A content note; this post contains mention of CSA
I should probably write about this in the third person, hide it behind a wall of neutral language and apologies. Writing about experiences of sexual abuse is never comfortable, no matter what language you soften it with. I also know that there are people who laugh about accounts like this, who mock survivors that talk about their experiences. I've seen other trans people do it. To mock the idea that someone can know they are transgender as a child. I think that kind of mockery is more about their own insecurities about coming to this thing called transgender later in life. I don't mind, if you want to be that person, I can't stop you. I lived my life without understanding the effect these events had on me. If I hide them to make other people comfortable then I am taking on the work of being their emotional caretaker, and I don't want that role.
There is an idea at the heart of the incessant debate that people have about transgender rights, that trans women are unabusable. That we are the perpetrators and never the victims. It's a horrible myth and I want to talk about this experience because it refutes that pernicious lie. The idea that trans women as children are somehow safe, and exist at the top of a power tree, and do not deserve protection and recognition of who they are.
I find the entire “trans discussion” too upsetting for words. The argument about “protecting single sex spaces” as if single sex spaces represent safety.
I was four when an adult relative began to sexually abuse me. My innocence was stolen from me, and the effect was that for a long time as a young adult I lived in a kind of internal wilderness of incompletion and incomprehension at the injuries to my life.
Innocence might be the wrong word. My sense of safety. That I could trust the adults around me. My sense of myself, my boundaries disappeared, and the effects of that lasted into adulthood. The unshakeable idea that nothing that happened to me mattered. I didn’t deserve the safety and support that other people seem to take for granted.
Whenever I encounter that lie about trans women as the threat, which is a lot these days, I am suddenly there again, four years old, staring up the face of the person who abused me. I am pinned to the floor by their weight and their grip and I'm terrified again, as they warn me not to tell anyone about what they did. That if I tell my parents then they, —my parents, will die. I was so frightened of my mother dying that I kept my mouth shut, and never told anyone until I was an adult myself. My parents never knew that it happened.
Being assigned male and being a child who understood he was supposed to be a girl did not keep me safe. My parents did not keep me safe. I was stolen from myself. Made incomplete by someone who should have been keeping me safe. I wasn't able to identify out of the situation.
Only now as an adult, twenty —and then some, years after I had “the surgery” do I feel able to open this part of my life up to myself, and to examine the harm that disrupted my sense of myself as a beautiful happy child who knew who she was. A child I wish I could have protected more. Today, I am told other people must be protected from me. Told by the kind of men who regularly abuse the women in their lives, that they will commit acts of violence against me if they see me using a “female” space with their daughters or their wives. It's not me who presents the risk to their daughters, it is them, those men, who are the biggest risk to the women in their lives.
There were other things that happened to me as an adult woman. I acquired a stalker who sexually assaulted me, I've been groped too many times to count. These things also don’t matter when they happen to transgender women. If we are un-abuseable, then no one is harmed by acts of violence or sexual assault in this context. I still think like that sometimes, if I’m being honest, I was a fucked up child and maybe I deserved everything that happened. I became a messy angry nihilistic adult. Every mistake I made was proof to me I deserved it, the evidence I do not, and will never, deserve the basic safety that healthy people feel able to turn to when they need help.
Whenever cisgender people have campaigns about women's safety, I remember all of this. I'm also reminded that because I'm a transgender woman, none of these experiences matter. I learned to internalise that idea. To minimise the things that happened, and to blame myself. Maybe I didn't say no strongly enough to the man who forced himself on me one night at a party. But back then my body did not belong to me. It belonged to him, and anyone else who decided to assert control over it. It didn’t matter that I didn’t want the sex, that I said no, repeatedly. It was never my place to say no.
It's not that I don't care about women's safety. I just know that by default it doesn't include me.
But now I believe I do deserve the same protection and care, and I'm trying to learn the habit of kindness to myself and other women like me. My only concern now is to complete and protect that child who deserved so much better from her caretakers. And the young trans people being put in harm's way by hate today. The young trans women being taught that their safety doesn't matter, that whatever harms occur, you are on your own.
Learning to be complete is the act of learning to be innocent again. To reacquaint yourself with who you were, before you were damaged, before the harm done distorted you. The me that I was back then is still inside, still here. I remember I was a very caring person, and I want to spend the time I have left protecting and nurturing that part of myself. I am trying to convince myself that I am worthy of safety. Fulfilling the promise of who I was, or at least some of it, before I was stolen.