Domestic violence is a crime in which one person asserts physical power over another individual for the purpose of controlling or dominating that person. As I engage in the legal system to fight for the rights of transgender individuals, I find that many transgender prisoners, especially transgender prisoners of color, are in personal relationships that are violent and abusive. In the pursuit of trying to find love and happiness, many transgender people accept physical abuse as love. The main reason I wrote my memoir, I Rise, was to educate and enlighten others about the transgender journey and the many obstacles that we have to overcome just to survive.
The transformation process requires great courage and determination against objections from family, friends and associates. Once the transformation process begins, there is a rebuilding of self-esteem that requires transgender people to relearn to accept themselves in their new body. If the transgender individual opts to go on a hormone regimen, that begins to change the body and its outward physical appearance, causing the individual to have to change their perception of self and rebuild their self-esteem in their new body. While rebuilding their self-esteem, they become vulnerable to individuals who give them attention or admiration, which an in turn lead them into relationships with people who are abusive, controlling and dominating.
Leigh Goodmark, a law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and an expert in family law and domestic violence, wrote a riveting paper in February 2012 called "Transgender People, Intimate Partner Abuse, and the Legal System," which detailed the abuse that many transgender people suffer at the hands of their lovers, often ending in their deaths. In many instances the LGBT community forgets the "T" when fighting for legal and civil rights, because the transgender population is small in comparison to the lesbian, gay and bisexual population.
Goodmark writes in her paper:
Whether characterized as hate crimes or as assaults or other crimes ... violence against trans people is disturbingly common. Surveys of trans people document the disproportionately high rates of violence they experience. A 2001 survey found that over their lifetimes, almost 60% of trans people experienced either violence or harassment: over half of trans people experienced verbal abuse, 23% were stalked, almost 20% were assaulted without a weapon, 10% were assaulted with a weapon, and almost 14% experienced rape or sexual abuse. Other surveys have found similarly high rates of violence against trans people. In its most recent survey of hate violence in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected communities in the United States, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) found that trans people were twice as likely to be assaulted or discriminated against and 1.5 times more likely to experience intimidation than cisgender white people.
Trans women are particularly likely to be marked for violence. The 2010 NCAVP survey found that 44% of the murder victims in their study were trans women, but trans women made up only 11% of their sample; in the 2009 report, half of the murders reported were of trans women. Surveys of the trans community have found that 98% of violence in the trans community was targeted at trans women, and that trans women of color accounted for 70% of the murders of trans people reported internationally in 2003.
As an African-American transgender woman, I have experienced harrassment, bullying, sexual harrassment, intimate partner abuse and sexual assault. The legal system typically fails transgender people, and legal justice is not obtained. As a legal activist for transgender equality, and working with California's largest LGBT rights group, my goal is to fight for the equal and civil rights of all transgender people. To all my transgender brothers and sisters, remember that God is love, and love is for everyone, regardless of race, sex and gender. True love does not cause pain, hurt, humiliation or degradation. The best description of love that I have found is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Equality for all, regardless of race, sex or gender!
If you or anyone you know is in a violent or abusive relationship, please click here to view the National Domestic Violence Hotline page, which includes an 800 number that can be called toll free from anywhere in the United States. Calls are answered in English and Spanish, with interpreters available for an additional 139 languages. They can refer you to the domestic violence services closest to you.