How one FSU professor is transgressing the boundaries of academia: Shedding light on transgender victims of intimate partner violence

Caroline Gordon / THE GATEPOST

When Xavier Guadalupe-Diaz was an undergraduate student of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, he was told by many of his professors he would have trouble researching his area of expertise, getting the same response: “No – don’t do it.”

Today, he is the most highly cited scholar in the field of intimate partner violence (IPV) in romantic and sexual relationships involving transgender people.

In the cozy setting of the McCarthy Center Forum on Nov. 18, Guadalupe-Diaz was interviewed by his department peer, Elizabeth Whalley, about his new book, “Transgressed: Intimate Partner Violence in Transgender Lives.”

Whalley, a fellow sociology and criminology professor, focuses on gender-based institutional sexual violence from a feminist approach as one of her areas of expertise.

She and Guadalupe-Diaz worked together on the topic of “Queering #MeToo,” researching how LGBTQ+ identity can impact experiences of sexual assault and abuse. 

Guadalupe-Diaz was also a speaker at the first International Symposium – Comparative Perspectives on #MeToo at the University of Kentucky, giving a talk, “Queering #MeToo: Working Toward Queer and Trans Inclusion.”

The book, published by NYU Press last month, follows Guadalupe-Diaz’s previous work, a collaboration with Northeastern Illinois University’s gender studies professor Adam M. Messinger, “Transgender Intimate Partner Violence: A Comprehensive Introduction.”

On the back of the book, the summary reads, “Transgender people face some of the highest rates of violence in the United States and around the world, particularly within romantic relationships. … Guadalupe-Diaz offers a ground-breaking examination of intimate partner violence in the lives of transgender people.”

These two works are considered to be “cutting-edge research on transgender lives” and in the field of transgender IPV, according to Ellen Zimmerman, sociology department chair, who introduced Guadalupe-Diaz.

She talked about how the Stonewall riots launched the modern-day fight for LGBTQ+ rights and equality, but the movement did not stop there.

“From the moment transgender people came on center stage beginning in 1969 with this radical movement, they continued to deal with being treated as outsiders – even within the most radical centers of gay liberation,” said Zimmerman.

She added, “There is something about exposing the violence within these relationships that makes it feel risky, edgy, when, in fact, trans people already suffer so much marginalization in the outside world. He’s [Guadalupe-Diaz] saying, now, we’re looking within the private world, and what are the ways in which the outside world … maps onto trans lives.”

Guadalupe-Diaz said his inspiration for the book – which includes much of the data from his dissertation – came during his undergraduate years, when he began to question his identity and find his own experiences to be resonant with those of the queer and trans communities.

“I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know I was a really eager undergrad,” he said to the audience’s amusement. 

Guadalupe-Diaz told the audience he identifies as a queer brown person, having gone through many identity changes throughout his time at college, which he says is typical of many people in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Compounding his marginalized sexual identity with his immigrant background, growing up and going to school in the rural south, he views his journey to the person he is today as one that is as difficult and nuanced as the highly rigid structure of gender that he continuously called upon the audience to question.

Although he doesn’t use “trans” as a descriptor for himself, he said he feels a strong sense of community with transgender people, whose identities range from binary genders to genders that exist outside the binary of male and female, also known as non-binary.

“I’m using trans as sort of an umbrella term,” he told the audience.

Guadalupe-Diaz said part of the reason his main research focus is not as highly explored and developed as the field researching domestic sexual violence and abuse against women, for example, is that oftentimes, transgender identities are overlooked or marginalized by academia.

When he was an undergraduate student, Guadalupe-Diaz took a course on violence against women.

“But it had this very heteronormative, cisnormative angle to it,” he said. “So, I decided to do my final project on lesbian intimate partner violence, and I started to really complicate the ways I thought about violence – coercion, assault – in terms of gender and sexuality.”

Guadalupe-Diaz said around that time, he began to think about the ways that the structures of gender and sexuality directly impact the field of criminology, since “gender is a driving force” in how these aforementioned structures are discussed.

“Gender is a performance,” he said, talking about how much of society’s preconceived notions of gender, sex, and sexual orientation are more fluid and complicated than most people think. 

Guadalupe-Diaz talked about many of the subjects in his book, in which he included many personal narratives of transgender people who reached out to him through the internet and mutual connections – including a Black transgender man named Tom and an immigrant Latina transgender woman named Anna.

He said these specific stories led him to think in greater depth about the inextricable relationship between race and gender, speaking of the concept of intersectionality, coined by Black feminist theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw.

According to Guadalupe-Diaz, issues that plague the vulnerable community of transgender people of color, especially, include for-survival sex work due to financial insecurity, as well as medical malpractice.

The chapter in which Anna’s story is told, “‘No Man Is Going to See You as a Woman’: Transgender Accounts of Violence and Abuse,” has sections about Anna’s struggle with feeling wrong inside her body and the transphobic violence she encountered by presenting the way she wanted. 

During this chapter, Guadalupe-Diaz also talks about the two different forms that discrimination against transgender people could take: blatant, outright transphobia, and a more insidious form of prejudice he terms genderism. In his book, he defines the latter term as attacks that reinforce “the gender dichotomy by policing ‘appropriate’ expressions of gender.”

SGA President and senior Matty Bennet asked Guadalupe-Diaz what he thought could be done to better serve transgender students at FSU. 

Guadalupe-Diaz said, “There’s lots of things we can do to make more spaces at FSU … more trans-affirming,” including increasing the number of gender-neutral bathrooms across campus and normalizing discussions about transgender and non-binary identities in classes.

At the end of the interview, Guadalupe-Diaz and Whalley recited the names of 20 transgender people, most of them Black transgender women, who have been lost to transphobic violence in 2019 alone.