As someone who’s trans and who was sexually abused as a child, I’m amazed how often, when these two bits of information reach people’s ears, they assemble them into one, and ask me, “So… do you think you’re transgender because you were abused?”
For sure I’ve needed to ask myself that question. In fact, when I first began growing my decision to transition, I asked the therapist I was seeing at the time (for my PTSD) what she thought about this, telling her that I was a girl way before I was abused, I was pretty sure. Her reply was very interesting: “You know, statistically speaking, it’s much more likely to be the other way round.”
What did she mean? Being gender non-conforming as a child makes you more likely to be the victim of the various kinds of abuse inflicted on children. Your ambiguity about your sense of identity that gender non-conformity causes makes you a lot more vulnerable.
This isn’t just hearsay, science now backs this up – this recent study shows an increased risk for people who were gender nonconforming as children not only to be abused, but also to have PTSD.
It was a pretty weird experience for me to read this for the first time, being someone who was abused and has PTSD as a consequence of that, and of bullying and homo- and transphobia since childhood.
There’s a lot of pressure on people who are open about being trans. Pressure from the trans community to go for it, but often pressure from friends, family, loved ones, not to. This latter group is often looking for reasons why you don’t have to make this change they find unsettling, and can be constantly demanding that you justify yourself – or more accurately, that you “admit” you’re not really trans.
When people ask me (as they still often do), “Don’t you think you might be going through this gender stuff because you were abused?” these days, I just smile and say, “No, I was probably abused because I was a girl but looked like a boy – oh, and because my abusers were abusers.” I’m confident enough in my own experience not to doubt that, as I did early on in my transition, when I was unsure of everything, and my friends wanted me to be unsure.
In any case, it shouldn’t be down to us to have to justify ourselves – but it’s good to have backup.