Monday, June 14, 2010
Sexual Assault in the LGBTQ community
Good morning good people! Happy Pride, to those of you who went this weekend to the parade and festivities - hope you weren’t washed away by our wonderful weather. I wasn’t able to make it to pride myself, but I was at the Dyke March on Friday night, which was a pretty sweet experience, both because the dykes on bikes gave the marchers the best escort ever, and because I almost dropped a giant “we love our dyke sisters” off the gazebo onto a couple thousand walkers. Solid!
Pride is a great opportunity to think about sexual assault in a wider context - I know I’ve written a lot about the affects of sexual violence in hetero-gender relations, and how I think that rape and sexual assault is a basic aspect of inequality between men and women. One of the more challenging parts of volunteer training for me was trying to wrap my head around sexual violence in the LGBTQ communities. While I could certainly understand that sexual violence itself is not limited to straight dudes, and not only directed at women, it was harder for me to comprehend the reality that rape and sexual assault happen in situations where there isn’t a man, acting under the influence of a society that tells them that dominance is the key to his identity, and forcing that on a woman.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who has had trouble understanding violence in this world. The Department of Justice and the National Institute of Health do collect some statistics about same-gendered partner assault, but they didn’t start doing so until recently, and the FBI still defines rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Not exactly the most open definition. In particular, numbers and information about woman-perpetrated rapes against other women or survivors who don’t identify as male is virtually non-existent.
I don’t know what sort of impact sexual assault and rape have on the gay community. I like to think that I have a lot of friends in the LGBTQ world, and we talk about many, many things (including justice and oppression overall), but sexual assault is rarely something we discuss. I have spent so much time reading second-wave literature written from the perspective of straight women about the role that rape and sexual assault had on the power level between men and women that trying to reframe the conversation about assault without there being at least one man and one woman…confuses me. My understanding of rape as a crime was (much like the FBI), a crime against a gender, a crime specifically to keep women in a place of social subordination. Even if not everyone has the exact same thoughts I do, the fact that we have so little information about assault in these communities indicates that a good chunk of the rest of our society also has trouble understanding rape outside of the standard man vs woman scenario.
A large part of why we don’t talk about sexual violence in the LGBTQ community is the gendered assumption that either you can’t rape a gay man (because men want sex all the time! With everyone!) or that lesbians or non-male identified people just don’t rape. Because lesbians don’t have sex, apparently, ever! Women don’t have sexual desire, didn’t you know?
There are some indications that sexual violence in the gay male community, especially, is perpetrated by men who do not identify as gay, possibly as a mechanism for gender enforcement - dudes who absorbed too many messages from the wider culture about how they are supposed to be men through violence and dominance of women are threatened by gay men, but even more by a gay culture that often celebrates women, femininity, and the symbols most closely associated with female sexuality. The National Centers for Victims of Crime reports:
Unfortunately, incidents of anti-gay violence also include forcible rape, either oral or anal. Attackers frequently use verbal harassment and name-calling during such a sexual assault. Given the context of coercion, however, such technically homosexual acts seem to imply no homosexuality on the part of the offenders. The victim serves, both physically and symbolically, as a “vehicle for the sexual status needs of the offenders in the course of recreational violence.”
The reality of rape and sexual assault as a prominent aspect of gender relations in the hetero-community has influenced the way men and women act for a long, long time, and the social critics of the second wave feminist movement who pointed out that this was a pillar in the overall structure of oppression against women were making a powerful observation that helped drive the rape crisis movement. I don’t doubt that the reality of sexual violence in the LGBTQ community also influences the way that members of the community interact both within it, and with the outside world.
There was a great sign at the Dyke March that said “silence is death.” Especially in marginalized communities where there isn’t a lot of mainstream attention aside from tokenism, it’s true. There are so many people who thought like I did, that rape doesn’t really happen in the LGBTQ world, because we don’t talk about it very much (aside from a few select organizations). If we don’t talk about it, we, as an entire community and allies, will never be able to identify it as a problem and find the means to stop it.