a blog and resources for trans survivors and loved ones

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It is hurricane season. Wildfire season is on its way for the west coast, and fires and their smoke have already had major impacts on the east coast. Tornados, earthquakes, floods, and blizzards are all increasingly common. As more and more trans people and families move around the United States to find safe havens, we may move into areas with unfamiliar natural disasters. Due to climate change, the weather is getting more extreme. 

Disasters also are known to increase interpersonal violence, especially domestic violence and sexual assault. Disasters increase stress and isolation. They provide opportunities for people to cause harm and control others. Survivors consistently share that violence, abuse, and control increase before (in the case of hurricanes or other disasters with a warning period), during, and after disasters. In addition, there are increased rates of sexual violence during and after disasters. 

In cases of intimate partner abuse/domestic violence – the abusive partner may use the stress of the disaster as an excuse to escalate their violent or controlling tactics. They may also try to control preparations and response to the disaster, often in ways that are dangerous. Survivors have reported not being allowed to prepare for a storm, being forced to stay in unsafe conditions, being kept from food and water, and having harm done to their companion animals. During recovery efforts, many survivors report an abusive partner taking control of the finances, stealing relief money, and refusing to allow the survivor to make the necessary repairs to live safely. Survivors have also reported increases in physical assaults and sexual assaults related to natural disasters. One organization has created a natural disaster power and control wheel, which can be seen here – note that this wheel uses very binary and gendered language which is not reflective of all experiences of intimate partner violence.

It can be very useful to have a plan in place in case of natural disasters. This is especially true if you are currently in a relationship where there is intimate partner violence. This planning helps us stay calmer in emergencies, have what we need together, and be generally more prepared, especially when access to resources can be limited. Safety planning can also be helpful to people who are being abused or hurt by a partner or family member. Survivors may include preparations for disasters in their intimate partner violence safety plans.

Planning ahead can help your emotional well-being. Plans help you access information, know what steps to take, and not have to worry as much about solving a problem in the moment. There’s a reason that people practice fire drills – it’s so we know what to do in an emergency and will be better equipped to do that thing, even if we panic.

Thinking about and planning for disasters can be stressful. Many of us may have experienced them in the past or worry about the increasing intensity and frequency of disasters. Check out this blog post “Coping With Climate Dread” for some helpful strategies to manage these feelings. 


Before a Disaster

Disasters can occur at any time. Some come with little or no warning (earthquakes, tornados); others may have some notice depending on where you live (wildfires and hurricanes). Because of this, it can be very helpful to start planning for disasters well before you need to. Here is a broad overview of low and no-cost preparedness: https://www.ready.gov/low-and-no-cost

The National Center for Trans Equality created a basic guide for trans people on emergency preparedness you can access here

A number of the ways that people prepare for disasters are similar to safety plans that survivors may make. For example – packing an emergency bag or “go-bag.” Survivors often must keep these bags hidden. However, in some cases, packing emergency bags for everyone who lives in the house is possible without creating a need for being as discreet. The same materials may be in a bag whether you are preparing to flee a natural disaster or flee from intimate partner violence. Many natural disaster resource guides list ideas of what to bring but are not trans-specific. Remember to add in any medications, identity documents, trans-affirming clothing/grooming supplies, and other things you might need. 

Here are some of the basic things to consider:

  • Access to information – how will you keep informed about the dangers and resources?
  • Communication with others – how will you stay in touch with people in your life?
  • Packing
    • If it is safe for you to access domestic violence resources online, check out FORGE’s safety planning guide for packing: 
      • Pages 6 and 8-10 cover what to carry with you and consider packing in a go-bag.
    • If it is not safe for you to access those resources, check out this guide for natural disasters 
      • The above guide is not trans specific, so be sure to consider things you need like trans-affirming supplies, identity paperwork, etc.
    • Consider medications, gender-affirming supplies (make-up, razors, binders, pads, etc.), and any paperwork you may need to have with you (such as name or gender change documents or prescriptions).
      • If you get medications from a doctor, discuss the possibilities of getting extra from them to have in case of emergency. This option will vary based on the state, the provider, and the medications.
  • Safety from abuse – consider what you know about an abusive person’s behavior and harmful actions. Talking to a domestic violence program or checking out the full safety planning guides above can be helpful to think through other ways to increase your safety before, during, and after a disaster.


During a Disaster

Staying in the home

Staying where you live during a disaster may be the best or only option for you. In some cases, leaving is more dangerous, and in others, there’s nowhere to go. People who live in hurricane areas know this well. Leaving can be expensive, dangerous, and sometimes unavailable. Think about staying safe from the disaster, minimizing the harm the abuser can cause, and having enough supplies to get through a recovery period. Below you’ll find disaster specific guides, which can help when thinking about how to prepare your home and what supplies you might need.

Emergency Shelter

Trans and nonbinary people express a number of fears about accessing shelter services. Most people have heard about or had bad experiences trans/nonbinary people have had at shelters – domestic violence, homeless, or emergency. Worries include a fear of violence and harassment from shelter staff or other residents, concerns about discrimination, outing, misgendering, and privacy, and worries about the use of religious affiliations of many shelters.

Emergency shelters or cooling stations may be the safest or only option in some disasters. These types of shelters are designated as places built to withstand the weather conditions, to have needed supplies, and to have generators and water in case of power outages. Unfortunately, trans people have historically been excluded from disaster preparedness conversations. Domestic violence survivors have also been excluded. Emergency shelters are not the same as domestic violence shelters. Instead, FEMA and Red Cross shelters are often designed for families, for a short stay, and for people to be able to find each other after a disaster. They have less confidentiality and different safety practices. They still might be the safest place to go in some events. 

Staying with others

Sometimes staying with other people will be the safest option. These may be people close by, but with a more secure home or in an area that will be less impacted by the disaster or with friends or family out of town. Some people will stay in hotels if they need to leave the area. Think about where to go and how to get there. Think about what it will be like with the people you are staying with. Are they supportive of your gender? Are they connected to the abuser? How safe will you feel with them? Consider having a back-up plan in case of interference from an abusive person or changes due to the disaster.

Leaving the Relationship

Some people use a natural disaster as an opportunity to leave or escape an abusive relationship. Disasters provide an easy cover for traveling out of town, leaving the house, or otherwise being away from the abusive person. Additionally, many of the things one might back when leaving an abusive relationship quickly are similar to what one would pack for an emergency bag. If you plan to leave an abusive relationship, consider keeping those plans secret from the abusive person. A domestic violence program or hotline can help with further safety planning.


Recovery efforts

Unfortunately, disasters aren’t over once the weather changes or the event ends. Many people have to deal with recovery efforts – including loss of possessions or their home, destruction of infrastructure, less access to water, food, or healthcare, and stress or trauma. FEMA has announced a dedication to equity and recognizes that transgender people have been left out of disaster response efforts. However, what impact this will actually have in people’s lives is yet to be seen. Additionally, abusive partners may use the recovery process as a way to control a survivor’s life further. Survivors have reported abusers taking their disaster relief payments, refusing to allow repairs to happen, forcing the survivor to live in unsafe conditions, and blaming the survivor for any losses. 

If you did leave your home and plan to return, getting information from people in the area can be helpful. Utility company updates and news reports are not always accurate about the actual conditions. Having power is critical for many people to survive extreme temperatures or to use their medical equipment. Further consider if the abuser knows where you will be and when you will return. If you are trying to avoid this person, consider not returning right away, using different routes, or other alternatives to make your movements less predictable.

Take care of your emotional well-being after disasters. SAMHSA runs a Disaster Distress Hotline https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline Their webpage also includes coping tips for emotional recovery. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline/coping-tips


General Disaster Preparedness

FEMA has put together a basic guide to disaster preparedness. If you don’t have experience with natural disasters, this guide is a good place to start. https://www.fema.gov/pdf/library/pfd.pdf

https://www.ready.gov/ is another resource that covers a wide range of disasters. Neither of these resources are trans-specific, but both provide widely applicable information. 

Here are some disaster specific resources to check out depending on your location: