Although limited research has been carried out so far on domestic abuse among transgender people, studies suggest that transgender people confront similar, if not higher, levels of domestic abuse in comparison to sexual minority males and females, and cisgender people.
While there are many similarities between domestic abuse in non-cis relationships and other relationships, a number of issues must be taken into account when understanding the complicated dynamics that exist in abusive relationships with a transgender woman.
There is a misconception that only cis women can be victims of domestic abuse. Not only is this inaccurate, but it can also make it more difficult for us to recognise the warning signs as well as the ways abuse manifests itself for transgender women.
Below you will find information you need to help identify the different signs of abuse, specifically as a transgender woman.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is defined as, “a pattern of abusive behaviour in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.”
ANYBODY can be a victim of domestic abuse regardless of their gender, gender expression (e.g. if they present themselves as particularly ‘masculine’, ‘feminine’ or anywhere in between), age or sex. Abuse is not limited to physical violence; it involves a range of behaviours which, apart from physical and sexual violence, include the use of coercion and threats; intimidation; emotional abuse; isolation; minimising; denying and blaming your partner; using children; using social privilege such as race and class; and subjecting your partner to economic abuse. These forms of abuse do not necessarily occur in isolation from each other, but rather they can take place simultaneously.
Why does it happen? Because the goal of abuser’s behaviour is to exert control over you. Abusers believe they are entitled to know and control your actions and choices. Various forms of abuse are used by abusers as tactics to dominate their partner.
Keep in mind that society tends to traditionally – and wrongly – view only cis women as potential survivors of domestic abuse. This makes it more difficult for those in abusive relationships and society as a whole to identify abuse against transgender men.
Am I in an abusive relationship?
- feel afraid of your partner, sometimes or often?
- avoid talking about certain topics because you are afraid of making your partner angry?
- feel that you can’t do anything right?
- feel that you don’t meet the standards that your partner has set?
- believe that you deserve to be hurt, mistreated or abused?
- think that you’re the one who must be at fault all the time?
- feel helpless or emotionally numb?
- cry most days and nights?
Does your partner…
- humiliate you by calling you names or shout at you?
- criticise you constantly and make you feel down?
- treat you so badly that you feel ashamed to talk about it to your family or friends?
- ignore or belittle you for having opinions or put down your accomplishments at home, work or in your studies?
- blame you for making them act abusively towards you? E.g. “You provoked me!”
- treat you as their property rather than as an individual?
- act overly jealous and possessive?
- control where you go and what you do?
- tell you to ask for permission before you leave the house or go anywhere?
- keep you from seeing your friends or family?
- monitor your Facebook account?
- monitor your phone and read your messages?
- limit your access to your money, phone or car?
- demand to know all your passwords for all your email and social media accounts?
- ask you to close your bank account?
- force you to leave your job?
- force you to discontinue your education?
- curse at you or swear at you?
- force you to engage in sexual activity rather than asking for your consent?
- phone frequently and harasses you you?
- threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
- threaten you physically?
- threaten your friends or family to get you to do what they want?
- hurt you or say he will hurt you?
- punch you? Kick you? Push you?
- coerce you into sexual acts you don’t want to take part in
- force you to do things (sexually or otherwise) which you don’t want to do?
- have an unpredictable temper that scares you?
The above points outline warning signs of various forms of abuse which, can be broadly split into three types of abuse. You may experience any one, or more, of these types of abuse.
Physical abuse: Intentional use of force to cause pain, discomfort, impairment or injury. This can include hitting, choking, slapping, burning, shoving, restraint, using a weapon to cut, hit or puncture you, as well as intentional interference with basic needs such as withholding food, medicine or sleep.
Sexual abuse: Any sort of non-consensual sexual contact. This can include forcing you into sexual acts, intentionally passing on sexually transmitted diseases, refusing to use a form of contraception, humiliating you during sex and taking advantage of you when you are not able to give consent (for example, if you are asleep or too drunk to give consent).
Emotional abuse: Actions which aim to damage someone’s self-esteem, feelings and independence. This can include, verbal abuse (e.g. shouting, swearing), name calling, manipulation, isolation, threats, gaslighting, financial abuse (e.g. controlling your finances, stealing from you) and intimidation.
Experiencing domestic abuse as a transgender woman
Domestic abuse as a transgender woman, as well as in cis gender relationships, can be physical, emotional or psychological. Manipulation is a common tactic among emotionally or psychologically abusive partners, which includes techniques such as lying, hiding information, creating guilt or doubt, and/or avoiding equal debate. An abusive partner can use these techniques to force you to do certain things, make decisions for you, and paint a distorted reality of your relationship and any abuse that occurs.
Domestic abuse against transgender people can occur at any point in a relationship or romantic/sexual encounter. However, many transgender people report that abuse often emerges at the point of coming out as trans and at the beginning of the process of transitioning. It is important to remember that while your partner may be surprised, confused or apprehensive at either of these times, none of those emotions can be an excuse for taking away your autonomy or enacting violence against your person. Unfortunately, most transgender people report encountering domestic abuse in at some point in their romantic and/or sexual relationships, likely due to regressive and dehumanising attitudes towards trans bodies as well as other structural inequalities (gender, race, class, orientation etc) which may affect trans people.
There are expressions and dynamics of abuse that are specifically recognisable in domestic abuse against transgender women that you may be able to identify within your own relationship.
- Transphobia, biphobia and homophobia
An abusive partner may also use shame or guilt to prevent you from coming out as transgender. They may try to control the way you act or dress. In some situations, abusers may pretend that their controlling behaviours are for your own good or that they are attempting to stop you from attracting transphobic abuse from outside the relationship. Repeatedly refusing to use your preferred pronouns, or not allowing you to express your gender in ways which make you feel comfortable is also a form of abuse. If you identify as homosexual, bisexual or another non-monosexual identity, which many transgender people do, your partner may try to leverage stereotypes of dishonesty and promiscuity to discourage you from reporting their abusive behaviour to the authorities should you attempt to do so.
- Intentionally triggering gender dysphoria
Comments designed to aggravate or trigger feelings of dysphoria, where you feel discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between your biological sex and gender identity. This includes drawing attention to parts of your body which they know you are unhappy with, or setting up situations in which they suspect your dysphoria will be triggered.
- Preventing access to healthcare
Preventing you from accessing medicines and health services associated with your transition and/or identity is a form of abuse.
- Forcing sexual activities
An abusive partner may use the discomfort you may feel with your body to shame or pressure you into having sex. They may also force you to view images or videos (including pornography) which you are likely to find triggering, upsetting or unpleasant. No matter what the relationship, your partner is not entitled to you sexually. Any level of coercion can be considered manipulative and abusive. Feeling guilty for not wanting sex or for not carrying out a sexual act is a sign that you are being coerced into it.
- The Threat of ‘Outing’
An abusive partner might take advantage of transphobia in society, threatening to ‘out’ you as transgender without your permission. They might force you to tell your friends, family or colleagues that you do not identify as the gender assigned to you at birth, or threaten that they will do that themselves. For example, they might say to you, ‘I’ll call your parents and tell them’, if they are not aware.
- Hiding the relationship
Unless you have both agreed to keep the relationship private, their decision to hide it could be a sign of abuse. They might act like a stranger to you in public, or refuse to speak about the relationship itself and the problems within it, dismissing them as unimportant. The act of hiding the relationship may build an increased feeling of shame and insecurity within you.
- Isolation within the LGBTQIA+ community (if your partner is also part of the LGBTQIA+ community)
Isolation can occur if you have only recently come out; if you don’t have contact with your old social networks; or if you share friendship groups with your partner. If you share all your friends with an abusive partner, it can become easier for them to dictate your involvement in your social circles and the LGBTQIA+ community at large, to the point at which they could dangerously isolate you from the rest of society. An abusive partner may try to marginalise you within your social group, making you dependent on their presence in social situations. They might also express annoyance at your presence in front of other people.
If the abusive partner is better known in the LGBTQIA+ community, they may leverage their position or status to try and influence what others think of you. They may also use this to make you feel inadequate or marginalised within the LGBTQIA+ community, tell you that they know best because they have a more established role in the LGBTQIA+ community, and subsequently make decisions for both of you.
- Self-harm in order to manipulate your emotions
A partner who threatens to hurt themselves or hurts themselves in front of you is subjecting you to an abusive action which could make you feel guilty, insecure and scared. Through the act of self-harm, an abusive partner can make you feel as though you are responsible for their health and that it is therefore somehow your fault when they self-harm and that you influence whether they self-harm or not. By threatening to hurt themselves, your partner may be trying to force you to stay in the relationship. Acts of self-harm may establish a strong sense of fear in you: you may start to fear your own physical safety because you worry that the acts of violence they are inflicting on themselves could one day be targeted towards you.
- Self pity/paint themselves as the victim
An abusive partner may portray or believe themselves to be ‘the victim’ and attempt to use this to manipulate your behaviour. They may leverage their experiences of discrimination or abuse and their self-pity in order to draw attention away from your needs and the abuse they are subjecting you to within the relationship and instead make you feel like you need to care for them. This may cause you to feel guilty if they express that you are not caring for them properly, despite the fact that you may be offering a lot of care, while they rarely offers you the same level of care in return.
Recognising that you are in a abusive relationship is never an easy process. It is important to remember that you are the only person who has the opportunity to recognise it, and the right to decide how to deal with it. It is important to acknowledge that the time it takes to recognise, and potentially leave, an abusive relationship widely differs from relationship to relationship. It is therefore important to remember that others should not – and have no right to – judge you for your journey on identifying and dealing with abuse within your relationship.
Gaslighting is a common phrase used to describe a manipulative behaviour where the abusive partner slowly starts to overwrite their partner’s reality. They may do the following, among other things:
• accuse the partner of misremembering events
• withhold factual information
• replace factual information with false information
• claim that the partner is overreacting
• twist the partner’s words as if they were supposed to mean something different.
These behaviours can slowly erode your ability to trust yourself and your judgements. Gaslighting differs from other manipulative methods because it can not only lead to a change in your behaviour, but also jeopardise your own personality. By using manipulative behaviours such as the ones outlined above, the abusive partner ensures that you can no longer be independent and that you start to question your own credibility and doubt yourself.
If you have been gaslighted by your partner, you may feel as though you are: ‘hypersensitive’, ‘unreasonable’, and ‘unreliable’.
You may also experience feelings of anxiety and confusion to the point that you don’t feel like you can trust your own judgement or memory anymore. It is important to remember that this is a result of abusive behaviour by your partner, and you are neither being unreasonable, nor are you to blame!
The context of gaslighting in a relationship as a transgender man may differ in some instances from that in a cis-gender relationship, due to societal transphobia, gender norms and other forms of discrimination which cis-gendered couples may not face.
Challenges in leaving/reporting abusive situations
Transgender people in general often face challenges dating and forming relationships due to societal transphobia both inside and outside of LGBTQIA+ spaces. This may make it more challenging to leave an abusive relationship, particularly if leaving that relationship means you have no alternative except to return to a living situation where you would be facing transphobia and/or other kinds of abuse.
Abusers may use knowledge of police abuse or other structural manifestations of transphobia outside of your relationship to discourage you from leaving or reporting. Transgender people in particular may feel uncomfortable accessing services where there exists the possibility of being misgendered by police or health providers. This is compounded by the fact that it can be difficult to find trans inclusive services locally who support victims of domestic violence. The situation is improving in many countries, but it can be helpful to know that there are services online who can give you some support anonymously. Please have a look at our list of organisations in your area to find out about any potential organisations which can support you.
If you would like to share your experience with us for us to post anonymously on this site, or have a content suggestion, please get in touch.