Thoughts on being a non-binary survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Being a male-ish (not a man) survivor of child sexual abuse is hard. Obviously being a survivor is hard full stop, but I want to talk specifically about the first part. It can feel very lonely to be non-binary, like I am an alien. I live my life just expecting to be misgendered, since I get coded as both male and female by people but no one ever guesses “neither.” I’ve never liked being called a man or a woman. The not wanting to be called a woman thing was, expectedly, always easier for me to articulate since I was AMAB. Why do they think I’m a girl??? Since no guy wants that, it was easier for me to be honest with my feelings that it upset me. What was less easy for me to come to terms with was while my expression and identity is definitely male-leaning (demimale is the most common term), it never fit. It was assuming things about me that were not true and that frankly people had no right to assume. You look at me and think you know what is in my head and what is in my pants? Unless you have an out of the box imagination, chances are you are wrong on both counts.
The abuse is a very complicated part of my coming to terms with myself, since it requires conversations about how I responded to it. Because of our rape culture, being penetrated or assaulted is automatically connected with being emasculated. A lot of male-focused therapy is about “reclaiming manhood” and “you are still a man” and other shit that I can’t even judge if it’s valid, it’s just not valid for me. And not because I’m somehow less than a man is, I’m just different. I understand that people who identify as male have the right to be validated in that, but to me it feels like Fry when in he is in the robot asylum and he is declared sane only when he stops believing he is human.
One reason it is complicated is because one of my abusers did refer to me in feminizing terms. A bigger boy I was left with for long hours day after day while my mother tried to “fix” his mother. My mother would give herself these people as projects, and I would be expected to be her assistant, subsuming myself to be friends and confidant and pre-teen therapist to either the “patient” or in this case the patient’s son. It was my job to make him a happier kid (just as it was with my brother) and any problems I might have were just a sign of how selfish I was. So in the shed or in the den, while his mother was either out with my mom or supposedly watching us but no where to be found, he would say “let’s play disney prince and princess” and I was always the princess. Given what it means to play the girl’s role in our culture, I don’t think I need to be more explicit.
I have struggled for a long time with “is that why I identify as gender-queer? Am I just still living out a program he put in my head?” But no, I don’t think so. Frankly, that aspect of it was only important and distressing because it was control and domination. I used to play that I was a girl long before that — though only in very brief moments due to my strict upbringing. I remember being in kindergarten or first grade and making a story with blocks where all the girls went one road and all the boys went on the other and the block that represented me snuck over to the girl’s road. As soon as I did that, I thought about God watching me and how mad he must be and I had a panic attack — the first one I remember having. I thought god was killing me.
But anyway, even though that was after the first person to regularly sexually violate me (that was an older boy who began touching me and humiliating me before I was potty trained and continued it until I moved at age 6), it was still before there had been any gender talk in my abuse and I really don’t think my gender confusion or questioning came (or only came) from my abuse. I mean no doubt it gave me issues, I just don’t think it ever gave me gender issues since at that age I didn’t know genitals had anything to do with sex assignment (I actually didn’t know that until second grade, that was when my little brother told me that he knew mom didn’t have a penis because when no one else was around he took showers with her. No, I don’t know anymore about that situation). But regardless, gender identity is definitely an area I’ve struggled with, and something I’ve found most cis survivors can’t help me with.
As long as we are on the subject, I’m also sick of the bigotry of people, survivors and not, assuming that every child who presents as gender queer has been abused. That’s so invalidating. Abuse can cause confusion, but my abuse and my gender identity are not the same thing and assuming only abused people are gender queer is saying you know both survivors and non-survivors alike better than they know themselves.
So there’s a lack of safe spaces and support for people like me. I don’t want my manhood reconfirmed. It’s especially hard to talk about my female abusers with men, I find that even fellow survivors just want to treat me as a prop, as an exhibit about why their view of women is justified. I mean, if anyone has a right to hate women it’s men who were raped by them on a regular basis growing up. They are victims of rape culture who are barely able to function due to what predators did to them. They are not the ones to pick a fight with. At the same time, it does nothing to help me to be in a group with them and listen to their delusions (and I’m using delusion as a medical term. The abuse has made them paranoid and unattached to reality, and they deserve compassion even as we also recognize how dangerous their delusions are). But since society (mostly) codes me as a man, and that includes my abusers, my experiences tend to isolate me from women survivors who mostly and understandably wouldn’t want a male-looking person in the conversation anyway.
This doesn’t even get into the nutty and disgusting things I’ve heard over the years about male and male-ish victims. Things like “the reason why male survivors have it easier is because male survivors always get justice from the courts” (um what?) and “the rape of a male is an aberration to their otherwise privileged life and therefore not as traumatic to them as the rape of a woman, whose oppression is a continual reminder that they could be attacked again.” For that last one, for all I know that may be true in larger society. I don’t know. But personally I don’t know any AMAB survivors who got raped and the next day woke up and went “well, that was a shitty night but at least it probably won’t happen again!” Especially not survivors like me who were first attacked in early childhood. My entire life has been spent in fear, and each subsequent experience only reconfirmed that I wasn’t safe. I didn’t potty train for myself, I potty trained because I thought that would stop the assaults and the humiliation. That’s how far back this goes. That’s not to say there aren’t specific and compounding issues for women that I’ll never have to face, but the existence of those issues doesn’t mean my trauma doesn’t count as much on the suffering-o-matic scale.
So I can end up feeling pretty isolated and invalidated. And I know the obvious answer is to find other non-binary survivors, but the great and frustrating thing about us is that we are all so different and unique that just because we don’t identify with male or female doesn’t actually mean we identify with each other. And especially being a male-leaning NB, the more male I come off the less people are comfortable with me in that kind of space. So I still feel like it is not quite safe.
I don’t know what I want though. I want a place where I can feel safe to share, but not have people assume things about me. A place where people confirm that my trauma is just as valid as theirs from the get-go, not only once I prove to them through graphic detail that yes I too was a victim. A place where no one is side-eyeing me whispering “do they belong here?” or on the other hand assuming I’m the same as them because we look alike. A place where women predators are actually discussed, but not a place that villainizes women. A place where if I did choose to tell my story, the parts of it that connect to me being biologically male-ish wouldn’t make everyone else shy away OR the parts that are about me not being a cis man wouldn’t make everyone else confused. I don’t feel like there’s any place that actually would want me to tell my whole story, and even though I doubt I ever will, knowing that what is a safe space for others will never be completely safe for me keeps me disconnected and alone.
I mean, there are definitely people who love me who I can share these things with. But it is different when they aren’t fellow survivors or NB. But sometimes I think what I went through and who I ended up becoming is so different from anyone else that the group of people I’m looking for just doesn’t exist. But when I see other places that try hard to provide safe spaces, it can feel like musical chairs and I’m the only one left standing.