He was my dude, my nigga, my friend. The details of that night are mine to keep, a privacy I allow myself, even as I often openly share my childhood sexual trauma. This particular violation—rape—came at a crossroads in my life. I was figuring out two things: blackness and butchness, and trying hard to do “the most” with both of those identities.
As the #MeToo movement pushes forward, I long to hear the narratives of other butch/masculine of center women who’ve experienced sexual violence. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but consent is an everyday thing, and not something we should just be aware of and discuss in April.
And every April, I look around hoping to hear the voices and see the faces of MoC women. I am excited that we are hearing more from men and especially transgender women of color, who are the most vulnerable to sexual violence. But where are the MoC women?
The beauty of the #MeToo movement is that it’s ripe for these stories because the whole point is to lift up the experiences of survivors who often get left out of the conversation: indigenous women, women of color, trans people, sex workers, people with disabilities, etc.
I know there’s room within the movement to talk about how surviving sexual assault has impacted not just femme-identified folks but also butch and MoC folks. But now that the movement is all around me, I find myself sometimes avoiding the articles and interviews.
I don’t want to remember that night because I’ve already spent so much time remembering my childhood sexual trauma. I’ve spent so much time working to heal from what happened to me as a kid that I don’t want to have to recall what it means to be violated as an adult in my fatter, butch body, a body I thought would protect me from men.
It is difficult to talk about that night. In fact, I don’t talk about that night. I don’t relay the details. I feel the same guilt and shame as many other women who have experienced sexual assault. Then, as an MoC woman, there’s another level of shame and fear that reminds me of the language used by cisgender men who’ve been raped by other cis men: If a man could assault me, how does that affect my masculinity? If a man could assault me, how could I protect my femme partner? If a man could assault me, does this make me weak?
So many questions, questions that are rooted in a destructive and toxic form of masculinity.
I was my most toxic prior to the assault. I was in my hyperblackness, hating what it meant to be biracial, trying to “out-black” other black folk. I simultaneously denied my sexuality and embraced it privately. I was being taught in my “hyper pro-black” circles (what we now identify as “Hotepery” or “ashiness”) that gayness is detrimental to the black community and family.
But in private, I was performing butch identity by emulating toxic cis men, trying to outdrink, out-smoke and out-objectify women and attempting to become more “male” than the men I hung out with.
I’ve written about this crew before, but not necessarily how my friendship with those men—and the man who assaulted me—ended. The last words he said to me were: “Now that you had some good dick, maybe you’ll stop acting like a nigga so much.”
Those words, burned into my brain, have affected my identity and my sexuality. Even as I write this, I wonder: How far do I go? How much do I say? Will people still see me as butch if I reveal this violation?
After the assault, I allowed my MoC identity to be a shield against intimacy and sometimes touch, and even love. I wavered between assuming a hypersexual identity to prove I was unaffected by the violation, and taking on more of a “stone” persona because that was the only way I could make sense of the desire to not be touched.
I also, for a time, pushed away my MoC identity, blaming it as the source of my assault. Essentially, I imprisoned myself in a femme identity that didn’t feel authentic, and I felt that I didn’t “deserve” to be MoC if I couldn’t protect myself from men.
Even now, communicating sexual boundaries is challenging. I want my partner to see me in all my MoC glory, but also allow some flexibility for how that glory may manifest. I recognize that framing my assault as a symbol of weakness is wrapped up in sexism and misogyny. I don’t see it as weak for other women, just for myself.
And still, I ask, where are the MoC women’s voices?
While MoC women are not trans* (at least, I don’t identify myself this way), we are transgressing traditional ideas of womanhood. We know that trans women are often targeted for sexual violence because of cis men’s homophobia and toxic masculinity. These cis men don’t see trans women as women. They see trans women as men, which they are not. Therefore, an attraction to trans women leads many cis men to question their own sexuality.
We don’t hear enough about violence toward trans women, and we rarely hear about trans men or MoC women being sexually assaulted. Many men see trans men and MoC women as violating cis men’s space, co-opting an identity that they couldn’t possibly understand. It makes cis hetero men uncomfortable seeing a woman transgressing, and sometimes that discomfort is weaponized in the form of sexual violence.
I remember having a conversation with a cis hetero man about being MoC. He laughingly told me that he’d “changed” many butch “girls,” and that all they needed was a good fuck and a hug to get them into a dress. I laughed uncomfortably; how could he know that my rapist believed the same thing?
There is a link between this kind of narrow thinking about gender identity and the brutality of “corrective rape,” or using rape as a means to “turn” an individual perceived or known to be queer into a heterosexual, or to force them to conform to gender stereotypes.
Both of my experiences with sexual violence were in relation to my sexuality and/or my gender identity. In knowing this, for me, standing in my truth is an act of defiance and survival. Every day that I move through the world as an MoC woman, I’m defying the individuals who wanted to strip my identity away from me.
I want a clean ending to this piece. I want to tell you that the man who violated me got locked up, that I took control of the situation. I didn’t. I walked away from that crew of men. I didn’t tell anyone about them. They are my secret. Back then, I immersed myself in my online life. I moved my butch identity to the virtual world rather than the in-person one. I distanced myself from cis hetero men as much as possible.
In hindsight, from where I am right now in this 46-year-old body, I suppose the best part of this experience is that it made me confront what it means for me to perform womanhood. It made me challenge my own dangerously misguided beliefs about femmes. It made me embrace my MoC identity as more than armor but as a significant piece of who I am.
In an effort to create a space for more butch/MoC women survivors, here’s my story. Maybe some other butch/MoC woman will read this and know that she’s not alone.