Trigger warning for discussion of rape, childhood sex abuse and consent
Self disclosure time: I have been a victim of actual rape and actual childhood sexual abuse from cisgender men, and although I had a lot of good therapy and do just fine I’m more than aware of the impact on any human being violated in this way.
I also work with rape and sexual abuse survivors in my professional life. I work from a feminist perspective, and I am adamant that this is not a gender neutral issue. As such, I have zero tolerence for anyone that blurs or distorts the definition of rape, and that’s what I would like to blog about today.
Extremist propaganda that equates just about anything with rape, if it is done by a man or a trans woman, is offensive to people who have experienced genuine rape, and is as unacceptable as the casual use of words like “frape“. “All PIV sex is rape” is one such distortion. The presence of a young trans girl in a girl’s toilet being described as rape is another. The final trigger for this blog, though, was a trans woman having consensual sex with another woman being described as rape if she (hypothetically) does not disclose her trans status. I recently encountered an earnest feminist discussion on the subject, among people who should absolutely know better.
Robin Thicke could not blur the lines any better than that – how are we supposed to teach young people about consent if these mixed messages are floating around? If a woman freely says yes, it’s still rape? If your rapist is a woman, it isn’t rape? If you don’t tell your partner everything about yourself before consensual sex, yup, that’s rape too? Huh?
I once was super alarmed to find out the woman I was seeing voted conservative. I must admit, I felt ill to think I had been sleeping with a Tory, but it taught me a valuable lesson – if you have a particular issue or prejudice against sleeping with any group of people, the onus is on you to get that cleared up ahead of time. Okay, so saying you would never date a trans woman (if you’re into women) might well indicate that you are a gigantic transphobe but that is still your choice – your body, your rules.
Let’s get this clear, it was not “rapey” for my then girlfriend to call me prejudiced for cooling on her when I found out she was a Tory. Nor was it “rapey” of her not to tell me, nor was it even “rapey” of her to present her political views in exactly the way I wanted to hear them – it was deceptive, and it was not her nicest quality, but it isn’t rape to deceive or conceal from a lover. It’s rape to coerce or force someone into sex, it’s rape not to gain consent. There are many, many shitty things that lovers can do that don’t fall into the category of rape – fraud, deception, cheating, trickery are among the many things that rape isn’t.
Of course, if a trans woman did not disclose her status it would likely be out of fear of violence or social isolation, and the unalterable reality of being trans hardly equates to the wrong-headed choice of voting Tory, so I apologise to trans women for making this comparison, but I hope I made my point.
There’s no doubt that some anti-trans propagandists want to create a deliberate association between trans women and rape in the minds of women, even going so far as to suggest the entire process of transition is an act of rape. And of course, because rape is such a triggering world for the tragically high number of women who have been raped, it is very easy to manipulate people with such an emotive argument – a classic example of what Naomi Klein would call “shock doctrine”.
Things to watch out for – these people always use the term “trans activist” rather than “trans person” to make trans individuals seem like part of an organised political movement, rather than diverse individuals trying as best they can to live their complicated lives. They put transphobic stories alongside other actually serious cases of actual rape and violence against women, to groom you into associating the two, entirely unrelated, things. Some Facebook pages in particular will share a high proportion of trans-related stories, as if to build a feeling in the audience that trans people are the main threat.
Recently I had to complain to my local pharmacy about a wall hanging that read “If a lady says no she means perhaps, if she says perhaps she means yes, and if she says yes, she is no lady”. This is rape culture, in a nutshell, as was the pharmacist’s obliviousness to the harm in this message. The message blurs the lines around consent, and the act of consent should be clear.
No feminist should ever blur the message of what rape is. Extremist, distorted views undermine what people like myself are fighting for; to end rape culture – they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.