Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Enablement and Apologism

The anti-transgender lobby deliberately seeks to dehumanize and denigrate trans women with their words. They rely on tropes that medical science has for many years proven wrong, feeding into misunderstandings people may have regarding what being transgender truly means. We are often portrayed as fetishists by hate groups - the "Man in a Dress" trope is widely applied to us. We are often accused of wanting to violate women's spaces out of some sexual perversion - often being referred to in terms that imply that we are "rapists-in-wait," sneaking around women's restrooms, waiting and watching for our next victim, for which there have never been any proven instances.

When the same words are used or ideas are reinforced by members of the LGBT coalition in anger, particularly by other transgender women, it is a act of lateral violence. Recently, a noted transgender writer went on a tirade against another trans woman, using words that the transgender community consider slurs, and attempting to have her commit suicide. It became apparent that this was not the only time in which this particular person had done so. She had a history of bullying those whom she perceived weren't giving her enough credit or those who had disagreed with her, even driving one woman into hospital following a failed suicide attempt. It also became apparent that no one had sought outside intervention due to her previous abuse because these victims perceived the writer's mental state to be afflicted or troubled, complicating if not excusing her behavior.

We must end the violence inside the trans community before we can effectively unify to combat the violence from the outside. By maintaining silence when a figure with a platform in the transgender community engages in acts of lateral violence, we are not only enabling that person to continue unabated, we are also guilty of exposing others in our already high-risk group to possible self-harm.

It is easy for a community well-versed in physical harm and mental health conditions to want to gather around an abuser in an attempt to rescue them from their perceived mental anguish. The unfortunate consequence of this behavior is that it oftentimes merely serves to enable an aggressor to continue their behavior. They become aware that they have the power to continue to do so, and that if they are brought to task in the future for similar behavior, they know that they can convince those same people that they were not at fault due to their mental state. 

This is a very typical pattern in those who commit acts of abuse. As an abused spouse in a straight marriage prior to transition, I was assaulted by an alcoholic who claimed that she was not responsible for her actions while intoxicated because she had blacked out. She would then cry that she was sorry for whatever it was that she had done, and swear her undying love while vacillating between threatening self-harm and declaring that she needed help. My fear for her mental state led to me trying to work with her through rehab and therapy, only enabling her to continue that cycle of abuse because I did not pull away and remove myself from that situation. If someone has committed an act of abuse and is threatening self-harm, it is likely untrue. The mindset of an abuser is such that they place themselves above all others, and someone who places themselves that highly is unlikely to self-harm. Rather than harboring thoughts of saving or rescuing the other person in an situation where you are being abused, psychologists agree that the best cause of action is saving yourself. 

This is true equally of those who are physically or verbally violent towards others - the mindset of the abuser is the same, and the best course of action is the same. If you are the victim of violence, don't allow the perpetrator to set the narrative. The majority of threats that they may make to you regarding themselves are only  designed to make you stay, or to make you feel sympathy for them. Oftentimes, they will also gaslight the situation, hinting or nudging you towards an acceptance that they are hurting more than you are, or that you may even be imagining some of the abuse. An abuser will often redefine the narrative to blame others for their troubles, such as claiming that because what they said or did was in private, it is an attack on them if that information is shared with anyone. Abusers will seldom admit that they are wrong, or for that matter, less than perfect. It's always someone else's fault when they act inappropriately.

Unfortunately, even though well-intended and with the safety of the abuser in mind, in instances where others are aware of the abuse taking place and are trying to rescue the abuser out of a misguided notion that they can help them, what they are actually doing carries the unintended consequence of creating secondary abuse. In the words of Elie Wiesel, "Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the oppressed. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." If a third party seeks to avoid confrontation and conflict between the parties by absorbing the abuse without challenging it or setting boundaries, then they have successfully enabled the abuser to continue unabated once the current issue has subsided. The moment someone makes an excuse for an abuser, be it possible mental illness, risk of self-harm, or blame placed on others for "starting" their fit of rage and abuse, they themselves become an abuser

Another thing that we do, particularly in our community, is try and shield someone from the consequences of their own behavior, in an attempt to give them space to heal themselves. This is probably the largest mistake that we can make in any abusive situation. A lack of consequences, or a reduced set of consequences based on taking into account the person's perceived mindset or mental health, sends the message to the abuser that they can continue to abuse others because they will not be held responsible for their actions. Failure to follow through with appropriate consequences for inappropriate behavior does not help the abuser evolve or grow as a person or overcome mental illness; it enables their unhealthy cycle of abuse to remain stagnant.

Not holding the abuser to the same set of rules as the rest of society because of their position in the LGBT community or mental health status puts people's lives at risk. Victims of abuse consistently self-harm, and some even commit suicide as a result. The best thing we can do as a community is root out violence where it occurs and protect the 41% of transgender people who have attempted suicide by ensuring that we hold accountable those in our midst who commit acts of abuse against other members of the transgender community

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