I recognize something in the patterns of language. My sternum infused with salt, soaking in words that weigh too much. Dragged up again and thrown against the shore. Body heavy wet, heaving between emptiness and more open space. Was I not breathing? Recognition lives in physiology.
Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual Violence Movement cannot be contained. An anthology of mouthfuls, text pooling sticky in the creases of my fingertips. When critical thinking becomes synonymous with survival, my pores open in thirst. At times, I want to be good and okay and done with what was taken. But there is no end to this work. When I reach for survivorhood as it is packaged by mainstream anti-sexual violence work, I am casting shadows on my own queer identity and other bodies in the margins. It is a divisive distraction, disrupted by the 37 contributors of QSV.
From the introduction by editor Jennifer Patterson, “anti-sexual violence work is not only ineffective in the long run but also shortsighted when it doesn’t intentionally include and center the experiences of queer people, trans women, people who are gender non-conforming, sex workers, trans men, people of color, gay men, those that have been previously incarcerated, lesbians, bisexual-identified people and the myriad of intersections in between.” The text is framed in four parts–Redefining, Reclaiming, Resisting, and Reimagining. Contributors experiment with language, seeking to redefine, reclaim, resist, and reimagine the terms and conditions of survivorhood.
The mainstream framework of sexual violence erases and dismisses a lot of folks, which has terrifying implications and outcomes. River Willow Fagan’s “Fluctuations in Voice: A Genderqueer Response to Traumatic Violence begins by recounting such an experience.
My voice is probably husky, as I have been crying; either way, my voice sounds like a man’s voice. Her voice, emanating from the phone, is cold. “This number is only for survivors of sexual violence,” she tells me. “I know,” I say. “I’m a survivor.” “I’m sorry but this number is for people in crisis only,” she says. “You’ll have to call the business line.” She sounds angry, as if by calling I have invaded her space as egregiously as a stranger walking into her backyard birthday party and scooping up chunks of uncut birthday cake with his hands. “Okay,” I say. I feel too unwelcome to protest or ask questions. She rattles off the digits of the business line. I thank her, as if she has helped me.
Fagan continues by brilliantly linking their experiences in different survivor spaces with the immediate need to open the anti-sexual violence conversation to all genders.
I know dismissal, but not because of my gender. It was perhaps my babyish sounding voice that led enough people and institutions to discredit my story as a sexually abused five year old. Today, if I were to make that call to a hotline or walk into a center, the majority of resources are designated to my cisgender, female, white, and able-bodied self. This is a perpetuation of violence. The monolithic survivor identity promotes the erasure of marginalized groups. Ultimately, this lends to the improper delegation of resources and the silencing of other voices, which has far reaching consequences.
Each story makes theory more real. The narratives, poems, and essays held in QSV are dangerous acts of vulnerability that shake the bedrock beneath our feet. Voices shattering the myth that queers/survivors don’t do violence. Kari Krome sucking venom from the wound and spitting back resistance poetry with No Means No. Some connecting institutionalized racism with prisons and non-profits, while others questioning what it looks like to heal in a world of violence. Several contributors discuss at length the heterosexist and transphobic assumed causation between violence and gender/sexuality.
It was on an airplane and at the age of fourteen, that I mentioned to my mother the possibility of my attraction to women. She said that while that may seem like an easier option given my history, I shouldn’t pretend to be something I’m not. My mother did not factor in what effects, if any, her own emotional and physical abuse against me might have on my sexuality.
At 21, I am still very young and in need of representation. We are on our hands and knees, scraping with dirty and bloodied nails to find resources. Imagine the impact of a whole book dedicated to the multi-layered identities and experiences of queer survivors, with each person deeply invested in continuing the legacy of anti-violence work. Imagine the reverberation of not being alone.
Contributors of Queering Sexual Violence don’t all agree with another—indeed there are blatant contradictions in rhetoric—but they don’t have to. The anthology encourages survivors to be self-determining in the language and methods with which we detail and respond to trauma. This kind of dialogue is radical medicine, challenging the reader to dissolve internalized binaries and acknowledge the rich messiness of existence.
Brighde Moffat is a poet of geography. She studies Transformative Language Arts and Embodiment Studies at Goddard College.