Domestic Abuse Related to Late-Transitioning Partners, Part II: Gaslighting & Patterns of Behaviour

Abusive patterns of behaviour can be identified in the experiences of women with late-transitioning partners.

Gaslighting

Gemma Halliwell has argued that ‘As a society and in the delivery of frontline services, we have a responsibility to identify and respond to domestic abuse – whatever form it takes. For as long as the image of domestic abuse is synonymous with “a smack in the mouth”, we create barriers which inhibit the visibility of psychological abuse to both survivors and professionals’.1 Part 1 argued that heterosexual men who ‘transition’ subject their wives and partners to coercive control, a form of domestic abuse recognised as criminal. A facet of coercive control is gaslighting. Repeated and escalating redefinition of a woman’s reality, that their husband/partner is actually the opposite sex or changing sex, fits the definition. Gaslighting is when ‘manipulation erases your reality’ and psychological abuse distorts the truth.2 Leve has argued that ‘one of the most insidious things about gaslighting is the denial of reality. Being denied what you have seen. Being denied what you have experienced and know to be true. It can make you feel like you are crazy. But you are not crazy’.3 The trans widow on Mumsnet asserted that ‘he has defamed me, told folk I was crazy’, she was being gaslit.4 Another woman, Shelly, recorded how her husband ‘Paul’ gaslighted her, first by denying the sexual fetish of AGP when he claimed he just liked the clothes and the feel and then how she ‘began to doubt my perceptions and interpretation of the world’.5 She described how she ‘felt like I was living in the Twilight Zone’ that it felt like ‘my world felt like it was falling apart, unpredictable, unsafe’.6 Shelly said she ‘felt tricked into participating in something that had been misrepresented’.7 Dana Vitálošová has spoken about how she was also deceived and that ‘For those few years, I thought Fero was suffering from a mental disorder and therefore feeling sick. But when I read about autogynephilia, I realized that he never showed a hint of “gender dysphoria.” He didn’t mind his male body… I found out that it was a purely sexual matter and I stopped regretting it. I stopped feeling guilty for breaking up with him’.8 Dee Levy has described how ‘Life was a dream, most of it anyway, and then it exploded. For me, living in the shadow of an insidious, creeping secret – Will it happen tonight? – became a living nightmare that only grew worse in intensity… years that left me emotionally battered, broken’.9 ‘Gaslighting is dangerous because it undermines a person’s sense of self-belief. If you tell someone they’re wrong about things over and over, it can make them feel insecure or less confident in their point of view’.10 Why is it not generally acknowledged that a man telling the woman he has a relationship with that he is actually the opposite sex over and over again is a form of gaslighting? Deception, betrayal and manipulation are not normally celebrated in relationships, except when men are doing it to women in the name of transgender ideology. These women are suffering psychological harm at the hands of their partners.

Isolation

One thread running through many, if not all, of the trans widows’ stories is how their husband/partner isolated them from friends and family, and then from accessing support. This is a frequent feature of domestic abuse as it enables the perpetrator to control the victim. The Rights of Women: Helping Women Through the Law outline how ‘Coercive control is when a person with whom you are personally connected, repeatedly behaves in a way which makes you feel controlled, dependent, isolated or scared’ and include ‘isolating you from your friends and family’ as one form of coercive control.11 You have just read from one woman on Mumsnet how her AGP husband was ‘on an aggressive PR campaign to tie our friends to him’, isolating the victim in order to control her is what he was doing.12 The trans widow Philomena related how after her husband moved her and her children to Ireland ‘I knew no one, I had no money of my own, I couldn’t drive nor could I safely walk anywhere with the kids. He was the only adult I saw unless his burly bully of a brother stopped in or one of his childhood friends came by for a chat’.13 These are the same as the stories from women who experienced physical violence at the hands of their husbands. Georgia Lynne Pine recalled how ‘A wedding, two international moves, and four children later, I was organizing my lingerie drawer and all my good stuff was gone… After a few weeks of wondering what the heck happened to all my fancy lady gear, I found it all, in the bottom of the laundry hamper in the basement. Stretched out, covered in dried semen, and rolled in a towel’.14 Of course lots of couples move and enjoy living in different countries, but when this is combined with restrictions of who one’s partner may or may not talk to and other patterns of abusive behaviour we need to look at it a different way. We need to ask why it is so common to stories of male ‘transition’.

This is why coercive control and isolation tactics are so difficult to spot, under other circumstances they are perfectly normal. ‘One of the reasons why it can be so difficult to spot is that it involves behaviours that conform to normative gender performances. Men are more likely to deploy coercive control tactics successfully because they fit within a cultural script of masculinity which demands they take control’.15 The international moving/moving the woman away from support networks is a common theme of ‘transition’ stories. Describing how her husband ‘became’ her wife, Kris recalled how Aly (nee Alex) proposed “What if we just moved away and lived together as two women?”.16 In response ‘Kris gulped for breath. Aly [Alex] panicked and said [he’d] been joking’…‘They didn’t mention it again. A few years later, they moved [cross country]to Oregon’.17 A Slovakian woman, Dana Vitálošová, has told how her AGP partner isolated her from friends and family by moving them to a new country early in the relationship. Then it really began, ‘he told me that his girlfriend had once cheated on him and so he lost confidence in women. At the same time, he promised that he would try not to restrict me very much. But I had to adapt a little and “go slower down”… He didn’t like it when I went out with a group of friends, which also included men, so I more or less stopped. Every time I went somewhere with them, he had comments. He never really forbade me to, but I started thinking, “Is it worth it to go out with them when [he]is waiting for me?”.18 She continued that ‘at first he was annoyed when I went for a beer with them. It got worse later… He got pretty pissed off once because I came half an hour later. It was his birthday, I went to pick up his cake. He was already directly accusing me of being with someone’.19 As his AGP escalated ‘his jealousy was escalating. I couldn’t even go to a party with my colleagues, because he immediately started saying that I would definitely cheat on him there with someone. I felt very isolated in Scandinavia. And every time Fer and I went out together, trying to meet someone, he started slandering those people. They were said to be unpleasant or boring. At the same time, when I wanted to go on a trip with Fera, he refused to go, but if I went alone, it would be the end of it. Overall, it discouraged me from contacting other people’.20 Another trans widow, Emily, described on Mumsnet how ‘My AGP is extremely clever and in the IT industry. He has moved me away from family and friends to live abroad. I’ve gone from being an independent high earner with a large social circle to a dependent stay at home mother with no financial means of my own and no friends whatsoever’.21 The anonymous author of ‘Mr Wonderful’ in The Cross Dresser’s Wife detailed how ‘he pushed hard for me to be a stay at home mom. So, for the first time in my adult life, I was dependent upon someone other than myself for money’.22 The women’s phones were not taken, they were not physically locked inside but mental bars had been constructed by their partners.

As well as physical isolation such as moving the women away from friends and family, coercive control is the invisible cage, it constricts the victim and changes their behaviour. ‘A coercive control framework draws attention to non-violent, psychological and gendered aspects of domestic abuse, which help to explain the iron grip of abusers and why victims often return to them’.23 The blogger Naefearty recalled how ‘I pretty much stopped seeing female friends at all, since when I tried to go anywhere without him, (telling him that it was “women friends only ”), he would pout and huff and often cry, “It’s because I have a penis, isn’t it?”. When I was away from him he would text and phone me constantly. When I got in he was nasty to me’.24 She said that ‘It was easier just to forget about having friends’ and ‘So my world became smaller and smaller’.2625 One woman on Reddit speaks of her boyfriend who confessed a desire to ‘transition’ that ‘I’m sworn to complete secrecy, and I am the only person he has told. Not being able to talk my feelings out with anyone is taking a real toll on me, and I don’t want to introduce any more doubt to my boyfriend who is already questioning his entire identity’.26 Birdbandit told of her AGP husband’s behaviour that ‘His latest is to complain that I have told people, that I am slagging him off. We agreed to tell people, couldn’t very well not after he told the kids, and they then told their friends. I still have the notes we made, a script of what to say’.27 This isn’t just bad behaviour, a mean or nasty partner, it is tactical. Break the Cycle.org has highlighted that by ‘using isolation as a method to cut a dating partner off from family and friends, the partner … can… create the space in a relationship … to escalate other harmful behaviors. Ultimately, the survivor may feel like they have no one to talk to about the abuse they are experiencing, leaving a dating partner without a support system during their greatest time of need’.28 If ‘transitioning’ from a man to a woman was harmless to their female partners, why do so many AGP men feel the need to isolate them from support?

Threats of Suicide

A common feature of trans widows’ stories which is recognised as a part of domestic abuse is that their male partner would threaten suicide to stop them from leaving. Writing for Break the Silence About Domestic Violence, Jenn Rockefeller explains how ‘Many abusers use the manipulation tool of threatening suicide or self-harm to keep us tethered to them’.29 Philomena has shared how she was threatened with suicide. She has related how

When I told my husband I was leaving he said he was going to kill himself. He said I was punishing him for his depression that was caused by the pain of not being able to live as a woman. He said I thought I was better than him, that I was a cruel snob, that I was being coached by “lesbian feminist bitches” and destroying our family and hurting our kids. For years after I got out, he kept trying to control me through threats of suicide. He said he could not live as his true self except with me.30

One trans widow on Mumsnet wrote how ‘When I told him no he threatened to kill himself’.31 Another woman, Shelly, reported how her cross-dressing husband ‘Paul’ ‘Flailing his arms… told me that all psychologists were crazy and that I didn’t need to talk to anyone but him. If I loved him, I wouldn’t expose him to the world… If I was going to destroy him, he might as well make it easier for everyone and blow his brains out now’.32 Similarly, Dana Vitálošová has described how her AGP boyfriend prevented her from exiting the relationship using emotional blackmail, that he ‘often told me that he would not be able to live without me. That if I left, no one would ever want him the way he is’.33 The trans widow Farah described how her AGP husband ‘threatened suicide on a daily basis. He made a guillotine and rigged it up to an anvil in the garage and attempted to cut his penis off. He wanted me to stop pleading with him not to self-harm “but to take me to the hospital when I do it again”. He had no concern for what this was doing to my mental health whatsoever’.34 Another woman commented on Mumsnet that her ‘trans’ husband ‘pulled the manipulative suicide threat card when I asked him to get help… He’s been in a mental health unit for depression and porn obsession since my last post. I would love to tell you his treatment is working, but I seems he just has a new vocabulary with which to explain, at length to me, about how I’m the one with problems’.35 This is another example of gaslighting and minimising which these women are enduring. Refuge defines psychological abuse as including ‘name-calling, threats and manipulation, blaming you for the abuse or ‘gas-lighting’ you’.36 Women’s Aid lists ‘threatening or attempting self-harm and suicide’ as one of the signs of ‘Recognising domestic abuse’.37 Yet, Scotland’s Women’s Aid includes these men in their definition of woman.38 This highlights how we have witnessed many women’s aid groups and domestic violence refuges abandon women in need to flatter men’s feelings and endorse an abusive ideology. Women are being failed. They need resources and support to leave abusive relationships rather than those who should help them ‘chanting stunning and brave’ in regards to their abusers.

Verbal Abuse and Self-Esteem

‘Stunning and brave’ is not how these women are experiencing the men who whittle away at their independence and confidence. Attacking a victim’s self-esteem and confidence is intended to paralyse them, to prevent them from being able to leave the perpetrator. As we live in a culture of objectification of women and women are taught by society that they are valued for how they look, abusive partners will often criticise a woman’s appearance until she feels worthless. Attacks on appearance are another frequent feature of trans widows’ stories. Philomena recounted how ‘after I became pregnant with my first child. He stopped pestering me as much for unwanted sexual things because he no longer found me attractive. He didn’t like fat, he said. When I did refuse his advances, he would say I had no right being snotty about his appearance, the state I was in’.39 ‘He said I couldn’t handle him being a woman because I was jealous, that it wasn’t his fault that he wasn’t fat and I was ,that I was barely a woman at all but more like a wizened balloon’.40 Likewise, Kelly was belittled and instructed by her ‘trans’ husband that – ‘It was always my fault’.41 She told of how

our baby daughter was now almost one and I found out he was trying to spend a night with a girl, I think, at a hotel… When asked he went into a rant. As usual it was my fault, but also the fault of the lady involved as she misunderstood the invite to spend a night in his hotel room. Our four children took up too much of my time and he felt neglected! I did what I was told to do. If you are told often enough that you are the problem then you come to accept it as true.42

Kelly said that ‘When I found out he had joined a dating agency…..well you can guess and you would be right, and yes I complied and did as I was told’.43 Naefearty’s ‘transitioning’ partner similarly joined a dating sight, she described how ‘I discovered that he was using dating and sexual hook-up sites, saying that he was a full-time transsexual, going through the Real Life Test, willing to relocate anywhere for the right lady (of any gender – wink, wink). There was no end to his inventiveness when it came to lying about who he really is’.44 These men were going to make sure that their wives and partners knew they were not enough for them, not as good as someone else, that sexual infidelity was their fault.

In stories of male partners ‘transitioning’, the men went further to erect psychological cages in their partner’s minds by attacking how they looked. Kelly related how ‘at our eldest daughter’s wedding as part of his speech he called me ugly. The wedding planner jumped and took me to the bar store room/fridge. I was so cold and distraught that I couldn’t pour the bottle of rosè into my glass and as any lady would do, under the circumstances, I took a swig from the bottle!’.45 Danna reported how her ‘trans’ boyfriend ‘humiliated me more and more verbally. For example, he blamed me for being fat. At the end of the relationship, he even said that my mom was fat too. In fact, we are not fat’.46 Likewise, Emily claimed that ‘the most hurtful thing my AGP said to me is that I was too fat to be attractive a year after giving birth to his children, less than a year apart. I’m only a size 12 as well. AGPs are unforgiving in any perceived unattractiveness in their partners’.47 Birdbandit had worked out that conflict arose with her ‘trans’ husband if she felt good about herself and so she ‘stopped wearing nice clothes, cut [her]hair short as a school boy, gained weight, because he got nippy when I was feeling attractive’.48 Birdbandit later said ‘I think my husband wants to replace me… he is really, really angry at not being able to control me. I think he wants me to kill myself. I know that sounds dramatic, but this constant drip drip from him is designed to crush me’.49 Coercive control and psychological abuse can be like water torture. Healthtalk.org outline in their discussion of psychological abuse that ‘Women described being frequently ‘put down’ and humiliated by their partners for their appearance, leaving them feeling unattractive and bad about themselves. They were called ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’, which made them more dependent on their partners and more likely to blame themselves when the relationship got difficult. This led them to feel they must stay with their partner as no-one else would want them’.50 The controlling of women’s reality, the physical isolation and the psychological entrapment of women by male partner’s who are ‘transitioning’ further underscores why we need to look at it in a domestic abuse framework and assist the women experiencing it.

This essay is not discussing homosexual ‘transsexualism’ but the women impacted by autogynephilia. There are two types of ‘transsexualism’ as outlined by R. Blanchard in 1989: Blanchard R. The classification and labeling of nonhomosexual gender dysphorias, Arch Sex Behav. (August 1989), vol. 18(4), pp. 315-34.

  1. G. Halliwell, “A life barely half lived”: Domestic abuse practitioners’ experiences of supporting survivors of psychological abuse’, Sate Lives: Ending Domestic Violence (02 September 2019), https://safelives.org.uk/a-life-barely-half-lived
  2. A. Leve, ‘How to survive gaslighting: when manipulation erases your reality’, The Guardian (16 March 2017), https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/mar/16/gaslighting-manipulation-reality-coping-mechanisms-trump
  3. A. Leve, ‘How to survive gaslighting: when manipulation erases your reality’, The Guardian (16 March 2017), https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/mar/16/gaslighting-manipulation-reality-coping-mechanisms-trump
  4. ‘Trans Widows Escape Committee, Mumsnet, p.1. https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/3101834-trans-widows-escape-committee
  5. D. A. Levy & B. Shefield Hunt, The Cross Dresser’s Wife (California, Cross Dresser’s Wives NPO, 2011), pp.– 41, p. 46.
  6. D. A. Levy & B. Shefield Hunt, The Cross Dresser’s Wife (California, Cross Dresser’s Wives NPO, 2011), p.46, p. 47.
  7. D. A. Levy & B. Shefield Hunt, The Cross Dresser’s Wife (California, Cross Dresser’s Wives NPO, 2011), p.48.
  8. D. Vitálošová, ‘I lived with an autogynephile’, Dennik (1 October 2020), https://dennikn.sk/blog/2061406/zila-som-s-autogynefilom/
  9. D. A. Levy & B. S. Hunt, The Cross Dresser’s Wife (California, Cross Dresser’s Wives NPO, 2011), p. 1
  10. ‘Gaslighting — what are the signs and how can it be addressed?’, Relate: The Relationship People, https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-relationships/communication/gaslighting-what-are-signs-and-how-can-it-be-addressed
  11. ‘Coercive control and the law’, The Rights of Women: Helping Women Through the Law, https://rightsofwomen.org.uk/get-information/violence-against-women-and-international-law/coercive-control-and-the-law/
  12. ‘Trans Widows Escape Committee, Mumsnet, p.1. https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/3101834-trans-widows-escape-committee
  13. ‘Philomena’s Story: There and Back Again, Trans Widows Voices, https://www.transwidowsvoices.org/post/philomena-s-story-there-and-back-again
  14. G. L. Pine, ‘Concealer, Clothes, and the Closet’, Straight Spouse Network (21 May 2014), my emboldening https://www.straightspouse.org/concealer-clothes-and-the-closet/
  15. U. Yates, ‘Inside The Cage: A More Nuanced Understanding Of Domestic Abuse’, The Oxford Student (14 July 2020), https://www.oxfordstudent.com/2020/07/14/inside-the-cage-a-more-nuanced-understanding-of-domestic-abuse/
  16. C. Parks, ‘She loved her husband. Could she love her transgender wife?’, Oregon Live (9 January 2019), https://www.oregonlive.com/transgender-health/2016/07/transgender_wife.html
  17. C. Parks, ‘She loved her husband. Could she love her transgender wife?’, Oregon Live (9 January 2019), https://www.oregonlive.com/transgender-health/2016/07/transgender_wife.html
  18. D. Vitálošová, ‘I lived with an autogynephile’, Dennik (1 October 2020), https://dennikn.sk/blog/2061406/zila-som-s-autogynefilom/
  19. D. Vitálošová, ‘I lived with an autogynephile’, Dennik (1 October 2020), https://dennikn.sk/blog/2061406/zila-som-s-autogynefilom/
  20. D. Vitálošová, ‘I lived with an autogynephile’, Dennik (1 October 2020), https://dennikn.sk/blog/2061406/zila-som-s-autogynefilom/
  21. ‘Trans widows escape committee’, Mumsnet (1 December 2017) https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/3101834-trans-widows-escape-committee
  22. Anon., ‘Mr Wonderful’, in: D. A. Levy & S. Hunt, The Cross Dresser’s Wife: Our Secret Lives (Cross Dresser’sWives, NPO, 2011), p. 116.
  23. U. Yates, ‘Inside The Cage: A More Nuanced Understanding Of Domestic Abuse’, The Oxford Student (14 July 2020), https://www.oxfordstudent.com/2020/07/14/inside-the-cage-a-more-nuanced-understanding-of-domestic-abuse/
  24. Naefearty, ‘Gas Mark Six’, NAEFEARTY: Your fantasy is my nightmare (22 July 2014), https://naefearty.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/gas-mark-six/
  25. Naefearty, ‘Gas Mark Six’, NAEFEARTY: Your fantasy is my nightmare (22 July 2014), https://naefearty.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/gas-mark-six/
  26. ‘My bf is questioning his identity and I don’t know how to feel’, Reddit (03 October 2020) https://www.reddit.com/r/mypartneristrans/comments/j4f6uk/my_bf_is_questioning_his_identity_and_i_dont_k now/
  27. ‘Trans Widows Escape Committee’, Mumsnet (18 June 2018), https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/3101834-trans-widows-escape-committee?pg=20
  28. Know the Signs: Spotlight on Isolation from Friends and Family’, Break the Cycle.org, https://www.breakthecycle.org/blog/know-signs-spotlight-isolation-friends-and-family
  29. J. Rockefeller, ‘Suicide as Emotional Abuse: When Threats of Suicide are Used to Control’, BTSADV https://breakthesilencedv.org/suicide-as-emotional-abuse-threats-suicide-control/
  30. ‘Philomena’s Story: There and Back Again’, Trans Widows Voices, https://www.transwidowsvoices.org/post/philomena-s-story-there-and-back-again
  31. ‘Trans widows escape committee’, Mumsnet, p1. (1 December 2017) https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/3101834-trans-widows-escape-committee
  32. D. A. Levy & B. Shefield Hunt, The Cross Dresser’s Wife (California, Cross Dresser’s Wives NPO, 2011), p. 58
  33. D. Vitálošová, ‘I lived with an autogynephile’, Dennik (1 October 2020), https://dennikn.sk/blog/2061406/zila-som-s-autogynefilom/
  34. ‘Farah’s Story: I’m Not A Lesbian’, Trans Widows Voices, https://www.transwidowsvoices.org/post/farahs_story
  35. ‘Trans Widows escape committee’, Mumsnet, p. 8 https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/3101834-trans-widows-escape-committee?pg=8
  36. ‘What Is Abuse?’, Refuge, https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/What-is-abuse
  37. ‘Recognising domestic abuse’, Women’s Aid, https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/what-is-domestic-abuse/recognising-domestic-abuse/
  38. ‘Guidance For Supporting Trans Women For Women’s Aid Scotland’ (2018), https://womensaid.scot/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Guidance-For-Supporting-Trans-Women-For-Womens-Aid-Groups-in-Scotland.pdf
  39. ‘Philomena’s Story: There and Back Again’, Trans Widows Voices, https://www.transwidowsvoices.org/post/philomena-s-story-there-and-back-again
  40. ‘Philomena’s Story: There and Back Again’, Trans Widows Voices, https://www.transwidowsvoices.org/post/philomena-s-story-there-and-back-again
  41. ‘Kelly’s Story: Suspending Belief’, Trans Widows Voices, https://www.transwidowsvoices.org/post/kelly-s-story-suspending-belief
  42. ‘Kelly’s Story: Suspending Belief’, Trans Widows Voices, https://www.transwidowsvoices.org/post/kelly-s-story-suspending-belief
  43. ‘Kelly’s Story: Suspending Belief’, Trans Widows Voices, https://www.transwidowsvoices.org/post/kelly-s-story-suspending-belief
  44. Naefearty, ‘Gas Mark Six’, NAEFEARTY: Your fantasy is my nightmare (22 July 2014), https://naefearty.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/gas-mark-six/
  45. ‘Kelly’s Story: Suspending Belief’, Trans Widows Voices, https://www.transwidowsvoices.org/post/kelly-s-story-suspending-belief
  46. D. Vitálošová, ‘I lived with an autogynephile’, Dennik (1 October 2020), https://dennikn.sk/blog/2061406/zila-som-s-autogynefilom/
  47. ‘Trans widows escape committee’, Mumsnet (1 December 2017) https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/3101834-trans-widows-escape-committee?pg=2
  48. ‘Trans widows escape committee’, Mumsnet (1 December 2017) https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/3101834-trans-widows-escape-committee
  49. ‘Trans Widows Escape Committee’, Mumsnet (18 June 2018), https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/3101834-trans-widows-escape-committee?pg=20
  50. ‘Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse Coercive Controlling Behaviour’, Healthtalk.org, https://healthtalk.org/womens-experiences-domestic-violence-and-abuse/coercive-controlling-behaviour

1 Comment

  1. To summarize: anyone who tries to control another person to that extent, and to ruin their life and self-belief is a criminal and should be locked up for a very long time…. But it won’t happen, will i? There is no such thing as a fraudulent marriage, is there? The best we can hope for is to leave that criminal totally alone in the desert which he has made for himself. That is a kind of prison.

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