The Nuclear Unicorn Solstice-cum-Christmas Special

When I first began blogging many years ago I never dreamed of being able to do what I do today; what began as yet another emo diary on Livejournal has evolved into something beyond my wildest of dreams (which at the time were pretty modest, admittedly, but still!). I made the move to WordPress to make a fresh start after I had reached a point in my transition where I felt comfortable talking about trans issues and my own experiences in a more public setting, and yet even then I never expected much.

My feminist mentor at the time, who encouraged me to blog, told me that she knew my writing in this space would do something positive. She had such starry eyed, high, maternal hopes for me that I felt sad at what I thought the inevitable disappointment would be.

Yet here I am, a year and a half later, engaged in the self-absorbed metawank of blogging about blogging and looking back with a smile. I never expected, nor wanted huge numbers of readers. But I also did not expect to have a positive impact on peoples’ lives; one woman came out because of something I wrote here that let her know she wasn’t alone in having a non-traditional trans childhood experience. That remains one of my proudest accomplishments and one of the best examples of the power that writing has. It’s the reason that blogging is its own kind of activism; if the pen is mightier than the sword, so is the keyboard. Writing gives people hope, it can comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and it does have the power to make the world a slightly nicer place. So long as it can do that, I feel comfortable spending what time and energy I can spare on this space and on my other online writing projects.

Words do matter, and they have the power to heal as well as destroy or wound. I see it all the time on sites like Questioning Transphobia, which themselves inspired me to think that my voice mattered enough to be heard on trans issues and feminism more generally. Those pounds of prose, both on and offline, gave me the strength early on in my transition to get self-acceptance right, to learn to love myself, to learn that the problem lay not with me but with a cissexist and misogynist culture. I’ve had limitless self confidence, energy, and pride ever since. Writing and reading the writing of others did that for me. It was those powerful words that helped me feel unashamed of being trans, proud of being a woman, and taught me the potency that comes with defiance.

All of this has lead not only to an improved quality of life for me but also helped me do more out in the world, helping student organisations at my university and organising activist events as well as spreading the word about trans feminism to all who would hear it at school; all of this helps, and all of it began with me reading the work of someone who dared to speak up. That, for me, is what made my life liveable. So, this is why I write.

Writing is its own kind of activism and part of a new vanguard in a number of movements that reaches more people than resistances of ages past could have dreamed of. It’s something I’m proud to be a part of for a number of reasons.

Over the course of these festive next two weeks I will be trying to kick back and relax after working assiduously over the past semester- working harder and with more enthusiasm than I ever knew was possible for me- and above all I want to thank everyone who’s visited this blog, the friends I made through my writing here and elsewhere, the people whose comments- supportive and critical- add to what I write here, and to the various famous people I’ve critiqued who were kind enough to start conversations with me, like Andrea James. If my words make you feel a little better about our often troubled world, or lend you some comfort and reassurance I am glad for that. Because I sure as hell can’t play the violin, so this is the best you’re going to get.

Words have enduring power, they stir and cause a quivering of the marrow whose resonance is unlike any other. I didn’t begin this process of writing to enter the world of activism; in many ways, it found me when I had people telling me that things I’d written, whether here, or as comments and posts on other websites, had a profound effect on them. It found me when people made connections with me, romantic and friendly, that began with powerful writing. Beautiful emotions, comfort, reassurance, love, peace, friends, all of that came from what I had written. I thank all of you not only for following and being a part of my work, but also for all of the amazing things you do, literary and otherwise.

What a long, strange trip it’s been- and it’s going to keep chugging right along. I’m aware that normally themes of ‘giving thanks’ surround the US/Canadian holiday of Thanksgiving, but between wanting to roll my holidays into a big, mushy ball of happy, and not having written a proper Thanksgiving post here, I’ll just say that I’m giving thanks here and now. This is a pretty big time of year for me, not just because of the Winter Solstice or Christmas, both of which I keep in my own ways, but because I actually came out this week a couple of years ago. That, and tomorrow’s mah birthday. So I figure it’s a good time to say ‘thank you for giving me the gift of your readership.’

If I don’t update this space much for the next week it’s because I’m out in the world having exciting adventures that will someday be turned into feature length films and totally not because I’ll be playing the new World of Warcraft expansion or anything.

Happy Holidays to you all! Goddess and/or Flying Spaghetti Monster bless us, everyone!

Ignorance and Want

Trigger Warning for explicit discussion of rape and its attendant traumas.

Rape culture is an institution, to be certain; one whose powerful manifestations and expressions are found in all too many quarters of our society and whose influence is wide as it is deep. But like any social phenomenon one is well advised to take a magnifying glass to the small drops of mortar that bind together the brick wall of this institution. In reading a thread on a popular website about rape, a woman, who has since deleted her account due to the shaming she endured, stepped forward to make passionate arguments against rape apologism. Eventually she would describe her own experience. I do not have her permission to republish her story, so I will only quote a powerful line from her post that speaks to a general experience:

Have you ever been raped? Do you know what it feels like to be turned into someone else’s object? The worst is how filthy you’ll feel after. You just want to be clean. You want to die, you want to be alone and scream in utter agony. You want to be skinned alive because that’s the only way to get the filth off of your skin and out of you. Despite all this, you’re brave enough to make your way to the police station. You’re alone, you don’t want your friends to see you like this. You’ve got cold cum congealing on your inner thigh and bruises on your neck and wrists. You feel disgusting. You are at the lowest point you’ve ever been.

This began a powerful piece that told the story of her experience levelling an accusation against her rapist, a young man who- in a rather shocking and thoroughly unexpected turn of events- was so popular that the police officer she spoke to warned her off pressing charges lest she “ruin his life.” Popular, well-liked and talented men, after all, do not rape. Their victims, meanwhile, are silenced and shamed into invisibility and forced into finding a way to negotiate with their pain on their own terms as best they can.

Their lives are forever changed while their rapist walks free, unaccounted for, and nowhere near as scarred as his victim. We rightly heap scorn on the people who rape: I myself spared no kind language for the rapist of my friend in last night’s article, calling him a bastard. No words in our tongue are too unkind for him and his ilk. But rape culture is not just about the people who rape. It’s about the vast networks of social support that underlie those incidents of rape, that condemn rape when ‘the perfect rapist’ rapes ‘the perfect victim’ but otherwise excuse, deny, encourage and otherwise call into existence the circumstances that make rape inevitable. To illustrate one manifestation of this that will be the subject of today’s piece, let me quote to you one man’s response to this woman’s moving story on that same site:

One bigoted small-town police officer can’t be representative of the entire society. and there are hotlines and such, etc.

I really hope nobody thinks, “wow, Internet people really don’t take rape seriously. I shouldn’t even try to report it.”

That’s it. That’s all he could muster in response to a lengthy and detailed story of pain. As I read this, blinking, I wondered at whether or not he was moved but could not bring himself to say so. I wondered if he was like Ebeneezer Scrooge, beholding the metaphorical urchins of Ignorance and Want and haunted by his past tirades of “are there no prisons!? Are there no workhouses!?”

“Are there no hotlines and such?” is about the only way I could read that dismissive post, a small effort to banish from this man’s sight the horrible thing that had just manifested itself before him- the ugliness and sheer horror of rape, spoken with certainty by an eloquent survivor. Shocked as surely as Scrooge was shocked when the Ghost of Christmas Present revealed those urchins, shocked by being confronted with the underside of a society that he prefers to ignore and yet has to exist in order for him to enjoy the comforts and privileges he does. This woman dared to show him and all he could do was ask “Are there no hotlines?”

He asks this because he will not face up to the terrible truth that this bigoted small town police officer is a very common character in the narratives of rape survivors. Their dismissals, their bigotry, their scorn and heartlessness are enabled by people thinking that surely most police officers and people in general would be incapable of this. Bigotry is an evil contained only in a few bad individuals, after all.

Are there no hotlines?

This woman bares her soul and she finds only a feeble response that all but mocks how a survivor might feel on stumbling onto the all too copious and common words of pitiable fools on the Internet. They’re “Internet people”- which means they aren’t real, right? They aren’t part of our society, they do not socialise within it, they do not vote or otherwise have an impact on their social worlds. They are merely “Internet people” and if a rape survivor finds herself triggered or wounded, reminded of the shame and the filth that is made to cling to her when one of these “Internet people” pours misogynist scorn upon those who dare to survive and dare to say they have been raped… well she’s just being silly, isn’t she?

After all, are there no hotlines?

To pick up that phone as your hand shakes, as you find yourself struggling to not take up a knife instead of a mobile, is an exercise in will whose difficulty is hard to quantify. To do this means something critical that this man completely elided: you have to admit that you were raped and that you belong to the class of people these hotlines were designed for. Admitting that takes some people months, even years. Admitting it makes you part of that shamed class of people, opening yourself up to incessant second guessing by everyone around you, even those who may call themselves feminist will eventually be guilty of doing this to someone. Far easier, one thinks, to pretend one was not raped in the hopes that the pain will go away. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t because one does not heal by giving a patriarchal society the silence it begs for.

Are there no hotlines?

This also says nothing of the fact the resources that do exist for rape survivors are not distributed equally. As Sady Doyle has pointed out, RAINN, one of the largest anti-rape organisations in the United States, supports organisations that deny assistance to transsexual and transgender women. To be trans in this society is to court shame already, you grow up being told none too subtly that your identity makes you a freak, unworthy of life. To add being raped to this is beyond unbearable, it is a pain that these foregoing words do a poor job of describing but that I have seen first hand in my own life through those I love most. The anguish that comes with admitting you’ve been raped is already hard. Doing so when your rape was framed by your rapist as gleeful transphobia is even harder. You know right away that even if you live in some supposed oasis that white cis progressives adore, like Portland, Toronto, New York, or San Francisco, that you will deal with police officers who will automatically assume the worst of you, who think you’re a lunatic just for being trans, and that your rape was just desserts for being such a freak.

But after all, are there no hotlines?

Are there no laws?

Are there no crisis centres?

On and on the echoes can go, and it is quite clear, as it was in the case of Ebenezer Scrooge that the pitiable questions that queried about ‘some resource’ were a feeble effort at ignoring social responsibility and the enormity of the great crisis before him that his wealth was, in part, responsible for. The existence of rape culture is everyone’s responsibility. Through feeble gestures like that of the gentleman whose words I’ve mocked throughout this piece we try to deflect responsibility, whether we are women or men, cis or trans, we may find ourselves doing this. Let the hotlines take care of the poor victims, let the law take care of the evil people who rape. Just like a nice and neat Law & Order: SVU episode the drama is over at an appointed time, the TV set is switched off, and we go on with our lives. Any time a thought of the want and ignorance in the rape culture of our society intrudes upon our minds we can simply hum to ourselves:

Well, are there no hotlines?

It’s Time I Said Something

Trigger Warning: Explicit discussion of rape and rape apologism follows.

Often is the time that I wish I could update this space every day with thoughts on every topic under the sun, a constant celebration of what is good in the world, and tireless fusillades against what is not. For reasons of both self-care and lack of energy, I simply cannot, however. Yet my silence on one issue is glaring and it is time I said something, regardless of how exhausted I may be feeling right now and how ever much I may just be feeling a burning drive to forget the world exists for a while.

This is not a post about Julian Assange. It is a post that was inspired by Sady Doyle’s bone-shaking message of defiance on her blog yesterday pertaining to her ongoing quest to wrest apologies from two rich white cis men in the media who see fit to tweet personal information about potential rape victims, Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore. This relates to the Assange case, yes, but the reason this case has become such a line in the sand for many feminists is because of the broader social issues that this case touches on, and which, for all the media hullabaloo about Assange and his accusers, has not been discussed substantively by most mainstream outlets.

Doyle’s post is worth reading, to say the very least. The anodyne, lifeless words I just spoke will not do justice to what I am about to quote:

“I WILL NOT GO AWAY. WE WILL NOT GO AWAY. Because all of those women, all of those GODDAMNED WOMEN, all of those GODDAMNED RAPE VICTIMS and people who file rape allegations, they ALL got scared away in EXACTLY THIS MANNER. Using these SAME GODDAMNED TACTICS. They all had to go away, no matter what happened to them, they all just got scared until they went away, and for them, for their sake, because of everything they suffered, I am going to stand outside of Michael Moore’s tower with my megaphone until he comes. Somebody has to stand out here, somebody has to be the one that just won’t go away. Somebody fucking has to do it. Because those women matter.”

Thus I’m going to set those words aside tonight. Because what she has said is fucking true, and it needs to be shouted from the rooftops, the parapets, the mountains, foothills, hillocks, and goddess-damned anthills.

One of my closest and dearest friends, a woman to whom I owe my life, and indeed many aspects of the woman I became were cultivated by her, was raped by someone she trusted. The consent she gave was abused far beyond the limits she set out and she endured having things done to her that she did not ask for her, hearing poisonous words that haunt her to this day as the man who violated her flaunted what he was doing. She hasn’t reported this because of the institutional prejudices that would shoot down any attempt at prosecution, both because of what kind of woman she is, and the kind of sex she consented to have with this man.

So many forces in this world tell women like her, bright Polarises of humanity, that they stopped mattering the moment they were raped. Powerful people think nothing of using and dismissing her, dismissing what happened, hoping she’ll shut up and go away. This man told her she didn’t matter; the police would very likely tell her the same thing.

In the spirit of Sady Doyle’s words, Ms. T, you matter. You matter so goddamn much, you mean the world to me, you illuminated my life and you continue to do so to this very day. I cannot repay, ever, what you have given to me. This green Earth would be a lesser place without you.

These are words that I have told her in snippets, scattered puzzle pieces of the total whole of my love for her and who she is. She likely cannot read this post because of the PTSD that this bastard left her with, and I’d never ask her to revisit this tragedy- so she’ll hear my words in private and in person. But this proclamation of mattering, of love, deserves to be up in lights as well because we still lack the sheer number of outlets telling survivors of rape that they matter, enough to counteract the many forces tacitly and explicitly telling them that they do not.

Those four horrible letters, PTSD, cannot begin to encompass the enormity of life changes that rape visits upon someone. Read through the comments on Sady Doyle’s post as well, many survivors came forward, and their stories are moving. One woman who said she had to live an altered life while her rapist walked free as if nothing happened perfectly echoed a lament from my friend. A lament I have heard too many times from her, when the pain becomes too much to bear. The agony that she fights with every day because of the sense of worthlessness imposed upon her, both by the rape, and by broader social discourses that impose themselves on women is something I cannot put into mere words.

The pain I feel when she is triggered, when she’s crying out to the universe begging for the hurt to stop, for things to go back to the way they were… it’s a fraction of what she endures every day as a survivor. What this man did to her was to make her life such that it’s become an act of courage for her to go out and buy snacks for herself. She cannot forget what happened to her, she cannot enjoy crowds the way she used to, cannot enjoy touch. This happened because she was a woman in a society like ours, and a woman of trans experience; the sense of emptiness rape heaps on you is unbearable, the shame, the agony. I had to tell her, as my own body quaked with a fear that filled my voice, that her life was still worth living as she held a kitchen knife in her hand, teetering on the edge of snuffing that bright spark she embodies forever.

I say all of this because what has been lost in discussions about Assange’s accusers is any real discussion about rape and how women, cis and trans, experience it in our society. The shame and the silence it inculcates keeps the volume of such discussion somewhere slightly above mute and ensures that people think it’s perfectly fine to have a jolly good debate about whether or not doing something sexual to a woman without her consent is rape. While cadres of men wring their hands about withdrawing consent after its given, I have a friend who is still picking up the pieces of her life- and she’s succeeding, damnit, she’s making something of herself every passing day. But no thanks to them, no thanks to the Keith Olbermanns of the world, nor the other so-called progressive men who become Sir Robin and bravely turn tail when challenging social issues of gender arise.

This is not truly about Assange at the end of the day, and fools who think that the unique circumstances of his spearheading of Wikileaks are enough to ring-fence this and say nothing whatsoever at any time to do with sexism has entered the discussion about his accusers and the rape-accusations against him are people I have next to no patience for. I remained silent on this in part because many people were saying what I have tried to say here better than I could. But what Doyle reminded me of was precisely what I have just said, this is not about Julian Assange nor specifically about his accusers: it’s about a society where women who have been raped, or who even dare to use the criminal justice system to get justice after they have been raped, are automatically slandered and disbelieved. The first thought is about how they might be fucking some man over, rather than ever considering the possibility that they are telling the truth. How these women have been treated is how the vast majority of women, especially those who are fully divested of personhood by the state like trans women, sex workers, and immigrant women, are treated when they stand up and grant utterance to their experience with an eye towards justice.

For my friend, Ms. T, for everyone Sady mentioned on her blog, for everyone who responded their with their own tales, and for the armies of survivors around the world who cannot speak, I stand up and say enough is enough.

  • I am sick to death of men coming into every public discussion about rape and putting the words “Duke” and “Lacrosse” together in his post explaining why he’s entitled to shame and mistrust survivors.
  • I am tired of folks quoting a long refuted study about how supposedly 50% of all women lie about rape.
  • I am beyond tired of hearing “innocent until proven guilty” when I never said anything about presuming guilt, only about understanding and putting a premium on the victim’s pain and experience and the fact that she wants to kill herself, because it fucking matters.
  • I am sick to death of men talking about how women get a kick out of getting ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ in a courtroom, as if accusing someone of rape, especially someone who is well liked, is the easiest goddamn thing in the world to do for which there are no emotional and physical consequences.
  • I am tired of people getting on my ass about how I think all men are rapists when I never once in my life have said that.
  • I am sick to death of people making extremely pathetic and tired excuses for anything bad that happens to a transsexual or transgender woman.
  • I am tired beyond words of arguing against people who try to find some way to prove that a woman brought a rape on herself by doing or not doing x, y, and z.
  • I utterly despise and am sick of men who say that talking about rape culture is ‘misandrist’ or man-hating in any context.
  • For that matter I’ve just about had it with people who say there’s no such thing as rape culture despite the fact that we see its workings laid bare Oz-style in every high profile drama about rape, or despite the fact that people like Sady Doyle have to endure high velocity shit sprayed at her in the windtunnel of Twitter threatening her with rape and other harm for speaking out.
  • I’m sick and tired of people who think trigger warnings are hi-larious and represent “political correctness gone mad.”
  • I’m sick of people who believe there is such a thing as “political correctness” and that it protects people like rape victims andor PTSD-suffers when it seems the only ‘correct’ thing to do in these peoples’ minds is mock them.
  • I’m sick and tired of comic artists who make fun of rape survivors.
  • I’m sick and tired of men who heap nothing but scorn on survivors and people who try to help them, then compare paying alimony to being raped in a disgusting bid for sympathy for their right wing agenda.
  • Indeed, I’m sick of anyone who gets very squeamish talking about actual fucking rape but liberally compares anything they don’t like to rape to drive home how much they think being overcharged 50 cents at Pizza Hut or getting sniped in TF2 by a hacking player sucks.
  • I’m tired of people who think prison rape is little more than risque humour.
  • I’m tired of people who forget that both trans and cis women are raped in prison too.
  • I’m *really* tired of people who think prison rape is a ‘just punishment.
  • I’m bloody well tired of people who think sex workers can’t be raped.
  • I want to scream at people who think sex workers being raped is funny, cause to make a shitty pun, or is somehow ‘to be expected.’ As if rape just happens, you know?
  • I’m very peeved with people who think that feminists want to take all the ‘spontaneity’ out of sex by calling for people to be more certain about consent.
  • I’m tired of people who say “Yeah rape is a horrible thing, but…” and then proceed to say something that entirely minimises and/or erases why rape is so horrible.
  • I’m tired of people assuming that if a man is found not guilty of a rape that it must mean the accusing woman lied maliciously in some golddigging effort to extract revenge of some kind. Rather than, say, the fact that the police may have picked up the wrong man.

The fact that I can make this list go on and on is troubling to me on a very deep level. I was not my usual eloquent self tonight, but this post is a cry of outrage, of anger, and a firmly pronounced willingness to permanently commit to this space the fact that I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. All rape victims deserve better than the very abridged foregoing list of bullshit rape apologism I’ve laid out just now. They deserve to have more people speaking out and proclaiming loudly that the way we as a society deal with rape is deeply flawed and perpetuates oppression. People who say that rape culture doesn’t exist because we criminalise rape clearly have not bothered to listen much when a woman does try to make use of such laws to have her assailant face justice.

Ms. Doyle’s words could very well be my own:

“You all matter to me. I don’t care if they say you don’t matter. I don’t care if they act like you don’t matter. I don’t care what they do to us, to all of us, all of the shit they do to make it possible to discredit and bully us and make us too scared to report, all of the misinformation they spread — it’s not rape if it started out consensual, it’s not rape if it happened while you were unconscious, it’s not rape if you’ve had sex with him before, it’s not rape if you hang out with the guy later, it’s not rape if you love him, it’s not rape if you like him, it’s not rape if it happens to you because you’re worthless, these are all lies – because it doesn’t change the fact that you matter.”

Rock on, sister.