Responding at Verbal and Physical Aggression, Tips for Transgender Women
Earlier this year I attended a workshop on the subject of how to deal with verbal aggression and intimidation (also physical) directed at transgender women, such as me. This was organized by l’Association 360 from Geneva and was hosted by two transgender men who came all the way from Lyon where they work as volunteers for an organization called “Autodefense Lyon”. It is this latter organization who originally developed this training, this on the back of a similar workshop that targets lesbian women.
A lot was said during the workshop and I must confess it I learned a great deal. To start with, I was not aware of all the common fears and concerns that transgender women experience as well as struggles they face. What’s more, I did not realize how easy it is – with a slight change of mindset – to start thinking about my transgenderism with confidence and pride, instead of apology and shame. But it was of course the practical skills mastered during the workshop that made it so enormously useful, the skills to deal with always-present and very real threat of verbal or physical aggression.
Below is a recap of the main points I think all transgender women ought to keep in mind.
Dealing with Aggression
Generally, aggression is very unlikely to happen in the first place. But the risk of it is very real, and constantly present. When aggression arrives, it is extremely unpleasant and upsetting, making us feel belittled and unworthy. This is why – above anything – you must cultivate the right spirit, one that translates into radiating confidence and self-acceptance. Remember, what you project towards outside is what is projected on you. But this alone is not enough, you need some concrete skills on top of it…
Our society is extremely patriarchal, and this means that the ordinary “street” is occupied by men leaving only marginal space for women. Think of the male privileges, and how men define space, and cease it, most often unknowingly. As a trans female you’re likely to be denied that space more than anything by men (as opposed to women), and it is them who will try to infringe on you. This being said, don’t think every men will try to do so, it is only a the most insensitive and arrogant of them who will try to do so.
But aggression can come from anyone, and trans women generally hold incorrect beliefs who the aggressor could be. It can be a member of our family, our beloved one, the doctor we trust, and – perhaps surprisingly – it often comes from the very gender we aspire to assume, from women. For this reason, we must try to anticipate what can cause the aggression and who/where it can come from.
As a trans women you don’t need to justify yourself to anyone for being who you are. Your female identity is not for anyone to validate, it is your conscious choice, and one which you have made after years of deep internal dialogue. Anyone challenging you on you identity is breaking your personal space, and infringing on you as a person.
Questions about your trans identity are OK insofar they are not intrusive. But it is your choice whether you answer them or not. More specifically, you have the right to refuse such questions no matter who brings them up. The bottom line is that you are as you are, and if others (including your family members) have a problem with it then it is their problem and theirs only.
Feeling unapologetic about who you are, and you should feel that way, means many things in practice. To start with, while you desperately want to “blend-in/pass” as a woman (read more about passing here) you need not and should not be embarrassed about being discovered. More specifically, you should try not to obsessively cover up your masculinity. Instead, you shall be proud of who you are, particularly the strength you have to be true to yourself, despite all the odds. And the fact you don’t perhaps conform to the stereotypical female is not your weakness, it is your strength. On that latter point, I have found my masculine past – especially the lack of abundantly restrictive stereotypes that natal girls and women face very day – to be the source of my confidence.
Regarding verbal aggression, and/or intrusiveness, you shall remember the following three-phrase-method of responding to it:
- Step 1: In response to the aggression, you should rephrase/summarize the question you are being asked or that statement being made about you. When doing it, you should be objective, and not judge it in any way.
- Step 2: You should be very clear about how this question or statement makes me feel. For example, you could say it is out of place, or it saddens you, or that it makes you feel discriminated against.
- Step 3: You should clearly, and unequivocally state what you wish is in relation to that question or statement. For example, you may say that you don’t wish that the question be asked.
Other forms of responding to verbal intimidation include:
- Looking at the “third eye”, which is a blind spot between the person’s eyes…right above the tip of the nose, and sending the message which otherwise would be hard to send if we looked in the eyes directly.
- Repeating a message, e.g. “I want that you leave me alone”, and doing so in a flat tone, over and over again until the person obeys.
- Making a simple sound “Hm, hm” in response to the aggression, like we are bored, and doing so over and over again in response to the intimidation. You could even bow my head, or/and look away while the person is trying to intimidate you. This strategy prevents you from engaging with the aggressor, or there is a fair chance that the person will leave you alone.
A physical intimidation from others, such as when a person stares closely at us, or approaches too closely, requires us to be very clear about our wish. If none of the methods elaborated earlier works, the only options we have is to shout a clear “No” or “Stop” or “Please leave”.
In all circumstances it is important to keep relaxed as much as possible, i.e. control breathing, stand firmly on your feet with legs slightly apart and knees pushed forward, with back straight, and head up. Never feel compelled to justify yourself.
When you choose to talk about your transness, don’t allow this to be an opener in any conversation. Leave it in the shadow, bring it up in the end or weave it in between. But don’t make it a center of the interaction with another person.
And most importantly…
Smile, smile, smile. Always smile. Project a positive, and optimistic image. Be there for others, if needed.