Content Note: Graphic Descriptions of Sexual Violence
A few years ago, I had a sit-down with an Ohio state lawmaker. He had proposed a North Carolina style bathroom bill for Ohio. He laid out the basics of the bill in a press release or a policy statement on his website or something like that, I don’t remember which. But in the news story I watched, he invited comment from the trans community. Like other conservative lawmakers, he was eager to make a show of claiming that he didn’t think of trans people as predators, its just that giving us rights makes other people vulnerable. Of course he didn’t frame it that way, but its exactly what he was saying.
I emailed him, and was surprised when he responded offering to buy me coffee and meet with me to discuss it. We met at a Starbucks by a mall close to me. He was friendly. He was polite. At least at first. We opened the meeting by talking about Leelah Alcorn, her death was still fresh in our minds at this point. He insisted on dead naming her. He did that childish thing where I would say Leelah, and he would respond by saying her dead name. It wasn’t the best way to start the conversation.
But as my friend Jonah and I sat there talking to him, he seemed receptive. He nodded and admitted several times that he had just not realized how diverse the trans community was, how many challenges we faced, and how difficult laws like this would make things for us. By the end of the conversation, I don’t know if I was confident we’d changed his mind, but he seemed changed enough that I had hope. Not a chance we was going to turn into a trans rights champion or anything. But maybe he’d at least realize the bathroom bill was a bad idea and drop it.
We weren’t the only meeting he took. He met with several other members of the trans community. They all told him the same things that Jonah and I did. And in every conversation, he acted surprised to hear what he was hearing. It was new to him every time.
Via email, Jonah and I pressed him with questions. Jonah dug up statistics about sexual assault in this representative’s district. He asked why those statistics didn’t spur him into action, but the idea of trans people in bathrooms did. I sent him a report from a group of domestic violence and prevention organizations stating THEY didn’t think bathroom bills were the answer. I asked him why he thought these experts we wrong. He had no answers for either.
It became very clear over time that he was making a show of having the conversation, but he was not listening. Its one thing to have a conversation. Its another thing entirely to actually listen. It seemed Representative Becker was very interested in being able to say he had the conversation. Not so much the actual listening part.
It also seems that was very much the case with Christine Blasey- Ford and her testimony about her experience with Brett Kavanaugh. There was a big show of having the hearing. She was asked deeply personal and invasive questions. She was challenged and put on display on the biggest possible stage. We heard lots of flowery language that sounded like compassion from the Republican lawmakers that grilled her. They made one hell of a show about having this hearing. But they never really listen, do they? Lawmakers love a good dog and pony show. Let’s get out the cameras, the microphones, the fancy nameplates. Let’s make a good show of it, so we can do absolutely nothing in response.
Whenever there’s a sexual assault story that makes the news, we see scores of people come forward with their stories. Some as catharsis, some as solidarity, some as a call to DO something about this problem. And it seems nothing ever changes.
I’ve never experienced sexual assault. Sexual harassment? Definitely, but never assault. And I know how gross I feel when thinking back to my experiences, and how reluctant I am to talk about them, I can only imagine what its like to be a sexual assault survivor in this environment over the last few weeks and months.
But we don’t have to imagine do we? We all know someone who is affected. Whether we realize it or not, we do. And as this show has always been about amplifying the voices of the marginalized, that’s what today is going to be about. We have three brave individuals who’ve decided to share their stories with us today and their thoughts and feelings about existing in our world and in our current political climate as sexual assault survivors.
If you’re a survivor of sexual violence and you’re looking for a supportive community, check out A Voice For The Innocent. It’s a great org, run by people I trust.
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