A Militant Crab: ‘Dear Crabby’, Part One

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?”

Great question!

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.


  1. Hiya!

    I have a few points from the second part of your piece I’m a bit shady on (loved the first part btw – will be visiting the site), I was wondering if you could give clarification?

    1. You imply that it was the responsibility of heterosexual allies to step in if they observed the incident at Paces, which I agree with. Do you think that those who are queer and were presented also bear the same responsibility? My opinion is that yes, they were also responsible to act. I think the failure of anyone who witnessed the incident, regardless of sexual orientation/gender identity, to intervene in an appropriate form is what is really disturbing.

    If you disagree, why do you believe that only heterosexual allies should be called out on their lack of reaction and not the whole community present at the event? I will admit that a gut-reaction I have as a queer person to only heterosexual people being held accountable is: I don’t need ‘straight’ people to fight my battles for me. I want my whole community to assist me against events like this.

    If you agree that queer people are also accountable, what do you think it says about our queer community on campus that no one (assuming a queer individual witnessed the event) stepped in? I recognize that the question of personal safety is much stronger when considering a queer person’s possible actions in an event of this type (believe me, I am all too aware of possible consequences), but moving away from that point for a moment: I’m honestly not sure what this says about us.

    2. I’m still not totally clear on the argument for cultivating a heterosexual ‘slur’ of sorts. I have definitely desired one sometimes: some term I could use that would snap people to attention when I try and bring up straight-privilege, something to vent my anger with. And yet, the belief that such a term only feeds a destructive us vs. them mentality (one I feel is in the end more destructive for the minority involved) always out weighs that desire for me.

    Does homophobia and do queer-phobic slurs really justify the creation of such a word? You say: “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.” And I agree with this – I’ve felt it.

    But in all honesty, I resent my pain being an excuse to create a slur.

    3. Following the above question, why did you choose in your article (if you did, if you didn’t please correct me) to draw such a stark line between queer and heterosexual communities? Do you feel that this line is warranted, and if so why? On a broader note (and this question is more food-for-thought- for the community at large and not just in relation to your article) what are the responsibilities of these communities separately in reaction to queer-phobia and what are their responsibilities as a single unit in reaction to it?

    So yes, this turned out to much longer then I anticipated, I guess this got me thinking a lot. And I really hope it gets others who read it thinking too.

    • I agree–so, so much–with all of Space Cadet’s points. And to elaborate on #3:

      I identify as a cis-female bisexual, but I’m de facto closeted: I’ll openly respond if asked, but I don’t volunteer the information and am not a member of the queer community. Theories abound for why people like me make the choices that we do–and I’m not the only bisexual I know who has made this choice–but I contend that one major reason is the black Sharpie line in the hallway between the straight and queer communities, even (especially) at Swarthmore. Being bisexual, for me, is a privilege as much as it is a burden: I am privileged to participate in both communities. Which means that I can *legitimately* be straight, because I can legitimately seek out and love a life partner of the opposite gender. And I have made that choice to present as a member of the straight community–because I can’t join the queer community without leaving my current community, and y’know, both of them have their problems so I’ll stick with the one that I know best.

  2. there is so much wrong with the second answer that I do not have time to properly respond, so I’ll just say being called “str8” will never, ever make anyone feel bad and I can’t really imagine it eliciting an emotional response beyond a condescending laugh.

  3. Hi crabby crab (and others), love the article, even though I don’t personally agree with a lot of the str8 stuff. One VERY important thing to note, as I have heard concern from several people, is the inaccuracy of your accusations against Dean Braun and her response to the Paces incident. I was present at the SQU Board meeting after the incident in which we talked about how to respond, and we decided that we needed to use multiple paths to bring this to the attention of as many people on campus as possible. Although we didn’t expect that the administration could do anything to find out who was involved, we did think it was important that they know about the incident and help us bring awareness to the campus. Therefore, the student involved met with a dean on that Friday, and obviously that conversation later was continued with Dean Braun.

    The student wrote and edited his Phoenix article by the beginning of the next week, and it is apparent from Dean Braun’s email that she was waiting for that article to be completed before sending out her email. So, in fact, the timing of the email, while seemingly quite separated from the time of the event, was in fact rather speedy given these circumstances. As to the “weak” wording that you point out, I think the email was well written to bring awareness to the campus, reaffirm the admin’s support for the student involved, and point people to the student’s Phoenix article, since he could obviously tell the story and give the same message more personally and powerfully than Dean Braun could. (Let me say that in general it should not be students’ responsibility to stand up for themselves like this, it should be the administration’s. In this instance, however, the student had already decided to take these steps on his own and the admin supported it, which is different from the administration forcing him to go it alone.)

    But saying stuff is not the same as action, you might say. This is very true, and you and I agree that people on this campus pay lip service to our “Swat values” more than we put them into practice. However, I have been pleasantly surprised this semester to witness firsthand (via my participation on the IC Director search committee and attendance at Monday’s IC dinner to talk about how the college can better support IC groups) Dean Braun’s commitment to taking concrete steps to support diversity, inclusion, and specifically queer students. While I do agree that the administration needs to be called out on a lot of bad practices, especially their stance on sexual assault, I believe that this is one area in which Dean Braun at least is actively seeking concrete ways to improve the college.

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