Sexual Violence Discourse and Dismantling the Notion of “Queer Utopia”

I have been putting off writing this post for a while now, because it is a very personal issue to me. Ever since I signed up to write for the Women’s Center I have wanted to write about the issue of rape in the Queer community. It seems to me that there is this widespread notion that rape does not exist in the queer community, as if the queer community is this inherently non-violent utopia and those within it can do no wrong. This is a poor representation of the reality of queer communities and lives, and sexual violence does exist within the queer community. Throughout the rest of this post/series of posts, I will refer to rape as sexual violence, because sexual assault and rape should not be differentiated; to say that one form of assault/violence is worse than another only serves to illegitimize someone’s suffering and experience. Also, I apologize in advance that this is not going to be the most well-articulated thing I have ever written, and perhaps that is because I’m still wrapping my head around these ideas, and perhaps it is because they are so personal, or maybe it’s a lot of both.
This is a huge topic to cover and I cannot cover it in one post so I hope to do a few posts, maybe two or three, to completely say my piece (and allow others to hopefully say their piece) on this topic. First I want to talk about our preconceived notions and media representations of sexual violence. I also hope this post will give some insight as to why I feel this is an important topic to talk about.
Too often, the sexual violence we hear about is brutal, it is between strangers, on buses, in alleys, and it is the kind of sexual violence that makes you want to lock your doors and take self defense classes. Though situations like these do happen, this certainly is not the most common kind of sexual violence. Sexual violence is any sexual act upon a person who has not given consent or who has directly stated that they do not want sexual contact. This includes those who are intoxicated, those who are drugged, those who are taken advantage of, or who perhaps were ok with sexual contact but then changed their mind and whose new decision is not honored (we have the right to take away consent as well as to give it), these are all instances of sexual violence, and they are most common between people who know each other. This whole notion of brutal back alley rape, though it does happen, is not the most frequent form of sexual assault, and the way the media portrays it as the definition of rape further hurts those who have encountered other (more common) forms of sexual violence. It can make a person feel as though their experience doesn’t count, as if they cannot identify as someone who has experienced sexual violence because their situation was with someone they knew or trusted, or because they changed their mind, etc., and this further isolates them from support groups, from legal justice, and other resources, because how are you supposed to seek justice when you can’t identify as a victim of something, and you can’t name what happened to you? In an article from the Journal of Marriage and Family by Lori B. Grishick titled “Woman – to – Woman Sexual Violence: Does She Call It Rape?”, it is stated that those who experience woman-to-woman sexual violence are not viewed as “legitimate” victims of sexual assault and oten do not consider themselves to be victims of rape. Given that nearly every media portrayal and story about rape and sexual violence is in a male/female (heterosexist) context, is this really surprising?
I am writing about this because I think it is necessary to address the problems that are often overlooked or sugar coated within the queer community. Adhering to unrealistic representations of “Queer Utopia” is not doing anyone any favors, and is hurting, most of all, queer folks who have experienced these problems first hand. In this multi-post series over the course of the next month or so, I hope to shed more light on the problem of sexual violence and the interlocking systems of power and domination (thanks to bell hook’s for this terminology) within the queer community. It is my hope that this will spark a deeper and more widespread discussion of these issues, and that those experiencing these issues will someday not feel as isolated and left out of discussions regarding sexual violence, because everyone’s experience is relevant and significant, and one person’s suffering should never be ranked as having more or less significance than another’s.
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