digging up the roots of gender-based violence

Ask an Educator: IPV in the Trans* Community

JM Asks:

Hello everyone. First, I recently found the UPROOT forum and have found so many of the postings so insightful and meaningful. Thank you for creating this wonderful space and maintaining this fantastic resource. The focus of my questions today are on the experiences of individuals who identify within the trans* community and intimate partner violence. To be up-front I am a white, upper SES, heterosexual, cismale, and cisman. I have significant amounts of social privilege, I do not identify within the trans* community and I apologize in advance for my ignorance or if I say anything problematic throughout this post. If anyone feels that my postings are problematic in anyway I would value any feedback and thank you for taking the time to review this post.

It has been well documented that individuals who identify within the transgender community or the larger trans* community often face significantly higher rates of violence compared to other individuals who identify within other gender identities. Individuals who identify within the trans* community are more likely to experience sexual violence, other forms of intimate partner violence, violence at the hands of law enforcement, and more regular harassment. I’m currently a graduate student studying social work and I have been involved in the gender violence movement for approximately 5 years. From my limited experiences it also seems individuals who identify within the trans* community are more likely to face discrimination from service providers and law-enforcement when seeking services or assistance. With the above being my current level of, hopefully accurate understanding, I was hoping to ask the following questions.

1. Within your positions as educators have you encountered or been aware of individuals who identify within the trans* community experiencing transphobia or other forms of discrimination when seeking assistance with IPV? Do you feel this is an issue in Southeast Michigan?

2. Do you have recommendations for intimate partner violence service organizations that are working to better serve individuals who identify within the transgender community? Especially organizations that have traditionally worked within the gender binary?

3. Are you aware of any prevention efforts that have been effective in preventing IPV within the trans* community? Personally, do you feel that universal interventions can be effective or should prevention efforts (such as education efforts) focus on specific identities? Within my limited experience it seems like a lot of education efforts or other prevention tactics still work within the gender binary, and are also pretty heteronormative, and whenever additional identities are mentioned they are not paid a great deal of attention or they are put into their own separate section, which seems potentially problematic as well.

4. Do the prevention efforts taking place at HAVEN work to address the issue of IPV within the trans* community? If yes, have you met any challenges?

5. Do you have any advice for other community educators engaging in gender-based violence prevention work who are working to better address the issue of IPV within the trans* community? Do you have concerns about individuals who do not identify within the trans* community speaking about the issue of IPV when it affects individuals who identify within the trans* community?

I apologize for the length of this post and know that many of these questions are very specific and you may not be able to or feel comfortable answering them, for any number of reasons. I am currently engaging in community education based violence prevention work and am researching and writing on this topic and I would appreciate any insight you have. Thank you very much for your time and for all the work you do. Thanks again!

KW responds:

I want to start this with a deeply expressed apology with how long it has taken to respond to your questions. Your post was very complete and thought out and I’m excited that you’re taking an interest in the material you asked about. The end of the school year is extremely busy for us and while I wanted to give your questions the time they deserve, it also somewhat slipped my mind and agenda. Hopefully it is not too late to respond!

You’re absolutely right that trans* folks are at a disproportionate risk for hate related violence. Trans* women (particularly women of color) are at a greater and disproportionate risk for hate related crimes, murder, domestic violence, sexual assault, police brutality, more severe physical damage and hospitalization in instances of IPV, homelessness and housing/employment discrimination at the intersections of racial discrimination, trans* phobia and misogyny. Over 60% of hate crimes are perpetrated against trans* women of color and 14 percent of IPV homicides in 2012 were trans* gender women of color.

* Contact info@ncavp.org, for related statistical information from the NCAVP 2012 report and supported research conducted by the National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs is an excellent resource for many of the questions that you asked.

I will do my best to answer as many of your questions as I can below…..

As prevention educators who primarily work in schools throughout Oakland County, we are less likely to come in contact directly with victims (or victim services), although it does sometimes happen. An excellent resource for this kind of information would likely come from Equality Michigan, who provides victim services and advocacy throughout Michigan.

How we can better serve the trans* community is an excellent question and I think this is a question that more people are beginning to ask. We are a long way from being as educated, sensitive and as inclusive as we need to be in order to provide quality services to trans* victims of violence. Changes need to be made on the intuitional, community and individual levels in order to facilitate the type of space needed to support trans* survivors. I know that there are things under way at Equality Michigan and there are likely things happening at the micro level in community involvement that I am unaware of. At HAVEN, we have formed an LGBTQ+ caucus that is formulating a strategic plan to implement change at the organizational level. This is a rough recommendation to answer the question you more directly asked:

1. Institutional Policy Change – support for trans* inclusive policy at organizations needs to come from and be reinforced by the top down.

2. Organizational Training – Consistent training about how to address and support trans* survivors must be institutionalized and consistent to address turn-over rates – so that all staff stay educated and informed. You can access resources for these kinds of trainings through Equality Michigan and Affirmations Community Center.

3. Hire trans* people and offer trans* inclusive health care at the organization.

4. Implement practices that demonstrate a concerted effort for outreach to the trans* community.

5. There are more (and better) recommendations and I would be more than willing to stay in contact as our caucus works to develop strategies in collaboration with other organizations in making HAVEN more inclusive of the overall LGBTQ+ communities.

I am not aware of any specific prevention efforts that have been effective in preventing IPV within the trans* community but that does not mean that it is not happening somewhere in SE Michigan. An excellent resource for prevention efforts within the LGBTQ+ community is the Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse. In our current programming we are working to make our curriculum more LGBTQ+ inclusive and this will be a part of our continued evolution. I think that this question would really require a whole conversation, because while I do believe there is merit and legitimacy within universal interventions, I also believe that the trans* (and LGBTQ+) community has specific elements that are important to address and center. Currently, efforts are being made through community collaboration between multiple organizations in SE Michigan. We are currently a part of offering a Relationship Skills Class that is specific to the LGBTQ+ community being hosted at Affirmations Community Center.

I don’t personally have general concerns with cisgender people speaking on behalf of trans* survivors. I think allyship is important and we need more cisgender and heteronormative folks speaking up in an effort to leverage certain privileges afforded. There are, of course, more direct concerns when the leveraging of privilege is not done with accountability. That said, there is great value in cisgender people lifting up the voices of trans* folks (and other margined people) in an effort to lend recognition to work that is already being done. My advice is simplistic in that any ally should do their own work to educate themselves about trans* experiences and inclusive language, go to and support trans* events, listen to the experiences of trans* people, donate money to trans* organizations and efforts when able, and most importantly educate other cisgender folks about the issues that trans* folks experience in the face of discrimination and violence.

I understand that this was not as in depth as you might have preferred and it sounds like you may already have insight into many of the points that were brought up.

Kristopher (Kole) Wyckhuys is one hopeful and optimistic voice within an intersectional social justice movement. As a Prevention Education Specialist at HAVEN, his focus is redefining healthy masculinity and works to engage men in ending gender-based violence. After graduating college he served in the military where he trained as a Combat Medic and Mental Health Specialist. Kole is an Iraq war veteran, NPTI certified personal trainer, and a trained massage therapist in addition to his work as a prevention educator. He envisions a collective consciousness that embraces individual and social responsibility, accountability, and equanimity. He shares his home with a 3 year old pup named Peanut the Pitbull.

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