Much like intimate violence, gender identities and expressions that extend beyond the binary are subject to suspicion and flat-out denial.
[TW- description of sexual assault and violence.]
By Bani Amor
Memory is a motherfucker. As an adult who copes with trauma from abuse, mostly in my youth, I get frustrated with it sometimes, like, why you gotta bring that up again? Like many others who have had similar experiences, I spend a good amount of time assuring myself that I’m safe now, that things are different now, that no one can hurt me now. But I’m wrong. You really never know who around you might suddenly display predatory behaviors, and the older I get, the more they manifest from the people I would least expect. And maybe that’s because, when it comes to abuse, there is no one definitive culprit, no perfect victim. My wiring has only been trying to protect me all along.
Last night, as I curled up in a ball in the corner of my room, the door locked, my drunken roommate screaming my name and banging on my door from the other side, my memory acted up again. Who says people of color don’t time travel? Ain’t trauma, intergenerational or not, a red button in a time machine, sending you flying through space and time ‘til you don’t even know what’s up and what’s down, what was then and what is now? I was a child again last night, attempting to reason with a hostile adult who, intoxicated to the max, immediately sensed my fears and went out of their way to exploit each one. In the four hours that she terrorized me, I shrank smaller and smaller until I felt incapable of defense, until I stopped responding and started crying, ‘til my demands became negotiations, pleas, nothing.
I’ve observed much of this media moment of reckoning for violent patriarchs from a distance, careful to add my voice to the mix for fear it might signal a hope I do not have, but when I saw an acquaintance on Instagram with a woman I used to be friends with, I immediately froze, thinking, “Oh right, she attacked me.” It struck me how I had almost forgotten, how comfortable I’d become not just with the silence, but with the sheer number of violations that have piled up against this body—and I count myself as “one of the lucky ones.” Once I saw her chillin’ with an acquaintance, pshew! flew in all the memories of that night, and the nights and days and years before, of inebriated people who don’t respond to the word no.
I scroll through the reports, statements, and tweets, and I see sexual violence getting limited to something mean men do to women instead of receiving the contextualized intersectional intervention it really needs—which would force us to reckon with a victimhood that calls into question a system, rather than a singular perpetrator, of abuse.
While my wiring wants me to run around and scream for help, the internalization of what happened to you was not that bad stifles it, acting all like it’s trying to help, minimizing the damage, minimizing me.
You know that living as queer and nonbinary in this world is tough when even the narratives of violence are cisheteronormative. Much like intimate violence, gender identities and expressions that extend beyond the binary are subject to suspicion and flat-out denial. “As people in the galaxy between the binaries of man and woman, we are often not treated as “real” or believable,” wrote Lexie Bean for Bitch Magazine. “Those of us living at the intersection of nonbinary and survivor are forced to reconcile with others reshaping our bodies and needs.” While my wiring wants me to run around and scream for help, the internalization of what happened to you was not that bad stifles it, acting all like it’s trying to help, minimizing the damage, minimizing me.
When my genderqueerness is excluded or attacked or erased, a voice not my own tells me I’m not trans enough to even acknowledge it. In an effort to preserve my sanity, I must constantly remember things I’d desperately like to forget, to assure myself that I’m real, that what happened was real, that it was bad enough. I must constantly acknowledge and draw attention to a ridiculous construction of gender just to be seen, ‘cause if I’m attacked and invisible, who’s going to help?
To them, we were just two drunk girls acting up at a party. I don’t even understand what that means.
The events of that night still boggle my mind, leaving me, as incidents of violation usually do, with the recesses of shame that should belong to the perpetrator. It was the birthday party of a dear friend, and I was surrounded by members of my tight-knit crew, with some strangers thrown in. We got wild as we usually do, and I was blurry on a variety of substances, but it wasn’t until the dear friend was restraining my wrists that I realized she was blackout drunk. We were dancing in a group until she got real close, then she got too close, all sloppy and aggressive, and being much taller and stronger than me, began manipulating my body in ways I didn’t like. I gently pushed her away, giggling and calling attention to the level of her drunkenness to our friends, who also laughed, but her behavior didn’t abate. She began aggressively kissing me and a struggle ensued, hitting a wall, her overpowering me, me yelling to my best friends in the world, to help me, to stop her, while the party watched on in amusement, even cheering her on. To them, we were just two drunk girls acting up at a party. I don’t even understand what that means.
I related to those friends what happened when she dragged me into the next room, while everyone watched, later that night, the next morning, and afternoon, but they just found it hilarious. They didn’t register it as an attack. I wondered if this is what boys and men go through when they try to disclose, because they treated me like I was lucky, giddily asking for the details. Like I could possibly want or invite something while yelling “NO!” I assume that as cishet people, they couldn’t grasp how one queer masc woman would block the advances of a drunk straight femme, instead assuming that I would “take advantage” of such a situation. I accepted that they would never see me as a victim or her as a predator, at least in this dynamic of us together. After attempting to come out to them as genderqueer for weeks, I knew that it was no longer safe, and left town that week for a trip. We are no longer friends.
Right now in the media, and well, always, white cis women are the perfect victims, beacons of bravery and survivorship.
In the anthology, Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from within the Anti-Violence Movement, Sean Shannon writes, “To be exclusionary when it comes to thinking about and dealing with survivors of rape and sexual violence is to deny large swaths of people recognition for their suffering and trauma.” Right now in the media, and well, always, white cis women are the perfect victims, beacons of bravery and survivorship. Shannon’s words speak to those who live outside of or complicate others’ notions of Jane Doe—sex workers, trans folks, elders, undocumented people, BIPOC—who don’t seem to be included in what is gradually being referred to as “a reckoning.” I would venture that a reckoning for some is not a reckoning at all.
This motherfucker of a memory is a catalogue of shameful, horrible, and ultimately embarrassing actions of drunk or violent people who also loved or cared for me. Like my roommate this morning, they apologize pitifully while mumbling in the same breath that they don’t remember what happened. As a child of an alcoholic, this hurts and pisses me off more than anything, and it does because I empathize with them, because it forces me to question my recollection of events, because I tell myself to give these people, mostly women of color who are hurting, a pass. And while the dear friend hasn’t apologized or even acknowledged that night, I know that she remembers something, and I can tell that there is some shame there. Last night’s triggers not only brought me back to childhood trauma, I followed it to the morning, to the times I left dangerous situations and survived. I’m disappointed to leave yet another unsafe situation, but at least I feel empowered to. I remember what it’s like to stay too long, and I can’t go back there again.
“I yearn for a genderqueer community of survivors, a space composed of survivors of many genders,” writes River Willow Fagan in Queering Sexual Violence, “a map to healing and liberation for all of us, for each of us, a map that is as messily bordered, as constantly evolving, as we are.” Me too.
Author Bio: Bani Amor is a queer travel writer from Brooklyn by way of Ecuador who explores diasporic identities, the decolonization of travel culture, and the intersections of race, place and power in their work. They’ve been published in CNN Travel, Teen Vogue, and Bitch Magazine, among other outlets, and is a three-time VONA/Voices Fellow. Bani’s been anthologized in Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity and the upcoming Where We Stand: Black and Brown Voices Speak the Earth. Follow them on twitter @bani_amor.