Listen to trans women who come forward and give us the resources we need to heal.
[TW: description and mention of r/pe, PTSD and transmisogyny.]
The weekend of August 24th, 2018 marks 5 years since I was raped in my dorm room at Temple University in Philadelphia. My life was completely turned upside down by the assault, my dreams shattered and I’ll never get to achieve them. Everything I wanted to happen, won’t. Is it possible to reflect on something too much when it completely reshaped my life and the dreams and vision I had for it? No, I don’t think so.
When I first reported what happened, it wasn’t by choice—no, a bureaucrat in Temple’s Residential Life office had forced me to tell that story. They caused me to go through something that was a violation in its own right, for me. They forced me to relive—multiple times—one of the most violent experiences of my life. I remember that day in the bureaucrat’s office like it was yesterday. It’s painful to be able to relive the experience, I relive the trauma that was dealing with reporting the rapes every day; although the rape itself has fortunately slightly faded from my memory. I still remember it, I still weep and mourn that day, yet I don’t feel its pangs as much anymore. I hope that, one day, I can even stop mourning.
Is it possible that my life wouldn’t have been completely overturned by the rape if I was given the proper treatment? Yes. I don’t simply guess at the idea that my life would have turned out differently had I been given the proper resources, I know that it would have been. Colleges—despite their legal responsibility— aren’t equipped with the tools to provide adequate rape treatment and, trans women are not served as a population by rape counseling services.
It’s known that rape survivors who get treatment, whatever that treatment may be, have better chances of recovering from their rape and have reduced PTSD outcomes. However, I didn’t receive that treatment. My school didn’t provide resources that actually met the needs I had post-rape, it also never provided the resources I needed to deal with unrelated stalking incidents either, it just didn’t have me on their radar. They made this clear when they told me that they didn’t provide services to survivors of rape and stalking with me later finding out that, in fact, they did. Another, more helpful, bureaucrat in the college let me know that they’ve helped people before.
Related: DON’T BE A TERF: TRANSMISOGYNY 101
You might be finding yourself asking, “Why wouldn’t there be services that you could turn to as a trans woman who was raped?”. Well, the answer to that is transmisogyny. I would be on the phone with survivor services and they’d be sympathetic and understanding, and then it would come up that I’m trans (that fact is necessary to understanding both the rape and the stalking and their context) and they would grow ice cold and their support and solidarity would disappear. That is the essence of transmisogyny. Their sexual violence survivor training disappeared and in its place was a morbid curiosity about my body and the way rape was inflicted on my body. They asked what my genitals were and whether I became aroused during the rape. They were completely stupefied by the idea that trans women could be raped. This was the essence of oppressive cruelty.
Transmisogyny makes people view trans women not just as sexual objects, but nonhumans entirely. Transmisogyny makes people view trans women as unrapeable fetish objects, people who exist simply to fuck and be fucked, even if that “fucking” is out and out rape. This messaging, that trans women exist to be living sex dolls and nothing more, can be found everywhere, including our everyday language and in mainstream media.
I challenge people who truly wish to see that all survivors of rape are given the help we require to do better. But to expect someone to do better, you have to give them the knowledge to do it. It’s not enough to say that anyone of any gender can be raped. You need to actually take action on that by understanding the ways different bodies are stigmatized and fetishized. Many anti-violence organizations and rape crisis services are untrained in dealing with transgender people. They approach our situation as though we were cisgender, if they choose to approach our situation at all, and take a very ignorant approach to dealing with us. As in my situation, they’ll ask inappropriate questions about our genitalia and treat us like pieces of meat to be poked at. When working with trans survivors, you can’t do that.
For a service to be trans-friendly and trans-competent, you need to know and understand the terms we use to refer to our identities and our bodies, understanding when not to bring them up at all. In many cases, our genitalia is also not relevant to the fact that we were raped because no matter what genitalia we have, the fact remains that anyone with any genitalia can be raped.
The approach that treats our birth assignments as relevant to our rape is dangerous not only because of the immediate transmisogynistic harm an emphasis on it causes, but for another distinct reason: it leads to the idea that we’re unrapeable. Emphasizing that trans women were assigned male at birth ultimately feeds into the fetishization of trans women’s bodies and the idea that, as fetish objects, we are constantly sexually available (and thus that we can’t be raped). Of course, it could also lead to the idea that trans women (without bottom surgery) are physically unrapeable. They also need to understand that dysphoria makes PTSD and the trauma of rape harder to deal with and untangle. Bringing up our birth assignment can trigger dysphoria and discomfort that makes dealing with the trauma more difficult.
Treating trans women as women and simultaneously taking a nuanced, trans-competent approach to dealing with trans women who have survived rape, covers what anti-sexual violence organizations should do to help trans women. Virtually all other issues that trans women deal with, such as seeking emergency shelter if needed, can be dealt with sensitively if approached in that manner. Given an overview of the problems that we face when coming forward and having been given a relatively simple way to deal with them, there should be no more excuses. No more “we’re not trained to handle this”. No more trans women left to suffer alone. Listen to trans women who come forward and give us the resources we need to heal.