“The trauma of survivors like myself has been weaponised against trans women to deny them access to women’s shelters and other vital services”
BY LOIS SHEARING
I remember realising that I had been raped and sexually assaulted.
I was sitting in my childhood bedroom watching Trixie and Katya’s YouTube show Uuughhh on my laptop. It felt like going into free fall. It felt like when you’re swimming in the sea and the wave that just buoyed you up drags out a little deeper, and you realise with your breath caught in your throat, that you can longer touch the sand beneath you.
I felt like that for a whole year.
It isn’t uncommon for survivors not to realise what has happened until sometime later. The mainstream narrative of sexual violence is a stranger grabbing us off the street while we put up a fight. While that does happen, as we’ve seen recently, it’s far less common than other types of sexual violence.
Most survivors know their aggressor. Some people fight, while other others freeze, or flop, or dissociate and go along with what’s happening. And in those incidents, it can take a while to fully understand what you’ve been through as rape or sexual assault.
Even after I’d finally come to terms with what had happened, several of the people closest to me couldn’t. They want to know “both sides”, or downplayed or invalidated my experience. It made me feel like my toes were scraping the sand while I looked around and realised the shoreline had disappeared.
But one of the people who didn’t question or probe me was one of my best friends, who happens to be a trans woman. She listened to me, even when I was still scrambling with timelines and feelings, and believed me. She was there when I needed to cry or rant, and she reassured me when I let other people’s doubts get to me.
She’s been a huge part of my healing journey since then, just as I have been there to support her through various stages of her gender journey. She was also there for me as a confidant and helping hand when I decided to set up the Bi Survivor’s Network.
Bi people, especially bi women, face higher rates of sexual violence than our gay or straight peers, yet there is much less support available for us. After feeling like neither mainstream nor LGBTQI+ survivor resources could adequately support me as a bi survivor, I decided to create my own. If nothing else, it at least felt like it gave me a direction to swim in.
For almost three years now, the Bi Survivors Network has been providing fortnightly chats for survivors, as well as advocating for bi survivors and reassuring others that they are not alone.
But I would never have gotten it off the ground without the help of another survivor who had also set up their own support group, and who also happens to be trans. They helped me get together a mission statement, work out a schedule for chats, find a suitable platform, and set up our socials. BSN partly exists because of their guidance.
This shouldn’t be a shock or particularly noteworthy, but if your only proximity to trans people is via the media, it might be. Transphobia has been increasingly prevalent in the press over the last few years, even in so-called “progressive” outlets. Mermaids, a charity which supports trans children and their families, found that “the British press has increased its coverage of stories about trans people over the last six years writing roughly three and a half times as many articles in 2018-19 compared to 2012”, with the majority of articles having a negative framing or bias.
Much of the manufactured culture war we’re seeing play out in the press centres around trans people’s access to “women’s spaces” and the danger this supposedly poses to cis women. Several people have debunked this better than I can, which you can read here, here, here, here, and here.
On many occasions, the trauma of survivors like myself has been weaponised against trans people, mostly trans women, in order to attempt to deny them access to women’s shelters and other vital services. This argument has become so ubiquitous among transphobes (or “gender critical” as they self-identify), that a feminist with a large platform recently accused me of not knowing about or understanding women and survivors because I voiced my support for Stonewall and trans equality.
Not only is it deeply insulting to use sexual violence and the trauma it leaves behind as an excuse for bigotry, it also ignores the reality these atrocities.
Firstly, trans people experience sexual violence at a hugely disporportionate rate, and are far more likely to be survivors of sexual violence than cis people. Secondly, the number of attacks which happen in public places like changing rooms and toilets (just some of the “women’s spaces” which apparently must be protected) is much smaller than the amount of attacks which happen in people’s homes. Thirdly, the idea that penis equals attacker and vagina equals vulnerable couldn’t be more reductive.
Over the last few years of running BSN, I’ve come to realise just how complex sexual and domestic violence can be. While it’s true that it’s a gendered crime, most often committed by cis men, that is far from the full story. BSN has supported men who have been raped by women, men raped by men, women raped by women, non-binary people raped by other non-binary people, and every other combination. If trans women pose a threat to other women in public spaces, then so do cis women.
I suspect that many of the people pushing the narrative in the public eye understand this, at least on some level. After all, many of them have been active in feminist, survivor and queer communities for some time, where they have doubtless come across trans people and the important work they do in those spaces.
It is a common and effective tactic to claim to be protecting (cis) women from sexual violence by excluding and marginalising a minority. Donald Trump did it when he claimed Mexico was sending “rapists” into America and here in Europe, several anti-migrant parties have claimed that muslim refugees pose a threat to women. As it becomes more clear that the “gender-critical” movement is linked to the larger right-wing attack on queer rights, it’s also become much more obvious how disingenuous their claiming to be “protecting survivors” really is.
This is not a case of “survivors’ safety vs. trans rights” because often those two groups are one and the same. Anyone who actually cared about survivors would be fighting alongside trans people against cuts to safe housing, benefits, job security, etc. All areas where trans people are once again, disproportionately impacted. The real fight is “survivors and our allies against patriarchal and sexual violence”.
Recently, my friend and I went swimming in the sea. She was apprehensive about being in her bikini in public, so I offered to go in with her. Being a stronger swimmer, she headed out deeper than I did at first. As I paddled towards her, I knew that even if I couldn’t touch the sand, she’d always be there to pull me back to the shore.
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