Laverne Cox, Keynote address, Creating Change 2014
How though? I’m not disagreeing or anything just someone explain how it’s an act of violence because I don’t really get it, I assumed violence was people being beaten up or shot in the street. I don’t know much about trans issues and I’m new to this subject.
Trans people are constantly subjected to acts of violence on a daily basis. Some folks, of late, have asked what violence is done against trans women, and to trans people in general, and hey frame it in such a way as to describe what they do as not being an act of violence.
Violence, however, is more than merely brutality.
When most people think of violence, they think of things like beatings, the act of striking someone, they think of visible bruises, of broken bones, of swollen puffy faces and the sight of blood.
Those things do happen to Trans people. In particular, trans people of color in the United States, but just in general, on a worldwide basis, trans people are murdered at an alarming rate that we can only estimate because of the lack of data from many nations, especially those where simply being trans makes it seem permissible to engage in acts of brutality against them.
This isn’t about brutality, however. This is about violence on a different scale. This is about violence that people shy away from, that they avoid looking at, that they do what they can to not have to see.
In 2002, the World Health Organization complied a landmark study of worldwide violence. This was the The World report on violence and health. Representing a consensus of experts and scientists, peer reviewed multiple times over, and acting as the new foundation of broader support and understanding of the forces involved in tracking harmful, violent behavior, the report made it clear that there is a far more universal form of violence which is just as deadly as the aforementioned brutality.
Two kinds of violence in particular are discussed at length, especially as they affect the lives of people in minority populations. These are psychological anddeprivation/neglect.
These are further divided into Interpersonal and Community forms of violence.
They developed, out of that, a definition of violence that is as follows:
“the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, againstoneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”
The Bolded portions are what I’m going to focus on here.
One of the more pervasive forms of this harm is exclusion — more formally described as Ostracism. Kipling D. Williams is one of the foremost researchers in this area of study, which has been ongoing for many years. Using thoroughly vetted methods, he has noted some startling factors that arise directly out of ostracism itself — with or without verbal derogation or physical assault (that means insults and related microaggressions).
Physically, the body receives such stimuli in the same way it receives a physical blow. That is, in controlled or uncontrolled situations, the act of ostracism, but itself, is felt by the body int he same way that a physical attack is felt.
The body reacts to them the same, with the physical blow simply involving more effort on the part of the body to heal, while with the nonphysical attack, the healing takes much, much longer.
“Being excluded is painful because it threatens fundamental human needs, such as belonging and self-esteem,” Williams said. “Again and again research has found that strong, harmful reactions are possible even when ostracized by a stranger or for a short amount of time.”
In his work, he has identified three stages of dealing with ostracism. The first stage is simply being ostracised. For trans people, the signals of ostracism come in many forms. Most of them have to do with aversion or anxiety about trans people or transness in general — that is to say, transphobia. Others have to do with aspects of social permissiveness — the things that one is allowed to do as a member of a particular class of persons and the things that others are not allowed to do as a result of not being in that class of persons.
This permissiveness is readily tracked in three ways, each of which applies as part of a whole:
- Innocence: I am not looked to as the cause of problems in a social group.
- Worthiness: I am presumed worthy of a social group’s trust and wealth.
- Competence: I am expected to be skillful, successful, and autonomous.
This particular aspect of permissiveness is often referred to as Dominant Class Privilege.
In the case of Trans people, the Dominant Class is persons who are not intersex and who are not Trans — that is, persons who are otherwise typical and common, the majority or persons in the world.
These persons may find themselves dealing situationally with perceived membership in the class of trans and/or intersex persons, but they are not actually within those categories. This is called an intersectional loss of privilege.
The members of this dominant class are called Cis people. An example of situational membership might be a Butch lesbian who is socially harmed on the basis of her expression or role in society and how it deviates from those roles and expressions which are culturally permissive to members of her gender. It doesn’t change her Cisness, but it does mean that she is dealing with an intersection.
As a result, she can, through an intersectional experience based on externally perceived situational membership, experience ostracism (and the attendant harm) in the same way a trans person does for violating those same normative patterns in terms of expression and role.
The second stage of dealing with ostracism is Coping.
Coping usually means the person being ostracized tries harder be included. The way they do that may vary. For example, some of those who are ostracized may be more likely to engage in behaviors that increase their future inclusion by mimicking, complying, obeying orders, cooperating or expressing attraction. Others may seek to connect with persons who are similarly ostracized, creating an Affinity Group (or in-group), and possibly even advocate for changes to the social norms. In yet other cases — and in particular if there is something that gives them a sense that they are being ostracized by a larger group, or they gain the sense that it isn’t possible to gain inclusion, or they come to feel or be told that they have little control over their lives (such as by being told that their knowledge of themselves is invalid or untrue, as frequently happens with Trans people when they are told they are not women), they may turn to provocative behavior and even aggression, such as when this happens between two groups that are oppressed under two different axes of oppression — especially when there are aspects of situational membership shared.
“They will go to great lengths to enhance their sense of belonging and self-esteem,” is how Williams describes it. However, ”At some point, they stop worrying about being liked, and they just want to be noticed.”
This can lead — especially among competing out-groups — to internal warfare an the creation of ideologies and statements of outright hostility.
The example most readily found of this is the way that TERF’s engage with Trans people. At this point, after 40 years of open hostility between the two out-groups, they are constantly engaged in a series of escalating aggression and provocative behavior. This is most notable in the way that Terfs call trans women men and then say Kill all men, and the way that trans women say die cis scum.
All of which comes to a head in the incredibly hostile statement “kill yourself” which is a direct act of violence with an often deadly outcome.
When ostracization continues for a long time — decades, in this case — the third stage, called Resignation, is reached. At this point, many simply give up.
“This is when people who have been ostracized are less helpful and more aggressive to others in general,” says KD WIlliams. “It also increases anger and sadness, and long-term ostracism can result in alienation, depression, helplessness and feelings of unworthiness.”
Trans people, as a general rule, are in the third stage for the most part. This is particularly true for those who transition as adults, but still applies in many situations to those who transition as children. The long term effects of ostracism are incredibly damaging to people, as a whole, and all major pediatric organizations look at it as a form of child abuse and neglect — for good reason.
The issues that face the adult survivors of child abuse and neglect are massive and potent ongoing social issues that are merely exacerbated by the constant interpersonal and community attacks that trans people experience from TERFs.
As I’ve noted previously in discussing how to identify transphobia and the argument of ostracism that is the male socialization argument, these attacks are harsh, critical, dehumanizing, overt acts of violence that are based in the presence within a Dominant Class and are founded on the principles of Ciscentrism, which is opposed by Transcentrism. I discuss some of the specifics about how this oppression is engaged in various posts such as here, here, and here.
Williams says “Endure ostracism too long and they’re depleted. You don’t have it in you to cope, so you give up. You become depressed, helpless, and despairing.” Even memories of long-ago rejection can bring up those feelings.
His work, widely cited and broadly available, lays out the foundation for the manner in which trans people are actively and intentionally harmed through acts of violence that include microaggressions, psychologically damaging verbal attacks, and active efforts at exclusion and using existing stigma and shame against trans people in both externalized and internalized varieties, preying on low self esteem and insecurities of trans people (in particular, those going through the crisis point of transition, which is an incredibly fragile time and is, itself, an act of overt and fundamental hostility to another person during a time of incredibly personal and psychological vulnerability), and acting as if in concert with larger forces (such as those on the religious right and those within patriarchy) to create a powerful and potent mix of violence that has the appearance of being socially sanctioned in an environment where such behavior is not only tolerated, but often encouraged (social media).
This is the violence against trans people that is often talked about — it need not be a clue by four to the skull to have the same effect, and indeed, when combined with the life history of such experiences, it makes it an outright act of cruelty, inhumane in its force, and absolutely an act of violence.