TITLE: Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement
AUTHOR: edited by Jennifer Patterson
RELEASED: April 2016; Riverdale Avenue Books
KEY INFO: non-fiction, anthology, advocacy and activism, radical organizing
REPRESENTATION: queer authors, non-binary, trans women, trans men, cis queer women, women of colour, people of colour, survivors, mental illness (not complete list)
CONTENT NOTICES: pretty much everything you can think of – rape, sexual violence, incest, child abuse, eating disorders, BDSM, institutional violence, suicide attempts, physical violence, racism, racialized violence, neglect, emotional abuse, domestic abuse.
Writing this review is incredibly hard because Queering Sexual Violence is such an important book which is packed full of queer people’s lived experiences of sexual violence. How do you even begin to rate and review a book which shares incredibly sensitive, emotional, powerful life experiences of which many of the contributors are sharing for the first time? It’s an almost impossible task and as such, I want to shift the focus of this review away from “reviewing” their stories and focus it instead on the anthology instead – what it’s about, why it’s so important, and my experience of reading the collection as a whole.
“I do not see these aspects of my identity as separate, or separable. They do not exist as isolated truths. Each identity plays into and informs the other…”
I want to start by saying that the importance of Queering Sexual Violence (QSV) should not be understated. As a queer, transmasculine person I have never seen myself reflected within anti-sexual violence discourses or welcomed into sexual survivor spaces and this is often the case for many fellow queer people who are constantly denied access too. QSV brings together a diverse collection of 37 contributions from queer, trans and gender non-conforming survivors from within the anti-violence movement and is organized around four themes; Redefining, Reclaiming, Resisting, Reimagining. It is a space in which they are able to speak, to share, to rage, to cry, to reflect, to organize, and to challenge dominant sexual violence discourse.
“In order to truly address the root causes of sexual violence and move forward… we must abandon the Victim/Survivor and Survivor/Perpetrator binaries. Maybe then we will be better able to embrace our own complex identities, create a truly anti-sexual violence framework… and sustain a powerful and inclusive movement”
One of the main things that I loved about this anthology is that it disrupts so many of the harmful dichotomies which are entrenched within the anti-violence movement and sexual violence discourse such as victim/survivor, victim/perpetrator, male/female, safe/unsafe. Men are always framed as perpetrators of sexual violence, women always as the victims. As one contributor argues, these strict oppositional presentations oversimplify all of the complexities and nuances of individuals, relationships, narratives, and experiences, and which result in the perpetuation of violence against queer people. Abusive female partners are allowed to continue access to those that they have abused, even within “safe spaces”. Abused men are denied access from community support groups and organizing spaces, leaving them isolated and vulnerable to further abuse. People of colour are subjected to further racism and racialized violence, and trans people are left out in the cold with no resources despite both people of colour and trans people (especially QTIPOC) experiencing disproportionate amounts of sexual violence.
“And standing there, I asked myself: am I a Survivor? I had survived my battles – I was alive, after all – but she made it sound like this Survivor was someone in particular, someone unabashed, sweet, optimistic… someone with an obligation. And I knew I could never be that Survivor.”
For the first time, I found myself being able to relate to some of the narratives told throughout this collection. As mentioned before, as a queer, transmasculine person I have been constantly denied access to survivor spaces and from entering into anti-violence discourses because men are always seen as perpetrators of violence and therefore are unsafe. Like many of the contributors, this has meant that I haven’t been allowed the space to share my experiences or even begin to process things that have happened to me in the past, yet countless abusive non-male identified people are welcomed into those spaces and allowed to continue enacting their abusive behaviors upon others. QSV is so, so, so important for not only disrupting these harmful attitudes but also for providing a space for queer people to actually see themselves reflected in the narratives being shared.
“We believe that offering this gender inclusive model of safe space is essential because what we are trying to exclude from a safe space is not a particular form of body… but rather, the potential, will, and habit to do violence in its many subtle and blatant forms”
It would be impossible to truly give an accurate picture of all the things that QSV offers in a way that would do it any kind of justice. All I can do is encourage you all to pick up the anthology, delve into the experiences being shared, and see for yourself. I was first approved for QSV on Netgalley almost a year ago and it took me a long while to work up to it because I was worried that it would be too heavy to read. Of course, the book does deal with very heavy topics including rape, sexual violence against children including parent/child rape, institutional violence, and suicide attempts to name but a few. However, I personally found it not as heavy to read due to the personal nature of many of the stories but there were a few that I did struggle with – especially those that gave graphic details, used ase-exclusive language, or focused heavily on BDSM.
Lastly, the reasons that I gave this anthology a 3.5-star rating rather than 5 stars is for the following reasons:
- Although QSV as a whole speaks of the importance of disrupting gendered discourse around sexual violence, I was very disappointed by the lack of representation of trans-masculine people. As far as I could work out 6 of the contributors were non-binary, 2 male-identified, and the other 29 works were by queer women (both cis and trans). Although it was amazing to see so many radical voices challenging the idea of men as perpetrators it was gutting that there weren’t any contributions that spoke to my experiences as a trans masculine person.
- As far as I’m aware, there wasn’t any inclusion of asexual or aromantic people are their experiences with sexual violence. In fact, several of the works spoke about the importance of consensual sex and/or BDSM practices for being able to work through a history of sexual violence. In one case, it was argued that sex is the only thing that can achieve that fully which I personally found to be very erasive of asexual people.
- Lastly, I loved that QSV is a collection which depicts multiple experiences, identities, and truths which is imperative for challenging discourses around the “right way” to experience and recover from sexual violence. However, I did find the anthology to be a little bit too long and found it difficult to keep going towards the end – simply because I ran out of steam. It would be a great collection to dip and out of though.
Regardless of these few niggly bits, I would really encourage others to read QSV and encourage others to read it to. The positives of the anthology definitely outweigh the negatives by far and QSV is a fantastic resource that should be utilized more both by people within and outside of radical movements. I will definitely be purchasing a physical copy to continue to refer back to, and am incredibly thankful to both the editor, contributors and publisher for bringing this collection out into the world.