What Do We Do Next? One Queer Femme’s Perspective on the Kavanaugh Hearing
By Guest Writer, Jaime Marie Estrada
CW: sexual violence, discussion of abuse of trans people & survivors of childhood trauma and abuse
"If we could pull back from focusing on the accused and zero in on the ones speaking out, we would see common denominators that bridge the divide between celebrity and everyday citizens: the diminishing of dignity and the destruction of humanity. Everyday people — queer, trans, disabled, men and women — are living in the aftermath of a trauma that tried, at the very worst, to take away their humanity. This movement at its core is about the restoration of that humanity."
What does one make of the Brett Kavanaugh news as a cis queer person? The dominant narrative seems to exclude the glaring fact that we struggle with understanding and successfully implementing consent in the queer community, too.
I grew up in a religious heterosexual household where my father called gay people “faggots” and my mother endured emotional and physical abuse at his hands in the name of “God.” I was homeschooled and raised on Mennonite curriculum. I didn’t learn proper science or anything about human sexuality from my parents or from church.
Like so many young queers, I had no language for sex, sexuality, gender, and least of all: assault. When I ran away at 15, I was so thrilled (and fortunate) to be in an environment where I was physically safe from beatings and drunken biblical tirades that I still didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to admit that I was queer.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I began to understand sexuality as a spectrum, or this idea of “queerness.” In the four years I spent in college, I went from being extremely straight-laced, religious, and a virgin, to sex-positive, sexually active on my own terms, openly bisexual / queer, and through that process I started to build a vocabulary around consent.
For many people like me, we go through a second adolescence when we are finally able to come out in a “safe space,” and some trans people find themselves going through several for each kind of coming out they decide to do. Smith College—an all “women’s” college—where there are actually plenty of trans and non binary people too, was advertised to 17-year-old me as a safe space, and I believed it.
But then I started seeing all the telltale signs of a culture that lends to abuse and coercion similar to that I grew up with: alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual assault. The difference at Smith was that it was often between folks of the same gender presentation. I found that masculine-of-center people got away with abusive behaviors and were even revered for it by other queer people.
At Smith, I first heard about “turning” straight women, as if it were a sport. More established queers would brag about all the straight girls they’d fucked. At Smith, I learned about “BDOCs” or “big dykes on campus” and I learned that they bragged about how many femmes they had fucked and how drunk they were at the time.
At Smith, I watched as people transitioned from the traditionally feminine to the traditionally masculine, and then gained notoriety and social clout, especially from straight cis women and queer femmes (myself included). At Smith, I sat in the administrator’s office with her when my straight friend was brave enough to go in and report assault even though she was drunk, and the town police blamed her.
At Smith, I knew of countless assaults that went unreported because the abuser was of the same gender as the survivor and we had no language for that kind of abuse. At Smith, I was assaulted as a senior and it took me three years of therapy after to have the courage or language to name or write about it publicly.
The stories of toxic masculinity at Yale University during Kavanaugh‘s time as a student there are eerily familiar. At Smith, despite not having cisgender males enrolled and living with us, we had similar stories. I don’t want the queer community to read the news about Kavanaugh and feel smug because somehow we think we have it all figured out. I don’t want us—cis women—to think we are incapable of abusing or assaulting others.
I worry that the triggering news and the #metoo movement enables me and other queer cis women to forget that we routinely shame, abuse, and assault our fellow trans sisters. We forget that we uphold patriarchal values and reward masculine presentation in our queer spaces and that we enable toxic cultures to continue in our spaces. I urge queer survivors and femmes to think about how we allow people in our community to demean and belittle femmes and trans women everyday, everywhere, and in every way.
Please don’t let the fatigue around our rape-obsessed culture and triggering news destroy your willingness to fight for a better culture of consent in the queer community, and please don’t forget that the battle begins at home. Femmes, queer folks, and nonbinary folks, we’re counting on you to define masculinity in a way that doesn’t define strength within a framework of assault, control, coercion, and rape.
"Let’s listen to the founders of this movement and think about how we can apply it in our communities: “It is also necessary for us to expand the scope of the movement in the mainstream. In 2006, I launched the #MeToo movement because I wanted to find ways to bring healing into the lives of black women and girls. But those same women and girls, along with other people of color, queer people and disabled people, have not felt seen this year."
Jaime Marie Estrada is a queer femme who works in NYC in educational management. She’s passionate about access and equity for queers, students with disabilities, and people and students of color.
Cover photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images