Believing Survivors: Just because you’re trans, doesn’t mean you can’t be accountable

CW: mentions of abuse and sexual violence

Transmisogyny is a hot topic in some queer communities right now. It’s now part of the popular, socially aware, queer lexicon to be able to articulate the impact of transmisogyny on our queer and non-queer communities. But at the same time, it’s not brought up enough. Transmisogyny continues to perpetuated in huge ways by the very people who talk about it (including myself). Like other oppressions, even though transmisogyny pervades everything, it can be hard to pin down. Regardless of its visibility, the results are visible.

While we talk about the violence that transfeminine folks face, we don’t talk so much about the violence perpetuated by transfeminine folks. We can point out the obvious examples such as Caitlyn Jenner, but what about the folks in our individual communities?

THE PROBLEM

I’d like to remind everyone that transfeminine folks can be fucked up too. Transfeminine folks can be racist. Transfeminine folks can be ableist. Transfeminine folks can be transphobic. Transfeminine folks can be sexual predators. Transfeminine folks can be liars and manipulators. I am not saying that this is not all (and definitely not most) transfeminine folks. These individual’s actions should not be applied to all transfeminine folks, but we do need to start hold people accountable when they make mistakes and (sometimes inadvertently) cause harm.

For example, as a person of color, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen someone say, “I’m trans,” to deflect accusations of racism and other fucked up shit they do. They cry about how hard it is being trans to escape any kind of criticism or accountability for being racist. Meanwhile, all I want to do is collect their white tears in a vial and wear it as a necklace. White supremacy is pervasive. Always. Everywhere. Whether you are trans or not.

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[Description: a huge, plastic, white bucket with block text that says, “WHITE TEARS” with a picture of tears in the middle. Taken from: [https://womanistgamergirl.tumblr.com/post/29210990438/one-bucket-for-all-your-white-tears-collection ]

Now having said this, I’d like to remind people that trans women of colour (TWOC) can be fucked up too. TWOC can and do invalidate genderqueer/NB folks’ gender identities. TWOC can be ableist and fatphobic. TWOC can commit acts of violence and abuse their positions of power in our  community at large.

As I’ve talked about elsewhere, I’m a survivor of sexual exploitation by a fellow TWOC. Voldemort (my name for her) was a TWOC who preyed and  coerced young black and/or trans girls into exploitative situations. She relied on gaslighting me into compliance, attempted to isolate me from my community, and drained me my limited financial and emotional resources. Three years have passed, and I am still reeling from the repercussions of her abuse. I may always carry that with me, what I survived and how much it hurt me, for the rest of my life.

My point is this—people who experience a lot of oppression can be fucked up. And even though my abuser was a hurt person being a black trans woman living in a world of covered in white supremacy and transmisogyny, I will never forgive her for what she’s done. I understand where she’s coming from, but being hurt is never an excuse to hurt and abuse others. I haven’t healed from happened to me. The wounds have scabbed over, but they haven’t healed. I don’t have the income or benefits to heal them because poverty, transmisogyny, ableism, racism, and likely a bunch of other oppressions I deal with.

So what can we do to make things better?

Believe survivors. Believe survivors. Believe survivors. I can’t stress enough how important this is as the first and most important step. I was lucky that Voldemort lacked any Death Eaters. I was privileged that everyone I talked to believed me and supported me. This has not been the case for some of my other friends who are survivors.

Abuser have friends. Abusers have lovers. Abusers have community. Abusers will have people who will protect them, no matter how much we say to believe survivors. The hard truth is, most survivors don’t have this kind of support. Many survivor’s support networks abandon them. Many survivors are blamed for what happened to them. Many survivors are framed by the people who should have their backs as the abusive person.

Now some situations aren’t always clean cut (such as abuser/survivor co-dependency circumstances), but in situations that don’t look like that, some kind of accountability needs to happen. This is, of course, easier said than done. Abusers can be really friendly and charming. Abusers can be really intelligent and say really legit things about settler colonialism and transmisogyny. They can be our political leaders, organizers, and artists in our communities who’ve written life-changing zines. Despite doing all of this good in the world, that doesn’t mean they can’t also be abusers.

But even more important than accountability is to just believe survivors. Have I mentioned this already? Most survivors won’t come out and say who their abusers are, often due to the possible threat of further violence. Even writing all this, I’m terrified that my abuser will read this and come after me again and try to ruin my life. I’d like for us to create a culture where we believe survivors. Even if we can’t hold people [including transfeminine folks] accountable, we can at least support survivors. I want to be able to say that this person sexually abused me and not feel like I’m the one doing something dirty and wrong.  I want there to be more healing for survivors, first and foremost.

It’s often really difficult to hold abusers accountable. When they’re political and community icons, they often have a lot of power. They use their community resources or pay-to-win their way out of accountability. But in situations that are less dire, when accountability is an actual possibility, the person can be “called in”. [Read this for some really great advice: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/guide-to-calling-in/ ] Accountability can be pretty simple with the right tools, but it’s not something we’ve been trained in how to do it. For the vast majority of shitty things transfeminine folks do, it can be talked out. Sometimes all it takes it simply saying, “I’m sorry, what can I do to make it better?”. And then doing the work to make that happen.

For the folks who have been hurt by transfeminine folks out there, I see you. I feel you. I am you. And I want other people to believe you too. Let’s keep believing in each other, together.

Believe survivors.

Post cross-listed here.

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