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#MeToo: Don’t Make Trans and Queer Survivors a Footnote

It’s been a rough month to be a survivor on the internet.

While many important conversations have been re-ignited by #MeToo and around high-profile perpetrators like Harvey WeinsteinGeorge H.W. Bush, and R. Kelly, it’s important to examine what might be missing from these conversations as we push for lasting cultural change. 

As an LGBTQ person and survivor of multiple forms of sexual violence perpetrated within my own community, and as someone who has seen the impact of intracommunity violence on my friends and loved ones, I’ve been disappointed by the way our experiences have been relegated to the margins of a conversation about pervasive sexual violence that definitely concerns us.

For instance, Rose McGowan’s tweet telling Ellen DeGeneres to “speak for women” instead of talking about trans and queer people, and her statements at the Women’s Conference, reinforced the notion that sexual violence only affects heterosexual and cisgender women, and that men are only  perpetrators or “male allies,” never survivors. Non-binary people are absent from the conversation entirely.

Likewise, at the height of #MeToo, some of the posts I saw floating around on Facebook were similarly gendered: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give men a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Some of my friends wrote “*Queer and trans people too!!*” or “women *and* queer people” as a footnote or comment to their post, but this passing reference to LGBTQ violence is insufficient.

Focusing on sexual violence as a (straight, cisgender) women’s issue exacerbates LGBTQ survivors’ vulnerability to violence and does a disservice to everyone by limiting our understanding of the full relationship between gender, oppression, and sexual violence.

Trans and queer activists have pointed out both the transphobia and queerphobia of McGowan’s comments to Ellen and the issues with the #MeToo movement more broadly. Their critiques address the larger context of violence that trans and queer survivors experience in a society that positions trans people as predators and denies trans survivors the ability to access resources and support. This bias is lethal: Trans women of color — and specifically black trans women — are murdered by police and intimate partners at higher rates than any other demographic; LGBTQ youth are uniquely vulnerable to experiencing dating violence and associated mental health issues. The rates of homelessness, substance abuse and criminalization that trans and queer people experience — particularly those that are also people of color, poor, disabled, and immigrants — are inextricable from the sexual violence that LGBTQ people experience.

What’s more, by failing to understand the ways that LGBTQ people are uniquely victimized by sexual violence, we fail to gain a complete picture of the way systemic oppression facilitates that violence. We don’t have a cultural framework to understand sexual violence beyond a paradigm of (cis, straight) male perpetrator and (cis, straight) female survivor. Our binaristic gendered approach to sexual violence places queer and trans survivors in a double bind: survivors are seen as invading ‘safe spaces’ or ‘derailing’ conversations when they testify to the existence of violence experienced by trans and nonbinary people, in same-gender relationships, by bisexual people, and so on. But that approach also limits our ability to understand how sexual violence is a function of combined systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, even gender itself. If some survivors are unable to share their stories in a movement that is meant to be for all survivors, how can that movement possibly hope to address the causes of violence?

Violence isn’t an individual problem, nor is it the result of “bad apples” in an industry or institution. (Institutions themselves benefit from perpetuating sexual violence against queer and trans people.) When we fail to examine violence as the result of structural oppression, we risk promoting state-based “solutions” to sexual violence that directly harm queer and trans people, particularly LGBTQ people of color, poor people, disabled people, and immigrants.

Actually centering LGBTQ violence would benefit everyone’s understanding of the problem — the way that gender renders some survivors invisible, the way that our resources are not equipped to assist LGBTQ survivors, the entwined impacts of racism, classism, transphobia, and homophobia in the lives of survivors. Pushing us to the sidelines also denies our valuable insights into the lives and communities trans and queer survivors can build in the face of systemic and interpersonal violence.  

LGBTQ survivors aren’t tangential. We shouldn’t be an afterthought in your cis straight women’s movement or a footnote in your report. Our experiences of sexual violence are central — and ending violence requires treating them as such.

Image credit via The NorthWest Network.

Jess is a first-gen college graduate, LGBTQ person and cat lover living in Boston, MA. They can usually be found on public transportation or the internet.

Jess is a first-gen college graduate, LGBTQ person and cat lover living in Boston, MA. They can usually be found on public transportation or the internet.

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