By now, you’ve maybe already heard about the Tumblr “I Believe You, It’s Not Your Fault,” a new blog dedicated to collecting stories and narratives from survivors of childhood, teen, and young adult sexual assault. It is meant to be a vulnerable, open-submission, storytelling outreach initiative to connect with young survivors in a “Big Sister” way.
In the page’s FAQ, it goes into detail about the discussions that sparked the page’s creation, initially started in a Facebook group, and touches upon the subject of inclusion. “The conversation quickly expanded to include queer, trans, and non-binary youth, who struggle just as painfully as straight cis girls — if not more so — with the trappings of patriarchy and rape culture. All of those voices are welcome and encouraged here too.”
I was relieved when I read this. Navigating these issues is hard enough as is, but even more so when you are a queer, trans, or questioning child, teen, and young adult — which many survivors of assault are or were when they were first assaulted.
One submitted story is that of Jessica Probus, a lesbian speaking about her experiences with sexual assault as a young teen and her sexuality, coming into herself as a lesbian and a feminist, and her struggles in finding a voice to name her assault. “The truth is, I didn’t tell them because I didn’t want anyone to think this was why I was a lesbian. I didn’t want my queer friends or my straight friends or anyone I encountered to think that my experiences with men made me write them off, made me choose to be with women because it was safer. I didn’t want them to think this trauma was my root. And secretly I wasn’t ever totally sure that it wasn’t.”
That part struck a chord. My own history with abuse also made me, at one point, reluctant to face my queerness and feminism. That tired trope of the sad, angry, bitter reactive girl who “hates men” because of the men in her life who hurt her, because liking and desiring women and liking yourself and wanting love and respect and an end to your hurting is the same as “hate.” Because that makes more sense than being so sick and sad and tired of systems that privileges others above you, the systems and people that hurt and abuse and assault you, and being wary of those who are gleefully privileged by them and don’t say a thing when you’re hurt. How do you come forward about abuse or sexual harassment without having your sexuality then dismissed or used against you? How do you reach out for resources or community when everyone posits abuse as being between cis straight dudes and cis straight women? How do you talk about these things without reducing them to these simple, exclusive tropes?
The all-too-real worries and fear of coming forward as a queer victim of abuse and sexual assault run the gamut. Beyond the base erroneous idea that assault can’t happen, or doesn’t happen, between queer folk, especially women, or if it does it isn’t as “bad,” there’s the fear of how coming forward will be received in regards to your orientation or gender, regardless who assaulted you. There’s the worry that people will dismiss your assault based on your gender and/or orientation, that of your attacker, or both. That it will reinforce queerphobic notions of why people are queer (“raped”/”assaulted”/”traumatized” into being gay, especially by another queer person, or if you’re a woman, made “bitter” by the man who assaulted you and therefore not attracted to them, and if you’re a gay man, you’ve become “effeminate” or “turned” to men by assault). That it will increase the stigma around queerness and “prove” it is inherently wrong or perverse because of the higher rate of assault and rape in the community (never mind that those numbers have to do with cultures of entitled and predatory bullying, bigotry, violence, and hate as created and fed by patriarchy, misogyny cis-centricism, homophobia, femmephobia, etc, NOT queerness being perverse and therefore pedophilia or assault being directly linked to queerness). There’s also the fear of being outed, or misgendered, or having your sexuality or expression demonized, blamed, dismissed. All of this, mind, on top of the already pre-existing toxic and violent repercussions of rape culture-victim blaming, shame, dismissal. This culture raises unemployment, homelessness, suicide rates, STIs and unwanted pregnancies, and death in the queer community. All of it disproportionately affecting our youth.
There’s a shameful, dark silence where there needs to be vociferous, affirming, clarifying light.
Resources are slowly but surely coming together to try to debunk the myths and stigma that surrounds child sexual assault and queerness, and address the large disparities in reporting of LGBT sexual assault as they are linked to larger systems of homophobia, transphobia, etc, and help queer survivors and bring their stories to the forefront. A large part of that is the community we as queer folk at large build for each other, the stories we tell and listen to, and how conducive we are to building channels of acceptance and support. It depends so much on how we affirm each other and believe one another, how and work to decrease stigma among ourselves and face the hard truths and engrained bigotries and misconceptions so we can fix the issues.
It’s stories that many queer survivors are working towards telling and putting into public consciousness and that we must listen to. Yes, these conversations and stories are sad, enraging, confusing, difficult, heart-wrenching, emotionally trying, but so necessary; for survivors, for everyone. There’s so much power in telling someone, especially a queer kid or a teen, “I believe you, it’s not your fault.” I am optimistic about what conversations and outreach such a blog aimed towards youth, especially kids on the various intersections of queerness, can start.