Dudes and sexual violence, Part 2

February 28, 2012 § 2 Comments

Photo by Morgan Carpenter via Dude magazine

When I posted my most recent blog to facebook, a conversation ensued that made me think the issue of transguys and sexual violence through some more.

The original post I was discussing was from Dude magazine and you can read it here.

In response to another friend’s comment on my page, Max Attitude responded with the below:

I’d be careful about generalising about transmen’s manliness. My experience is that trans men are often conflated with nontrans men in ways which are inappropriate. I’m interested to know why you think ‘trans male culture’ is “a space where it really needs discussion”; I can’t think of a space where it doesn’t. It seems likely some transmen would enact sexual violence in order to prove their manliness – this is how most man/woman sexual violence takes place, and there is a particular context to transmen’s manliness that warrants discussion/investigation. There’s are historical contexts for expecting transmen to “be better men” than nontrans men, (to be “better” feminists) – just as there are for transwomen – that are not politically savvy.

Sexual violence, its consequences, causes, social power it points to, should always be talked about. And talked about in ways which are useful. perps should own up and be dealt with. As perps (who can be of all genders/sexualities). Sussing out how someone’s social position factors in to their abusive behaviour is relevant, important, urgent. But trans people deserve for their transness to be dealt with with care (obviously not as an excuse), because it is a really fucking hard way to live – and nontrans people fuck up all the time. Just don’t blame the transness, I suppose. That does a disservice to all transmen, many of whom are freakin’ amazing, feminist, women-loving, nonabusive men.

This was my response, which I’ve expanded a little here:

I think that in any masculine gendering, trans or cis boys and men and masculine women, there are valid concerns about extricating misogyny from masculinity. What does it mean to be a dude and not be misogynist? It’s a hard question, but one of the reasons that I love Dude is that I think it – and even the post I linked to – does try to be that very thing (as well as heaps of other stuff of course). In my experience it is really hard to call out misogyny though, in any community, and especially in the face of (my own) ingrained ‘feminine’ behaviours, so I can understand those concerns.

Actually though, that wasn’t what I intended the original post to be about. Something I didn’t get into there was the idea of the gender of the survivor of sexual assault. Perhaps obviously, I was thinking when I was writing, that it was possible the survivor being spoken about was a trans guy or a woman. Of course it’s also possible that the survivor was a cis guy but that isn’t really what I want to get into here, either.

When I made a comment on the Dude post and wrote my post here, I was most interested in what sexual assault means for trans guy survivors. Amongst other things, what does it mean in terms of how masculinity is then experienced or expressed? I don’t have the answer to that question. But again it is important because I think if we can understand what sexual assault generates, we can start to communicate more effectively why it’s so important and why it’s not ok.

What I didn’t say in my first post is that when I was thinking about this ‘idea of the survivor’, I started to realise the extent to which that persom is gendered feminine. Which is obviously problematic given the intense violence that is directed toward trans people both because a) like women, they are not cis guys and b) they threaten the gender binary and power structure (and heteronormativity by association, thanks Judith Butler).

So, at all stages of transition (some more than others) trans guys are affected by sexual assault. And that is a big part of what I was attempting to ask questions about. Again, in my view, these questions are important in any discussion of sexual violence in any community. What does sexual assault create and destroy, for both perpetrators and survivors?

Thinking through this reminds me of how much potential there is for solidarity amongst trans guys and women. Although perpetrators can be of all genders/ sexualities as Max says, with the exception of certain incarceration systems, survivors are far more likely to be female-bodied or trans people. So while feminism has a history of being really shitty at acknowledging the (in my view overwhelming) need for solidarity with the queer and trans communities around sexual violence, I think it’s a hugely important and positive opportunity.

This is a community of men that has an interest in stopping sexual violence. At the same time it’s also a community that has particular (and not so particular, of course people have sex everywhere) vulnerabilities to violence of many kinds – normative, physical, sexual, the reiterated violence of the everyday.

So, important questions, and important solidarities are what I take from this.

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Dudes and sexual violence

February 23, 2012 § 3 Comments

Hint: it’s not what you think.

Image by Morgan Carpenter via Dude Magazine

For the best part of the last year, a friend of mine, Max Attitude, has been working on Dude Magazine. Dude is a magazine (mostly) by and for transmasculine folks and those that love them, hang with them, and are part of that community or category. You can read what they’re about in their own words here.

Given that I fall into the “love them” and “hang with them” categories, I have been enamoured by Dude from the start. I am particularly into the fact that Dude is very cool about issues of gender identity – the mag represents a bunch of different iterations of transmasculinity, and a bunch of different bodies and stages of transition. I particularly enjoyed a recent interview with Alix Iron, who IDs, amongst other things, as trans-ish. Cute.

So, given said love, I follow the Dude blog. I opened a post in my email inbox not quite a week ago, and read something which I’m going to repost at length here:

Stand up against sexual violence in our communities

***trigger warning – this post is about sexual violence***

This is Jez Pez, the Editor of DUDE. This week we were informed that a rapist was possibly going to attend our Brisbane launch party. It is something I want to talk about and something I think we should all be talking about. Sexual violence or any form of violence is completely unacceptable, but unfortunately it is so heartbreakingly common.

Once we were notified we were in a position to take responsibility and accountability as event organisers, as feminists, as male identified people and as community members. I want to express sincerest thanks for being notified so that we could work to make our event safe for everyone and also take action in the community.

It was important to me and to the other people I worked with to address this matter, that  we first and foremost respected the survivor/s, without question. Something which I think the legal and judicial systems fail to do. Something which I think society often fails to do.

Another reason why I am posting this statement is to advocate against sexual violence and domestic violence in our communities. It happens, it is happening now and it isn’t OK. And nobody is exempt from this. It hurts people and destroys lives and it hurts communities.

I’m going to post some links below. Some are fact sheets on sexual assault and some are radical and anarchic community responses to sexual assault, including workshop kits about consent. Please take the time to read, share and generate discussion in your community. This shit can’t be swept under the rug.

Stand up against rape, against rape culture and against slut shaming.

You can access the links Jez mentions by going to the original post.

Dude has always seemed to me to have feminist sensibility. I’m into ‘stand up against sexual violence’ and I think it’s good that this post was made.

At the end of the post though, I was left with some really big questions.

I wondered about what the transmale community creating and supporting Dude thinks about why and/or how sexual assault is a problem, how it affects the transmale community in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and anywhere else, what the effects of the violence are, and how transmasculinity affects experiences of assault and vice versa (real and threatened, perpetrated and perpetrator).

I ask these questions because I think that talking about sexual assault in our communities is useful when it addresses the specificities of experience in that community.

I think it is important not just to discuss the fact that sexual assault is bad, or what it is, but what it does. How is sexual assault generative, what does it create or destroy for people?

I think this is an important question for different queer and especially sex-radical communities (which aren’t always the same thing obviously, but I think it is fair to say there is crossover). How do questions of consent/ assault and masculinity/ and of transmasculinity interrelate?

This is hard stuff to answer and to say. I’m not suggesting Jez’s post should or could have covered all of this, but I would love to see these (and other) questions begin to be answered at some point. My reason is that as a feminist, I think that if an answer to these questions is something like “sexual assault dehumanises survivors,” then we can start to get a handle on why it is so fucking important.

To try to answer some of my own questions here: one result of sexual violence that I’ve seen and that has affected my life, is the diminishing of capacity to engage with others. I’ve also seen sexual assault set up a constant fear of disapproval and rejection. One quite tangible result of this was difficulties in accessing social opportunities and trusting relationships, which is (always already) gendered territory anyway.

These questions are painful, and I don’t have any obvious answers, but I think maybe being in a position to ask them is a hopeful place to be.

Thoughts on Strauss-Kahn, Assange: can we take sexual assault seriously yet?

July 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Recently, another hero of my side of politics has fallen from grace.

Not one but two rape scandals erupted to impede his passage to the French presidency. Another figurehead of the left appeared shattered by accusations of sexual assault.

But hope has returned. It seems Strauss-Kahn’s first accuser is a liar. She has also been caught on tape discussing her potential monetary gain from the investigation. These latest blows to her credibility were piled on top of claims by the New York Post that she had previously performed sex work.

It’s convenient for his case that she should be less than perfect. But isn’t it obvious that she never could be?

With one in five women surviving sexual assault, not all of them are going to have the character or sexual history of Mother Theresa. Neither ordinary people, nor the legal system, should expect or require this for alleged victims to get a fair hearing.

This is not to suggest that the hotel maid accusing Strauss-Kahn did not have a moral or legal obligation to tell the truth in this investigation. It is to say that when a woman lies about money, stands to gain financially, has sex consensually prior to a rape, or fails in any other way to conform to our collective vision of what a rape victim looks like, it does not follow that she was not raped.

It is particularly important in this case, given the consistent slut-shaming of sex workers, to draw the distinction between consensual sex work, financial gain from sex, and sexual assault. People who perform or are thought to have performed sex work are often portrayed not just as damaged goods, but as willing victims, and therefore incapable of being damaged further. That the Post considered the sexual history of Strauss-Kahn’s accuser newsworthy shows just how far we have to go in challenging a rape myth that is particularly damaging to sex workers and those labeled as such. The sexual history of Strauss-Kahn’s accuser cannot tell us whether or not she was raped.

That being labeled a sex worker can damage a woman’s credibility in an investigation such as this sheds some light on how sex work is perceived. Sex work is work. Engaging in a contract to perform some sexual acts is not consent to all sex. Having sex for money once or a thousand times is not consent to sex another time. When legal institutions and the general public deny that sex work is real work,
that workers can choose to perform or not, the risk of harm to sex workers is increased. It becomes less likely that someone who attacks a sex worker or a woman who is labeled as one will be prosecuted or found guilty.

In this case, one might think Strauss-Kahn’s accusers would have learned. This is something we have had a notable political lesson on of late. For the second time in less than twelve months, a hero of the left has been accused of multiple rapes, and simultaneously the reputations of the accusers have been shredded.  Dominique Strauss-Kahn appearing in handcuffs was considered an outrage.

Labeling a hotel maid a liar and a sex worker, and from this extrapolating Strauss-Kahn’s innocence, seems to raise relatively few eyebrows. Similarly in Assange’s case, there was shock at his treatment, and his good deeds were extolled. He was nominated for prizes and honours. That same generosity of spirit has not been extended to the women involved, who have been widely derided as CIA agents, groupies and pawns by many on the left of politics.  The left was not looking for their defensible qualities. Such qualities would have been inconvenient.

Accused rapists with a public profile who protest their innocence are consistently defended. The women who come forward seeking some sort of justice, and endure the slut-shaming of the public, are almost never afforded the same good grace. The presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of our legal system, and worth defending. But in cases of sexual assault, the extent of the enquiry about the alleged victim’s history seems to go beyond that justified by the presumption. There is comparatively little interest in the personal history of someone making allegations of burglary or fraud.

We do not know what happened yet in either case, but the point remains that it is possible to do good things and still be a perpetrator of rape or a misogynist. These propositions are not necessarily contradictory.

Given the political circumstances, the response to Strauss-Khan’s case has been less extreme than to that of Assange. Yet some on the left, not least Bob Ellis, still plainly hope this will all just go away. Then Strauss-Kahn might be able to get back to his important life, the one in which he does things that are far more significant than justice for one woman.

This hotel maid is not one woman. Quite aside from the multiple accusations leveled at Strauss-Kahn, sexual violence is all too common. It affects lives every day, undoubtedly of people you know. Some of them may have had sex for money. This does not make them immune to assault. When any woman is pilloried for coming forward about sexual assault, others are discouraged from doing so and the untold damage is done to our social fabric and to sexual equality by these crimes is dismissed.

This being the case, we on the progressive side of politics must ask ourselves what big picture it is that we wish to promote. Mine includes gender equality and an end to sexual violence. It’s about time those who support Strauss-Kahn and Assange included these issues in their picture too.

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