Finding Nowhere To Go When You’re Transmasculine And Sexually Assaulted

Flickr/com/Marite Toledo
Sexual assault — and the lack of resources for survivors— in the trans community is literally a matter of life and death.

Content Note: transphobia, rape, suicide

I had sex last night for the first time since I’ve moved here, I told one of my friends via text message. It was early morning, and I wasn’t even sure if he’d be awake.

How was it? he asked.

I thought about it.

I didn’t even know the guy’s name. I met him on Grindr.

Then:

It was really hot, until he took the condom off and had anal sex with me without my consent.

It took me a week to realize I was sexually assaulted — if not raped.

During that week of not realizing, I fell into a deep and serious depression. I couldn’t figure out why. I’d moved to rural Ohio from New York City about a year before. Due to lack of access to trans-competent health and psychiatric care in my new home, I’d started ordering the mental health meds I’d been on for almost a decade from Canada.

I kept telling myself that my depression was because of my medications — the compound or dosage was different. In reality, I was avoiding the fact that I was going through a crisis in a place that didn’t even know what a trans person was, let alone have trans-focused sexual assault support. I felt trapped and confused on top of the shame and guilt that I now know is common among people who have survived such assaults.

According to most studies, about 50% of transgender people report sexual abuse or assault at some point in their lives. I emphasize report here, because how many of us experience it is actually unknown.

About 50% of transgender people report sexual abuse or assault at some point in their lives. I emphasize report here, because how many of us experience it is actually unknown.

Then there’s the dearth of resources for trans survivors. We often cannot turn to the two places survivors are pointed to in these situations — law enforcement or doctors. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 29% of trans people report being harassed by the police and 25% have reported some sort of assault or harassment from medical care providers in doctor’s offices or hospitals. With these two categories largely serving as the gatekeepers of sexual assault reports, the actual, unreported numbers of assault are likely much higher.

Consider this when assessing this finding from a 2011 study, Injustice at Every Turn: While, on average, 41% of trans people attempt suicide, the numbers of attempted suicide rise to 64% for those who have been sexually assaulted. Sexual assault in the trans community — even the ones that don’t result in murder, as many do — is literally a matter of life and death.

My own experience mirrors these dramatic findings. In the few hours between when I finally put the words “sexual assault” on what had happened to me and I went to the ER, the depression I’d been feeling made way for panic. A panic that had been building since I woke up the day after the assault, feeling horrified, ashamed, and trapped.

Even before the assault, I had been feeling the pressure of moving into a small, rural area that fundamentally misunderstood transness. When I had tried to get medical care for the ongoing needs of my transition locally, I was told with a shrug by my primary care physician that not only did she not prescribe hormones in that capacity, she couldn’t think of a local endocrinologist at all. She did ask me, however, each time I visited — despite the fact that I told her I wasn’t interested in it the first time she asked — when I was planning on having The Surgery.

I finally called the clinic’s parent organization to report that their doctors were in severe need of transgender training, and let my health insurance lapse because there didn’t seem any way I could use it locally, and I certainly wasn’t going back to that doctor. I’ve had the cops called on me at the local Bureau of Motor Vehicles for asking to have my middle name, Alexis, put on my driver’s license, as it had been on the New York license I was turning in. When I had tried to get my routine STI testing done a few months ago, the clinic I went to in Ashtabula, Ohio refused to test me for anything unless I took off my pants and let them examine my genitals. To say I was terrified of what would happen if I went and reported the assault to a doctor or police officer is an understatement.

Since starting HRT, my sex drive has increased noticeably. While I may have been safe hooking up with semi-strangers in New York due to the existence of a large community of queer and trans and kink and poly people, I don’t know of any such community out here in Ohio. Completely aware of how often women are victim-blamed for their own rape and sexual assault, how would I avoid such a thing as a 35-year-old practically going through puberty and hooking up with people on gay cruising sites? I wasn’t even remotely convinced I could. What’s the recourse, then, for the 16% of trans people who reported to the Injustice at Every Turn survey that they’d been forced into underground labor by their gender, such as sex work? Even less.

To say I was terrified of what would happen if I went and reported the assault to a doctor or police officer is an understatement.

In those panicky hours after putting a name on the assault, I spent some time Googling. I waded through a lot of bathroom safety conversations; the irony of them preventing me from finding aid was not lost on me. Here I was, part of the population that cis people were clutching their pearls about allowing to use bathrooms with them, while I was also the one who had been assaulted, by a cis person. I found a lot of TERFs (trans exclusionary radical feminists) talking about how trans masculine people experiencing rape was just more proof they were really women.

But it was the statistics related to the number of trans women who experienced sexual assault that really put my situation in perspective. As I mentioned earlier, the rape and assault of transgender women is at crisis rates, often resulting in murder, particularly for trans women of color. While I understand a triage approach in which the most egregious crimes like these are responded to first, I still found myself, a white, trans-masc person, in a serious crisis without anywhere to reach out. The resources for the trans community are already severely limited. Where you live makes a huge difference — there is no local Anti-Violence Project in rural Ohio. There is no trans clinic that my 15-year-old, falling apart car will take me to; even the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization’s offices are far away.

Late that night, I finally went to the local ER. My car was broken down, and I walked about a mile in the dark, jumping at every noise nearby. The doctors were kinder than I would have imagined. They brought me a heated blanket, and they told me that I seemed to be doing remarkably well for an isolated trans person with bipolar disorder who was in crisis. They told me that my gender identity shouldn’t matter in being able to report what had happened.

But it did. It does. There was nothing that they could tell me that would make it not matter.

They did blood and urine tests for STIs and did not push me to go to the police. They offered me numbers for local therapists and endocrinologists. I was there less than an hour, all told, and in that time, they did more for me than I’d been able to do in a year of visiting local clinics and talking to doctors. Sadly, it all came with about a $2,000 price tag that I can’t even begin to pay.

I went home and posted a warning on the local Queer Exchange that folks should watch out for a white, bearded, cis man looking for “twinks,” “bottoms,” and “trans people” to hook up with on Grindr. I felt terrible that there was nothing more I could do, but I didn’t see any way to proceed without re-victimizing myself.

The statistics on why trans people don’t seek help after sexual assault are staggering.

In the end, the best I could do about my sexual assault was make sure I hadn’t contracted an STI, and alert the few people I knew who could also be victims of the perpetrator in the area.

The statistics on why trans people don’t seek help after sexual assault are staggering. I don’t have great answers to how to solve them. I can simply implore every medical professional, every police officer, every person who works with trans youth, to know that the person standing before you has a 1 in 2 chance of having been a victim of sexual violence.

By sharing my experience, I can simply attest to what that can look like when you have nowhere to turn.

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