Content warning: sexual violence
Now through the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, April 30th, Enough / Enough anthology will be collecting letters survivors write to their body parts. All of them will be written by survivors who identify as trans and non-binary, communities that consistently face violence through their transitions and even within transition homes.
Below are three of many letters that will appear in the completed body of work. As you read, please take care of yourself and each other. If you are interested in participating /collaborating /learning more, visit the anthology home page or write to email@example.com.
To My Humble Front Entrance,
When talking about my transness, which most of us trans folks who get paid to string words together have to broach eventually, we have to consider you. You are, of course, one of the last things separating me from a garden variety cisgender male. Facial hair? I’m catching up in that department (thanks, testosterone.) An ample chest? Soon to be removed, thanks to the power of medical science. That leaves me with you, the little space between my legs.
I suppose it’s not your fault you were stuck on me. If I’d asked for you, I suppose you were well enough. But you were hell in your own way.
Even when I tried in vain to embrace an identity more cohesive of your existence, you were a black hole. I’d reach a hand down between my legs and my fingers would reflexively clutch for a presence that wasn’t there. You’ve stained many a pair of formerly favored boxers and briefs. When I would shower and forget to cover you with a towel when I stepped in front of the mirror, I’d marvel at your alien landscape, those peaks and craters that defined you.
That leaves me with you, the little space between my legs.
Looking at myself, in general, tends to be a surreal experience, though less so as testosterone sculpts my face and body shape into something more recognizably me. But even as my jaw develops, no amount of T changes you. Hair almost makes you bearable, disguising the bumps and swatches of skin that lie beneath. The key word is almost.
One time, during my ill attempt at womanhood, I squatted over a hand mirror and tried to map you out like this one feminist blog had implored me to do in order to connect with my inner feminine element, or whatever their euphemism for vagina was that day. I was supposed to come away from it with a newly cemented appreciated for my sexual essence. Instead, I nearly threw up. At the time I blamed it on being fat, as if it made my pussy puffier or something.
In a weird little way, though, you existing at all helped me figure out that I wanted to transition, so I suppose you deserve some credit.
In a weird little way, you existing at all helped me figure out that I wanted to transition.
My ex loved you. Called bottom surgery “mutilation.” He wasn’t a smart man but he had some strong words for my body. I hated you for it. He fixated on you, demanded my body fit his mold for what was acceptable for a trans man to look like in his fantasies. An eventual hairy chest was okay, but top surgery was right out. Forget about a meta or phalloplasty.
“You’re lucky I’m even attracted to you,” he’d tell me all the time. He was referring to you. “Gay men don’t go for guys like you.” I still, from time to time, wonder if that’s true.
We’ve had some good times I suppose. We lost our virginity together. Sometimes, if I don’t think about what you are, getting touched there feels pretty damn good.
Yet I still hate you. I have a nasty little secret that you know as well as I do. I freeze when shit happens. Knees lock and everything.
When it’s never happened to you, you always think you’ll be the one to knee the rapist in the crotch, push him to the floor, and run until you just can’t. You’re Rambo in your own head, you’re better than just a victim. You don’t say it but you turn your nose up at the people it happens to like they were too weak to know any better.
You’re Rambo in your own head, you’re better than just a victim.
You remember when it happened. The first time it happened, he pinned me down against the bed. I couldn’t fight. I wish you had. I wish you’d grown teeth, drawn blood. He didn’t listen to my pleas. He called me a good girl because you existed. Because when he ripped off my boxers and my packer tumbled to the floor, he knew what I was and he didn’t like it.
The second time someone did it, we still froze. You obliged him. All he had to do was force my legs apart. No matter how I pleaded, he didn’t stop and you didn’t bite back.
I’m back there every time I close my eyes. But I never really left.
A week after the first rape, I trudged into a community health clinic. I walked the two miles from my house as if all the predators in town would have smelled victim wafting from my pores if I’d taken the bus. “Just want to get checked out,” I told the receptionist. “Just STD tests.”
She slid a domestic abuse pamphlet into my hand.
I held up okay at first. Pissed in a cup and let them check if I’d gotten knocked up and swirled a Q-tip inside you by myself while a nurse stood outside the bathroom door. The exam was a different story. The nurse didn’t even get a chance to probe me while I was splayed out on a paper-lined table with my pants off. I hyperventilated and slammed my thighs closed.
They sent me home with a paper bag full of condoms. I tossed them, along with the pamphlet, in my dresser drawer. I still have the pamphlet, though I never read it, floating around somewhere. I didn’t do anything of the sort after the second rape. Maybe it was for the best.
My therapist tells me to stop blaming myself. I’m not trying to blame you. But I still get the impression that when I finally get my meta and they sew you up, a whole load of psychic weight’s going along with you.
Goodbye. Sometimes I wish I could give you to someone who needs you more, but they’d have everything that happened to you go along with them. Maybe it’s best if you just disappear like I used to pray you would as a child. I doubt it’ll be the case but I hope you can take the nightmares with you.
Letter to my body hair,
She wanted me to grow you. Before she was she, before I was they, before a time when she yelled at me whenever I wanted to share the pictures from our wedding, when we were a bride and groom, however non-traditional everything else might have been. She liked hairy girls. When she broke up with me and I let someone equally obsessed with my copious amounts of body hair go down on me without a dental dam, she tried to tell me I had done something wrong. My body was hers, even when she didn’t want it.
I was embarrassed about you, and I was proud of you. Once, pre-HRT, a friend looked at my legs in shorts and asked me if I was on testosterone. No, I laughed, recently socially transitioned and secretly so happy that someone thought I was medically transitioning. I’m Italian. Once, a man in the street called me it, pointing to my legs in shorts, adding that he thought it was a dude. You made me look so queer, heightened my non-binaryness to almost everyone. You were also the thing that made me a target outside my little bubble of queerness.
She made me okay with you, when I never had been before. It was a gift, in a way, to understand my own self, my own body, to have someone give you love when I could not. Isn’t that always the foundation for what came later? You were also a gift for her, one she didn’t demand but pressed for, making me think it was best for me. That was the way with everything she wanted. When things changed I looked at you wondering who you belonged to.
It was a gift, in a way, to have someone give you love when I could not.
I remember that moment — the last moment, though I wouldn’t realize it for a year, until I sat in an office with her and my therapist, saying the words: This is worse than the time you sexually assaulted me — the way her semen glistened in you, and I stood up to go the bathroom, to wipe it off, to fumble around for the day-after contraceptive I knew I needed to take. So many times I had parted you, put in the diaphragm she insisted I use, that she knew I hated. She hated condoms, they were so much worse for her dysphoria than diaphragms were for mine. Nevermind that a condom was off after sex, and a diaphragm was something I held in my body for a dozen hours of panic. Her needs were always the most important. That was why I acquiesced, finally, saying, We’ll do it without contraceptives, but don’t cum in me. She couldn’t even respect that. She came in and on me.
After, she said, “I just raped you, didn’t I?” After, she wrote a song about her feelings.
I forgave her. Isn’t that always the foundation for what came later? How she convinced everyone I had abused her? How everyone believed her, because she was the woman, because I was masc, because why would I have stayed with her if that’s what she’d really done?
I forgave her. Isn’t that always the foundation for what came later?
You were hers. You grew because of her desires. What other purpose could you have than to glisten with her?
It took me two years to shave you off and start again.
I used to feel as though you were a scary and unpredictable person. I lived with the fear of what you would do next. What you’d make me do, feel, think. Like an angry infection, you’ve been burning for years, enraged and always active. Between the infection and the mental illness, you always seemed to have a life of your own. And that scares me.
You have ways of stopping me dead in my tracks, extinguishing the sunshine in a matter of moments and leaving me lost in the dark. You’ve put a knife in my hand, voices in my head, and a bottle to my lips to keep the demons at bay. You make me forget, cause me to stumble over my words, and sometimes even paralyze my whole body.
But since starting meds, a venture you took to well, I realized you weren’t out to hurt me at all. That all these years you were screaming for help, you were hurting. And I angrily silenced you instead of listening to the eloquence of your words, expressed in classic bipolar symptoms that you’ve been communicating since my childhood.
All these years you were screaming for help, you were hurting.
But with what felt like the whole world against us, it was easy to slip into hating you. My family hated what you did to me, and yelled at me excessively for it. As if your actions were under my control. If yelling, bullying and hitting cured the voices and the pain, you would’ve been quieted long ago. Instead, you only got angrier and louder.
So I started to listen.
I slowly learned your language, as I deciphered your messages. We identified concrete symptoms that were plaguing you, going from blurry and mysterious suffering to “depression,” “anxiety” and “mania.” With your help and patience, I slowly learned who you are. We learned “bipolar” was a safe and comfortable label to tack onto you in order to get you proper treatment. And now that I take better care of you, taking pills that you seem to quite like at least three times a day, the messages have changed.
You communicate when there’s not enough mood stabilizer or too much antidepressant.
You tell me that you’re happy, and I hesitate in believing you. We’ve both got a lot of adjusting to do, living this new life with a newly balanced you. But in the meantime, we revel in the happy magic of feeling sane for the first time in our lives. Even if that feeling is sometimes fleeting.
You tell me that you’re happy, and I hesitate in believing you.
At this point, I feel as though I know you better than anyone in my whole life. I’m sorry for not listening to you when I was younger, for silencing you and prolonging your suffering. No matter how much I’ve been told to, I will never hate you. You challenge me, which is hard on the both of us. But I love you unconditionally, and will fight for the rest of my life for you. Never again will I turn away when you cry out to me for help. You are safe, I am safe, we are safe with each other.
Other recent stories include:
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.