Monday, March 03, 2008

(Partner) Anger & Trauma

I wrote this piece for our message boards in a thread about how/if trans people deal with their partners’ anger. It reiterated, for me, why I want to see the trans community understand feminist issues a little better & bring them more to the fore.

One thing that I wasn’t aware of & only recently discovered: it turns out that anger is one of the symptoms of trauma. There are so many of us women raised female with trauma in their lives - & in a lot of cases, with unexpressed or untreated trauma. Even treated PTSD doesn’t mean it goes away, but only that it’s there to be managed.

So I suggest, delicately I hope, that sometimes the transition of a spouse that has provided a sense of safety & security otherwise can be a kind of “last straw” for a woman raised female who has lived through other kinds of trauma.

The cycle of trauma that women can deal with goes something like this: (1) bad shit happens to you, which increases (2) your need for an SO, which creates (3) anger & self-criticism due to feeling that you need/are dependent on anyone for any reason, which fuels (4) anger that said security/safety is being taken away by transition, which is all exacerbated by (5) complete lack of awareness that most/any/all of this is happening, and (6) your spouse’s inability to understand that most/any/all of this is happening too, which is further frustrated by (7) an inability to talk about the trauma, the self-criticism, the dependency, or the anger.

Which is why, once again, I wish there were more awareness of feminist issues within trans communities. I have heard too many trans women react to their insanely-angry wives with hostility & even derision, & that maybe, if they understood women & their lives a little better, they might riddle that frustration with empathy.

We have been through shit too. Trans people are not the only ones who suffer, or who want relief from pain & maybe even to feel something like “normal.” & Goddamn when you have found your pain relief, in the form of a gentle man who provides you with solace & laughter & stability, only to find out that he is not who either of you thought she was.


Anonymous said...

Helen -- just so you know, I never forget what my wife is going through as I transition. We're lucky that our love is strong and that we have nearly 27 years of a good relationship to work with. We hope to beat the odds. I'm trying to make sure always to think of her, always to care for her, and always to keep her needs in mind as I also pay attention to my own. I don't want to finally be happy only for her to be unhappy. To some extent that will probably be so. I hope I'm doing what I can to make it less so.

-julia said...

hi Helen,

Today I just happened to read Audre Lorde's essay "The Uses of Anger." In it, she addresses white feminists who become uncomfortable in response to the anger of women of color. She beautifully makes the connection between that anger and the anger that women (in general) feel towards sexism.

This quote stands out for me: "It is not the anger of other women that will destroy us but our refusals to stand still, to listen to its rhythms, to learn within it..."

Trans people have to deal with a lot of shit in our lives. And so do cisgender women. I've dealt with lots of cisgender women who refuse to acknowledge their cisgender (and other) privileges and it pisses me off.

Similarly, it bothers me that some trans people, who want to be respected by society at large, fail to pay attention to the rampant sexism, racism, classism, etc., that runs rampant in our world.

If you refuse to listen to or understand other people's anger, then why should you expect anyone to fight for your rights...


helen_boyd said...

yes, that's a great essay. i chose to write about anger, as well, because it's one of those emotions that us "over emotional" women are not supposed to have (& yet the one that men, who aren't generally allowed to have emotions, are.)

but i need to say something about cisgender. it rubs me wrong.

not because i don't try to acknowledge my non-trans privilege. but moreso because some of us change genders even if that change isn't binary.

that is, i've been an androgyne, a tomboy, a goth, & gender neutral. i think of them all as genders, but i have never ceased being female, either.

thus, i'm not cisgendered, but neither am i transgendered.

i feel like "cisgender" eliminates my gender fluidity by creating a category meant to define those who aren't trans.

i've been using "non trans" although that's also problematic.

-julia said...

Hi Helen,

I agree with you about cisgender. I think transgender is such a broad category - "anyone who transgresses gender norms" - which depending on how you define it can include most of us. So while I know lots of very gender-typical or gender-normative people who are definitely *not* transgender (aka, cisgender), it is a bit to murky when it gets to folks who aren't so obviously masculine men and feminine women.

I think it's a little more cut and dry with transsexual/cissexual, although admittedly there are still blurry spots (e.g., someone who right now does not believe they will transition but some day in the future will make that decision)...


little light said...

Breaks the heart, some. I'm suddenly more glad than ever that my transition was on the table from the beginning, with my partner.

And Julia--right on.