and with that, sleep will not happen

Memorial Day is the day that I was raped. There were several days of escalating emotional and physical violence leading up to the assault, and he raped me Memorial Day night as punishment for breaking up with him.

I met him at the Southern Comfort Conference, on the same day that I met my first real-life trans person, aside from myself. He was maybe the second or third person to approach me.

At the time I lived in my mother’s garage in a very rural town in south Georgia. I was single parent to a young child, and I had no money. Everything I knew about trans or queer community I knew from books, a few scattered message boards, and one local femme.

At first I thought what was happening was BDSM. He called it BDSM. I didn’t know anyone to check in with, and I was arrogant and very invested in handling things on my own. The emotional and verbal abuse set in right before the physical abuse- he slapped me across the face in a small crowd of people the second night that I knew him- and he directed all of that at my masculinity. I decided, in my vast wisdom, that the best defense of my masculinity was to withstand his violence, and the hell if I was going to complain to anyone. There were other reasons, other things connecting me to him, as there always are; I cared about him, deeply so. Somehow I told myself that what he was doing really was lengthy, random scene-ing.

This is a brief and uncharacteristically scant re-telling of what happened. I don’t actually feel very much about it anymore. I made stupid decisions and acted in ignorance, but that does not explain nor justify his or anyone else’s actions. I was a young, dumb, eager kid from the sticks bursting into community for the very first time. He was a drag king, a known abuser; I was not the first. He targeted me because I was new, isolated, and unsupported, and no one intervened.

He called it BDSM. I called it BDSM. I kept telling him that he needed my consent before he did things, and he kept telling me that he did things differently, and I should man up. He gave me drugs to numb me through some of the hardest “scenes”.

This went on for months of visits and phone calls, within a very intimate group of queer and trans social justice organizers. For awhile I ignored his calls and ran when I saw him, but somehow I was drawn back in. I stayed with him every time that I drove up for a planning meeting- ironically for a healthcare organization- and we worked together on social justice issues.

He was also part of and known in the local BDSM community, part of and known in the local drag community. He attended events at the local feminist book store to troll for new hook ups. Everybody knew what he was and what he was doing, and still he performed, and still he was protected by the leaders of the local queer BDSM community, right up to the rape and beyond.

I’m telling this story- and this is not the first time I will tell it, nor is it the last- because any of us who claim community are responsible for what we allow to happen in it. When we protect our abusers- including when we tacitly ignore them, but allow them to continue to perform and access queer spaces- we punish our survivors and maintain the cycle of violence.

This violence undermines the greatness of us all. Not just me, my child, and our immediate circle; rape is not a personal issue. It impacts everyone, and the effects are deep and long-lasting.

My rapist still performs. No one ever held him accountable, and I was shunned and cut off from community. My child and I felt this keenly, as we relied so fiercely on the help of others in the face of inadequate or transphobic social services.

This is not a unique story. This is what happens to most survivors. Assault, punishment, shunning, while the assaulter is protected. The wickedness of this response is a rotten seed in the heart of everyone. It is an old, stupid, redundant story, and it serves no one to keep re-iterating it.

We will never rise above the current state of things if we cannot hold ourselves accountable for the violence among our own. This is not easy. It’s not pretty or polite. But it’s fucking necessary, and I will never stop telling my story until this is heard and acted upon– not just by a few survivors raped into knowing, but by all of us together.

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