Sexual predators come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders and ethnicities but, with “Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement,” compilers and editors Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Jennifer Patterson have brought the stark reality home, as it were. Simmons and Patterson are not just the editors, but also contributors, adding their own stories to this sad chorus.
While the dominant refrain for a long time has been about the traditional violence against women, these are recollections written by lesbian women, ciswomen, cismen, transgender men, transgender women, gay men — just about every type of person imaginable. One tale describing the struggle of a trans woman to be permitted to participate in a slut walk brings the issue more clearly into focus.
These personal tragedies are expressions of pain, guilt, obsession, frustration, self-loathing — hate, love, confusion, all of the mix of emotions that one experiences when grappling with a personal experience with sexual assault. They involve family members, strangers, roommates, partners, exes, trusted people and untrustworthy ones alike. Yet the commonality is this: All writers are exposing their own raw emotions, their own souls, their own personal challenges to live past, through and in spite of being physically and sexually assaulted.
Each voice is as unique as the story. Some recounts are almost surrealistic, others are bold and brash, and many are very difficult to read because the author so involves the senses and sensibilities of the reader that the narrative makes a personal connection. And perhaps somewhere deep inside all of us, there is an act in our past that makes us somehow relate.
For some, there may be something that they look back on now and say, “I didn’t want to do that. I was forced to do this. I said no and it didn’t stop.” But for some reason they didn’t fully comprehend the implications at the time but do now that we read about someone else’s similar experience. Maybe it brings someone we know who has been raped a little closer to us, because we know just a tiny bit more about how that person feels.
These are not short fictional what-if stories but honest, painful memories and part of these people’s lives that they continue to struggle with. I challenge any person, whether a victim or fortunate non-victim, to read a few stories chosen at random in this anthology and not feel touched or moved by the raw expressions contained within.
And pray that you never know the feeling first-hand.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Jennifer Patterson will be at Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room 6-8 p.m. July 22 for readings and book signings. See Phillyaidsthriftatgiovannisroom.com for more information.