People who identify as transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay and also as survivors of sexual assault face not only the barriers to seeking help that all survivors face, but also a range of obstacles that are unique to the TBLG community. Some of the issues that are unique to TBLG survivors are listed below.
TBLG survivors, like all survivors, often feel self-blame, shame, fear, anger, and depression, but TBLG survivors may also be led to question their sexuality, or how it is perceived by others, especially if the assault was perpetrated as a hate crime, directed against the survivor’s sexual orientation or gender identity as perceived by the perpetrator.
TBLG survivors may feel ostracized from both mainstream society and the TBLG community, or they may feel that their sexual orientation or gender identity is focused on more than the assault itself.
Transgender people may not want to seek hospital care because it would mean revealing that they are a gender other than the sex they were born to, which in turn might cause discrimination.
TBLG survivors may also feel that they were punished for not acting in accordance with society’s prescribed gender roles, and this may increase the amount of shame that they feel as a result of an assault.
TBLG survivors may be reluctant to tell family and friends who do not approve of their lifestyle about a sexual assault or an abusive relationship, fearing that it will only reinforce negative stereotypes.
A small and tight-knit TBLG community may make a survivor reluctant to tell others about an assault or an abusive relationship, fearing that everyone will know.
TBLG survivors may lack support not only from the community at large, but also from the TBLG community itself, which may not want to admit that there is sexual assault and domestic violence within the TBLG community, for fear that it will only perpetuate stereotypes about TBLG people.
TBLG survivors who do choose to come forward face a range of difficulties that heterosexual survivors do not face. Survivors who are not “out” may not want to seek counseling for fear that doing so will mean disclosing their sexual orientations as well. There is often heterosexism and homophobia in the systems that are designed to help survivors. This can mean overt discrimination against TBLG survivors, or it can be the assumption that all survivors are heterosexual. The legal system may also be discriminatory, and may not even recognize same-sex assault.
MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT THE TBLG COMMUNITY AND SEXUAL ASSAULT
Myth: A woman can’t rape another woman. A man can’t be raped.
Fact: While the majority of perpetrators of sexual assault are male, the idea that woman-on-woman sexual assault does not occur or that men cannot be assaulted is only a product of gender role stereotypes. Stereotypes can make a male survivor or a survivor who was sexually assaulted by a woman feel that they won’t be believed. Male survivors and female perpetrators challenge stereotypes because females are often believed to be non-violent and men are expected to be strong and defend themselves from sexual assault.
Myth: Gay men are sexually promiscuous and are always ready for sex.
Fact: Men who identify as gay, like all people, have the right to say no to sex at any time and have that respected. Because of the stereotypes that many people have about gay men’s sexual availability, however, it may be more difficult for a gay man to feel believed and affirmed in his experience.
Myth: Bisexuals are over-sexual anyway, and sexual assault for them is just rough sex that got out of hand.
Fact: Bisexuality reflects a sexual orientation, not sexual practices. Bisexuals, like heterosexuals, practice a wide range of sexual behaviors, and, for bisexuals, like for heterosexuals, rough sex and a sexual assault are two very different things. Because of stereotypes about bisexuals, they, too, may have difficulty being believed about a sexual assault.
Myth: When a woman claims domestic abuse by another woman or when a man claims domestic abuse by another man, it is just a catfight or two men fighting.
Fact: Just because partners are of the same gender does not mean that one partner cannot abuse the other. All the aspects of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse can still occur. Domestic violence in TBLG relationships may also include the threat of outing a partner, and so may take on an aspect not present in heterosexual domestic violence. Just because two partners are closer to the same size does not mean that one cannot abuse the other, because there is much more to domestic violence than just physical abuse.
As with all cases of sexual assault, these myths can only be dispelled when they are replaced by truth. This requires that members of the TBLG community and heterosexual allies speak out and acknowledge sexual assault and domestic violence within the TBLG community, in order to both prevent future assaults and to provide competent and compassionate care to survivors.