Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Why we probably need strictly trans-women-only spaces

Relationship abuse. That's why.

Helen G reported couple of days ago on the depressingly expected results (pdf) to research on domestic abuse against trans people. I also stumbled on a story at The Spectrum Café on crossdressers' problems, and I realised that those problems are definitely not limited to crossdressers alone: the power dynamic in a lesbian relationship, where one of the women is cis, and the other is trans, but not quite come to terms with her stuff yet, can be scarily similar.

Imagine: a trans/cis lesbian couple lives like their life was one of a cissexual, heterosexual, cisgender couple. One of the partners, however, knows that this is not strictly speaking true, but for a lack of words, courage, or just plain fear for her own safety keeps her mouth shut. She knows something is not quite right, the dynamic of the relationship isn't quite the cishet dynamic it's expected to be. The other, cis partner, is at least consciously unaware of this, or if not, wants to be unaware - there are no prizes given by the larger, sexist and cissexist society, to those who start messing about with its hallowed cishet structures, especially when such messing about goes against not only heterosexism, but cis- and plain sexism as well.

Anyway. The trans woman finds out a name, or several names, for the situation she's in. She finds out that she might actually be a woman, and that her coercively assigned manhood is a... lie. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what the possible consequences of acting out on such information can be. Amicable divorce (if they've already gotten married) is kinda nice outcome - if they have children together, the trans woman faces a very real prospect of losing her family altogether, and a substantial chunk of her income, too. Which also tends to plummet when one transitions - that's no rocket science, either.

So, what's the trans woman to do? "I'll give the family a shot but if it goes titsup, it will, and no can do - I'll likely transition anyway, and those two are not strictly connected" was my choice, but I now realise that this is not at all a common choice. The common choice is, I think, trying to negotiate your way into transitioning with the family. Asking for permission, if you like - in order to minimise the collateral damage.

What scenarios that leads to? There's at least two I can think of, and I've seen both happen many times.

The first is the "come out, get a divorce" -scenario. Once the trans woman speaks about the need to transition, the family implodes and that's that - if she's lucky, she can see her children and isn't destitute afterwards. If things go bad, she's not only cut off from her family, but totally broke, too.

The second, however, is ominous. The trans woman brings up that she really isn't a man, or somesuch stuff - the exact details don't matter. She asks for support. The cis woman, on her part, is shocked, or perhaps flat out disbelieves the seriousness of what's said. Once the situation develops a bit, and it becomes increasingly clear that trans woman's, well, womanhood, isn't going away, transitioning becomes a war of attrition on part of the cis woman partner. The trans spouse is kept from transitioning by controlling her, controlling her body, controlling her access to medical resources, controlling her visibility as a woman (either by threatening with forced outing or threatening with divorce if she does come out at circles not approved of by the cis spouse) and, of course controlling her access to other trans women. This can be subtle - painting other trans women as irresponsible, selfish failures who definitely are not worth associating with and then painting the trans woman partner as someone who's so much more responsible and rational - or it can be a lot more blatant, as in not letting the trans woman partner go to support group meetings, transcentric events, trans-women-only message boards, seeing a doctor to talk about her medical needs or even plain violence.

That the aforementioned is totally fucked hardly needs an explanation. What it does do, however, is introduce a cis-made split into trans women's lives - we're cut off from each other. Women early in their transitions don't get the role models of real, live trans women going on about their lives, working, living, loving and fighting on the planet cis, but get only the bits that suit their cis spouses - and somehow I think that the societally instilled sexism, transphobia and cissexism do affect the choice of such bits.

Because of all of the above, I'd like to have something. I'd like to have a trans-women-only space.  Where it wouldn't matter squat where you are in your transition, wouldn't matter where exactly you want to go, but if you wouldn't mind people identifying you as a trans woman, you'd be welcome. You'd be welcome to a space not controlled by cis people. Where what you say will not be scrutinised by the cis. Where questioning cissexist notions is welcome, and common. No cis women bossing around and telling us what we can do, say or be. No need for apologies, or for policing cis-instated norms on behalf of the cis. Where said policing can be dismissed for what it is: controlling. Controlling the way we speak, act, live and love. I want to get rid of that controlling so I can speak with my sisters face to face and expose the coercion and abuse for what it is.

Yeah, I know, won't be easy, but it's worth a shot, dontcha think?

No comments:

Post a Comment