Abuse Knows No Gender “Queering Sexual Violence” Gives Victims a Voice

Book Reviews{ Riverdale Avenue Books }
Released: April 24, 2016

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This article appears in our 2017 Summer issue, Invisibility. Subscribe today!

Bare, direct consideration of one’s community carries in its openness the risk of exposing soft spots. The act of falling out of a protective stance in order to pursue and examine truth is particularly courageous in a community that has historically been denied dignity and agency, and has instead been handed violence, ridicule, and erasure. The diverse contributors included in the complicated anthology Queering Sexual Violence hold in common only two things: an identification as “queer” (though there is not a singular definition of the word) and a willingness to not only consider the metanarratives that bind them together, but also to recalibrate their own ideas through essay, interview, poetry, and artwork.

Several contributors disclose an inclination to refuse to share their own narratives in order to keep their particular experiences from being used to perpetuate stereotypes about queerness as deviance, as reaction, as choice. Editor Jennifer Patterson writes in the introduction, “I have felt the push back from other queer people who would rather I be silent because my experiences could potentially confirm those stereotypes.” Queering Sexual Violence contains opinions that do not align, that are informed by personal experience and research, and that refuse the pressure so often placed on marginalized communities to have a single message.

If you are seeking an easy-to-digest, unwavering definition of queerness and a simple how-to guide for the creation of a safer and more inclusive world, you will be disappointed. The anthology is a conversation that investigates the roots of sexual violence and outlines the limitations of our mechanisms of response: River Willow Fagan writes, “I see my genderqueerness as a creative, life-affirming response to devastating violence”; Amita Swadhin points instead to research that suggests that young children who don’t conform to gender expectations are more at risk for sexual violence than those who do. The book’s 37 contributors show the facets and contradictions inherent in the generally accepted roles of victim, survivor, and perpetrator, and ask us to think deeply about our own entrenched and often unexamined beliefs.

The effort of conforming to an imposed “normality” creates internal conflict that may be the root of much of the violence accepted by our society. But could it be that being awakened—even through violent and trauma-tic events—gives some people the courage to discard the identities forced upon them? Sexual identity is central to adult human health, and we all change over the course of our lives; why should choice be considered an inferior way of determining identity? Avoiding uncomfortable discourse doesn’t exact the deep change that is required to build a society in which absolutely no sexual violence is permissible. Or, as Patterson writes, “We believe that until we, as a culture, acknowledge that all genders experience and perpetuate violence, we will be working on only a small piece of the larger puzzle.” Anyone working on any part of that puzzle should read these accounts.

This article was published in Invisibility Issue #75 | Summer 2017

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