Survivorship is a daily struggle. As a male survivor, the struggle is complicated in ways that I was not expecting right after my attack. There will be doubters, for about as many reasons as you can think of. I’ve had people tell me that I couldn’t be raped, because couldn’t I have just fought off my rapist? I’ve been told by other males that they could never imagine not wanting sex, so they can’t see how I could. I’ve been feminized, emasculated, and dehumanized, by strangers, friends, and family, on purpose and accidentally. If you’re a male survivor and reading this, I can bet that you’ve felt some of this skepticism, too. But let me tell you, you aren’t alone, and you are a survivor. We are surviving, which is a daily struggle unlike anything else. Men, just like women, are raped each day. With every passing moment, more of us are starting to talk about it, too.
It’s frustrating and hurtful, especially when the doubt comes from loved ones. For many people I told, I was the first male survivor who was open about his experience. What helped me was to speak with them about it, if it is someone who I care about. I let them know that my experience is real, and needs to be respected. I let them know that consent is not an inflexibly gendered idea. I have had people still, after that, doubt me. It’s disheartening. It’s made me question my experience. I’ve had days when I nearly convinced myself I couldn’t possibly have been raped, because I am a man and that’s just not how it works. Those days suck.
I just want to tell you that your experience is valid and real. Nobody — not society, not your mother, not a stranger on the street — has the right to tell you anything different. You may not know me, and I may not know you, and we can never fully understand what another person goes through, but I want you to know that I believe you. It may not mean much, but this male survivor in Boston is sending all of his love out to anyone who reads this and in any way identifies with it. This experience is so difficult, and every day brings its own set of challenges. But trust yourself, and trust what your mind and body tells you. We survive. Every day, we survive, and we are never alone in that.
As queer survivors, we know that we often face additional obstacles to pursuing justice both for our own cases and as organizers. Here are a few tips we’ve compiled to address homophobia as a survivor:
- Rape takes many different forms. As a society we focus almost exclusively on heterosexual penile-vaginal nonconsensual penetration–but we know too well how limited a scope this is. Just because the rape that occurred may not be penis-vagina or penis-anus doesn’t mean it isn’t rape. Remember to validate your own feelings, and be prepared to push back on administrators or police who believe only penile-vaginal penetration counts as rape. Title IX is on your side, and don’t hesitate to cite it.
- Talk about your sexuality exactly how and as much as you want. During your grievance hearings you may be asked to either keep quiet or ‘out’ yourself by others. In your activism, others may ask you to be the token queer and identify your sexuality publicly with a neat label, while at other times people may ask you to ‘play straight’ so as not to ‘distract’ from the issue. Do what you want to do. Don’t let anyone pressure you to identify or articulate that identification in a way you don’t want to.
- Develop strategies for combating stereotypes. Many queer survivors face disbelief from friends, family, and administrators as a result of stereotyping. (E.g., Gay men want sex all the time, so how could you be raped? Your partner is femme, so how abusive could she really have been?) It’s not your job to lead people out of their bigotry but, in preparation for the times when you think the battle is worth fighting, develop some go-to responses that call attention to the baseless, generalizing stereotypes on which people are basing responses to your experience.
- Remember that it’s never your fault that you were victimized. Queer people are targeted at a disproportionately high rate — that’s because of systemic bigotry and violent institutions, not because of you.
- You cannot speak for all queer people. You will likely be tokenized in your activism by your allies or the media. That sucks. Reject that burden–it’s both too big a responsibility and reductive of you as a human.
Being a survivor of sexual violence is hard enough; being a survivor of sexual violence and a survivor of the stigma attached to being a trans person is doubly hard. As trans survivors, we’re often treated poorly by the very people supposed to help us.
Here are some issues you may face (or may have already faced) as a trans survivor:
Campus administrators, police, faculty, or other individuals may refuse to support you after violence, or may refuse to recognize your gender identity.
- If your school denies your gender identity and doubly victimizes you by disrespecting you publicly or privately, remember: Your identification is valid. This may be a particular concern for trans women who haven’t gotten gender confirming surgery: Administrators, faculty, police, or other individuals may make statements to the effect that because you haven’t yet had “the surgery,” you weren’t raped. These kinds of statements are insulting and downright wrong because they 1) deny your gender identity and 2) suggest that they believe men cannot be raped (which is untrue). Anybody can be sexually assaulted or raped.
- Campus officials have a legal obligation to respond to and prevent the recurrence of any discrimination, including violence, you’ve suffered. Your gender identity does not alter your school’s obligations. If a school administrator refuses to take action to support you following your assault — or makes comments suggesting that, due to your gender identity, you weren’t actually raped — write down the date and time and the name of this individual(s). That may constitute a violation of your rights and could form the basis of a Title IX or Clery Act complaint. Consider reaching out to a pro bono attorney for help.
You may be the victim of probing questions into your genitalia, medications, or personal life.
- If you do not feel comfortable answering those questions, do not answer them. No one can force you to talk or divulge any information you do not want to give.
- As with any incident where you feel your rights have been violated, you should take down as many notes as you can about the incident.
Your school’s counseling services or other resources might not be trans-competent, or your school might outright refuse to provide these services to you.
- When I had requested help as a trans survivor of sexual assault, I was given the run around and eventually informed that my university’s student wellness resource center could not and would not help me because I was trans. It broke my heart. If that’s happened to you, it might have hurt you too. As a survivor, your school should provide you counseling services, in addition to a number of other services and protections. If they don’t, take down notes and consider filing a complaint.
Regardless of whether you were sexually assaulted, you still have the right to a safe campus.
- Although Know Your IX’s work focuses primarily on sexual violence, it’s important to note that any discrimination against trans students is a violation of Title IX. Verbal harassment or threats can create a hostile educational environment and, if your school failed to investigate and stop the harassment, may constitute a Title IX violation. Remember: It is your school’s job to ensure that campus is not a hostile environment for you.
And know that this isn’t an exhaustive list. It’s impossible to formulate all the ways we may be discriminated against, and that comes with who we are. But don’t let that deter you from being who you are or from seeking justice. You are as entitled to a safe educational environment as anyone else.
A NOTE ON SELF CARE
Being a survivor is stressful, heartbreaking, and a struggle no one should ever have to endure. Sometimes, being trans is also stressful and comes with heartbreak. Transphobia is part and parcel of being a trans survivor. It’s very easy to slip into internalizing that transphobia and being hard on yourself. In addition, try checking out trans-positive books and websites, spending time with trans-affirming friends and family, and seeking out survivor-friendly trans communities (and vice-versa).
Below are links to suicide prevention websites and numbers for hotlines. I’m also including the GLBT National Help Center hotlines, which can provide peer support and a helpful ear, as well as referrals to support in your area.
If you take away anything from this, know that you have rights and there are people willing to help you fight for them and that there are people who care about you. Know that you are loved. I’m just a random trans girl from Philadelphia, but survivor-to-survivor, trans woman-to-trans woman, person-to-person, I love you. I sincerely mean that.
HELPFUL LINKS AND NUMBERS
- The Trevor Project
- The GLBT National Help Center Online
- The Anti-Violence Project
- The Trevor Project Hotline: 1-866-488-7386
- The Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
- The GLBT National Help Center: 1-888-843-4564
- The GLBT National Youth TalkLine: 1-800-246-PRIDE (1-800-246-7743)
– Princess Harmony
Although these resources have been written with the guidance of legal experts, we are not lawyers, and the information on this website does not constitute legal advice. We encourage you to contact a lawyer to discuss your complaint or suit.
You’ve survived assault – and you’re coming to terms with it. Yet, as a religious person, you have found that your religious circumstances are affecting your experience or your methods for dealing with the consequences of what you went through. Don’t worry: you are not alone; there are other religious people, who, like you, have gone through this same misfortune. As a religious survivor myself, I have found that we face challenges that are changed by our religious circumstances.
Here are five tips or points from my own experience that may be helpful. No two survivors’ experiences are the same, and no two religious survivors will have the same spiritual or personal circumstances to deal with. Religious differences will also affect experience: I write from the perspective of a gay, male, traditional-Conservative Jew, and am aware that my experience will be different from that of, say, a straight, female Lutheran. It is my hope that this advice can simply provide a little bit of help or comfort, or perhaps provoke some thoughts.
1. BUSTING THE “IT DOESN’T HAPPEN” MYTH
There’s a myth out there that rape and assault don’t happen in religious communities or to its members. It does – and you’ve unfortunately had to live that reality. But all these misconceptions may make you reluctant to come out as a survivor, make you feel attacked if you do, or make you question if you were really assaulted.
You’ll have to bust this myth – and you can. But it’s important to understand that it’s told – and why.
Communities tell stories to mask realities – or to mask uncomfortable consequences. By saying that “assault doesn’t happen,” it’s a fence to prevent having to have difficult discussions.
And just because our religions tell us to tell the truth doesn’t always mean we do.
Unfortunately, you might also run into two subsets of this scenario:
a. “You deserved it for having sex.” No, no, no you didn’t. No one deserves to be assaulted. And even in religious communities there are many more people than we care to admit having unsanctioned sex. That is a separate discussion – and your experience is by no means anyone’s vehicle for talking about that or anything else they disapprove of. And, to reiterate, you didn’t deserve it and you were not seeking this experience. Make that point clear.
b. “This is what you get for being gay/bi/lesbian/trans*.” Your author is not only religious, but also a gay man – and I’ve encountered this line a couple of times (still too many). So many people who don’t want to accept the multifaceted nature of religious communities use anything to justify their bias – even tragic events like yours. Push them a bit. Do any of G-d’s children deserve to be treated the way you’re being treated? What does your sexuality have anything to do with it? And what right do they have to say that you deserved it? You didn’t.
2. TALKING TO CLERGY – YES OR NO?
This question is a tough one, because no two clergy members are the same – particularly in regards to thorny issues such as ours. However, here’s some general advice:
- Few clergy have the training for, or significant experience in, dealing with survivors of sexual assault. Even the most sympathetic may sometimes be confused, or accidentally trigger you. Often, they’ll need a learning curve.
- Clergy are human at the end of the day, and are bound to make the same bungles that others make in regards to your experience. Do not forget this!
- Clergy, on the other hand, can be incredibly helpful in providing spiritual guidance – especially in finding things to encourage you and give you strength. Asking your cleric for these specific things may be best. A rabbi was particularly helpful in recommending Talmudic readings for me, and I’ll always be grateful.
- One might also need to consider your clergy member’s record in other gender and sexuality issues. Are they open to LGBTQ folk? How are they on women’s rights? Do they preach about sexual immorality one time too many for your taste? As cliché as this sounds, these topics act as a somewhat effective screen to see how they might approach your case.
3. FINDING ENCOURAGEMENT IN PRAYER AND RELIGION.
This might seem obvious to some – but trust me, it’s not. The trauma and stress that follow assault can make your normal religious practice go haywire – or the opposite. Many religious survivors become more enthusiastic about their religion after an assault – as I did. In both cases, prayer, religious study, and other spiritual exercises become a source of comfort and strength.
You may find that doing your old favorite prayers or rituals gives you strength – for example, reciting morning prayers in an old haunt, or perhaps doing a ritual the way you did it as a child. New texts may also help you – perhaps look for ones speaking of strength or renewal (if you’re part of a tradition that uses the Old Testament, I highly recommend Isaiah/Yeshayahu or Proverbs/Tehillim). And different practices or events may also serve as a source of encouragement. I credit a lot of my own recovery to starting to keep the Jewish Sabbath more strictly than I used to. Find a new practice, go to an event, and see what it does for you.
4. BUSTING “YOU’RE JUST ASHAMED”
The stereotype of the “prudish” religious person has given rise to the idea that any sexual conduct would make us feel ashamed. Thus, many people unfortunately believe that we make up our stories in order to cast away our shame for having had sex. (Not only have I been accused of this, but this is my own assailant’s main defense line.)
First: why would we make it up? You know what happened, and you know that you were violated. To suggest that we’re simply ashamed of having sex is to belittle both our horrific experiences and our lives as religious people.
In addition, it is important to understand where this sentiment comes from. The common belief among many non-religious people is that sex is fundamentally good – and that religious people “don’t understand” that. Unfortunately, this translates far too often to an idea of sex as corrective, or sex as the great taboo; thus, many people think that a religious person’s contact with sex cannot not be helpful. Yet, as you and I both know, this idea is utterly false.
5. USING YOUR VOICE TO HELP OTHERS.
Religious survivors are especially under-represented among survivors due to the unique circumstances we face within and outside our communities. Speaking out about your experience is your choice, but know that if you do choose to do so, you will be able to serve as a role model and helper for others who have had the same experience as you. How so? First, you will be someone others know that they can talk to about their own experiences; I myself have already spoken to several other Jewish survivors after “coming out” about my own assault. But, more importantly, you’ll be able to get a conversation going on these difficult conversation topics within and beyond our communities. And that’s a critical step toward making sure more people don’t live through what you did.
In this section, we will primarily discuss two contexts of how racism intersects with sexual violence and activism on campus: administrative and intramovement racism. While these forms of oppression can appear in different environments (e.g., a meeting with an administrator vs. meeting with co-organizers) and through different means (e.g., using your race/ethnicity to undermine your reporting/complaint/lawsuit vs. tokenism in the movement), it is important to recognize that they stem from a common root of unjust discrimination.
- The first part of this section will address administrative racism — higher education institutions’ practices, procedures, and policies that have a disproportionately negative effects on people of color.
- The second part of this section will address intramovement racism — racism within activist spaces. This may involve the failure to create inclusive spaces, feeling tokenized, and/or being called “reverse racist” (which, btw, is not a thing).
1. ADMINISTRATIVE RACISM
When discussing and reporting sexual violence, people of color can face additional pushback because of common racist stereotypes regarding sexuality. For example, Latina women can face questions like, “But aren’t all Latina women super sexual in their nature?”, while other women can be questioned that they are “naturally super passive?” These types of stereotypes silence POC’s efforts to report their assault/harassment by inappropriately casting sexual oppression as cultural norms. Particularly, these examples of racism can be more difficult to call out since at face value it seems “more benign” than shouting epithets. Nevertheless, when school administrators cite cultural differences as an excuse for sexual violence, they can and do silence survivors and activists. Here are some tips to help cope with these extra challenges:
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
Sometimes it can be really difficult to articulate how you feel racism within administrations, especially if the racism is not overt. That doesn’t mean that you should abandon your gut reaction. If words aren’t coming easily to you when trying to respond to it or explain it to others, it might also mean that the language used in these environments might not be easily applicable to your experience.
ENGAGE IN SELF CARE
Do not hesitate to step back and take a break if you are feeling overwhelmed. It is never your job as a person of color to explain to people why what they’re doing or what was done to you is racist. It is important to listen to your needs and feelings so you can be the best activist you can be.
RECORD YOUR EXPERIENCES
Try writing down your observations. This may be helpful to identify a systemic problem down the line and to also process the events at a later time. It could also be helpful for having conversations with people you trust.
FIND AN ALLY WITHIN THE INSTITUTION
Schools may have administrators, professors, or other staff who are trained and specialize in assisting students of diverse identities. Reach out to them and, if you believe that they could be helpful, request to have them be a part of the process. This may include having them attend meetings with administrators, including them in email exchanges, or even just having them as a sounding board after meetings or particularly troubling events.
Along with dealing with racist attitudes from administrators, it is also important to critically examine how policies may also have racist implications. For example, the increased regulations placed on international students were installed as a consequence of post-September 11th xenophobia. Battling racist policies may require a different tactic than dealing with individual administrators — e.g., it might require including policy-changing language within campus activism or contacting higher level administrators.
2. INTRAMOVEMENT RACISM
There seems to be an assumption among some anti-rape culture activists that, because we are all fighting against sexism or are “women” or “survivors” or “activists,” we must have had similar life experiences or politics.
This myth of “shared female experience” is untrue. In addition to gender and sexuality, race, class, dis/ability, and age — among others — also shape our experiences and understanding. While many activists in the anti-sexual violence movement may identify as feminists, it does not mean that there will not be -isms perpetuated from within the movement. In fact, anti-rape culture activism and, by extension, feminism, has a long history of exclusion, especially of communities of color. For instance, in this recent piece, University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler points us to the late nineteenth century standoff between writer and civil rights leader Ida B. Wells and women’s suffragist Frances Willard. While Wells urged Willard to condemn lynching in the American South, Willard refused as she characterized black men as alcoholics and rapists of white women. Even though feminism and the civil rights movement have often played out next to each other in American social history, the practice of white women alienating women of color is still all too common.
For example, one of the most recent high profile instances of racism in the anti-sexual violence movement involved a sign displayed at SlutWalk NYC that read, “Women is the n****r of the world.” The organizers of the event eventually made white women holding the sign to put it away, but the damage was already done.
Our activist spaces are not exempt from feminism’s history of exclusion and existing systems of racism; they may (albeit inadvertently) continue to dismiss, silence, and undermine the voices of survivors of color. In this section, we address how our co-organizers may be complicit in perpetuating racism.
As activists, we advocate for the importance of survivors being part of the decision makers in shaping policy, procedures, and discourses on sexual violence, so that the systems in place serve their needs and interests. This means that all survivors have a place in this movement as organizers and participants, and activists have a commitment to creating an inclusive and welcoming space.
Yet, conversations around “inclusivity” are often discussed in terms of “quantity.” Anti-rape culture spaces tend to be dominated by white, wealthy, educated activists. When survivors of color do enter these spaces, our inclusion is viewed as “filling the quota.” Inclusivity, however, means that different survivors are actively woven into the process of organizing, as planners, decision makers, and speakers.
Even when your co-organizers agree that inclusivity is important, their approach to inclusivity may be tokenistic. Tokenism refers to policies and practices that make perfunctory efforts to create a false sense of inclusivity For example, in a space without any people of color, a survivor of color may be invited by the organizers who think that the presence of this particular survivor sufficiently addresses the “diversity issue.” In addition, this survivor may be expected to represent the voices of “their people” and their differences may be overemphasized or glorified as “exotic.”
These are tokenistic because the survivor of color does not hold the same kind of subjecthood as white organizers in the room. The very presence of this survivor serves to create an illusion of diversity; their contributions to the group are significant only insofar as they are deemed “different” or “special.”
BEING THAT PERSON OF COLOR IN THE ROOM
If you are a survivor of color in a space without much race consciousness, you may feel like or be dismissed as THAT person of color who brings up “uncomfortable issues,” or race.
This can be very exhausting. Keep in mind that it is never the responsibility of survivors of color to explain how racism works. Especially in the era of the interwebs, allies can easily learn about how racism works with simple keyword searches. As survivors of color, we do not have to “educate” or “explain” how racism shapes our experiences of violence, healing, and activism. Bring it up to the extent that you feel comfortable — perhaps that means every time, or maybe not at all. Check out what Black Girl Dangerous has to say about this.
That said, if problems (such as tokenism) persist in your activist space, it may be helpful for you and other marginalized survivors/activists to call an emergency meeting to address these concerns. When you call an emergency meeting, identify the problems and share specific incidents as examples of racism. Other strategies, such as reviewing the mission statement, reminding each other how they got involved, examining outreach process, and evaluating how meetings have been run, may be helpful. In addition to a meeting with other marginalized folks, you may also want to have a community talk to constructively address the problematic patterns that you want to avoid. You might want to consider having an outside, neutral party come and do an anti-oppression training and/or an accountability session for all of the activists.
At the end of the day, we are doing this because we care. Though that may not guarantee agreements or mutual understanding, it means that there are people who are committed to ending sexual violence and that may be promising starting place for solidarity within the movement.
ORGANIZATIONS LED BY PEOPLE OF COLOUR THAT ADDRESS INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE
BLOGS WITH RACIAL ANALYSES ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS, INCLUDING GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE
—Suzanna Bobadilla, Wagatwe Wanjuki, and Kate Sim