The Me Too movement has given many women the courage to speak up about their experiences with sexual assault and has opened up a nationwide dialogue about consent and sexual misconduct in our culture. As with many mainstream feminist movements, however, the movement has been silent at best — and hostile at worst — when it comes to the experiences of transgender people.
Take, for example, actress Rose McGowan’s encounter with a trans woman at a Jan. 31 speaking engagement. During an appearance at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in Manhattan, Andi Dier stood up and challenged comments McGowan had made on RuPaul’s podcast “What’s the Tee?” last year. “They [trans women] assume,” the actress said on the podcast, “because they felt like a woman on the inside . . . That’s not developing as a woman. That’s not growing as a woman, that’s not living in this world as a woman.”
“Trans women are dying,” Dier said during her confrontation with McGowan, “and you said that we, as trans women, are not like regular women. We get raped more often. We go through domestic violence more often. There was a trans woman killed here a few blocks [away].” The confrontation erupted into a shouting match between the two, ending with Dier being escorted out of the venue and McGowan having a public breakdown.
To be fair, McGowan did say trans women are women during her talk, and she acknowledged the alarming rates of sexual violence against trans women.
Shortly after the encounter, allegations of sexual misconduct against Dier came to light, some of them dating back to 2010. However, instead of focusing on transmisogyny and sexual assault against trans and gender-nonconforming people, most of the media focus was on McGowan. This, unfortunately, is just one example how trans and gender-nonconforming people’s stories are far too often ignored.
“When trans women do report sexual harassment or abuse, they are often met with comments like, 'Welcome to womanhood.'”
The movement using language such as “women and femmes” still excludes nonbinary people from the discourse. When my friend Kris, who uses they/them pronouns, tried to talk about their assault, they said, “it was like it didn’t matter unless I was willing to be like, ‘Yes, I am a woman’ or ‘Yes, I’m a femme.’ And I’m not either. I’m nonbinary.” According to Kris, the validity of their assault story relied heavily on “what [they] have below the waist.”
Ollie, another non-binary friend who was assigned female at birth, had a similar experience. “In the beginning,” Ollie said, “I posted my #MeToo status on Facebook until I saw the word ‘woman’ being associated with it. I took it down shortly after posting it.” Although Ollie never saw any outright hostility toward trans and gender-nonconforming people, they (Ollie also uses they/them pronouns) saw that the discourse centered around cis women so much that they felt like they were not welcomed.
To be fair, several trans women have come out with their #MeToo stories, including Laverne Cox and Sarah McBride. However, no trans and gender-nonconforming people were featured in Time magazine’s profile of the #MeToo “Silence Breakers” last year. There is only a brief mention of how, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 47 percent of trans people say they experienced sexual violence sometime during their lives.
When trans women do report sexual harassment or abuse, they are often met with comments like, “Welcome to womanhood.” This is what happened to Heidi, a 30-something trans woman. “Whenever I get catcalled or some dude touches me in a weird way or creeps me out,” she said, “I tend to just keep it to myself.” She did eventually share her story of being groped at a concert on Facebook. Heidi said she didn’t receive any backlash against her #MeToo story, but she was worried whether or not her account would be validated because, prior to coming out, she was known as “a burly Army dude.” It wasn’t until she started transitioning that Heidi started getting unwanted attention from men, she said.
“The general discourse surrounding sexual violence still centers around cis women.”
As activist Raquel Willis noted back in October, “Transgender and gender nonconforming people are rarely given the space to discuss the sexual violence that we face partly due to damaging notions of us as being predators ourselves or the idea that we’re not desirable enough for anyone to commit an act like that against us.”
Indeed, many who support bathroom bills that bar trans people from using the bathroom that aligns with their true gender claim that allowing “men in dresses” to use women’s bathrooms will lead to assault, even though studies show trans women are more likely to be assaulted in public bathrooms than cis women. As far as trans people not being “desirable enough,” there’s been a lot of debate about whether refusing to date a trans person is considered transphobia. While no one should be forced to date anyone, sometimes when someone says they don’t want to date a trans person, it’s because trans women are still thought of as men.
The Me Too movement has revealed a larger reason why trans and gender-nonconforming people aren’t given space to tell their stories: The general discourse surrounding sexual violence still centers around cis women. If the movement wants to continue to make progress, it needs to rethink its rhetoric and challenge its gender binary-based way of thinking.
For example, instead of framing the conversation as a cis men vs. cis women struggle, it’s more appropriate to frame it as a discussion on toxic masculinity and how it often preys on non-men and those considered not “manly” enough. Trans stories of sexual assault should not be reserved for just LGBTQ publications; we need more recognition from the mainstream press. Hopefully, more trans and gender-nonconforming people will then feel comfortable coming out with their own stories, and our society can truly change.