Contrary to widespread beliefs, transgender men experience higher rates of intimate partner violence (IPV)* than transgender and cisgender women. This was FORGE’s groundbreaking finding from a 2011 survey of over one thousand transgender people.
In the past few months, the finding has gotten some media coverage in The Daily Kos, and in a Youtube video by The Advocate.
Why are transmen more at risk of intimate partner violence, and why don’t we know about it?
We are grateful that both pieces do an excellent job of asking and answering “why,” teasing apart the complex intersecting issues that create the conditions for both this epidemic and the silence surrounding it. We’ll summarize some of them here, in the hope that this discussion allows trans masculine survivors of IPV to see themselves, to recognize that this tangle of root causes is not their fault, and to know that they are not alone.
Masculinity & Erasure
Social norms that equate masculinity to strength and invulnerability have enforced silence around any male experiences of intimate partner violence victimization. There is an additional silence around trans men. As Cal Goodin says in The Advocate’s video, “We don’t talk about trans men in domestic violence, because, as a nation, we hardly talk about trans men at all.” (That could be the subject of its own blog post, but there’s an interesting take on the subject here.)
Dysphoria influences both the course of abuse for trans people and their efforts to seek support in response. According the The Daily Kos, “It’s…common for romantic partners and family to manipulate trans people by making us feel unwanted and unlovable by anyone else.” These tactics may be more effective for trans people who face dysphoria as well as a society that invalidates their identity. Abusive partners may also control transition, an element of the abuse not always well understood by service providers.
In accessing services that are often designed for cisgender women, Cal Goodin describes trans male survivors like himself experiencing “a flexagon of doubts, shame, and dysphoria. Not only do we fear being seen as less masculine, we fear not being seen as men at all”—as if trans men’s experiences of trauma somehow betray or invalidate their gender.
Perhaps this complex dysphoria and shame also make it harder for transmen to recognize when they are experiencing violence.
Where do we go from here?
This “flexagon” is one way trans folks are harmed by gender norms and gender roles; it illustrates that society can end some forms of trauma and violence by radically reimagining gender.
In the meantime, our message for trans masculine survivors of IPV is that we see you. We know that you exist. Your identity and experiences of harm are both valid and not incompatible with each other. Men get hurt by IPV too. You are not alone.
FORGE has resources for trans survivors. And the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs identifies local IPV resources across the country that are LGBTQ-inclusive.
What we know from doing this work for many years is that trans people of all genders are resilient and have the power to heal from trauma and violence.
*Intimate partner violence is an inclusive term for domestic violence. The terms are often used interchangeably.