Transgender sex workers (TSWs/TSW) face considerable challenges that affect their mental health and make their situations more vulnerable and precarious. TSWs often experience violence from clients, police, and others, but it is estimated that 50% of these acts of violence are at the hands of their intimate partners. The marginalization of TSWs is fueled by abuse through isolation and shaming which prevents them from seeking help through formal channels like police or counselling services. There is limited research on intimate partner violence (IPV) involving transgender sex workers (biologically male at birth who transition to women) and their partners who are typically heterosexual/bisexual men. In China, stigmatization, homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia structurally disadvantage TSWs and this power structure tacitly supports violence and abuse against them. To survive, TSWs rely on informal networks with their ‘sisters’ for advice and emotional support which is more effective at combatting IPV than criminal justice or social policy efforts. Ethnographic data from in-depth interviews with 25 TSWs provide insight about IPV and how informal social support is a protective factor that helps them cope with routine acts of violence. The findings identify the importance of the ‘sisterhood’ and how it protects and helps TSWs manage their physical and mental health.
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