As someone who experienced sexual abuse at an early age, I can attest to this. I do not believe healing demands, or even finds relevant, the use of comparisons in relation to suffering. Everyone’s experience is their own. This said, I openly acknowledge that my childhood experiences are milder in comparison to the brutality, and shame of taboo, that many other (queer) youth face— and I say this to get at a deeper point: While in retrospect, I am certain that peer molestations, intimidations, and humiliations that I endured as a youth fractured my sense of time, self, queerness, and possibility under the weight of silence– it almost never occured to me that I had indeed experienced sexual traumas and that this truth could ever be articulated to an outside world or community that I subconsciously knew relied on enforced binaries. Furthermore, even in silence, I certainly never felt that personal healing was a process that could include someone like me.
It wasn’t until much later on, in my early twenties, that I began to allow myself that warm glow of healing. I began to take notice of how certain patterns of vulnerability were (re)surfacing, and how my femme queerness and gender expression stood naked before instances in adulthood where my personhood was not respected and my consent not honored… Again, it took me some time to even internalize the notion that there were several moments in my early twenties where my safety and dignity felt jeopardized. I can’t really explain when it happened, but the decision to enter the glow of healing wasn’t simply a disavowal of hushed memories searching for clarity. Being cornered into the indigo of a post- midnight alley off the West Side Highway or waking up, delirious, on the floor of a strange Hell’s Kitchen apartment weren’t mysteries that went away when I decided that I would give attention to my soul’s desire to heal.
In Amita Yalgi Swadhin’s essay, “Queering Child Sexual Abuse,” she presents research proving that children who exhibit gender non-conforming and genderqueer behavior are at a much higher risk for sexual assault then their gender conforming peers. She writes, “The risk of experiencing sexual abuse for gender non-conforming boys is especially alarming, at rates two to six times higher than gender conforming boys.”
In trans activist Reina Gossett’s introduction to the anthology entitled Queering Sexual Violence, she maps out the relationships between murder as carried out by strangers or intimate partners, police brutality, and sexual violence as they are imposed upon the bodies of transgender women and gender non-conforming people who are assigned male at birth. She writes “So often trans and gender non-conforming lives are not held, especially trans women of color who have been homeless, worked in the sex trade, have HIV/AIDS, are incarcerated, disabled, or immigrants…… trans women and gender non-conforming people assigned male at birth are disproportionately murdered as a form of sexual violence.”
In belonging to a group of people who all too often do not survive acts of sexual violence, the self given grace of healing that Tarana Burke speaks of feels all the more sacred. In a moment in history when it’s becoming more and more clear to the public that trans women, trans-feminine/gender non-conforming people assigned male at birth, as well as feminine gay boys (& a steep rise in murders of cisgender gay/bi men and women that cannot be ignored either), are too often murdered by intimate partners and predatory cisgender men— the very people who desire us– personal and collective healing takes on a radical hue of meaning and potentiality.
It feels worth noting that punitive ‘justice’ and criminalization is not the means to protecting queer communities from sexual violence. It must be noted that queer sex workers, and those presumed to be soliciting sex work, have been rigorously pursued by U.S. law enforcement throughout history— the NYPD being a prime example. Queer femme’s are already systemically stigmatized, and further abused, in the criminal justice system. Furthermore, it’s additionally concerning to think about the ways in which masculine gay, bisexual, D-l, or otherwise identified, queer men who publicly or privately express desire for queer femme’s are criminalized and penalized– especially men of color. Cruising, and public–non threatening/demanding– erotic interactions that are, in many instances, the only way people can safely express queer desire, are already tightly monitored. I wonder about how men’s sexual attraction and consenting physical affection for queer femme’s are often confused and construed for the kind of pathological sexual violence that inversely does impact us at disproportionate rates.
Perhaps this circles back to belonging as a kind of healing… In the recently published Ellen Base poem “Jubilate Homo,” she writes “For I will consider the transgender person./For he or she may be the servant of a less violent world. (1-2)” As the poem progresses she continues with “For there are more sexes than wildflowers.(33)” This poem, turned prayer, becomes a direct lament of the murders and sexual violence’s enacted upon the bodies of Passion Star, a transgender woman whose brutally neglected prison assault led to a federal lawsuit, and Fred Martinez, a Navajo two-spirit person who was a high school student in Cortez, Colorado at the time of their murder. After Bass addresses these names, and losses, she finishes the poem with a kind of divine proclamation…
let her be remembered
for we are delivered to this small earth spinning
for we are delivered glazed with vernix and blood
for the truest drum is desire
for we can divine but a glimpse of what is
for the streets of our bodies wind as a labyrinth
for we have only one another to cling to
to be kind to, to despise. (42-49).
If Bass lays bare the reality of queer and trans death, she also strives to transform the residue of sexual trauma and loss into a kind of prayer for healing that is predicated on a compassionate belonging. This is uniquely queer to me. I’m not sure if Tarana Burke knew the extent to which the power of queerness glows behind her own words inviting the world into the life long process of healing, but that queer healing glow is there in her words as well. It’s that illumination on a wound that demands nothing and yet embraces everything. It’s the kind of light that gently radiates in the dawn morning, welcoming you to the day ahead– not forcing you into the light but waiting for you there on the street corner so that when you are ready to go outside, it warms the skin on you that you didn’t know could be touched like that.
I believe Tarana Burke, and some other anti violence advocates understand the setbacks that can make it so queer survivors of violence might take longer to say “me too.” Certainly, queer healers understand. How reassuring then, that there are a few out there ever so patiently waiting for us to welcome one another. And how necessary it is for anyone to know that this queer glow that we call healing is waiting for you there when you decide, at last, to move into it.