A Call to Men did a conference earlier this month talking about what they call the “man box” and its contribution to violence towards women, but let’s go even deeper into this box and talk about what it does to all of us, transgender and cisgender.
October is Relationship Violence Awareness Month. It is known in the trans community that we face violence at higher rates than perhaps any other group and that trans women of color are especially vulnerable to this. What I did not realize until reading some recent research was how relationship violence impacts the suicide rate, reported by Forge, an amazing trans-serving organization out of Wisconsin. Forge reported the known stat that 41% of trans individuals attempt suicide, but it also broke it down by relationship violence. According to this research, trans people who had experienced relationship violence attempted suicide 65% of the time. That is an astounding number…
But we don’t talk about relationship violence as much in the trans community, or trauma for that matter. We talk about violence, but I feel most of us rarely get the support we need especially when the violence comes from people we know and love, even when it happens to us at higher rates. And why is that? I propose that one clear reason among many others is because most agencies leave us out of the equation. Agencies which support those dealing with domestic and relationship violence are geared towards women, specifically cisgender women.
Many live under the impression that there is this vast chasm of difference between men and women. From day one, we are all socialized into this gender binary. Men have the very specific role of being strong, athletic, sexual, and emotionless while women are supposed to be submissive, demure, beautiful, and kind. The fear around LGBTQ people is largely where we may violate these norms. A father fears his son will be gay, because gay is synonymous with femininity and weakness. This man box, the idea that manhood is defined by sexual conquests, competitiveness, and athleticism is hurting ALL of us.
Let’s think about who else is left out of the equation when we talked about relationship violence. By focusing on cisgender women, we are leaving out not only gender diverse people but cis men. I understand the need to have spaces where women can feel empowered and come together, in the same way that I understand the need for trans spaces. But men are survivors of violence, too. 1 in 6 men are sexually abused before they reach 18, not as small a number as society would have us believe in comparison to women, and while places that serve trauma survivors are filled with women recovering from these horrific childhood experiences, where are these men? In the same way, men are raped and abused, but we joke about it more often than we acknowledge it as a serious issue. Why? Because they’re men. And according to our nice societal gender box, men are tough, sexual, and don’t feel things. The result in my eyes is that men who are struggling feel another level of shame and almost never get the support they need.
Male survivors are met with this same well-constructed myth that they have somehow violated the gender norms, that if they admit to any pain or need, they are no longer men. Too many of them, I fear, are living out this idea of what it means to be a man. Perhaps, many of them are the abusers, taught that instead of talking about their feelings, they should channel their pain into sex and violence. These men are taught to be enforcers of not only their own masculinity but of other men, so that no one falls outside the sacred gender lines. It’s not a far leap to suggest that some of these enforcers are the same people who are murdering and brutalizing the trans community. This is not to say that women and those of all gender identities don’t abuse, because they do, but that is another conversation for another day. All abusers are highly likely to have been abused themselves in the past or to have been a survivor of some sort of trauma. I believe so many are out there struggling because of this same binary idea of man and woman. And even if DV and sexual assault support people insist on being woman-centered, then let’s talk about the fact that this is creating more of the female survivors we are so desperate to protect when they are victimized by someone who, perhaps, with help could have found another outlet for their rage. We cannot treat only one section of the population because it is all intertwined.
The same gender boxes which imprison us as trans individuals are hurting the cisgender community in countless ways. This is only one example. So I say to my cisgender friends and peers, trans issues are not only human issues but YOUR issues. There is so much anger and division between all of us. Be angry. Anger is a driving force for change. But how do we, rather than form barriers with that anger, form authentic partnerships with each other to make things better for all of us? A strict gender binary hurts us all. Why am I along with so many of my brothers feeling pressure to remove myself from all things that make me feminine, to prove my manhood? Why are trans men and others elsewhere on the spectrum who don’t identify as exclusively female afraid to express in any way deemed feminine if they desire to do so because it somehow invalidates any other identity? I am not stereotypically male, and I am not ashamed of that. This idea of manhood is itself a cage that creates needless tension, anxiety, and pain for all people who fall outside of it, another set of masks we are all expected to wear without question.
If you need support or want to share your story, please contact [email protected] or reach out to Transcend Charlotte (transcendcharlotte.com).