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There are few books that explicitly address the sexual assault of transgender and non-binary people, which makes Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement  stand out.

That does not mean this is a must-read for all trans sexual assault survivors.  As might be expected, many entries will be triggering for survivors due to stories of assaults and poor responses to victims. But this reviewer’s doubts go beyond that. Being the first-of-its-kind, Queering covers a lot of ground. Maybe too much. The book is divided into four sections: redefining, reclaiming, resisting, and reimagining. These titles suggest there may be a logical progression in which entries build to a conclusion, but this reader didn’t recognize any conclusions. Moreover, the sections tempt readers to ask, “Why was this placed in this section and not over here, where it seems to fit better?” It isn’t possible to skip entries that retell abuse stories to concentrate on those that address more conceptual issues, for example, or vice versa. It would also be difficult for those looking for gender identity mirroring to figure out which entries are about trans issues, although one could read “About the Contributors” first to see which authors explicitly identify as trans or non-binary.

Yet the book is extremely important to both trans survivors and to the development of a more holistic and realistic conception of sexual assault and how we are to reduce its occurrence and heal its victims. In a breath of fresh air, several entries explicitly address why it doesn’t work in queer communities to divide victims and perpetrators into two distinct, non-overlapping categories. Contributor Rousse Arielle explains:

By defining the Survivor as someone who ideally prosecutes and expels the Perpetrator, many individuals and communities are forced to choose between the support and resources available for the “good” Survivor and the preservation of their families and communities.  (p. 46)

Author Pam Mack also blurs the lines between perpetrator and victim – as well as acknowledging female perpetrators — when she says of her incestuous mother:

I interpret my mother as acting out her own pain, passing it on because she didn’t want to be alone.  (p. 56)

Several contributors address the disputed linkage between being sexual assaulted and coming out trans or queer, with people falling on both sides of the question. One who said their gender identity was definitely influenced by being a sexual assault survivor was River Willow Fagan:

…[F]or me, my genderqueerness is inextricably bound up with my history of being sexually abused; my father’s violence seared into me the deep conviction that I did not want to be like him, i.e., a man.  (p. 18)

Jen LaBarbera agrees:

And here’s the other part of this truth that nobody wants me to say and nobody wants to hear: I am queer at least in part because I was sexually abused. (p. 83)

Jennifer Patterson, on the other hand, chafes against the sexual assault/queerness linkage:

Because life as a queer survivor is my reality, I often forget that other people see these two things about me as intrinsically linked, bound by dysfunction. They are seen as a confirmation of my perversion. The conscious and unconscious ways people pervert sexual and gender identity through the lens of abuse has been something I have experienced consistently since I began identifying as queer and a survivor. (p. 105)

Some of the contributions that deserve to be called out because they touch on topics that are rarely discussed within our communities include:

  • “Sweet Release: BDSM and Healing” addresses using BDSM as a tool for healing (pp. 69-74).
  • “The Healing Journey as a Site of Resistance” is about sustained ritual abuse at the hands of high-level government officials/family members (pp. 153-166). Note: This is the only entry that is preceded by a caution that the abuse is only alleged.
  • “Compassion and Glitter” includes drawings by an HIV+ trans woman (pp. 177-187).
  • “Through a Queer Lens: Challenging Our Heteronormative Response to Women’s Intimate Partner Violence,” while not addressing trans issues directly, does talk about how one community reacted – or not – when it became clear that one of its members had committed intimate partner violence against another member (pp. 195-200).
  • “All That Sheltering Emptiness” addresses sexual assault against a sex worker (pp. 221-223).
  • “Holding the Pattern While Living Our Truth: Ida Hammer Speaking on Violence Against Trans Women, as told to Reina Gossett” talks with the founder of the Trans Women Anti-Violence Project (pp. 225-229).

Trans sexual assault survivors may not want to read this book cover-to-cover, but you may want to have it on your shelf and selectively dip into the contributions that call to you.