Patrick Gabbett couldn’t bring himself to watch Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh deny sexual assault allegations on TV. He tried, later catching the news in articles and online video clips.
“It messed me up enough that I missed several days of schools and my job,” Gabbett says.
As a survivor of childhood abuse and incest, watching Kavanaugh angrily rebuke sexual assault allegations transported him back to trying to report his own mom for abuse.
But finding space to talk about it has been hard.
“Because I’m a trans guy, when I was sexually abused, I had not yet come out, and I was still kind of struggling with my identity,” Gabbett tells INTO. “So I technically experienced sexual abuse more so in the way of a woman being abused, but I also kind of feel like I’m intruding upon women’s spaces by talking about my experience.”
On Tuesday, the Washington Post published an impassioned op-ed by Monica Hesse titled, “Dear dads: Your daughters told me about their assaults. This is why they never told you.” The piece details all the many women who have reported their sexual assaults to her, a columnist, but sheltered their fragile fathers because women bear all of the emotional burdens for men.
It’s a powerful piece. There is one mention of a male survivor. Otherwise, the piece appears to center on the experiences of cisgender women.
It’s an established fact that cisgender women face sexual violence at alarming rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one out of every five women reports rape during their lives, and those are just women who report.
For transgender people, that rate jumps even more dramatically. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, which includes people across a gender diverse spectrum, found that nearly half (47 percent) of transgender people reported a sexual assault during their lifetime.
“I honestly don’t know anybody who is non-binary who hasn’t been assaulted,” says Rebecca Blanton, who identifies as agender.
But while the media confronts gendered violence in new ways, non-binary survivors like Dill Werner suffer two-fold: they are triggered by the hearings, and they experience the pain of erasure in the conversations that ensue.
“The backlash has been extremely triggering as a non-binary person,” Werner says. “It’s pitting the binary against one another. Definitely seeing ‘Men are trash, women must band together,’ while all non-binary folk are feeling really uncomfortable.”
Almost across the board, gender diverse survivors said they felt uneasy claiming space in the #MeToo moment because they supported women’s voices. But many say they don’t know how to process the Kavanaugh hearings in that context.
“Sometimes I feel like my only choice as a genderqueer is to somehow be a male feminist and put my fist up for women,” says Courtney Trouble. “You know, women’s equality! ‘I’m a bystander!’ But I’m not a bystander — I’ve been raped and molested.”
Writer and transgender activist Raquel Willis notes that people often dismiss trans women who report sexual assault with comments like “Welcome to womanhood!”
“I’ve often felt like I couldn’t discuss my experiences with sexual harassment and assault because I’ve witnessed the difficulty that even cisgender women face when they disclose,” Willis wrote in an earlier piece for INTO. “My transness, queerness, and Blackness render my claims even less believable in a society that views me as inherently deviant.”
CV Vitolo-Haddad also said that people dismiss them as a survivor because they are non-binary.
“People close to me, for better or worse, I think they see me as a woman,” Vitolo-Haddad says. “It makes me acutely aware of how I need to perform womanhood to be believed.”
Another survivor who is non-binary and asked not to be named for fear of retaliation says that people don’t believe them because they are assumed to be male.
“[My perpetrator was] a cis woman, and if people are going to read me as a dude, then they’re going to be like why didn’t you fight her off?” they say. “Conversations about how gendered it is, need to have an asterisk, at least.”
Chase Strangio, a nationally-recognized transgender rights attorney with the ACLU, is also struggling as a transmasculine person who has experienced sexual violence. Here, however, he sees an opportunity for a new conversation.
“I’d like to see more room for the conversations to talk about gender as a system and the ways in which those who are most vulnerable to violence are those who don’t have gendered power, ” Strangio says, “which include cis women, which includes all people of color, which includes trans folks and non-binary folks.”
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