This week’s blogified article is on trans, intersex, and genderqueer awareness–how and why these issues are relevant to anti-rape organizing. As always, feedback is welcome. Please enjoy!
As a lesbian, a feminist of color, and a social justice organizer for most of my life, I have always considered myself liberal in the broadest definition: open to and encouraging of change, self-reflective towards that end, and tirelessly supportive of any class of people suffering from discrimination. Particularly, I was often the person speaking first about issues considered most irrelevant and lives considered most peripheral—as any weathered activist knows, these are the most neglected issues, and the most untold stories.
I became aware of trans issues on my own, as I researched hate crimes, as trans became part of the social justice vocabulary in the late 90’s. And yet, I had little to no knowledge of intersex or genderqueer until quite recently, and my knowledge of trans issues was completely limited to hate-crime statistics. I have only spoken with one or two out trans, intersex, or genderqueer individuals in my life.
For SAFER’s new online resources, I was asked to write-up a list of ways in which TIG (my new term for trans, intersex, and genderqueer folks) issues were relevant to anti-rape organizing and rape itself. It is refreshing to feel one’s awareness expanding, especially after the arrogance of a self-identified member of multiple oppressed groups has sort of starched the brain and made me feel that since I am biracial, gay, and a girl, I therefore know all there is to know about everyone else’s experiences on the planet. Yes, this is one part confessional, three parts awareness education. Here are the facts:
What is trans?
Trans is generally accepted as an umbrella term for any person who does not fit into society’s rigid alignment of sex and gender. For instance, a person born a male who identifies as a female is trans. Trans includes transsexual and transgender, the former generally implies that a person has taken or plans on taking steps towards medical changes to make their body into that of their preferred sex. Trans, like intersex and genderqueer, does not indicate a sexual orientation of an individual, for instance, a transwoman (or Male to Female individual may identify as straight, gay, asexual, bisexual, etc).
What is intersex?
Intersex is the term for individuals who were born with genitalia that do not fit neatly into the category of either male or female. No two intersex people will be the same: meaning that their secondary sex characteristics can vary, along with gender expression, identity, and sexuality. Unlike trans people, not all intersex people identify as or are even aware of themselves as intersex. With regard to rape and hate-crime related sexual violence, there are few statistics on intersex people because unlike trans, genderqueer and many LGBQ people, the fact that they are intersex is not necessarily visible.
What is genderqueer?
Often used in a political rather than purely biological manner, genderqueer is the term people use to describe themselves if they do not fit into society’s standardized expectations for alignments of sex, gender expression, and sexuality.
Specifics on Rape and TIG
Because transwomen and transmen bear the brunt of hate crimes against the LGBTQI community, crimes which often include sexual violence, a fair amount of statistical information has been developed on the specific issues faced by trans folks when experiencing or reporting rape (much more so than information developed specifically about intersex and genderqueer folks, though the latter is often conflated with trans). For instance, one survey on hate-crimes against LGBTQI individuals found that 20% of all murders and 40% of all police-violence was directed explicitly towards trans people.
It is also reported that genderqueer individuals face violence comparable to that of many LGBTQI individuals because even if they do not identify as non-heterosexual, because of their nonconforming gender expression they are still targets of homophobic violence and sexual assault. They may also face violence merely because of their existence breaks the traditional standards for male and female or masculine and feminine.
Additionally, and importantly, TIG folks are not protected in most states from police authorities or from private institutions (including universities). This means that unlike a lesbian or a gay man who has been sexually assaulted and can report such abuse to the authorities knowing that if they receive discrimination they can legally prosecute, TIG folks have no such safety net.
Some of the biggest obstacles faced by TIG folks when reporting rape to their friends, family, universities and authorities are listed below (remember this is only a basic, inexhaustive list):
Refusal to accept their story because of prejudice against their gender expression
Refusal to prosecute the offender unless the victim submits to an invasive ‘sex determining’ test by authorities
Violence or sexual assault by the person to whom they are reporting their rape
Organizing on these issues is tricky, particularly because so few people have been exposed to TIG issues before. Even as a big ol’ homo, I never knew any out TIG folks in college, and thus have never organized with them. It is essential, however, that non-TIG folks provide good support as allies, which always means listening with open ears to the experiences of TIG members of the group, initiating (alongside TIG members, or even if there are none within the group) awareness about TIG issues, and staying positive and understanding while also keeping ignorance of members in check. TIG members and leaders in turn have the task of patience and courage, particularly if they are initiating the awareness themselves. Building strong support within the group and finding allies is a good place to start. For more information on specific organizing strategies, please see the article on SAFER’s website in the intersectionality section!