On Thursday, December 8th, the National Center for Transgender Equality released their sprawling report from the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey. The survey collected responses from nearly 28,000 transgender and gender non-conforming people, over four times as many respondents as the highly influential 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey.
As a non-binary transmasculine survivor of sexual assault and as someone who loves many other transmasculine survivors, there was a series of numbers buried on page 205 (and absent from the Executive Summary) that confirmed what I have long known anecdotally to be true: that transgender men and non-binary assigned female at birth (AFAB) people are highly likely to be survivors of sexual assault. The survey reports that 51% of transgender men and 58% of non-binary AFAB people have experienced sexual assault in their lifetimes.
The survey also notes that transgender people of color of all genders are much more likely to experience sexual assault than their white counterparts. American Indian, Middle Eastern, and multi-racial transgender men and non-binary AFAB people experienced the highest rates of sexual assault of any category of transgender people. Additionally, disabled trans folks, people how have been houseless, and trans people who have engaged in sex work reported substantially higher rates of experiences of sexual assault.
These statistics hit me especially hard because in July of this year, I myself spoke out about an act of sexual assault that I had experienced at a party that was intended to be a safe space for queer transgender and cisgender men to mingle and dance. While the majority of my queer and transgender community stood behind me and supported me, I was subject to pushback from several binary-identified trans men, attacks on my non-binary identity, scrutinization of the decisions I made around how I reported the assault, and character defamation that ranged all the way back to people I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade. Everything I’d ever heard about survivors who come forward with their stories seemed to come true.
Suffice it to say, I wondered if I had made the right choice in speaking up. I am still trying to pull myself back together five months later.
But, the number of people who came forward to thank me for speaking up, both friends and distant online acquaintances, heartened me. I realized just how many people in my community have struggled to relate our experiences to others and to call for change. I realized just how long we have been expected to either suffer in silence or put our safety and well-being on the line by opening up about our experiences.
And, I think there are a number of reasons for this. For one, I feel that the silence of men and masculine of center survivors of sexual violence is endemic to heteropatriarchy, a system built on the premise that men and masculine people should be able to have or to take whatever they want. It is also a system built on the idea that men and masculine people always want to have sex, and that it is always women or feminine people who are resistant.
When I came forward with my experience of sexual assault, I was met with resistance and with questioning of my gender expression and my place in my own community. It seemed that a culture that could hold the pain and vulnerability of men/masculine of center survivors of sexual violence like myself would also have difficulty upholding the dominance of men and masculinity, and these narratives around sex that structure that dominance.
There is another element that the survey does not make note of, which is the sexual orientation of trans survivors. Myself and many of my friends are transmasculine and non-binary people who sleep with men and who do so within the context of the gay male community. Personally, I have experienced a lot of resistance from gay cisgender men (and sometimes transgender men) who feel that fostering a culture of mutual consent and respect is antithetical to the overtly and actively sexual ethos of gay male life.
In addition, many gay, bisexual, or queer transgender men and non-binary AFAB people struggle to fit in with the gay male community because our bodies defy cisnormative standards of beauty and cissexist assumptions that particularly seem to target our genitals. Myself and many other transmasculine people I know have regularly discussed the ways that we put ourselves in unsafe or even non-consensual situations because we are so desperate to be accepted in that community.
I have been fortunate enough in these past few months to be involved in safe spaces both online and in real life where transmasculine people are beginning to really dig deep into these conversations. But, I am also someone who lives in a relatively progressive urban environment and who has access to the internet. Resources for survivors of sexual violence, transmasculine and otherwise, need to be made available to people throughout the United States. This will likely become even more crucial in the coming months and years.
Ultimately, what I hope will be taken from this survey is that there is a real dire need for greater education, resources, and space for transgender men and non-binary AFAB people to be open about our experiences of sexual assault. We need to be included in research that highlights the impact of sexual assault. We need to be visible in campaigns that target and offer support and resources to survivors. LGBT centers and clinics need to host support groups for survivors of sexual assault that include transmasculine people without impeding on the sanctity of women and femme spaces. And, we need to be prioritized as a group of people especially vulnerable to sexual assault, not merely as an inconvenient outlier.
It’s time for us to be included in this conversation. It’s time for us to have the space to speak up and be heard.
If you are a transmasculine person struggling with an experience of sexual assault, please feel free to PM me on Facebook (KC Clements) and I can connect you with a relevant online forum. You can also find contact information for organizations doing work with survivors here.