queering sexual violence review

I was given an ARC of Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement through Netgalley. All opinions are my own. Because of the nature of the topic, there are many trigger warnings. These include incest, child molestation, rape, murder, suicide, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and graphic descriptions of abuse (emotional, physical, sexual and financial). 

Often pushed to the margins, queer, transgender and gender non-conforming survivors have been organizing in anti-violence work since the birth of the movement.

Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement locates them at the center of the anti-violence movement and creates a space for their voices to be heard. Moving beyond dominant narratives and the traditional “violence against women” framework, the book is multi-gendered, multi-racial and multi-layered.

This thirty-seven piece collection disrupts the mainstream conversations about sexual violence and connects them to disability justice, sex worker rights, healing justice, racial justice, gender self-determination, queer & trans liberation and prison industrial complex abolition through reflections, personal narrative, and strategies for resistance and healing.

Where systems, institutions, families, communities and partners have failed them, this collection lifts them up, honors a multitude of lived experiences and shares the radical work that is being done outside mainstream anti-violence and the non-profit industrial complex.

I’ll be honest, I put off reading this book. I don’t know why, but I got the impression that it would be a highly academic and theoretical approach to an extremely important and sensitive topic. I tend to think I’ll enjoy queer theory, forgetting that whilst the queer bit interests me, the theory doesn’t tend to. However, that is…not what this book is. Queering Sexual Violence is, instead, a highly personal book. Many of the essays talk about very private thoughts and feelings. It made me feel so privileged, as these writers were trusting me with their stories. Although some essays were academic, because of the personal elements, they didn’t feel like that at all.

On a personal note, I was also nervous about reading this book because I have experienced sexual and emotional violence from a queer woman. This is something that I’ve talked a bit about before on my blog, so I won’t go into it here. However, I will say that I was worried because I have never read anything that mirrored my experience. As many of the writers in Queering Sexual Violence say, people automatically assume that my abuse had to be from a man, because that’s who abusers ‘are’. I did not have access to gender-neutral, let alone queered, information or therapy, and I desperately wanted this book to finally allow my experiences to be portrayed and validated. It did.

The book is split into four sections: Redefining, Reclaiming, Resisting and Reimagining. I thought that this was a clever way of structuring it – I often find that anthologies of essays often aren’t structured particularly well, and this was a nice surprise. Obviously, it is difficult to categorise every single essay, so some didn’t quite fit in their official category. This didn’t bother me too much, though.

There are too many essays for me to discuss here, so I’m just going to mention some of the topics that particularly interested me. There were a couple essays that talked about the dichotomy between victim and survivor. A victim is seen as someone weak, who did not fight back, whereas a survivor is seen as almost the opposite of that. A survivor runs marathons to raise money, they speak about their experiences, and they fought against their abuser. (Both are almost always depicted as all straight white able women.) However, many of the essays talk about how it isn’t as simple as that. Some people don’t fit into the survivor mould – but this doesn’t make them victims. As well, perpetrators and survivors are not clearly distinct categories – sometimes survivors are also perpetrators of violence.

There was also a lot of discussion of the idea that the experience of violence makes people queer. Some of the essays broke down this statement, saying how their experiences of abuse played no part in their sexuality, whilst others discussed how these experiences did indeed play a part in their sexual or gender identity. Everyone’s experiences are valid in this anthology. There were also some essays by trans and non-binary authors, who talk about how they fit into survivor groups, which are often labelled as ‘women only’. Finally, there were a couple of essays that talked about how sex, and particularly BDSM, has helped the writers come to terms with their experiences, and how yes, some people are drawn to BDSM because of their abuse, but this does not mean that everyone who practices BDSM has been abused.

I would encourage all those who can read Queering Sexual Violence to do so. As a survivor, I found my experiences being discussed and validated for the first time in my life. And because of the myriad of voices and experiences in this anthology, I learned so much about queer spaces – both the good, and the bad. This is a topic that I have never read about, or indeed seen queer people talk about, and I applaud all the writers for tackling such an important topic.

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4 thoughts on “queering sexual violence review

  1. Sarah says:

    I’m so glad this anthology exists as a resource! I’m requesting that my library purchase it ASAP and am adding it to my TBR list. This is definitely something I have to read. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on it!

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  2. justanotherloststudent says:

    Thank you for sharing this, and for writing a really insightful review into the book. I’m going to add it to my list as I’d be really interested in reading it myself. Despite having experienced abuse from a young age, I have never been comfortable with calling myself a “survivor” as I never felt that this had anything to do with my experience, and I have constantly felt so alienated from abuse networks. At least where I’m from, the “women only” or “women and non-binary” services dominate with little to no flexibility around the inclusion of trans masculine people who have experienced abuse at various times of their lives. I often feel so conflicted about this as I recognise the definite need for these only spaces, but also feel frustrated that those are currently the *only* spaces that exist. So it’s really nice to see that this is something dealt with in the book.

    It sounds like such an excellent book, and I feel like it’s something that a lot of people I know would feel very validated by.

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