No Place To Tell This Tale
I read Asher Bauer’s powerful personal story a while ago, and I didn’t know what I could possibly say about it. I still don’t, but since the crux of the story is that he has no place to process the story, it seems somehow wrong not to write about it; that would make this just one more place this story (and by extension Bauer’s life) doesn’t fit.
I’ve written recently about a male victim of rape. That’s incredibly hard to deal with. Men report at even lower rates than women and get perhaps even less support. Certainly the media is no more, and perhaps even less, willing to appropriately call it rape when a man is raped.
But where does a man tell his story if he was raped when he was a woman? Apparently, at Carnal Nation, which has become a regular read for me because they keep publishing folks like Asher Bauer, and like my friend Clarisse Thorn. Bauer himself says, “I still haven’t found a space where it is OK to be a man who was raped as a girl, much less a venue where others are able to share similar experience.”
The specifics of the story both are and are not important. Every rape is different, and those differences matter to the survivor (for those who survive), and to how those who love them deal with the survivor. But none of the specifics change the basic needs survivors have for support and space to heal, or their rights to be treated with respect. Here’s what happened to Asher Bauer:
I’d consented to the sex, after all, up to a point. I was trying very hard to convince myself that his surprise—distinctly non-consensual omission of a condom—was nothing more than a minor detail. Pregnancy and life-threatening disease had already been dismissed by him as possibilities. “I’m clean, and you’re not going to have a baby,” he’d said with firm conviction. The fact that I had said “No,” too, was now nothing but a triviality, which he had brushed off with equal nonchalance.
That morning I needed to believe in his twisted version of reality. To doubt him would have been to admit that the unthinkable had happened: that I had been victimized by a man I had thought I loved. So I ignored my conscience, everything I had been taught in sex ed, and everything my mother had ever tried to tell me, accepting him as my sole moral authority. All of this is part of what is called Stockholm Syndrome.
I was pulling on my stockings when he asked me what I “normally” dressed like. He only ever saw me all tarted up or stark naked. I jumped at the opportunity to tell him just a little bit about how uncomfortable I felt in my own skin, about the sacrifices of identity I had already made for him.
“Oh, you know, tomboyish, a little punk– What?” I stopped short as he made a face. “Tomboys can be hot,” I said defensively.
“If you dress one up like a pretty girl, maybe,” he leered. Staring at my legs, he added, “Tomboys don’t wear fishnets.”
That night, he raped me again. This time there was no “ambiguity” about it, nothing “gray area” about the twelve hours that went black, permanently lost to my memory, after I accepted a drink from him.
And it didn’t stop there. For two more days it went on and on: the repeated failure to stop when I said stop, the refusal to use contraception or even let me buy a morning after pill. For a week after we parted ways I was in and out of the doctor’s office with mysterious bleeding, various infections, and finally, an STD. So much for “clean.”
I didn’t have a baby, no thanks to him. I did finally get hold of the pill on my own. Perhaps part of the motivation for his actions can be found in what I had thought was a sick joke. Once, when I’d told him I never wanted children, he’d threatened, “Don’t make me tie you down and breed you.” Only maybe it wasn’t a joke after all, since that is more or less what he did.
The pattern in the rape/kidnap (which, in New York, is an A felony, in the same category as murder) is so clearly gendered. The rapist’s pattern of abuse was to hyper-enforce by violence a strict gender binary under which women dress girly, and get used for sex and reproduction, regardless of their own wishes, at a man’s (the rapist’s) discretion. It’s not new that abusive men use reproductive coercion as a tactic.
One of the reasons Bauer says he has had a hard time telling this story is because of the, in my view, frankly abusive ways he has been treated by people he had a right to expect better from:
Being lectured by your rape crisis counselor that your “choice” of gender amounts to betrayal is quite a special experience. The idea that trans men “go over to the dark side”—the side of rapists, abusers, and male chauvinists—is silly at best, harmful at worst, denying as it does that men can be anything but perpetrators, and least of all victims.
The whole “male perpetrator, female victim” narrative is hardly the only story when it comes to rape. Yes, it is statistically quite often true. But it erases the experiences of women who have been raped by women, men who have been raped at all, and anyone else of any gender who has been raped by any other kind of person not mentioned here.
I do appreciate the fact that when I was raped, it was by a straight man who thought I was a woman, so the “male perp, female victim” story is not entirely irrelevant to me. Like many victims who actually are women, I fell prey to the sexism of my perpetrator, who believed that he as a male was entitled to certain things from me as a female, and that there was not much that I could do, or should do, about it. Also, the nuts and bolts of the whole thing can’t be ignored. If I had been raped as a cissexual male, I wouldn’t have been worried about pregnancy. If I was date raped in a similar situation, but by a gay man, I would probably have been more worried about HIV. It’s important for me to be able to talk about the fact that I was living as female and presenting as female when it happened, and yet experienced the emotional fallout as a man. And it’s difficult to find a space where I can do that.
The real kicker for me is people who assume that being raped somehow “made” me trans. Any time I disclose either my history of abuse or my gender status I open myself up to ugly attacks. When I disclose both at once, my chances of being ridiculed and misunderstood are squared. Two close male family members have confronted me to ask whether my “gender trouble” was caused by the assault. So did a certain well-known sex educator who frankly should have known better.
I’m not sure how this psycho-sexual theory of transsexualism even makes sense. I would love to hear the logic behind it. Do these people believe that I “chose to become a man” because I “hate men?” Or that I wanted to be more like my perpetrator and less like a victim? Do they think I am trying to avoid male aggression? If the last, I would love for them to explain to me how being a twinkish gay bottom places me drastically higher on the sexual food chain. (It doesn’t.)
This guy has a right to his identity, and his history. People who try to impose on him some sort of causation between his rape and his transition are not helping him. They are serving their own needs, telling a story that makes their world make sense to them. Asher Bauer’s world makes sense to him, and when he explains what happened, they ought to listen, and accept that he has access to better information about himself and his experiences than they do.
(To my way of thinking, this is a cornerstone of kyriachy — folks in advantaged groups get positioned as “normal”, and get used to sitting in their “normal” perch and imposing their own interpretation on the narratives of the less-“normal” people’s experiences. He was there. Nobody has objective, Archimedean access to the big-T Truth, and his own account is the best-informed. All of which is an overly wordy note on subjectivity. People have it; when we deny it to people, we’re not treating them like people.)
Bauer describes himself as a fixture in the San Francisco BDSM community. He doesn’t say specifically how the BDSM community is better, or worse, or both by turns, as a space for him to work through his history. I’d love it if I thought we were always good at it, but we’re not, and no other community is, because there are no chosen people.
There’s no analysis I can bring which adds much to the power of his own account. But I know for sure that he’s not the first man to have to deal with a sexual assault that happened either before transitioning, or while presenting as a woman. If all I can do is draw more eyeballs to his account, I’m good with that.