In the midst of the ongoing (and very welcome) revolution of victims of sexual harassment and abuse against their abusers, there are I think broader lessons that need to be internalized by our culture, rather than letting them simply pass through the news cycle and wilt away as everyone returns to the habits of “the way things have always been.”
Let us take, for a working example given that it is the most intense ongoing example (and because I can’t say enough bad things about this guy if I only discussed him for the rest of my life) the case of Roy Moore.I assume that anyone reading this post will be familiar with the general outline of the situation, as first reported in the Washington Post. In summary, Roy Moore is accused of dating teenage girls, some of them underage, when he was in his mid-30’s and in one case, when he was 32, attempting to seduce a 14 year old. These accusations revealed to the post had not been brought up before in almost 40 years, and come from women who have no background connections that would cause their stories to lack credibility, and are corroborated by thirty different sources.
As a result of finally describing what happened to them, these women got just what any aware person would expect them to get – viscous blowback from Moore supporters. Their character is attacked, every misstep of their life to this point elevated and derided, death threats even (which are very common in our current climate) – one Twitter user took advantage of the new feature allowing long names to put her 9the victim who was 14) home address in as his “name” for all the world to see and decide what to do with. No, they have not been paid and have no prospect of being, but their life has been turned upside down by people who prefer to believe the perpetrator over the victim. While this is a phenomena writ large, it is in most respects the phenomena that has greeted every victim bold enough to step into the light and accuse their abuser. Even so, one of the first attacks, and the loudest, such a victim will face is “why didn’t you speak up before now?” The cognitive dissonance of someone participating in an attack of victim-blaming asking the victim “why didn’t you volunteer for this abuse earlier?” is staggering.
Moore is not the only person accused, of course. But there is – with few if any exceptions – a distinction in the reaction. You might recall the early 90’s when right wingers were thoroughly convinced Anita Hill was a liar, bought off by Ted Kennedy and the Democrats. A few years later, liberals were similarly skeptical as one woman after another came forward to accuse Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct (some stories more credible than others) while the right feigned outrage that anyone would doubt the victims. Sometime during the 16 years during which George W. Bush and Barack Obama held the presidency, there was a societal change about this sort of thing and we have begun to more thoroughly absorb the principle that the assumption that the victim is probably lying is what keeps victims from coming forward. While it is true that there have been a couple of high profile attempts at fraud, they pale in comparison to the number of valid claims. And yet still, any victim who speaks up risks having their life ruined by those who would defend their abusers.
But the unmistakable lesson of the moment is – speak up anyway! It is BECAUSE of the previous likelihood of silent victims that abusers felt free to perpetrate the abusive culture. In all fields, in every field, men (almost always and elusively among those publicly accused recently) felt free to exercise their power in order to perpetrate their abusive acts because they knew what those who would accuse them stood to lose by speaking out. There’s NO way to change their behavior except to remove that sense of security from their lives. If you are being abused right now, or if it was 40 years ago, or anytime in between, speak up! Because there’s an overwhelming pattern in this sort of behavior that it doesn’t happen just once. The guy who assaulted you has also assaulted others and will continue to do so after you. Speak up. And in the preponderance of voices being raised, the stigma is erased, the ability for the broader culture to say “well of course she’s lying” is suppressed.
What does all this have to do with trans folk? I mean, other than the reality that we can be victims of that sort of abuse too? I’ll tell you – it’s the absolute necessity that we speak up.
Like victims of abuse, trans people tend to suffer in silence as long as they can because they are well aware of the consequences of speaking up. We known, all of us who’ve come out and those who have not, what the loudest and most obnoxious voices in our culture intend to do to us if we give them that opening. BUT that system of abuse only finds it’s power in the reality that we hide from it, submit to it, face it alone if we face it at all. The only way to destroy the power of those who would abuse us for who we are is to overwhelm them with the truth. As with the victims of abuse, it is in our common strength as we stand TOGETHER in defiance of our critics that their ability to create more victims is crushed. And what’s more, the loses we have to this point suffered – the loss of marriage, job, career, children, respect – all these flow from the trope perpetrated by our critics. We will need to defeat those critics if we are to create a culture that accepts us.
Victims of abuse who remain silent have much to learn from the current moment in our culture. So do trans people.
We should, all of us, speak up. Speak out. Do not be silenced by fear.
Photo by Howard Lake