Sunday, March 23, 2008

Panelspiel on Violence Against GLBTQI People

This is draft 2 - March 26.

This is for a 20 minute panelspiel to be given this coming Thursday. Comments are welcome anytime, and they are especially useful if received by Wednesday night. (Bloggish niceties, like links & better html formatting, will be inserted later when I have time to do it.) Thanks ~D

Good afternoon. My name is Davey. I am an alum of the Social Justice Education Program at UMass, Amherst, and now I work as a consultant providing trainings and workshops about social justice issues, primarily focusing on trans/gender issues and issues related to class/classism. I am also a writer, and in my spare time I have a day job making water color paintings on silk clothing.

Today I’ve been asked to talk about violence against people who are GLB and transgender. I think this is an aspect of “gender violence,” as this forum is titled, that’s often missing from conversations about violence in communities and on campuses. In particular, it’s often missing from conversations about sexual assault and intimate partner abuse, which is the area in which most of my antiviolence work has focused.

We tend to speak of these as “women’s issues.” In fact that’s part of the story of how I came to be invited to be part of this forum. Someone wrote a message to a listserve that I’m part of, raising the issue of “violence against women.” What the person said was smart and important and totally valid, but the term “violence against women” just grates on my nerves. So I wrote back to the list saying, “Actually, it’s not only women that are targeted by sexist violence and sexualized violence.” After I wrote that, about a half a dozen people approached me to discuss the issue, and next thing I knew, the CRC asked me to be on this panel.

So, when we talk about sexual assault and intimate partner abuse, we often say “violence against women” as a shortcut. Most of the people who speak publicly about these issues are working out of women’s centers and came up through the women’s movement. Even when that’s not the case, many if not most people who do work around sexual assault and intimate partner abuse are working from a binary and heterosexist framework, where the problem is heterosexual men’s violence against heterosexual women, often their partners, and where the underlying explanation for this violence is sexism.

This is an important framework and a useful one. I am not suggesting that we throw it out. However it is vital that it not be our only lens, because that leads us to ignore other manifestations of violence and other underlying factors.

Heterosexual men’s violence against heterosexual women is a major issue, and sexism is a major underlying cause. In fact, I would argue that sexism also is an underlying cause of much of the interpersonal violence committed by men against men, by women against women, and by anyone against GLB, trans, queer and intersex people. This makes it all the more crucial that we not ignore these other manifestations of violence, which also stem from sexism, but which don’t match the assumption of hetero men’s violence against hetero women. If we’re committed to ending the violence that stems from sexism, we have to acknowledge all the forms that violence can take.

So, I don’t want us to take the shortcut of saying “violence against women,” when what we mean is something much more specific – such as “heterosexual men’s violence against their heterosexual women partners” – or something much more broader – such as “violence whose function is to perpetuate sexist power relationships amongst people of all genders.” With phrases like that I can see why we might want to take short cuts. But let’s make sure what we know what we mean by those shortcuts.

You might be wondering why I care so much about the language we use. They’re just words, right? Here are some of the reasons it matters to me:

-It matters because women also commit violence. If the model we’re using to understand violence doesn’t account for that, then the model is flawed.

-It matters because sexism is not the only underlying cause of violence. I’d highlight racism, classism and imperialism as some others that we had better not ignore.

-And it matters because men, trans folks and people who are intersex also experience violence directed against them.

A movement against violence must honor all of these experiences, must provide services that are accessible to all survivors of interpersonal violence, and must incorporate all of these perspectives into our overall understanding of what violence means.

One thing that gets in the way of this conversation is basic ignorance about the experiences of GLB, queer, trans and intersex people. In a moment I’m going to rattle off some statistics for you. First I’d better define some of the terms that I’ve been throwing around already. I don’t mean to provide authoritative definitions. These are how I am using these words for our purposes today.

-When I say GLB, I mean gay, lesbian and bisexual.

-When I say transgender, I mean person whose gender identity or gender expression differs significantly from what is expected of them in their culture, and for whom this difference is central to their identity and/or a significant part of their everyday experience.

-When I say intersex, I mean anyone whose physical body is not easily classified as simply male or female.

-When I say queer, … Well, there just never seems to be a good time to talk about what I mean by queer. Now certainly isn’t the time. I’ll just say, queer is a term that is highly loaded and politicized, whether it’s used as hatespeech, or as a positive term of empowerment. It is endlessly useful and endlessly fraught. Queer is the word that speaks truest to my identity and experience, and so I tend to use it a lot. If it happens to slip out during this talk, what I mean is all of us folks who are targeted by homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia regardless of how we identify.

So, now let’s talk statistics (read whichever ones seem most relevant based on feel of the group and what panelists have said already):

Hate Crimes: Hate crimes statistics are ridiculously unreliable. Nevertheless, it might interest you to know that the FBI recorded 1,195 crimes motivated by homophobia in 2002. 72 of these occurred in Massachusetts. (Crimes motivated by homophobia are not actually part of the federal hate crimes statutes. The FBI is required to keep track of them, but nothing happens as a result of a federal crime being classified as a homophobic hate crime.)

The FBI does not track hate crimes based on gender identity or gender expression. However some trans people are trying to keep track of them: The Remembering Our Dead website currently lists 358 people who were murdered since 1970 because they were trans. This is almost definitely a drastic underestimate, since police departments have no obligation to report these as hate crimes, and since trans people who aren’t “out” as trans are unlikely to be counted.

Schools: Looking at all “sexual minority youth” as one group, the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey (2005) found that 13% had skipped school because they felt unsafe, 44% had been bullied (compared to 23% of heterosexual non-trans students), and 14% had been threatened or injured with a weapon at school; in addition 35% had experienced dating violence and 34% had experienced or sexual contact against their will.

Another study, which looked at transgender youth separately, found that among those who were enrolled in school, almost 90% reported feeling unsafe in school, more than half report being physically harassed, and 35% report being physically assaulted in school because of their gender expression (Kosciw, 2002).

Sexual Assault: (First ask people to guess) With regard to sexual assault, gay men and lesbians are more likely to be raped than heterosexuals; in addition they are more likely to be raped by a stranger, often as part of a physical assault motivated by homophobia[1]. From the few studies of sexualized violence against transgender people, they appear to be at even higher risk.

Percentage of population who report having been forced to have sex at least once:

All men, regardless of sexual orientation:


Gay men in particular:


All women, regardless of sexual orientation:


Lesbian women in particular:


FtM transgender people:


MtF transgender people:


“Sexual Minority” Youth in Mass. Schools


(Ask people to guess what the reasons might be. Fill in if they don’t come up with: Homophobic stranger assaults; young people getting in unhealthy hetero relationships to prove their straightness; young people disconnected from family therefore living in unsafe shared housing or on street; young people feel isolated in general therefore more vulnerable to pressure from partners, etc.)

Across all of these groups, perpetrators are believed to be 90%-95% non-trans hetero me. I feel I can’t say that without also re-emphasizing that men are also victimized by sexual assault. The statistics are unreliable due to underreporting, but my best guess is that any given man is at least as likely to have been victimized by sexual assault as he is to ever commit a sexual assault.

Intimate partner abuse: Intimate partner abuse is a pattern of violence over time such that one partner in an intimate relationship maintains power and control over another. About 1/3 of hetero women are abused by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. This same proportion is true for lesbian women and gay men. It’s estimated that the number for hetero men is way lower, but since hetero men are probably unlikely to report this kind of experience, we just don’t know.

Economics: GLBTQI people are more likely to be living in poverty than heterosexuals. For example, one recent study of trans-identified folks found that 15% were employed full time, 35% were employed part time, and the remaining 60% were unemployed or were employed illegally (i.e. doing sex work or selling drugs).

I would define this level of impoverishment as a form of violence in itself. But that’s not the only reason I bring it up: I hope it’s obvious that people who are doing sex work are at extraordinary risk of sexual assault, and are also unlikely to report assaults or receive support services because of the legal risk. In addition, engaging in criminalized work puts these individuals at high risk of imprisonment, and people who are imprisoned are at tremendous risk of sexual assault with very limited access to support services.

Barriers to Reporting: Finally, when GLB and queer and trans and intersex folks do experience a sexual assault or any kind of interpersonal violence, they face unique barriers to reporting or disclosing about their experience and seeking support. First of all, as we know, most services for survivors are designed by and for non-trans heterosexual women. Some programs are actually closed to GLB, queer, trans and intersex folks. Others have names that may be heard to imply that. And even when a program wants to be welcoming, staff members don’t always know how to assist survivors who don’t fall into the usual priority population of non-trans hetero women.

In addition, similar to other marginalized communities, GLB, queer, trans and intersex survivors may distrust service providers in general. How many of you are familiar with the story of Tyra Hunter? She was a 24 year old transsexual woman living in DC. She was injured in a motor vehicle accident. EMTs arrived at the scene of the accident and started to help. Tyra had lost consciousness during the crash, and was just waking up when they arrived. While examining her to assess the extent of her injuries, one EMT discovered that Tyra had male genitals. At that point the EMTs stopped providing treatment. Instead they stood around for a while making intensely derogatory comments. Then they took her to the hospital where she continued to receive inadequate care. She later died as a result of her injuries.

I don’t think this represents a typical experience with emergency medical staff. I hope it doesn’t happen every day. But I know it happened that once, and most trans people also know about it. This story is still circulating in trans communities, partly because it’s so horrific, and partly because almost all of us have our own smaller-scale horror stories to tell about interacting with doctors, social workers or police who did not have our best interests in mind.

That story is particular to trans folk, but certainly intersex folk have similar well-founded reasons to distrust service providers, and some GLB folk do as well, depending on where and when they came out. So even prior to interacting with service providers, a GLB, trans or intersex survivor may assume or fear that providers won’t be helpful.

And in many cases they’re right. GLB, trans, queer and intersex survivors who report a sexual assault or intimate partner abuse risk being re-victimized by the system in a variety of ways. For example:

-they may be asked to explain the physical details of the assault in greater detail than one would ask of a non-trans female who was assaulted by a male;

-they may face blatant homophobia or transphobia from service providers;

-they may be arrested (especially if the survivor is a trans woman, because police may assume she’s a sex worker);

-trans and intersex survivors may receive inappropriate medical care if providers are confused about their sex or gender. For example they may not offer EC (emergency contraception to a trans man who they perceive as male, even though he may need it.

I’m sure you all are full of depressing statistics for now. I know that I am. I said before that ignorance of the facts is one thing that gets in the way of this conversation. So now you have some facts, and if you want further information along those lines, there are handouts available in the back, including one about barriers to reporting (in general, for marginalized populations, and for trans folk in particular).

In closing, I’ve been asked to talk a little bit about what we can do to improve the situation. Mostly, I want to hear from y’all about what you’d like to see happen. It’s your campus. I will sign off with two quick suggestions, though. One of them is abstract, and the other is more concrete.

First, the abstract thing: We can all get really clear about what we mean when we’re talking about these issues. What do we mean when we use shortcuts like “violence against women” or “gendered violence”? When we say “sexual assault,” what are we imagining? Are we imagining a stranger assault by a non-trans hetero man against a non-trans hetero woman? And if so, let’s disrupt those assumptions. When we say “safety,” what exactly are we imagining safety feels like? How exactly are we imagining safety happens?

The concrete thing is: We can improve resources, services and general understanding about violence against GLB, trans and intersex folk on this campus. We can do this by funding great trainings for staff and students, so that survivors who do choose to disclose an experience of violence find caring and competent support. We can train not only EWC staff, but also the folks at counseling services, at UHS, and in Residence Life. In my dreams, we can fund these trainings so well that staff will actually get paid to attend them rather than having them tacked on to their already full workloads.

I look forward to hearing your other ideas, as well as any questions or comments you might have for me.

(If someone asks about women’s spaces:)

The issue of “women’s space” is hugely complicated, so here are just a few things I want to make sure to leave you with. First, when I say that rape crisis services and intimate partner abuse services should be accessible to men and to GLB, trans, queer and intersex folk, I don’t mean that “women’s only” spaces must be eliminated. I think there is a role for gathering a group of people who share a very specific identity and set of experiences, such as being non-trans heterosexual women who’ve experienced abuse at the hands of non-trans heterosexual men, for the purpose of healing together. I’m not trying to take that space away from you. I want you to have that space. My question is, can’t there be space for me too?

Second, when people advocate for “women only” spaces, the explanation that they usually give is that these spaces are safer. How do we know that? Are we sure? In my experience, non-trans heterosexual women are entirely capable of doing violence against each other and of enacting sexism against each other. So when we talk about safe space, I want us to be explicit – safe for whom? Safe from whom? What about these spaces makes them safe? And how can we make all spaces safer? Certainly having some “women only” spaces is one way to promote healing and safety, and it is one good option to have. But it is not the only option, and it is not a panacea for sexist violence.



[3] Clements, et al., 1998

[4] Mass. Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2005

1 comment:

Dane said...

I just left you a really long comment, and then Blogger ate it. Boo. Short version:

1) Nice! It's clear, coherent, useful, etc. I like it.

2) Got lost in the statistics.

3) The line about "I would define this level of impoverishment as a form of violence in itself" may provoke the question "whaddya mean poverty is violence?" I think I know what you mean when you say that, but I'm not 100% sure. And since you don't go much further into it, I might suggest cutting it.

4) But overall, it's a good panelspiel.