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Self-Defense for Transgender and Non-Binary Folks

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

Photo used with permission from Erika Laurentz

The field of self-defense is generally centered from the point of view of the straight, white, cis-gendered men. While we recognize there is something to learn from everyone, a core value at Asphalt Anthropology is to center the conversation of self-defense around folks who are most likely to be targeted for violence.

This goal of this focus is two-fold:

  1. To amplify voices of traditionally marginalized groups who, because of their very existence as "other", have more experience in identifying red flags and mitigating threats than almost anyone. After all, who is more likely to get targeted by a threat: a fit-looking athlete or a trans woman? There is much to learn from marginalized folks, but even more importantly, it is crucial that marginalized folks can learn from people who share their lived experiences.

  2. To broaden the scope of knowledge in self-defense beyond what we currently know so that more people can live with more freedom, boldness and joy.

With these goals in mind, I was thrilled when I learned that my new friend and professional colleague (from my day job), Erika Laurentz is also self-defense instructor. To say that Erika is a self-defense instructor however, is a bit of an understatement given the diverse experiences she has to draw on.

Erika dazzling me with her insight!

Erika is an intersex, trans woman whose career experience makes her something of a renaissance woman. Her wide range of professional experience includes the following roles:

  • Combat air crew veteran in the Vietnam War

  • A police detective

  • An attorney, on both sides as a defense attorney and prosecutor

  • An adjunct college professor at UW and CWU

  • Department chair, Criminal Justice at TCC

  • Certified K - 12 teacher

  • Crises counselor in a hospital setting and the Department of Corrections

  • Trans educator for Gender Odyssey and the Department of Corrections

Not only has Erika navigated these challenging and often high-risk roles, she’s done them all at various degrees of being out as a trans woman. Which really takes the Ann Richards quote, “... Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels” to a whole new level.

So when Erika and I started talking about self-defense, I knew I had to interview her and share her expertise based on her lived experience with you!

Below is an overview of our conversation along with videos of our full conversation. First and foremost, I hope that it is valuable for our trans and non-binary friends who deserve to learn from someone who shares their lived experience. Secondly, I hope that cis-gendered folks will take the time to hear her perspective as she fills in knowledge gaps that are not acknowledged in current mainstream self-defense.

Spoiler Alert: by the end of this you will see how alike we all are... after all, an eye gouge is an effective self-defense technique regardless of one's gender. But the crucial nuances that Erika shares highlight the unique experiences of trans folks. It is in these areas of difference where we can learn.

To connect with Erika, to learn more, or to work with her, reach out to her here. Click here for a downloadable PDF copy of her presentation that accompanies her talk.


Introduction to Self-Defense for Trans and Non-Binary Folks

Our LGBTIA+ friends are at a higher risk of abuse and threats of violence than the general public. Hate crimes overall have reached their highest level in more than a decade in the U.S. For trans and gender non-conforming Americans, 2021 is on pace to be deadliest year yet.

The attention of violence towards trans and non-binary folks, like for cis-gendered folks, tends to focus on stranger-on-stranger crime in public. While street safety is a crucial element of overall safety and quality of life, Erika breaks down the lifecycle of trans/non-binary abuse which far too often starts in the home and can set one up for a lifetime of challenges. She also walks us through the intersections of race and gender. Erika explores the impact of early abuse on later abuse and how this on-going treatment by society perpetuates violence against trans/non-binary folks.


Avoiding Danger: Building Your Intuition and Managing "Emotional Projection"

Intuition and "walking confidently" are mainstays of self-defense. But one of the things I love most about Erika's approach is how she has very practical guidance on how to cultivate these skills so they become unconscious. Drawing on her own lived experiences as well as her professional training as a psychologist, she walks us through simple and fun exercises including:

  • Walking using peripheral vision only

  • Walking and choosing direction by intuition

  • Choosing food by intuition

She gives full how-to explanations on these in the video below so be sure to click through for all the goodies (which includes a new-to-me-game of sniffing out the best restaurants that I can't wait to try!).

Erika also provides insight for folks who are in the midst of transitioning and shares her own experience of adapting based on how the world perceives her gender.


The Law of Self-Defense

I loved this no-nonsense part of Erika's talk. Here she draws on her experience as both a prosecutor and defense attorney as well as her time in the field as a police officer and detective. I love how she straight up tells us that these jobs generally draw socially conservative folks and discusses the impact that has on how the law of self-defense is interpreted and applied.

While in theory the law should apply equally, Erika addresses the intersectional nuances of self-defense and how gender identity and race impact different outcomes - from potential arrest to prosecution and incarceration. This is a crucial conversation for folx who may not receive equal protection under the law that is missing from traditional self-defense circles.

Please note the legal elements of self-defense discussed here (imminence, proportionality and timing) are for educational purposes only and not designed to be legal advice. Erika speaks about these elements in general for U.S.-based audiences but interpretation and application of these elements will vary from state to state.


A Few Simple Techniques

The juicy stuff everyone comes to self-defense for!

Erika swears by her training in marital arts, specifically jiu jitsu and how her early training gave her more confidence to move through the world. We get down and dirty as she recalls her hard-core military-style training and she breaks down the human anatomy to identify the most effective striking targets for self-defense. She shares how to leverage the effects of adrenaline as well as your own body against a stronger attacker.


Non-Lethal Weapons

Erika shares why pepper spray is her top recommendation for non-lethal weapons. She breaks down how to identify a quality pepper spray and how to avoid cheap ones. Quite often we see folks handing out pepper spray and other cheaply made weapons at community events. While their heart is in the right place, Erika identifies several ways to determine quality so check it out before you rely on a cheap, free weapon.

Other weapons she covers in detail are:

  • Mace

  • Dogs

  • Stun guns

  • Impact weapons

All have their pros and cons so check out her thoughts based on her personal and professional experience as you consider what to carry.


Lethal Weapons

Erika has special words of caution and care for the trans/non-binary community related to guns. As she explains, this community is at higher risk of suicide due to trauma and abuse and gun ownership further raises the existing risk of suicide.

If a gun is the right choice for you, Erika draws on her experience as an expert on the tactical pistol course, from her police force days. She breaks down the pros and cons of guns and goes into detail on size, caliber, ammunition and carry options. She explains why she recommends guns over knives and ties a lot of it back to the law of self-defense. If you skipped over her law of self-defense discussion and are interested in carrying a gun, be sure to check out that video.


About Erika Laurentz, JD, MPsych, LMFTA

Erika Laurentz, JD; M.Psych; LMFTA

We become the stories that we learn about ourselves, the stories that we repeat in our lives and in background loops playing in our heads. On my journey, I adopted some terrible and wonderful stories about who I am. Since I was old enough to notice, people warned me about not burning the candle from both ends. I didn’t listen. I know the sound of bullets passing by my head. I’ve held the injured and sat with the dying. I’ve witnessed beauty too powerful for words. I found true love. Together, we discovered what safety feels like. Often, we laugh until our bellies hurt, until we force ourselves to stop, so we can breathe again. Sometimes, one of us cries, but our tears are never alone.

LGBTQI children are much more likely to experience multiple forms of abuse than hetero, gender conforming children are. I did. Much of the shame of being transgender came from the mistaken belief that the abuse caused me to be who I am. It doesn’t, but that wasn’t known until 2005. Today, we know that people are transgender for biological reasons.

To connect with Erika, reach out to her via the contact information found here.

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