safety

Healing from Trauma – Safety

The most fundamental principle of healing from trauma is safety. Without safety no healing can occur. Further, this safety is not a concept. It is something which is viscerally felt in the body and cannot be faked, no matter what thoughts one has about it. Also, safety requires control. The person must be able to control their boundaries in order to heal. This is the antidote to the lack of safety and boundaries they felt during their traumatic incidents. Spaces where these conditions exist are the key to healing.

This is something that I believe to be at cause for much of the incendiary rhetoric and toxic debate that happens around trans issues. It is something that made me reluctant to enter this arena. Both radical feminists, and trans activists, as well as the entire queer community are involved in an endless debate on what it means to be a woman or what it means to be female. Argument after argument is made and nothing gets resolved, there are only angry feelings, and eventually insults and threats. No one can seem to find common ground.

That is because this debate is not really about a scientific question, but it is about an emotional need, and both groups contain a lot of people that have been traumatized, particularly by men, and both need safety. However, these needs are also fundamentally incompatible in some ways which leads to the current impasse.

Because safety is a visceral, embodied response, what is relevant to safety is how the body responds. This has nothing to do with identity. The body needs what it needs to heal, and it doesn’t have to be rational. This might mean this process might be impeded by the presence of a trans woman, even if everyone affirms their identity on a thinking level. That is really horrible, and totally sucky for trans women, but the visceral embodied response of safety cannot be faked.

This issue was really brought home to me in my first therapy placement when I was still presenting as a woman and nominally female-identified. I was constantly being assigned lesbian clients because hey they requested a woman and I’m queer and they’re queer so seems like a good fit. However, this did not work so well because for me to be a good therapist for them they must feel safe. I found it particularly strange that once I declared myself to be male-identified, I was suddenly ineligible to see these clients and now eligible to see clients that only wanted a male therapist, even though I was exactly the same person!

Trans women experience their gender identities under constant assault. Further, trans women are also often in need of their own healing and can’t find the spaces for that. I’ve known a couple of trans women who were sexually assaulted, and couldn’t find groups to participate in due to their birth sex which was horrible and retraumatizing! Also it is no wonder that they would react angrily to this exclusion, as many of them are also seeking shelter from men and male culture, and are denied even that refuge.

There is no easy solution to this, I think there is space for multiple types of spaces, some that are open to all, some that are open to all women and some that are open to cis(?)-women (I feel like there is no possible term that won’t offend someone here) only.

I hope that both sides can have empathy for the other and maybe see what the emotional needs that underly the rhetoric are. For radical feminists to perhaps imagine what it is like to need healing and be deprived of even the spaces that they have for healing. For trans women to have empathy for the need for safe space, and that this does not necessarily violate their identity, but only is an artifact of the way trauma works. I think it is difficult to create such an understanding, but that it could start by attempting to imagine and empathize with what the underlying emotional need is under the toxic rhetoric.