Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Your favorite militant columnist took the last two weeks off for health-related reasons. Obviously, I told my employers I had contracted the plague, but we know better, yiss? Because I’m still not really 100% this week but really need to stop waxing poetic on the shattered ruins of my interior emotional landscape, I decided to take questions! Two will come out today, one will come out Wednesday, and one more will come out later this week.
Somebody who constantly amazes me with both their strength and humor got around to asking, “Sometimes work on sexual assault with regards to the community or big parties loses the individual interactions. How can survivors talk with their friends, families and/or partner/s about their trauma without being shamed or silenced?”
First, it is not the survivor’s responsibility to avoid being shamed or silenced — it is the responsibility of that friend, partner or family member to not shame or silence the survivor. Biting back all those little disbelieving questions or the voyeuristic urge to know every detail is not intuitive; we’ve been socialized to trivialize, dismiss and objectify survivors, their bodies and their experiences.
Pandora’s Project offers a a solid set of “tips” for supporting survivors. Everyone, EVERYONE, read this list. With 1/3 women and 1/6 men [and ?/? non-binary folks] suffering sexual assault in their lifetime, you can’t afford not to read that list.
Those tips cover the immediate response to a survivor’s disclosure. But that’s only the beginning. It doesn’t magically and suddenly get easier. Support will be an on-going and tough process. What does support in the long-run look like?
For me, it’s having friends who forcibly schedule meals, to make sure I eat them, or drop off a sandwich to my room when I can’t get out of bed. It means people have heard me rant about a lot, giving me the room to express anger while they actively listen to and hold that anger. Generally, my support systems (my friends) have just not given up on me, even when I cancel plans or am “not fun” or “not chill” to hang out with or don’t have the energy to do more than sit quietly and stare at the table.
Ultimately, supporting a survivor is very unique to each survivor. Keep checking in to make sure the survivor is comfortable with the ways you’re supporting them. Make sure he feels like they have a safe enough space to ask for what she needs from you (which means not getting defensive or irritated if you’re told you did something disempowering or hurtful).
My editor is a long-suffering and wonderful minor deity who asked, “Why do you spell ‘straight’ ‘str8?’”
Gay. Homo. Sodomite. Bull-dyke. Queer. Cocksucker. Faggot.
Those words are sometimes identities, but they also, in the mouth or fist of the right person at the wrong time, slurs. They’re glowing brands queer people carry around inside; they flare up with the tightening of someone’s eyes or the twist of their sneer.
What can I call you, str8ie-pies? What hurts?
Breeder? Breeder, in my experience, mostly makes y’all str8s laugh.
There is no word with violence in it that means “heterosexual.”
I hear about thirteen hundred baaaws forming, “But why do you need a word?” Comes the cry of the enlightened liberal arts STR8 student, “Heterophobia isn’t any better than homophobia! Talk it out!”
There’s this recurring problem of complacency here. We’re so liberal and so progressive! We love the queer community! We don’t use any of those naughty words, not us!
So why is this bullshit still happening, you wonderful allies, you? Why did this man have to face down the cluster of homophobic fucks? Why didn’t anyone else detach their face from their dance partner’s and tell this shitstain off? Why didn’t anyone grab them and shove them out? It was a party thrown by queers, and it still wasn’t safe for queer people.
And why aren’t you all talking about it, posting it on your Facebooks like you post articles about people getting hurt far away from here? Why did it take Dean Braun a week and a half to respond to this? Why was her response just a weak reiteration of the targeted man’s article?
Where the fuck are you, str8faces?
‘Str8’ looks silly. It’s trivial. It reads like a lazy, goofy text word. It doesn’t belong in an academic paper or an article. It’s small and insignificant.
I’ll keep leering str8, str8ie, lol str8 ppl at you until that word is as ugly as some of the ones that have cut me and others, yeah, here. Maybe by then y’all (students, professors and deans) will live up to your much-touted ethical intelligence.