Invisibility part three–Sexual Assualt

(cross posted from Pam’s House Blend)

Earlier this week I posted about two areas where transgender people remain invisible to non-trans people. I shared some of Shannon’s homily where she told accounts concerning employment and health care.

Today I share the third and last section of Shannon’s homily–a section about sexual assault. When I first heard these words at the United Methodist Church that hosted the day long event designed to look at transgender issues and concerns, I was struck by the violence of the assault, but more so by how the people around the trans woman telling the story invalidated and belittled her experience.

pieces of holes (TRIGGER WARNING)
(From Little Light’s Taking Steps blog)

I was raped.

I can’t really make that flowery. I can’t pretty it up or find some more eloquent way of saying it. I’ve tried so hard to turn it into the piles of words I paint everything with that I’ve failed to just say it.
I know I’m not alone in it. It’s something more than a third of women in general, and more than half of trans women specifically, can say. It took me a long time to admit that I, too, can say it.

I was repeatedly sexually assaulted a few years ago. There’s not any way to put that that I can really come up with that doesn’t amount to protecting you and me from the simple fact that a while ago, I was repeatedly fucked without my consent.
But my getting fucked didn’t stop there, and that’s why I’m finally fighting down the nausea and saying something about it in public and exposing myself to even more of the kind of nastiness that I find the Internet is happy to deliver. So I won’t make this pretty either:

After I was raped, I was re-victimized by transphobia and transmisogyny.

It was in all the people who said I was “really” a man, and therefore couldn’t have been sexually assaulted, and therefore didn’t offer support and resources I needed to recover.

It was also in the people who saw that the person who did it, female-assigned and genderqueer, as “really” a woman and therefore unable to perpetrate sexual assault in the first place.

It was in the administrators and healthcare professionals who were told that I was dosed with hard liquor I didn’t know I was drinking and then thrown down behind a locked door after I got back from the ER for alcohol poisoning, and decided the important thing to address about that situation is that I clearly must have had a drinking problem.

It was in the people who saw I was trans and therefore decided that I must have invited what happened to me. After all, you know how they are. They’re into that kind of kinky stuff. Hell, I hear trans women get raped on purpose, and that’s one of the reasons they’re so especially suited to prostitution, which they do in order to get off on victimizing female bodies they can control. Hell, I hear they’re dangerous and mostly rapists themselves, and that’s why they can’t be allowed into public bathrooms or rape crisis centers.

It was in all the messages I absorbed about how nobody would ever love me or consider me desirable again, about my freakish and unacceptable body that was good only as a revolting punchline, and how someone pinning me down and not taking “no” for an answer was the best I could ever hope for, so why not lie back and pretend that hey, it’s at least someone willing to look at me without clothes on and call me “she,” and that makes it okay.

It was in knowing that I certainly couldn’t ask for help, because everyone around me was still having a hard enough time with my coming out in the first place.

It was in all the people who wouldn’t believe me anyway, because being trans meant I was obviously unstable and an unreliable narrator of my own experiences.

It was in the missing support from birth family, who rejected me when I came out a few months before by telling me I would never find anyone to understand or love me, that I was making up a sick lie to hurt them, that children shouldn’t be exposed to people like me and I could never have a family of my own. It was in all the threats to disown me if I didn’t knock it the hell off, which certainly didn’t help make me vulnerable to the sort of person who looks for lonely, isolated, desperate people who have a hard time fighting back or standing up for themselves.

It was in the missing support from many of my friends, many of whom quietly vanished from my life as soon as I came out, many more of whom trickled away in the months following, often without even bothering to make excuses.

It was in the vulnerability caused by my sharp and steep downward economic mobility as my family’s support dried up to a coercive trickle and I found myself suddenly and mysteriously unable to get so much as a job interview to wash dishes, which left me unable to afford healthcare or therapy or, for that matter, basic nutrition. It was in the constant indignity of eating out of the garbage and the messages that reinforced about what I deserved from other people. It was in being too busy surviving to look after my recovery or even stop for a few minutes to deal with what happened to me.

It was in all the voices telling me I was demanding so much of society by asking it to accept me as a woman that I didn’t dare ask for anything else, like help.

It was in all the voices telling me that someone showing up in my bedroom at all was the best I could ever hope for, and if beggars can’t be choosers then monsters can’t either, and what’s regular sexual abuse as a price to pay for someone, anyone, willing to be seen with you in public or touch you at all?

It was in all the people who let me know my place and that I should be grateful for being allowed to live at all, and shouldn’t be complaining, and why couldn’t I just be a man anyway and move on?

You know what else it was in? It was in my not talking about it until now.
It was in all the fears I had about saying anything because of the ways that would reflect on my whole community. It was in all the ways I could be afraid that my talking about my rape would reinforce stereotypes about trans women of color as tragic, agency-stripped victims, as sex fiends, as people who invite rape on themselves. It was in all the conversations I swallowed about the subject because I didn’t want to make the community look bad by saying I’d been assaulted by another trans person. It was in every stereotype of deceptive trans people that told me that I wouldn’t be believed if I spoke up. It was in the ways I knew that victim-blaming that would be unacceptable to my supposed political comrades about a cissexual woman would rear its head and ask why I didn’t fight back harder–why let this person come back again and again and let it happen more than once–why I covered it up by making jokes about it for five years as a buffer against letting it take me apart–because it wouldn’t be asking, it’d be telling, and the answer would be because you’re trans. It was in my dread that even this, even this could be interrupted by someone asking me to justify my transition instead of letting me be a human being with a story.

It was in an awful, hollow truth: that I even had some fond memories of the person who did it, that there was ambivalence, because they were the first person I’d ever been involved with who would at least call me their girlfriend and didn’t recoil from the reality of my transition. Even though they used it and its accompanying vulnerability to do unacceptable things to me. And that that ambivalence, not uncommon for survivors of sexual assault especially by intimate partners, would damn me as a trans woman and make a thousand vicious stereotypes more convincing. How much hate are you supposed to have for the person who raped you? What’s the acceptable cutoff before people start believing you asked for it? What about when you’re trans?

It was in knowing something even worse: that if the rape had turned into murder, still, I’d have been “asking for it” as soon as it hit the courts and newspapers.

You can read the rest of the post here.

This post has 10 Comments

  1. Yuki Choe on March 6, 2009 at 3:13 pm Reply

    Reading the three installments is not a good experience for me. Until today, I am still considered not a womYn. My experiences as a girl in all three counts are invalidated because I am what I am.

    When I am hurt and seek comfort, I am still seen as a “boy” and I should be strong enough to get over it when I am not. As a bisexual I am not allowed to even speak on behalf of the lesbian community because… hey, I am not a girl by the woman’s groups here.

    It is still LG… b… (t) here is Asia. We are the obvious visible ones. Anything that happens to us is our fault. But trans men are acceptable. Trans women are not. Somehow whatever I AM makes me unreliable or unreasonable. I am still considered an extreme strange being some people address as “it”, and belong to something ridiculously called an “industry”.

    I am mostly alone but for a few caring friends. I never get invited personally to any event or parties by so-called friends. In all my hurt, grief, sadness and pain; almost no one calls me to make sure I am ok. Because I am expected to get over it, even though I am really not that strong.

    That is the price I have to pay for being who I am. And they still call it a “choice”. I may advocate for the LGBT community in South East Asia. But almost no one is advocating for me. I mostly end up advocating as a single voice for me and my life. Alone.

  2. p2son on March 6, 2009 at 3:21 pm Reply

    Yuki, your words strike deep and hard. I need to hear them. You write,

    That is the price I have to pay for being who I am. And they still call it a “choice”. I may advocate for the LGBT community in South East Asia. But almost no one is advocating for me. I mostly end up advocating as a single voice for me and my life. Alone.

    How true. I see this in Connecticut where I live so often. Trans woman work hard for all sorts of rights and I see little work the other way around.

    Thank you for being so visible.

  3. little light on March 6, 2009 at 6:36 pm Reply

    Whoa whoa whoa. There was a public reading of my rape account, which everyone’s identifying as really intense and triggering, and nobody thought to mention this to me or ask if that was appropriate? I’m glad you all found the piece useful and helpful–I put it on the Internet where people can see it on purpose, after all–but doing a public reading of another writer’s work, especially something so personal, without at least checking in strikes me as one more way to erase me.
    I appreciate that there was enough respect for my work to consider it a worthy reading for this event, but I just don’t really know how I feel about this.
    In the future, I really am just an e-mail away, and happy to be a resource given the chance. I mean, I live in Portland, and I’m in Seattle right now, where this apparently took place. It would have been really, really easy to drop me a line and chat about it.

  4. p2son on March 6, 2009 at 6:41 pm Reply

    little light, I am so sorry and can take this down immediately if you like. I was under the impression that you were contacted in advance, and it was okay that I share this on my blog especially since it is already on your public site. I apologize for the confusion.

  5. little light on March 6, 2009 at 8:18 pm Reply

    Thanks for clearing that up, Peterson. You’re welcome to share it on your blog, and it’s one of the reasons I put it out there for everyone to see. I was just surprised that it went a step further into being performed in public without my knowledge, if that makes sense.

    Thanks to you and Shannon both for getting back to me and explaining the situation. I think we can let this be sort of a learning moment, and consider the misunderstanding cleared up.

  6. Glen on March 6, 2009 at 11:50 pm Reply

    I know this is a slight change of topic, but still, here’s my question: is there any positive side to being trans?

    I think of James Baldwin, a black, gay man who wrote so eloquently of the hurt of racism and homophobia in the 1940s, when he had no rights at all.

    A white straight male interviewer asked him, “Mr. Baldwin, after reading all your work, it seems to me you must curse your fate having been born black, poor, and homosexual. Is this true?”

    He replied, “On the contrary. I think I hit the jackpot.”

    Is there any sense in which trans women still feel, even after all the oppression described on this page, that they have “hit the jackpot”?

    I certainly feel mostly grateful for being gay and a survivor of sexual violence. I feel it teaches me human honesty, vulnerability, and compassion. Not that I’m undamaged by my experiences, but I feel through them I was able to find my strength and even compassion. In that sense I feel that I, like Baldwin, have “hit the jackpot.”

  7. Cedar on March 7, 2009 at 9:02 pm Reply

    I know this is a slight change of topic, but still, here’s my question: is there any positive side to being trans?

    Why is it that whenever there’s a significant discussion of problems that aren’t getting fully addressed, someone (almost always a guy, generally white) steps in and wants to shut everything down and talk about how we’re special snowflakes instead? It seems like every year I hear multiple white men–who have far less to worry about in terms of hate murder/physical violence–do this to the trans day of remembrance.

    Now, I think for this post to happen there needs to be a bit more detail to how the audience belittled and invalidated LL’s experience. How did that happen? What are the tropes involved? Let’s break them open and debunk them. There’s a system out there let’s tear it down! But without that, without anything other than ‘trans people get raped,’ it becomes, well, problematic. Invisibility isn’t the problem–it’s that that props up the structure of violence, that it erases cis violence against us and even our violence against each other, it helps the justifications for said violence (including the denial of services, which makes cis people complicit in those assaults) avoid scrutiny from a trans-centric perspective that shows them to not only be bullshit, but incredibly flimsy.

  8. Cedar on March 7, 2009 at 9:07 pm Reply

    (“without anything more than ‘trans people get raped'” added to LL’s work, I mean.)

  9. little light on March 11, 2009 at 2:55 pm Reply

    Actually, I do have a request. I only just noticed this: my words quoted above were edited–I don’t know if it was you who did the editing or whoever gave you the text, but I noticed someone has edited out both the swears and any of the actual details of the assault, as well as removing other little bits of the piece with no comment that alterations were made.

    What I write is available for anyone to quote under a Creative Commons license, but it’s not available to be modified in this way. I would much rather that swears be censored out (“F***ed”) than simply replaced with “cleaner” words with no comment, and I would really rather that sentences attributed to me not be “quoted” heavily edited and bowdlerized.

    Again, you’re welcome to leave this up, but it is my strong preference that my words be allowed to stand on their own merits and flaws, and that bowdlerized writing not be presented as mine without consultation. Please restore the text here and at Pam’s House Blend if you plan on leaving this up.

  10. p2son on March 11, 2009 at 3:17 pm Reply

    little light, thanks for letting me know. I originally put up the text that I heard that Sunday. i have changed that to the exact text on your site and changed it over at Pam’s House Blend. Consistent with Blog format, I have published an extract and then provided a link for readers to continue reading the rest at your stie.

    Over at http://www.beyondexgay.com we host lots of stories of ex-gay survivors and encourage them to continue ownership over their stories after we post them on our site. They offer edits and changes as their stories evolve and change through time.

    I appreciate that you have put your story up for others to see. Many people have commented to me privately about how deeply it moved them. Hopefully people will be moved to action and in joining with transgender people in the work for understanding, equality and decency.

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