori S. Katz, Ph.D., Warrior Renew: Healing from Military Sexual Assault (2015, Springer Publishing). Not surprisingly, the book does not address transgender or non-binary veterans, but it does acknowledge throughout that both victims and survivors can be of any gender, making it palatable for most trans survivors. When intimate relationships are discussed, the language is inclusive of both same-sex and heterosexual couples.

The preface describes the manual’s underlying values:

First of all, it is assumed that everyone “makes sense.” There is a good reason why people respond to trauma the way they do…. Second, healing is a process of resolving the past by rethinking or reprocessing it in the present – it is a process achieved by toggling among thinking, feeling, and moving….Third, healing is about releasing the emotional constriction that inevitably surrounds trauma. This means not only moving through painful material, but also reconnecting with positive factors such as optimism and self-esteem, and being able to connect with others and experience joy.”

The twelve major chapters cover MST; coping with feelings; nightmares and getting a good night’s sleep; triggers and anxiety; anger and resentment; remembering and understanding trauma; defining relationship patterns; guilt, self-blame, and shame; losses and grief; healthy intimate relationships; effective communication; and meaning, purpose, and joy. Many, if not most, of these topics would also show up in a more generic self-help guide for sexual assault survivors. The chapter specifically addressing MST is one of the shortest, and stresses the similarities as well as some of the differences, such as having to report to one’s own commanding officer. Apart from that chapter, much of the book does not address the military context at all, focusing instead on topics that are of interest to many “types” of sexual assault survivors.

Although an opening disclaimer describes the book as a “self-help book to improve coping skills,” it’s actually organized as a curriculum for group-based support. Since it may be difficult to recruit a group of trans and non-binary MST survivors to work through the book with you, it’s more likely readers will use it on their own. Solo use makes some of the exercises impossible, but there is still plenty left. Each chapter includes descriptions about what is known or believed about a subject, and ways to begin incorporating those insights into your own life. Sprinkled throughout are short questions with space to write answers, such as this one: “How do you feel when you hold onto resentment?” There are also worksheets such as an “anxiety log” designed to help users identify new ways of coping with anxiety-producing events. Various tools and approaches to handling common problems are provided, such as creating a “nightmare sachet” to help shift your mood and thoughts when a nightmare disrupts your sleep.

Both the book and associated materials are available at http://www.warriorrenew.com/