“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

—Audre Lorde

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My assailants told me I was cute, that I was beautiful and small, that I was sweetness, that my hair was soft, that I looked innocent. My assailant told me he wanted a threesome. My assailant told me I was a “virgin homo,” and that I’d learn to like it rough. My assailant told me she would make it pleasurable while I wept. My assailants probably do not remember my name. The way I remember the trauma, I remember what of my body was taken, what of myself was changed after they assumed access to my body. But I also remember who they were in contrast to who I was; the sameness of one of my assailants, that we share a community, that the bisexual man who assaulted me that same night was asking the other assailant the same questions. I remember the difference.I remember that all of us are somehow marginalized for our sexuality, but that a power imbalance was still present, that I was victimized anyway, that my femininity was commented on again and again by both of them. I still wonder what that power imbalance was, and when I enter spaces of discourse about sexual violence I find myself apologizing for the way my story does not fit the dominant narrative of men abusing women.

I am often aware that my story of abuse is an anomaly, or at least not typical in the way discourse surrounding sexual violence is constructed. At the same time that I am grateful for the language feminism, LGBTQ activism and social justice movements have given me to describe my experiences, I am also aware that they have not provided me with the nuance to fully understand my trauma. My apprehension of sharing my experience, in any context, is present as a result of this lack of nuance. I am afraid that when I say I’ve been abused by women more than once, I’ve committed a grave sin against feminism. In women-only spaces I fear I will become the one with internalized misogyny and am therefore silenced. In LGBTQ spaces I am afraid I have betrayed the community because I was assaulted by a lesbian and a bisexual man. In more general spaces I am afraid that homophobes will use my story as justification for their claims that lesbians are predatory. My story has become another closet of sorts for me.

What I know about the “closet,” the place I kept my sexuality hidden, is that there is a void of language there. I don’t have the terminology to fully understand this experience of abuse. I can say they assumed access to my body, that I was assaulted, that I was not able to give consent because I was not sober. These are all helpful tools to name and understand my experience. But I come to a stop when anxiety surfaces that I’ve betrayed my multiple communities (women, LGBTQ people, feminist settings, social justice groups, Mennonite and Christian). This is where language fails me, because I know I haven’t betrayed these communities, yet the discourse surrounding sexual violence doesn’t provide me with a deeper understanding of this. We don’t talk about the ways women abuse women, about intra-community issues in feminist circles and LGBTQ communities. We don’t talk about gender expression in relation to sexual violence; we don’t have the nuance to balance the existence of the harmful stereotype that lesbians are predatory with the lived experience of lesbians who are abused by other lesbians. We don’t talk about the position of power men hold in the LGBTQ community. We don’t talk about how drastically people change their reaction to stories of abuse when the assailant is someone they know. At least, in my experience, I’ve never heard any of this discussed. I’ve never attended a workshop on sexual violence and heard someone discuss the ways LGBTQ women are victimized. These are all pertinent to my understanding of my trauma. And I find myself in a place where I justify these voids with the fact that my story is uncommon, that I am an exception to whatever rule the discourse has created for victims and survivors.

In Kansas City at the Mennonite Church USA Convention, I was holding onto all of this deeply troubling confusion as I entered spaces where I was re-traumatized. In the Mennonite settings I find myself in, I have had difficulty finding places where nuance is present in our language. I find myself trying to make sense of my story as I hear stories of sexual violence done to the LGBTQ community by the Mennonite church. I’ve experienced this violence and I hold the spaces where we can talk about it as sacred, healing places, but I want to be able to bring this story to these spaces without apology.

Pink Menno silent witness after the Membership Guidelines resolution passed.

Pink Menno silent witness after the Membership Guidelines resolution passed.

During the Pink Menno silent witness after the Membership Guidelines resolution passed, I had my mouth duct taped as a symbol of my voicelessness in the Mennonite church. I was traumatized by the amount of people who walked directly into me, but I was also traumatized by the number of allies who assumed access to my body without my consent. Many people hugged me, nudged me, squeezed my arms or shoulders without asking for consent first. There were others who asked prior to touching me and the healing space that created was markedly different from those who assumed they could touch me without asking for consent. This felt, in many ways, eerily similar to the ways my assailants traumatized me last September. How do I go back to those spaces without feeling like I betrayed my community? I was assaulted at a gay bar, by members of my “community.” I was touched without my consent at convention, by members of my “community.” How do I tell my stories of trauma when I can’t even name them without a sense of guilt? How do I heal when I find myself in the same spaces as my assailants over and over again?

How can we talk about sexual violence and the ways our sexuality is changed and unchanged by trauma? How can we talk about consent and autonomy and sexuality in nuanced ways so that people like me can find healing in these communities? Why are my experiences considered an anomaly in sexual violence discourse and how can we open up that discourse to actually address the vast and varied ways people are victimized? How do we acknowledge the ways my abuse stories, like so many others where women abuse other women, are used as a way to shut down conversations about systematic sexual violence and misogyny? How do we acknowledge the ways we use stories as a means of proving a point rather than a place to open up the conversation? How do I bring this story into Mennonite spaces where, for the most part, people are not literate in lesbian and LGBTQ culture?

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This photo features an individual who has experienced sexual assault holding signs that quote their attacker, courtesy of Project Unbreakable.

During and after the silent witness on Thursday, I found myself in a fog. I returned to my hotel that night, wrote a lament and had several nightmares as the night progressed. If you know anything about PTSD, you know that the nightmares are exhausting. When I wake up from a night of 5-6 nightmares I am not fully present. I am grieving, I am barely breathing. About two weeks after convention I had one of the most troubling nightmares yet. I experienced the same events in the dream twice. The second time I experienced them, there were two of me, guided by a “ghost of the past” a la A Christmas Carol. The first time I experienced them, I was in a setting where there were many children and I was taking care of them. I would play with the children, walk around the room, talk to the other adults and then blackout for a second. In the dream, I would look at the clock and it would read 2:00, then a blink later it would read 3:00 and I would be in a different part of the room. The second time I experienced the events in the dream, when I would begin to black out, the “ghost” would appear and bring me to myself, a body lying on the floor sobbing uncontrollably. I would watch this episode in my calm body, but feel the rage of my sobbing body at the same time. I was never fully conscious in my sobbing body–I only ever watched it from a distance.

I am not entirely sure what this dream meant, but I do know that the split between my rage and my peace is clearly present in my body. As I have processed the trauma of convention with the trauma of the assault I experienced, I am aware of silence creating this split. I don’t feel comfortable sharing this experience of abuse in Mennonite settings, and in non-Mennonite settings I am unsure of how to explain my experience of trauma at convention. In both instances I am finding a void of language, a void of knowledge about the intricacies of the two communities I find myself in. But these stories exist in one body, in my body. I bring these traumas with me wherever I am and when and where I find healing for both of them will occur when and if the communities I find myself in can adequately attend to them. The Mennonite communities I find myself in need to create nuanced and constructive dialogue about sexual violence against the LGBTQ community. The LGBTQ communities, feminist settings and other settings I work and live in need to know and examine religious settings where abuse occurs (in this case Mennonite settings). As Audre Lorde said, “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”