Taylan Stulting ’16 discussed their honors thesis on April 18, which encompassed their research project titled “Transfeminism, Violence, and Intimacies: Challenges of Researching Underrepresented and Vulnerable Communities.” Stulting began by defining the term “transfeminism”: feminism that is specifically directed to improve the welfare of trans* women. Many trans* people are victims of sexual violence and emotional abuse, as Stulting learned through their research.
Stulting spoke with four crisis centers, two of which were “women-only” centers and two of which were gender-inclusive. Many trans* survivors struggle with lack of family support and lack of assistance from crisis centers.
Stulting described the experiences of two trans* survivors, Alex and Mary. Mary revealed her trans* identity to her now ex-wife, was kicked out of the house against her will, and later sent to prison. She spent much of her time in solitary confinement. There were no institutions that offered any help, which made Mary’s experience even worse at the time. Alex experienced sexual assault many times before transitioning. As he became more masculine, he noticed that people grew more apathetic toward his situation.
Stulting also highlighted the issue of “women-only” crisis centers, particularly how the Violence Against Women Act provides a huge barrier to trans* survivors. Stulting added that crisis centers are seemingly unable to enforce a no-discrimination clause. Trans* individuals are not protected under any hate crime laws, which is why they are such a targeted group. In particular, trans* survivors tend to be victims of emotional abuse, which currently is not addressed in any domestic abuse laws.
In order to learn from the experiences of survivors, Stulting conducted many interviews.
“A lot of the interviews were done over the phone or on Skype,” Stulting said. “The lack of nonverbal cues was extremely challenging. I tried to be intentional in not asking questions about the violence of the experience itself.”
Stulting also commented that they were not sure how much personal information to share in order to get the interviewee to open up.
“It was sometimes personal, sometimes professional. It’s different for everyone,” Stulting said.
Discussing such intimate information came at a price for Stulting; they often had to take breaks from interviews because the experiences of the other survivors too closely resonated with Stulting’s own experiences.
“Some of what the trans* survivors discussed was personally triggering for me,” Stulting said.
Stulting said that one particular survivor turned to religion in order to survive her abusive relationship. Stulting said that they were “surprised by this, given the reputation that many religions, particularly the Christian faith, have with the LGTBQ+ community.”
In debriefing the survivors before and after the interviews, Stulting would reiterate parts of the consent form before asking any questions, and would email the interviewees a debrief form after each interview. Stulting also provided them with hotline numbers and websites for trans* survivors in consideration of the fact that they aren’t professionally trained as a direct form of support.
“It seemed therapeutic for the survivors to just talk to someone about it, even though I’m not officially qualified,” Stulting said.
When asked what they would change about the research, Stulting said that they wished they had considered the idea of victim self-blame in the research. They additionally said they would love to interview the centers that denied the trans* survivors.
“That would be really challenging to do, though,” Stulting said.
Stulting will be living in Brighton, England after graduating from the University. They hope to continue their research concerning trans* survivors, though they recognize it will be more difficult to do so in another country.
“Taylan’s thesis shows that society isn’t doing enough for trans* members. However, Taylan also shows how we can move forward to pick up the slack, and let these people feel safe living their lives,” Alex Christensen ’18 said.