Two newish books are the first to be devoted to transgender intimate partner violence. Unfortunately, unless you are a researcher, they are probably not the books you’ve been waiting for.
“Absurdly, she would just yell ‘knees!’ at me to end any conversation she did not like or to excuse her behavior.”
This quote will make sense to many people once they understand it was a go-to tactic used by an intimate partner abuser (with painful knees). It was but one of dozens and dozens of manipulative, hurtful, and even crazy techniques this abuser used against her transgender partner.
Thankfully, Xavier Quinn breaks up pieces of his abuse story in the chapter he wrote for the new book, A Comprehensive Introduction: Transgender Intimate Partner Violence, edited by Adam M. Messinger and Xavier L. Guadalupe-Diaz and published in 2020. If Quinn had not interspersed statistics and others’ experiences between parts of his own horror story, it might have been too much for the reader to bear. Instead, his chapter, “Tactics and Justification of Abuse Involving Transgender Individuals,” is extremely rich and valuable, painting vivid pictures of what, exactly, can happen when a transgender person is either abused by or abusive to an intimate partner.
The chapter covers the following abuse tactics: using vulnerabilities to justify abuse, emotional tactics, identity tactics, isolation, financial tactics, sexual tactics, and physical tactics. Tactics within each category can either be trans-specific or more mainstream; either type can be devastating. Using a Scottish transgender intimate partner violence (IPV) study that asked highly specific questions, Quinn even offers many statistics on what percentage of transgender IPV survivors have experienced each tactic. He also gives short vignettes describing what other transgender survivors (or their cisgender partners) have experienced.
But it’s his personal story that is probably the most compelling, intensely painful, and impactful part of the chapter. It also goes against the dominant paradigm: the abuser in this case was a cisgender female, a person of color, undocumented, and underemployed; all of the social identities that “should” have made her vulnerable. Instead, she turned him – non-binary or transmasculine, white, male, citizen, employed – into the vulnerable one. Over the seven years they were together, she developed a breathtakingly expansive arsenal of weapons she used against him. The reader can practically feel the disabling weights she placed on his back. Amazingly, he was finally able to extricate her from his life.
Unfortunately, Quinn’s chapter is an anomaly. Aside from another chapter written by FORGE staff (“Training Service Providers to Identify and Overcome Service Barriers in Working with Transgender IPV Survivors,”), the rest of the book is aimed at academics who research transgender IPV. Each chapter takes a piece of the puzzle and reviews all relevant previous research. Which is undoubtedly useful to other trans IPV researchers. I’m just not sure it’s all that helpful to those of us who, like Quinn, have pieces of our lives to put back together.
There are more stories of what it’s like to be trans and the victim of IPV in the book that actually predated the one above, Xavier L. Guadalupe-Diaz’s Transgressed: Intimate Partner Violence in Transgender Lives (2019). This book is based on 13 interviews (one of which was conducted by instant messenger) and five written narratives. Between them, the 18 survivors had had 21 abusers, one-third of whom were themselves trans.
Although the book appears to be written for a general audience, its author is clearly an academic researcher who is trying to build theories about how and why trans IPV happens. Survivors’ stories are told in disjointed snippets chosen to illustrate the topics the author is interested in. That makes it very hard to get a sense of any individual’s life or even their IPV experience. If that’s what you are looking for, see Xavier Quinn’s chapter in A Comprehensive Introduction: Transgender Intimate Partner Violence.