Content Warning: The following mentions bullying, harassment, sexual assault, and rape as a weapon of war. If you are a survivor and need help, you can call or chat with people standing by to listen and help at RAINN.
I’m not a woman and I don’t want society to see me as a woman. Regardless, I was assigned female at birth, and the way our binary society interacts with me is often under the assumption that I’m a woman. I’m not a woman, but I have experienced a lot of what women have experienced, and so especially today, I share their rage and pain.
I think a lot about the stories I’ve heard. They are not my stories to share, but I carry them with me. I wish I had been there or known so I could have intervened. I wish no one ever had to experience that trauma, but especially the people I care about. I wonder how I escaped some of those stories myself, and I feel deeply guilty about it. I experienced discrimination, misogynist jokes and comments, and street harassment. I was bullied by everyone in my life for being poor and being fat and being read as queer, and especially because I didn’t conform to the gendered expectations heaped on my shoulders, and yet I feel I escaped the worst of it. Knowing the stories of trauma from others that I carry with me, I quantify my own experience with “it could have been so much worse.”
When I went back to school in 2010 to finish my bachelor’s degree, I landed at The New School in NYC. One of the subjects I decided to tackle in my coursework was rape. Specifically, rape as a weapon of war. My focus was on the Democratic Republic of Congo which has seen an epidemic of rape as a tactic of war, and has devastated a staggering number of children, women, and men in the region. The statistics are heartbreaking, and the stories are crushing. I have little doubt that the subjects I studied in school contributed to my burn-out, and my examination of rape during wartime — while critically important — was a huge part of that.
So, why did I pick that topic? Because I wanted to understand. Because I thought I could understand, but also that maybe I could insulate myself from the day-to-day commonality of sexual assault and rape by studying it halfway around the world, in the extreme context of war. I’d been able to cope with reading about the atrocities of war in the past, so I hoped I could disconnect myself from rape in the same way… but honestly? I couldn’t.
I’m not a survivor, but when you are assigned female at birth or are a woman (cis or trans) in the society we live in, sexual assault and rape are an ever constant spectre. You’re taught to police how you dress, how you act, what you drink, who you hang out with, where you go, where you work, and if something happens to you, then everything and everyone tells you it is always your fault.
And I need to say it here right now: it is never your fault.
The statistics are depressing across the board. 1 in 6 women have survived rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. The rates amongst trans folks — women, men, and non-binary people — is even higher. These statistics are talked about again, and again, and again. And yet. And yet this happens. The response is a shrug, a “boys will be boys”, a refusal to believe survivors, and worse yet, a refusal to care about survivors and a refusal to do anything about it.
We all do what we can to cope with this. We try to make ourselves feel safer even when we aren’t. And we so often feel as though we have to live in this world of fear and pain in silence, because anything else will be dismissed, seen as weak, not believed, or turned into a weapon against us.
I am so angry. I am so angry that this is the world we live in. That this is what I have to think about day in and day out. That my friends and family and, truly, anyone would ever have to suffer the cruelties of this. I am angry at the people who don’t believe survivors, and my rage knows no limits for the people who believe them and don’t care.
I don’t know what to do right now, and so I find myself writing this. I hope for a better future. I hope for healing, strength, and love for those that shoulder this burden. Do what you can for yourself, and for those you care about, every day, but especially today. Survivors: know that there are people out there that see you, that care, and that will do whatever they can to fight for you.
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