on consent in trans and gay community (full version)

an edited version of this piece can be found at
http://www.trans.cafe/posts/2016/7/18/we-need-to-talk-about-consent-in-the-trans-gay-community

It is the story of every survivor who speaks out about their history of sexual violence, and you know that it is true.

That you will start to wonder if you should have kept your mouth shut. That you will be gaslit, and you will start to wonder if it really happened. That you will start to wonder if you’re just a bad person, and you deserved it. That you will start to wonder if you are a ghost.

****

Two weeks ago at a party designed for trans men and cis men to meet and cruise with one another, a cis man sexually assaulted me and crossed my boundaries of consent. This is not new to me or to many of the transmaculine folks that I love and am in community with; I am a repeat survivor of sexual assault, and while I have hopes for a different world, I expect this wasn’t the last time. At the time of the incident, I was confused about what had happened, and I felt unsure how to respond beyond just powering through. The following day the memory resurfaced in the middle of my shift at work, sending me into a spiral. I was deeply triggered. My breath grew shallow and anxiety flooded my nerves.

After processing with a good friend who had been at the party that night, I realized that I needed to take further action not only for my own safety, but for the safety of all of the other trans and queer folks in my community. I decided to speak up. So, I sent a message to the party producer, a white trans man, explaining what had happened and asking for two things: first, that the person who assaulted me be banned from future events, and second, that we start a conversation about how to make the event a safer and more consensual space in the future. To me, these felt like two small and simple ways to remedy the situation, to aid in my own healing, and to work towards building the queer cruising space I’ve long dreamed of.

The party producer responded by telling me that I should have told someone right when it happened so that they could have called the police. Like many trans, queer, and feminist folks, I am critical of the police, and I am aware that trans people and survivors of sexual assault in particular have often been mistreated, harassed, and not believed by the police. In addition, the person who assaulted me is a person of color. The police have escalated their murders of unarmed POC, especially black folks, in the past few weeks; getting the police involved would mean risking someone’s life. My aim was to seek accountability within the community, and hopefully spark more dialogue about how to make our spaces safer. Instead, I was victim blamed and told that it would be a liability for the event producers to mention anything about consent at the party or on the event page.

So, I decided to go public. I posted about our interactions and the event producer’s responses on social media in order to spread the word about what had happened to me and to let my community know that the event is not safe for trans and POC folks. In the flame war that ensued, I had a trans man call my non-binary identity into question with vitriolic and hateful words because I have a beard and am on testosterone. I had a person I haven’t spoken to in over ten years drag up stories about interactions from our childhood. I had plenty of folks who didn’t believe me, and others who said i should just get over the incident because it wasn’t that bad.

What happened to me was not merely a touch, but an intention, an attempt to forcibly penetrate my body. How do you describe this to someone in detail? How do you do so without requiring yourself to share intimate details of your prior trauma? What language can we use to jar people from this idea that touch, words, dynamics that aren’t exactly physically violent can still do and enact harm, can produce a culture where rape is considered acceptable?

****

I have been thinking a lot about why so many of the trans men involved in the party, all of whom are white, have had such an averse reaction to my decision to be vocal about my assault and, I think it boils down to two things.

First, is a desire to assimilate with cis men at any and all costs. As trans folks, we are often fed narratives about who we should aspire to be from a cisnormative and cissexist world. We are made to believe that we are lesser or that we are sick if we don’t align neatly with strict, dichotomous gender roles; and, even that we are lesser simply because we are trans. In the gay male community, which is predominantly made up of cis men, the impulse to assimilate feels heightened. Add to that the gay male community’s denigration of femininity and celebration of white cis masculinity, and you have a toxic combination. I have been in this position, this mindset, as have many of my friends. I have so longed to fit into gay culture that I’ve compromised myself just for acceptance. This very attitude breeds a sense of desperation that has, ironically enough, landed me in situations where I’ve encountered some of my worst experiences of assault, of willful non-consensual behavior, of misgendering, and of discrimination.

Additionally, one of the ways rape culture has been perpetuated is through dissemination of this idea that consent check-ins ruin the mood or are unsexy. The kind of consent check-ins I have with folks are quick and simple: “Is it okay if I do x” or “how are you feeling?” I have never felt that someone asking whether they can touch me makes an encounter less hot; if anything, I’m probably more attracted to that person for their compassion. From all of my experiences, it seems that gay male culture is simply obsessed with holding on to backwards ideas about consent and safe spaces. Just today a person called me a “tourist” in gay male culture who is trying to ruin everyone’s fun with my “sex-negative radical feminism.” Gay cis men (and the trans men who put them on a pedestal) aren’t having these conversations the way queer and trans folks, including cis men, are having them in my community. I think the party producers are afraid they might alienate gay men by bringing up consent to which my response is: why would we want those people in our spaces anyway?

Second, there are incredibly high stakes to taking down rape culture in our society. Rape and sexual assault are endemic to patriarchy; rape and rape culture are structural violences that enact and enforce patriarchy, while simultaneously being informed by it. White cis men benefit from this system more than any other group of people. But, trans men rape, too. And, trans men also benefit from patriarchy. Aligning with rape culture is yet another way of assimilating with cis men, another backwards attempt to fit in with a white, cisnormative, patriarchal ideology that is actively doing unspeakable harm to our queer, trans and GNC, and POC community members.

Masculine folks, cis or trans, feel the need to hold on to attitudes about consent, because their privilege is contingent on this world where certain people can violate other peoples’ bodies with impunity. It is an unspoken code; if we don’t say anything about this, if we treat it as though it’s not important, then we can continue to uphold this behavior as a necessary component of the system that we benefit from. What is troubling, is that this tactic also silences male and masculine spectrum survivors of sexual assault. Folks feel they cannot speak up without fear of being considered traitors to patriarchy. As though that would be a bad thing.

This is a concern that extends beyond gender and sexuality into notions of ownership writ large. The violence of attempting to violate someone’s body sexually grows from the same roots as white capitalism and imperialism. It grows from the idea that some people are less human and less worthy of respect and dignity than others. Or, worse yet, that they are property to be owned, used, and discarded.

****

I came forward with my story because I want to live, to enact, and to build the world I dream of. This is the lesson I have learned from so many utopian thinkers, prison abolitionists, and queer anarchists. Through telling my story, it came out that another transmasculine person had been harassed by the same man who assaulted me that night. I’m deeply saddened that they were also made to feel unsafe, and while I didn’t need any further justification for my actions, knowing that I made someone else feel less alone has given me the strength to continue this fight. I am not here to wait until things get better while folks continue to get harmed. I am not here to make change for the future or for the next generation. I am here to be present in this world and to make this world better through my daily practices, my words, and the way I navigate spaces and interpersonal relationships. I am here to do the work.

If you want to stand with me, if you want to build this world think about your own practices of consent. Ask before you touch someone always but especially in sexual situations. With everyone, trans and gender non-conforming folks in particular, think about asking what parts of their body are and aren’t okay to touch and what language they use around their body. If you are a party producer, consider putting a note on your event page or a sign at your event teaching folks about consent and letting them know they will be held accountable for any actions that violate another person’s boundaries. If you are a survivor, think about ways we can call for accountability that don’t involve going to the police.

We can build this world, and the overwhelming upswell of folks who have supported me, stood by me, and fought on my behalf let me know that we are already doing so, right here and right now.

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