Trauma Queen: An Autostraddle Book Review and Interview

I’ve known Lovemme Corazon for a while from tumblr and other spaces for trans* women of color. She has always had a strong, powerful and creative voice, and she’s always seen the importance in sharing her story with others who might have faced similar things in their lives. Trauma Queen, the new memoir by Lovemme Corazon, is a hard read but equally hard to put down. There were several times when I had to stop reading and do something else for a few hours, but the story and writing are so compelling that I was always drawn back to it as soon as possible. Lovemme discusses the things she’s experienced in her life, from childhood abuse, sexual assault and rape, to depression and suicide attempts, to gender dysphoria, youth activism and sex work. All of these things have shaped her into a radically interesting person who has a voice unlike any other authors I have recently read. But while Trauma Queen is a unique book, it is far from a unique story. There are many, many people who will find a familiar history in this book, and the author hopes that will be a jumping off point for healing and discussions.

trauma queen

The memoir combines everything from traditional writing, to poetry, to journal entries, and even blog posts. This creative mix of new and old writing shows the growth she’s gone through and how she has evolved as a person and a survivor. The memories from when she was a child are some of the harshest and most difficult to read. As she gets older and starts including writings from when she was in high school, you can see just how much all of these experiences have shaped her life and how much healing she has gone through, and still has to go through.

Lovemme balances these stories of hard times with true moments of levity, love, triumph, and even comedy. While I spent much of the book cringing at how real and emotional the scenes of sexual abuse and attempted suicide were, the moments where she finds happiness and hope in community and creative self care are truly euphoric. Times where she finds real, positive love are sensual and full. Passages where she puts forth ideas on how to improve community, self care, and activist circles are refreshing and creative. And the moments where she talks about complicating gender, creating her own space, and getting in control of her sex work are empowering.

Lovemme is far from your typical published author. She’s a trans* woman of color, former sex worker, survivor of sexual abuse, and extremely talented person. She has a singularly important voice and this is definitely a story that needs to be heard. In a time when so many trans* women of color’s stories are forgotten or misrepresented in the media, it’s refreshing to be able to read one straight from the source. She straightforwardly confronts many issues that are often swept under the rug.

While I wouldn’t recommend this book as a laid-back beach read for the summer, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who sees kinship with Lovemme and wants to read a story that they can see a part of themselves in. Trauma Queen was published through biyuti publishing, an independent publisher who works to showcase stories by marginalized people. You can purchase the ebook at publish.biyuti.com or buy a physical copy at amazon.com and some regional bookstores.

A lot of the things you write about — abuse, rape, sex work, depression, self injury — are really hard topics to talk about, and you talk about this in your book — we’re even discouraged from talking about them. Where did you find the strength to be able to talk about such painful issues in such a frank way?

It happened through a lot of conversations I’ve had with other survivors, other people who self-harmed, or who kind of just took care of themselves in “unhealthy” ways. And the more that I connected to these people, the more that I was honest with them about the abuse I faced, the more they were willing to open up with me. So I was able to become this open and vulnerable person, and to this day there are a lot of people who tell me that they feel very comfortable sharing their secrets or their abuse with me and we talk about it in really raw, vulnerable ways. So writing this book was very much just channeling all that I’ve learned through conversations with these other people. It’s very, very difficult to talk about it so many times, because you’re reliving the trauma time after time, after time, and this is a very wonderful way for me to just share my story with people that I want to work with in the future.

The way you write, combined with the things you write about, creates this really visceral experience for the reader where sometimes I would have to take breaks and do something completely different because it’s so hard to handle. So how do you recommend readers read this book in a safe way?

Honestly, I think that’s probably one of the strengths of this book. I think even people who aren’t survivors are going to feel uncomfortable by this and need to put it away. When I was writing this, my intended audience was my family members who don’t know about me being a survivor or a sex worker. They think depression is something I can just get past and I wanted them to know how heavy it is to carry this and how I can’t always keep it together. In terms of other readers: definitely take breaks, put it down, call a friend or someone. I would also suggest watching TV, you know, doing something really low energy, drinking a lot of water, eating foods that will comfort you. I would even say form support groups among survivors who are reading this book so you can support each other as you’re going through it.

On the topic of community: You talk about that not only just in general, but also when it comes to self care and how if you don’t have community, that makes self care and personal health so much harder. So how do you think we can work to make better communities for ourselves and for others?

I talked with Nia King about Communal Care — that’s what I call it. Communal care, to me is very much about developing personal relationships with people. You know, when you’re sad or you need support you call your friend or your family. Communal care is opening that up and instead of having one or two people, having a network of folks who you can reach out to. In New York Ball Culture, they have houses, and the way that they’re structured is that they have a mother figure, and they have a family. I think — not appropriating from that idea — but just recognizing that having this house or this network of really close friends who all check in with each other, especially as marginalized folks, is very important. I think what that takes is being vulnerable, it takes exchanging phone numbers, it takes talking about personal things that are not easy to talk about. For me as a survivor, I grew up with the idea that abusive love is love, I think community is a very imperative tool to unlearn that.

You also talk a lot about love and consent, and how from an early age, you didn’t really know how to say “no.” And I feel like that’s a common problem for a lot of people, so what are some ways we can change that and educate people more about consent?

One grey area that I brought to light is the night I was medicated and I was sleeping with my partner and we ended up having sex. I literally did not have control of my body. Seroquel is an anti-psychotic and when used at night, puts you to sleep. And I question, was that rape? Was that assault? What does that mean? There are different ways of consenting. For some people verbal consent isn’t necessary and that works for them, for me, I like to constantly check in, to make sure I’m not stepping into tricky waters. I write in the book how I say “yes,” but I’m still not really consenting to it, and that’s me not knowing how to say no. Conversations around consent lately are “consent is sexy” or “consent is mandatory” but it’s not really diving into what consent is. Like, “yes means yes and no means no” but it’s still a very dichotomous way of thinking and it’s not really digging up how grey consent can be. I want more people to be able to talk about it openly, and I think part of that takes creating temporary amnesty for people who have been abusive or who have raped. Because, I wouldn’t necessarily call the person who had sex with me an abuser. I feel very complicated about that, but I do want to talk about it. That felt very nonconsensual, but I feel like when you say that to someone, they’re going to get very defensive and say “no you were into it” and when people get defensive, there’s no real discussion going on.

You talk a lot about your gender identity in this book, but it isn’t one of the normative, binary trans* narrative that we typically hear. Can you tell me a little bit about why you think it’s important to get non-normative, non-binary gender narratives out there?

I was being true and honest in every other aspect of this book and I couldn’t lie about my gender. I grew up with Latina women, and big boobs are a thing in my family and I expected to grow into that, and I never did. And I also really enjoyed facial hair, and when that did come it was a thing that I enjoyed. And I think the trans* narrative, and especially transsexuality as a medical condition, has been very strict in how trans* people can identify and how they should behave. So if you’re assigned male at birth, you should hate being a boy since you were a child and that just wasn’t me. Now, I was a very feminine child, I was raised by strong, powerful Latina women, and I did aspire to be like them. Femininity to me was stubbornness and working many jobs and still feeding your family and kids and I think that within this binary system, femininity is seen as lesser than or weak and just all the sexist things that go along with that. I wanted to open space around gender to give people the ability to not have to fit this dominant narrative that I don’t think anyone really does.

Janet Mock just wrote a blog post  highlighting the problem that trans* women of color’s stories so often get pushed out of the way and purposefully silenced. Your memoir is one of the books she mentions that’s changing that. How did it feel to be mentioned in that blog post?

Janet and I met in April at Stanford. She was doing her presentation on trans* women in social movements. And when she heard about my memoir, she pre-ordered a copy. She wrote me and said that she heard my podcast with Nia and in that podcast I talked about how it was important to me to publish this memoir before I was dead. As trans* women of color, we all hear about the murders and the mutilations and the abuse and I just I knew that I was coming into this age range where that would be happening. So I kind of felt like a rush to put this memoir out so that these news reports couldn’t project their views onto me. Like, I have a book, you can’t lie about this any more.

What else can we do to make sure more trans* women of color’s voices are being heard and highlighted?

I was super blessed to have biyuti publishing publish my book. I didn’t have to edit anything out, and that was perfect. I knew that if I were to submit this memoir to other publishers, they would want me to write in a different voice that wasn’t my own. But this was a memoir, this is my life and I don’t think I could have handled someone telling me to edit my life, you know what I mean? So, a solution to that is going to smaller presses. There’s Trans-Genre, they published Ryka Aoki’s Seasonal Velocities, and then biyuti publishing is another one. Biyuti was telling me that they’re really passionate now about getting other trans* women’s voices out there, so if you’re a trans* woman of color, and you’re looking to publish some writing, go to them. They work on making sure that your voice is as true to yours as possible. I think that’s definitely important because we’re not given access to writing resources or the space to develop our skills as writers and I think retaining as much of our genuine voice as possible is important for us to be genuine with our audience and public.

What’s next for you? Do you plan on publishing any more of your writing?

In terms of writing, I’m currently working on pieces for Tranny Power, the tumblr blog. There’s also The Manatee, which biyuti is working on, and I think I was also going to submit a piece to the {young}ist. So I have a few things I need to be writing about, but I’m taking a little break. And now that I’ve written a book, I kind of want to explore other artistic expressions. I’ve been really interested in doing performance pieces and photo series. But lack of resources and funding for these projects is an issue. But I definitely have a lot of ideas I’m going to try to pursue this summer.

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Mey is a lesbian, Latina trans woman living in Idaho. Her areas of expertise include comic books, trans* issues and pop culture. She has an English Degree, a cat named Sawyer, a tumblr that she uses a lot and a twitter that she only uses occasionally. She's a selfie princess and Nerdy Bruja Femme.

Mey has written 137 articles for us.

23 Comments

  1. Thumb up 5

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    Great article, Mey you asked such good questions, you’re a great interviewer.

    I don’t think I’d be able to deal with reading this book right now, but I’m so glad to have it on my radar for when I can.

    I thought Lovemme’s words on deepening the conversation on consent were really thought provoking.

    Thanks Mey :)

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    Amazing interview! I definitely will purchase this book – especially since it was published by an independent publisher. These questions are great, Mey, and really give me a sense of the piece and the author’s voice. Thanks!

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    judging by how moving this interview was i will definitely be checking out the book. the points about telling your own unedited story before others tell it for you are so important and i’m grateful publishers like biyuti are giving people that chance!

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    sigh, I feel like this website publishes at least one article per week which mentions that in order to educate people about consent, we must “rethink” it in a way that absolves people who have sex with partners who can’t / won’t consent from blame – it’s becoming a constant trigger – and I know there’s a general trigger warning at the top of the article and I should have known what I’m getting myself into, but I’m interested in reading about other survivors’ experiences – I’m just not interested in reading about how we should consider consent relative and excuse rapists – because, you know, everyone already excuses my rapist and plenty of other women’s rapists because everyone already thinks consent is relative.

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      I thought she was saying that we need to be MORE considerate? That even though someone says yes, partners should be open to the fact that they might inadvertently be pressuring their parter and so that yes is tainted. Or they should just straight up know better than to even ask in certain situations like when you’re partner is barely conscious? And that everyone should make an effort to never make someone feel like they have to say yes because that’s the easier option? We obviously got two different messages from that but I don’t believe that there are weekly articles suggesting absolving people. I would be interested in the ones you think do so.

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        Sigh.

        Thank you for condescendingly letting me know that my experiences are neither real nor valid and for forcing me to go through content I already told you I find triggering and unpleasant in order to prove that, indeed, they’re not. I admit that saying one article like this pops every week was an exaggeration but it feels like it because I’ve had this frustrating conversation several times before, e.g., on this article

        http://www.autostraddle.com/erika-moen-the-autostraddle-masturbation-month-interview-177625/

        which mentions,

        “I’m not trying to give a free pass to rapists, but I do think a lot of the teenage and college sexual assault that happens – I don’t think they even realized that’s what they were doing because they don’t know what consensual sex looks like. It breaks my fucking heart.”

        Both that article and this one clearly mentioned being considerate towards rapists specifically, this is why I take issue with them. They don’t talk about partners who might have accidentally misinterpreted signals to mean consent that one time, they talk about excusing the behaviour of (any and all?) people who have raped someone, because we need to have sympathy for rapists and have conversations about consent with them / educate them so they don’t rape again (because if they do, that’s on the survivors again, isn’t it? it’s always our responsibility to stop people who are abusive towards us from harming others). But everyone already has plenty of sympathy for rapists, everyone already excuses their acts and tries to be nice to them in order to convince them not to rape again – Steubenville proved this once and for all. I need this rhetoric to stop coming from feminist spaces because it’s immensely hurtful – I need people to stop telling me I need to forgive rapists to be a “good” survivor and a “good” anti-sexual violence advocate. This reminds me very vividly of conversations about “misandry” and how feminists mustn’t hate men, and about “heterophobia” and how we mustn’t turn away allies – oppressed groups are not allowed to be angry, we must always be nice to our oppressors.

        And I need the rhetoric about how consent is “nuanced” and “relative” and very, very complicated and rapists have a very hard time understanding to stop too, because it’s actively encouraging the justice system and victim blamers to give rapists a free pass.

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          I don’t see where this article excuses rapists. You say this article isn’t about the kind of situations where you excuse a partner that one time but that’s exactly what I read. The account of one instance she had with her partner in which she gave consent but still felt assaulted.

          No one is telling you to forgive or excuse anyone’s actions. The fact is some people assault and are unaware that’s what they are doing. That’s not an excuse. It’s a sad truth. That’s not saying they’re not at fault or it’s not bad or it’s anyone fault but their own. To pretend that case’s like the interviewee’s don’t exist does more harm than good because reading stuff like this will make more people reflect on their own actions and their own relationship with consent.

          I think what the takeaway was supposed to be is that consent isn’t a one-sided conversation. Like so much goes into making sure people ask for consent but a lot of people leave out the piece about empowering individuals to say no. People will ask for consent and think they deserve a cookie but the thing about consent is just because you ask for it, doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. I think this is the gray area she was talking about and where she was trying to take the conversation. Or just because you get it, doesn’t mean you should ignore everything that’s contributing to how you got that yes. I feel like this isn’t excusing anyone. It’s asking more of everyone, including the person asking for consent. Like consent is the first step, not the last.

          To me she wasn’t reflecting on anyone’s experience nor was she trying to convince anyone to feel anyway or the other. I believe that forgiving rapists or excusing them is absolutely a thing that happens in the world and you should be angry and pissed off about it. Everyone should. I’m sorry you feel that happens in this piece but I don’t see that happening in the text.

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      While I absolutely don’t believe in absolving blame of the rapists, I think there’s some cases where it could be a genuine mistake/miscommunication. When I started dating my girlfriend we had a few situations where I felt pressured but unable to say “no” but gave off the wrong signals, resulting in my girlfriend thinking I wanted to have sex.

      Once I’d got better at communicating my needs, I expressed that it wasn’t me consenting and my girlfriend was horrified – and has never done it since.

      I’d say that’s different from having sex with a barely conscious person though. I don’t condone that, or other situation where ought to have been known. Nor do I think it’s appropriate for someone to tell the victim/survivor that they ‘misunderstood’ the situation.

      The latter is a situation I’m currently in where my social worker believes I need to “explore further” (direct quote) what happened – which considering I’m launching criminal proceedings isn’t going to an include an apology from my mother. They’ve never doubted whether her ex-boyfriend did anything though. I think it’s because he’s a man/meets a stereotype.

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    You seem really eloquent and I think it’s brave of you to come forward.

    I want to read your book, but I’m worried it might be too triggering for me. Instead I’m going to make note of it and get a copy when I’m in a more stable position.

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      Seconded. Hugs to you from someone who can identify.

      Much love and respect to Lovemme Corazon for her bravery and honesty and to Mey for tackling the interview and book with grace and care.

      Respect also for the fair warning on trigger-potential, that is very empathetic and kind.

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