An open letter to the former Commune Magazine editor who raped me

You asked me many times: “Why me? Why do you keep coming back?” I told you that I was listening to my body, and my body was hooked. I didn’t know then, but I know now, that when post-traumatic stress disorder is activated, it can feel a lot like being turned on. When the body is convinced danger is present, it won’t stop searching until it locates the source of the threat. Subconsciously, we repeat the events of the past in an attempt to rewrite the scripts of our lives, to master our trauma, to create a new ending.

For most of my life, I’ve been trapped in an old script.

I grew up in a household where I was severely abused. I’ve been hit, kicked, thrown out of a window, pushed out of a moving car. I’ve been handcuffed to a bed, drugged, beaten, and left there. When I was 13, I was abruptly removed from home by the foster system. I wavered back and forth between finally feeling free and longing to go home. After I was sexually abused in the system, I ran away. At 15, I was on my own, using sex to survive.

Later in life, I reconstructed these dynamics in my relationship with a long term partner. He went out of his way to give me everything I wanted. He also abused me. In 2012, I was arrested and jailed for stabbing him in self defense. The state would never see me as a victim. For trans and queer people of color, our survival is a crime. When it was all over, I packed away my feelings and put them in a box, filed alongside many more boxes of feelings that I didn’t know what to do with, feelings that I thought I’d be better off without.

Around the same time, I became a parent.

And I learned to love, and to nurture, and to be vulnerable, and to be patient. I learned to be an excellent caregiver, for everyone but myself. I denied my own feelings and my own needs, and I focused on the needs, safety, and wellbeing of everyone else. I was afraid that, if I acknowledged that I did have feelings and needs of my own, I’d be forced to confront the ways that I’d been hurt and the ways that my needs had been unmet. I was afraid that, if I opened those boxes, I’d be paralyzed by what I’d find inside.

You asked me many times: “What’s your type? What are you looking for?” I didn’t know then, but I know now: I am drawn to the people and the places that make me feel needed. The ones that help me hide my boxes. I came back to New York because I felt called here. I felt needed at home to use the skills that I learned over the 12 years that I was gone. What I thought that meant was taking on a similar role in a similar organization and nurturing it back to life. I thought it meant honoring my younger brother’s life by repairing blood ties. When all of that blew up in my face, I was forced to confront the reality that I had really been called home to face myself, to nurture myself back to life.

Fast forward to you. I saw the red flags early on. The condescending comments, the smirking, the criticism, the intimidation, the constant accusations and interrogations, the way you towered over me in your hallway, descriptions of kink that sounded more like threats, the ways you got me to apologize for things that you’d done, the ways you exploited me, assaulted me, and then turned it around and blamed me. I saw the red flags, and I walked toward them. At best, I believed that I could be an antidote to violence. At worst, the violence made me feel at home.

You weaponized our intimacy. And in doing so, you forgot that I had the power to do the same. I chose not to use that power as a weapon. When I did share the intimate details of our relationship, I did so not to cause harm but to heal. To break the cycle, to write a new script.

You tried to hurt me many times. But you didn’t know how to hurt me. You relied on patriarchal gender norms and heterosexual conventions that I don’t subscribe to. I responded with curiosity, confusion, and compassion. You didn’t know that nothing hurts me more than a lack of alignment between the values and the actions of a self-described “revolutionary.” This hurts me at my core, because it leaves me to question: What will this mean for the new world our movements are meant to create?

After you raped me, I was challenged to respond with actions aligned with my values.

For those of us who want to build a world without prisons or police, we have had to grapple with the question: What about the rapists?

Do we engage in vigilante justice and confront them with baseball bats? Do we invite them to participate in community-based processes that encourage them to take accountability? Or, in the era of social media, do we publicly name them and allow for mob justice by a thousand Twitter users? What about a little bit of all of the above?

There is no wrong way to respond to oppressive violence. Whatever strategies we’ve used in the past were the best we had. I have pretended to be asleep. I’ve grabbed a knife. I have called the cops. I have tried to use love as an antidote. And I’ve survived to tell my stories, and to ask myself: What strategies undermine the state, and what strategies enable it? How do we avoid replicating carceral systems without minimizing or dismissing the reality and the impact of interpersonal violence? How do we hold our movement spaces to a higher standard?

We all cause harm, and we all experience harm, I often say. We have to remember the humanity of people who cause harm. We have to separate the person you are from the things you do. But what do we do when we’re faced with a pattern of abusive behavior? What if the person who caused harm expresses no remorse and seems to revel in the harm they’ve caused?

What do we do with the abusers?

I wanted you to apologize. I wanted you to own and repair the harm you caused. I wanted to understand why. I asked you to read three short essays and answer four questions:

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking at the time?
  • What have you thought about since?
  • How will we make sure this doesn’t happen again?

You said you were sorry. You said you’d read the essays. You said you’d answer the questions. And then, you raped me again.

But why? I felt like I needed answers. I needed to understand: What motivates abusive and oppressive behavior? Why do people cause harm? Why did you want to hurt me?

I read every book, every zine, and every article, searching for an answer. I created a folder where I uploaded screenshots of our messages, organized them by medium, and labeled each file with the date and the abusive behavior. I pored over these messages, working to identify a pattern, to solve it like a math problem, to analyze it like a case study, to cure it like a disease.

Now, I realize that, while my questions may have helped you to interrogate your own behavior, they’d never give me the answers that I needed.

None of us are immune to the ways that systems of oppression manifest in our everyday lives. We all breathe in air polluted by rape culture, white supremacy, cisheteropatriachy, ableism, ageism, and capitalism. If we don’t consciously, and constantly, struggle against the messages of the dominant culture, we are bound to internalize oppression. People engage in abusive, oppressive behaviors because it benefits them in the short term to align with systems of power. The consequences fall not on the oppressor, but on the oppressed.

The question isn’t: why do people abuse & oppress others? The question is: Why don’t we?

What can we learn about making a revolution from the practice of rejecting oppressive behaviors in our everyday lives? How do we wake up every day, breathe in air polluted by rape culture and interlocking systems of oppression, and exhale in a way that heals?

In an unpublished essay, you argued that there are lulls between mass uprisings, and that organizers like me fill these lulls with organizing activities that make no impact and burn us out. I told you that you wrote from a position of privilege. There are no lulls for some of us. Many of us organize because we are directly impacted. We are dragged into these fights. We are faced with the urgent need to change the conditions of our everyday lives. Not all of us have the luxury of an armchair on which to theorize about what it might take to make a revolution.

Many of us, especially those who are Black and brown, trans and queer, sex working, disabled, and housing insecure, are making a revolution, here and now.

I told you that, in my experience, the greatest sources of burnout are interpersonal conflict, interpersonal violence, and the choice of self-described revolutionaries to align with power to secure short term, short sighted wins. In doing so, our own comrades throw those of us who are more marginalized under the bus and sabotage our collective struggle for liberation.

And isn’t that what happened here? You abused, assaulted, manipulated, and exploited me. You were never going to answer my questions. You were never going to make it right. And I could wait forever for you to stop causing harm, show remorse, and take accountability, or I could create a new context to make it clear that radical change was the only path forward.

Like Assata Shakur said, “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”

Rape is a political act backed by a history of colonization and oppression. Rape is an act of war. You dragged me into this fight. I reclaimed my power through collective action. By organizing my community, I shifted the power imbalance between us. I shifted the burden of dealing with the consequences of your actions off of me and back to where that burden belonged: with you.

We all cause harm, and yet we don’t all engage in a repetitive pattern of seeking power and control over our intimate partners. You turned our dynamic into a game of chess, each move carefully calculated to keep you in control. You tried to turn me into a pawn, but chess is a two-player game. Each of us involved our communities to play a role. You gathered your community to protect and enable your abuse. You hid your oppressive behavior behind a leadership role in a leftitst publication. I gathered my community, too. You abused me, and I countered violence with nurturance. You isolated me, and I countered isolation with public action. You lied about what you did, and I countered dishonesty with transparency. You internalized oppression and aligned with the state to uphold patriarchal domination. I am embodying revolution, moving toward liberation, and leaving no one behind.

Consider yourself in check.

Some questioned my decision to withhold your name. Communities should know if there’s a rapist, they said. But there’s always a rapist. Maybe it’s a roommate, a friend, a partner, a comrade. Making a list of every person who has harmed, or might harm, won’t make us safer. We’d all be on it.

In a conscious effort to avoid replicating carceral systems like sex offender registries, I have focused not on who you are, but what you did. It’s behavior, not identity, that gives us the information we need to respond. The day after you raped me, you were crossing the boundaries of someone else who repeatedly rejected your advances. This happened in plain sight. No one intervened. What if it had happened differently? What if we all took collective responsibility for community safety?

When we take action to respond to oppressive behaviors, we create a context that demonstrates that violence won’t be tolerated. We create a new world and a new way of living, loving, and being. We won’t make a revolution by replacing old systems of domination with new systems of domination. We’ll make a revolution by turning this world inside out.

Like Angela Davis said, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world, and you have to do it all the time.”

On the days that I feel hurt, I think to myself, “Why do I allow myself to be victimized in this way?” On the days that I feel rage, I think, “I hunt men like you for sport.” In both thoughts, I assign myself a level of power and responsibility that’s more than human. Capitalist culture has instilled in me that I am responsible for everything that happens to me. When I blame myself and apologize for harm I didn’t cause, it’s because I’ve internalized capitalist oppression.

I’m still learning, too, to breathe in polluted air and exhale in a way that heals.

I am not responsible for what you did, or for what you do next. I cannot fix or change you, but I can work to change the world around you. I could wait forever for you and your community to show signs of genuine accountability, or I can redirect my energy toward making resources available to those who have demonstrated the will to change.

A lesson I have learned through experiments in transformative justice is that the success of a community accountability process cannot depend on an abuser’s willingness to be accountable, or even to stop causing harm. This is a setup for failure that gives abusers too much power. In the process I designed, you used many of the same abuse tactics to exert control: distortions, selfishness, manipulation, gaslighting, and then, when I said that I would walk away, a sudden transformation. You still did not take full responsibility, but just enough to tempt me to give you another chance, just enough to keep me in a process that had already extended far beyond the timeline that I had outlined. I’d seen these patterns before. You used the accountability process to further your abuse, uninterrupted by your community until it was far too late; the damage had already been done. Perhaps this is the only way you know how to behave. Perhaps your accountability team didn’t open the folder I shared because they didn’t want to see, didn’t want to know. And when the extent of your sexual violence and abuse became undeniably clear, perhaps it was easier for them to distance themselves in the end than to acknowledge the ways that they had participated.

Removing one rapist from a community is the easy work; interrogating the ways that the community has promoted and enabled rape culture is the hard part.

I will always have faith in your humanity and your capacity to transform, and the capacity of your community to be accountable. I also know that change takes time. Your violence is part of something that’s larger than you, and my struggle against your violence is part of something that’s larger than me. The invitation is open to leave this oppressive violence on the side of capitalist, white supremacist, cis heteropatriarchy, and to join my struggle against it. For now, we can build accountable communities by ensuring that survivors are supported, abusers face consequences, and the conditions are created for safety, healing, justice, and accountability.

In these ways, my process of seeking community accountability has been successful:

  • I was believed, centered, and supported by my community;
  • We de-platformed an abuser from a leftist publication;
  • We made the abuser’s community acutely aware of their wide range of abuse tactics;
  • We called on the abuser’s community to be accountable for enabling abuse, recognizing that gendered violence is not an individual problem but a community problem;
  • We constrained the abuser’s ability to cause harm by reporting them on sex/dating apps and increasing community awareness, without enabling online harassment;
  • We challenged a politic that sees revolutionary activity as disconnected from the realities and conditions of our everyday lives;
  • We ensured that the abuser had resources and support to start lifelong work toward accountability and transformation.

I challenge you to join me in making a revolution, here and now, where it matters: in our communities, in our movements, and in ourselves.

Here are resources to get started:

Articles & Zines for Survivors

Articles & Zines for People who Caused Harm

Resources on Community Accountability

I have enormous gratitude to the community that has supported me, and especially: Tasha Amezcua, Sophie Ellman-Golan, Jordan DeLoach, Noah Zazanis, Red Schulte, Matilda Sabal, Nina Luo, Darakshan Raja, Je’Kendria Trahan, Julie Xu, Jessica Peñaranda, alicia sanchez gill, Kate D’Adamo, Kai Cole, Amanda Lindamood, Sasanka Jinadasa, & Bryn. I am also incredibly grateful for the support I’ve received from some of the political spaces closest to my heart: Bluestockings, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, DecrimNow DC, Decrim NY, Justice for Muslims Collective, and Survived & Punished.

If you’re seeking to support me as I continue to navigate healing, safety, justice, and accountability, the best way to do so is by supporting my survival.

queer mama. prison abolitionist. community organizer. reader of Black feminist theory. lover of dance cardio.