Giving Voice to Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Violence

As a trans survivor of sexual and emotional abuse, Lexie Bean has spent a lot of time trying to make sense of their own body.

Bean, raised in a rural Michigan suburb, spent their early life disbelieved by those around them — which resulted in internalized notions of body and self. When they came out as trans, people said it was because of Bean’s past experience with abuse, and that transitioning was just a direct rejection of their womanhood and femininity. But rape didn’t teach them to be honest with themselves; it taught them to be quiet. Instead of speaking their truth, Bean receded at the convenience of others.

“I just wanted to make things easier for other people,” Bean explains. “It was kind of a backwards way of thinking, that I would make life better for other people if I wasn’t present in it or if I had a simple word that had a cure.”

For years, Bean was in and out of medical facilities searching for a doctor-approved, curable diagnosis to explain what was happening inside of their body — a combination of being trans, being a survivor, and healing from the harmful internalizations that had, for so long, dictated their perception of self. In 2012, before they’d come out as trans, Bean was hospitalized in a neurology ward in Hungary, a country that resonated because of its many historical occupations.

Overwhelmed by their long-term trauma, coupled with a number of other factors, Bean could no longer hold it all in. So they picked up a pen and wrote three letters: one to their leg hair, one to the space between their hips, and one to their baby teeth. “I was just then learning how to sit with my own words,” Bean says. “I checked in with myself in a way that felt healthier than before.”

Why letters? Letters, according to Bean, imply a relationship is ongoing and not necessarily linear. In an essay published in Teen Vogue, Bean writes that none of their initial letters ended with “love,” and that that’s okay. “I guess that’s part of my critique of how I was previously taught about body positivity,” says Bean. “The idea that positivity is always moving up made me feel like shit, like I was healing wrong and because of that, healing just wasn’t for me.”

Bean uses the analogy of being stuck in bad traffic to describe the process. Despite being alone in a car, stuck in traffic and frustrated, it’s critical to realize that everybody else is stuck, too, and that only through collective action can anyone get out. “Some people get in the fast lane, some take detours, and sometimes moving forward looks more like moving backwards or sideways.”

For Bean, giving themselves permission to complicate where they were supposed to be in the healing process was a huge relief, and led them to realize that one person’s healing isn’t isolated from anyone else’s. So they asked 30 friends to write letters to their body parts, too. “Isolation is very much a part of shame and guilt, believing that what happened to me only happened to me,” they explain. “That’s just not true. Healing is sustainable when it’s alongside others and it makes it a lot of less lonely.”

The collected letters were compiled into an anthology called Attention: People with Body Parts. Nearly two years later, the project produced a second anthology, Portable Home, featuring letters written by survivors of domestic violence—most of whom Bean had never met. All would later meet to adapt the work into a performance piece.

While the first book focused on Bean’s immediate circle and the second on survivors of domestic violence, the project’s upcoming third anthology enough | enough will center on trans and non-binary survivors of domestic violence.

 

“A lot of trans and non-binary people can’t necessarily find home, hardly in their own bodies because of the way that we are socialized,” says Bean. “For a lot of us, transition homes aren’t even an option and we are often left out of statistics.”

With enough | enough, Bean hopes to acknowledge these realities by highlighting the vibrant diversity within this community, and by taking responsibility off the token trans friend to “teach,” their friends about trans issues; a costly pursuit that requires a great deal of energy. “The weight is put onto us for being real, or being safe, or anywhere in between,” explains Bean.

Following the release of Portable Home, Bean was told that domestic violence was too heavy a topic. But to Bean, discussing that topic isn’t heavy at all — it’s cathartic. They noted that for the second anthology, many submissions came from people living in rural areas, regions where there’s a clear shortage of resources for trans and non-binary individuals. They hope that enough | enough can provide a safe space for release, and for new and important conversations amongst people that might not have a physical space.

“I also know that my place in creating the anthology space comes from a position of a lot of power,” Bean adds. “I want to be able to offer a space for people who haven’t had that privilege.” Bean also acknowledges that the process of writing to a body part isn’t necessarily for everyone, it’s just an option that people may resonate with.

Since 2012, the nature of writing to body parts has changed for Bean, but continues to have the same impact. As the letters they write get deeper and more personal, the ability to be honest gets easier, too. For others interested in writing a letter, Bean’s advice is to take the time that is necessary — a tricky task in a world ruled by deadlines.

“Don’t do something for the sake of doing it or for the convenience of others,” they suggest. “Write a draft and notice what you would say to a certain part of yourself that changes over time.” If working alone doesn’t work, sometimes doing it collaboratively with someone else can be helpful. Some individuals have reached out to Bean to do a quiet Skype session. “It always feels brave to have that small practice of sharing with one other person, letting someone else come to a place where few go.”

There is no real destination with this third anthology. Though there is a possibility to adapt it into a touring performance piece, as they did with the last one, Bean looks forward to the improvisational mindset of enough | enough because it leaves room for many imaginations to come together. With this third book, Bean is still navigating their own healing, reconciling with what it means to look more and more like the people who’ve hurt them in the past. But they have not been in the hospital since 2012.

“My ultimate hope in creating any sort of artistic project or collaboration is just creating a space that allows people to acknowledge that they have things to say — that I have things to say — and that these things shouldn’t only be put on pedestals for public figures or celebrities,” they conclude. “Everyone is implicated in the metaphorical traffic.”

Alexa Strabuk is an editorial intern at Ms. and has worked as a writer, editor, graphic illustrator and editorial intern for magazines including ELLE, YES!, The Student Life and Mochi. She was recognized by the Asian American Journalists Association for her work as an up-and-coming reporter. Alexa is pursuing a B.A. in Media Studies at Pitzer College with a minor in Asian American studies.

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