Books about sexual violence very rarely mention trans and non-binary survivors, which is why Intersections of Identity and Sexual Violence on Campus: Centering Minoritized Students’ Experiences, edited by Jessica C. Harris and Chris Linder (2017), stands out.
The authors are clear in their intentions for the book:
“We believe the conversation on sexual violence must expand to include perspectives, identities, and histories that are rarely if ever explored in the discourses on sexual violence.”
Notice the phrase, “discourses on sexual violence.” Make no mistake: this is an academic, theoretical book, not a self-help guide. It mostly concentrates on women of color, people with disabilities, and men. Many of its twelve chapters (but not all) mention trans survivors, most of them in passing. One in-depth study of 23 campus sexual assault activists, for example, included no trans individuals (discussed in the chapter, “Intersectionality, Power, Privilege, and Campus-Based Sexual Violence Activism”).
That puts a lot of pressure on Susan B. Marine’s chapter, “For Brandon, for Justice: Naming and Ending Sexual Violence Against Trans* College Students.” (Side note: clearly the book was written and edited during the brief time in which “trans*” was the term of choice. It apparently was also before the term “non-binary” was in widespread usage.)
The chapter achieves its goal of pulling together an academic overview of its topic. Marine scans the scant studies on trans sexual violence survivors, finding only one that actually focused on trans people sexually assaulted on campus: a 2015 study by the Association of American Universities that found that 29.5% of “trans*, gender-queer, questioning their identity, or gender nonconforming” individuals had experienced unwanted sexual contact of some kind while in college.
Marine also uses Brandon Teena’s case to illustrate some of her points, and discusses what campus professionals can do to improve the treatment of trans sexual violence survivors and help prevent such violence. Her three recommendations are:
Recommendation 1: All campus professionals should be familiar with trans* student needs and concerns, and committed to ending genderism.
Recommendation 2: Analyses of the causes and conditions that lead to sexual violence must include attention to the realities of trans* lives and specifically to transphobic oppression.
Recommendation 3: All prevention and response efforts related to sexual violence on campus must center trans* survivor needs and concerns.
The term “genderism” was new to this reader. Marine uses D.B. Hill’s 2003 definition:
a “system of beliefs that reinforces a negative evaluation based on gender nonconformity…. [It includes] the cultural notion that gender is an important basis by which to judge people, and that nonbinary genders are anomalies.”
“Genderism” appears to be the trans-specific counterpart to what the book identifies as other causes of sexual violence, including patriarchy, colonialism, racism, homophobia and the like.
Occasionally the author shows only a shallow understanding of the trans community. Of one 2015 study Marine notes: “It is surprising to learn that in this study, masculine-of-center trans* individuals were more likely to accept being victimized by their partners, troubling the assumption that masculinity is defined as never being vulnerable or victimized.” Those of us who work more with trans survivors understand what’s going on here quite well: given that masculinity is defined as never being vulnerable or victimized, “of course” many trans-masculine individuals would rather put up with abuse than have their masculinity challenged or questioned by reporting partner abuse.
Other times, Marine is right on target: “…the system designed to serve survivors of sexual violence is not equipped to take gender diversity into full account…”
FORGE gratefully acknowledges Marine’s several references to our work, although we are very proud of our actual hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Want more of a self-help guide? Check out FORGE’s at https://forge-forward.org/resource/self-help-guide-for-trans-survivors/