trans.cafe

We Need To Talk About Consent In The Trans & Gay Community

Female-To-Male, Home + Community, SocialKC Clements
Image by trans.cafe

Image by trans.cafe

by KC Clements

Two weeks ago at a party designed for trans men and cis men to meet and cruise with one another, a cis man sexually assaulted me and crossed my boundaries of consent.

This is not new to me, nor is it new to many of the transmasculine folks in my community.  I am a repeat survivor of sexual assault, and while I have hopes for a different world, I don’t expect this to have been the last time something like this will happen to me. According to “Injustice at Every Turn,” a recent report by the National Center for Transgender Equality on the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 64% of surveyed participants (all of whom are trans-identified) have experienced sexual assault in their lives. Note: this statistic excludes all other forms of discrimination—physical abuse, harassment and bullying, employment discrimination, the list goes on.

At the time of this recent incident, I was admittedly confused about what had happened, and felt unsure how to respond beyond just powering through. The following day, the memory resurfaced in the middle of my shift at work, sending me into a spiral. I was deeply triggered. My breath grew shallow and anxiety flooded my nerves.

After processing with a good friend who had also been at the party that night, I realized that I needed to take further action—not only for my own safety, but for the safety of all of the other trans and queer folks in my community. I decided to speak up. So I sent a message to the party producer, a white trans man, explaining what had happened and asking for two things: first, that the person who assaulted me be banned from future events, and second, that we start a conversation about how to make the event a safer and more consensual space in the future. To me, these felt like two small and simple ways to remedy the situation, to aid in my own healing, and to work towards building the queer cruising space I’ve long dreamed of.

The party producer responded by telling me that I should have told someone right when it happened so that they could have called the police. Like many trans, queer, and feminist folks, I am critical of the police, and I am aware that trans people and survivors of sexual assault in particular have often been mistreated, harassed, and mistrusted by the police. To complicate matters, the person who assaulted me is a person of color.

The police have escalated their murders of unarmed POC, especially black folks, in 2016—and particularly during the past few weeks; getting the police involved would mean risking someone’s life. My aim was to seek accountability within the community, and hopefully spark more dialogue about how to make our spaces safer. Instead, I was victim-blamed and told that it would be a liability for the event producers to mention anything about consent at the party or on the event page.

So, I decided to go public. I posted about our interactions and the event producer’s responses on social media in order to spread the word about what had happened to me and to let my community know that the event is not safe for trans and POC folks. In the flame war that ensued, a trans man called my non-binary identity into question with vitriolic and hateful words because I have a beard and am on testosterone. A person I haven’t spoken to in over ten years drudged up stories about interactions from our childhood. Plenty of folks wrote to tell me they didn’t believe me, and others glibly told me I should just try to get over the incident because it didn’t seem that bad.

What happened to me was not merely a touch, but a terrifying intention—an attempt to forcibly penetrate my body. How do you describe this to anyone in detail? How do you “prove” it without requiring yourself to share intimate details of prior trauma? What language can we use to jar people from this idea that touch, words, dynamics that aren’t exactly physically violent can still cause harm, can produce a culture where rape is considered acceptable?

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Beyond reflecting on the incident itself, I have found myself thinking about the following question: why were so many of the trans men involved in the party, all of whom are white, so averse to my decision to be vocal about my assault?

I think it boils down to two things.

First is a desire to assimilate with cis men at any and all costs. As trans folks, we are often fed narratives about who we should aspire to be from a cisnormative and cissexist world. We are made to believe that we are lesser if we don’t align neatly with strict, dichotomous gender roles; we are lesser simply because we are trans.  

In the gay male community, which is predominantly made up of cis men, the impulse to assimilate feels heightened. Combine the community’s denigration of femininity and celebration of white cis masculinity, and you have a toxic combination.

Additionally, I think the dissemination of the idea that consent check-ins ruin the mood is yet another factor that contributes to rape culture. The kind of consent check-ins I have with folks are quick and simple: “Is it okay if I do x” or “how are you feeling?” I have never felt that questions like this make an encounter less hot for me; if anything, I’m probably more attracted to that person for their compassion.

Based on my experiences, it seems that gay male culture tends to hold on to backwards ideas about consent and safe spaces. Just today, a person called me a “tourist” in gay male culture—someone who is trying to ruin everyone’s fun with my “sex-negative radical feminism.” My hunch is that the party producers are afraid they might alienate gay men by bringing up consent. Here’s my response: why would we want those people in our spaces anyway?

Second, there are incredibly high stakes to taking down rape culture in our society.  Rape and sexual assault are endemic to patriarchy. White cis men benefit from this system more than any other group of people. But, trans men rape, too. And, trans men also benefit from patriarchy. Aligning with rape culture is yet another way of assimilating with cis men, another backwards attempt to fit in with a white, cisnormative, patriarchal ideology that is actively doing unspeakable harm to our queer, trans and GNC, and POC community members.

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I came forward with my story because I want to live, to act, and to build the world I dream of. This is the lesson I have learned from so many utopian thinkers, prison abolitionists, and queer anarchists. As one result of telling my story, I learned that another transmasculine person had been harassed by the same man who assaulted me that night. I’m deeply saddened that they were also made to feel unsafe; while I didn’t need any further justification for my actions, knowing that I made someone else feel less alone has given me even more strength to continue this fight.

If you want to stand with me, if you want to build this world, think about your own practices of consent. Ask before you touch someone—always, but especially in sexual situations. With everyone, trans and gender non-conforming folks in particular, think about asking what parts of their body are and aren’t okay to touch, and what language they use around their body. If you are a party producer, consider putting a note on your event page or a sign at your event teaching folks about consent and letting them know they will be held accountable for any actions that violate another person’s boundaries. If you are a survivor, think about ways we can call for accountability that don’t involve going to the police.

We can build this world, and the overwhelming upswell of folks who have supported me, stood by me, and fought on my behalf let me know that we are already doing so, right here and right now.

 

KC is a queer, non-binary, white, able-bodied writer based in Brooklyn, NY. They hold an M.A. in Gender Politics from New York University. You can follow their writing at aminotfemme.wordpress.com.