Queering Sexual Violence: IMA Student Jennifer Patterson Interviewed by Faculty Lise Weil

311928_255826071128095_572497798_nIn her forthcoming anthology Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual Violence Movement (Magnus Books, Fall 2014), IMA student Jennifer Patterson has assembled a collection of powerful, eloquent voices that serve to shift key paradigms that exist around survivors of sexual violence and anti-sexual violence work. https://www.facebook.com/qsvhealingpolitic?ref=hl

How did this anthology come into being?

I originally started working on it because I was organizing in community- based anti-sexual violence work and I couldn’t find myself reflected in the work being done. And not only couldn’t I find myself in the work, I couldn’t find many of the people I look to for knowledge and experience. The scope was too narrow, too focused on the construction of a survivor that many people aren’t. As is often the case, there was a heavy focus on the binary of man/ rapist and woman/ survivor even though all genders can experience and perpetuate violence, even sexual violence. I started to feel like there needed to be more conversation led by those of us in the margins.

I wanted to highlight that the mainstream understanding of survivor and perpetrator could be conflicting with the reality of someone’s personal experience; that often times many people have complicated histories as both “victim” and “perpetrator”. I wanted to blur the lines between that binary. I wanted us to realize that rape and sexual violence and those of us who experience it are all on this huge continuum When we reduce a multitude of people and experiences to fit the narrative of the white, straight, cisgender women as the “perfect” survivor, we are missing opportunities to come together in a more dynamic way. I get increasingly frustrated hearing about the organizing focused on “violence against women”, as the only solution to ending sexual violence. It’s a limited framework that doesn’t make the connections between personal, institutional, state and community violence. When I think about all the survivors I know or have engaged with over the years, not all of them are women. And not all of the “perpetrators” are men. And many don’t even identify on either end of that gender binary.

On a more personal level, I am a survivor of multiple forms of violence and identify as queer so I came to this work very much from a place of experience.

Why is it needed?

Though I’m not straight, I am white and cisgender and I’ve seen how people who look like me and share some of my experiences are centralized when it comes to anti-sexual violence work; research studies, organizing, prevention work and healing spaces. Survivors are not a monolith yet there is very little space to veer from the more traditional narratives around violence.

There were also a lot of questions that seemed to go either unanswered or unacknowledged in mainstream organizing and non-profit work. For example, knowing that there is increasing hostility and exclusion towards trans women within our larger LGB, queer and feminist communities, when someone or an organization talks about “women” and “female” survivors, who is actually included?

Mainstream anti-sexual violence work is inextricably linked to non-profit organizations, which are now a full-blown industry. Often times this reliance makes people vulnerable to further violence from the state, through wanting survivors to report to the police and an overreliance on the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex. Depending on someone’s immigration status (undocumented), type of work ( sex work) or race/ gender/ class/ sexuality/ ability status, many people don’t have the luxury of being able to rely on the justice system because in wanting to report violence, they risk deportation, criminalization etc. In addition, criminalization of perpetrators, who will find themselves in the prison industrial complex where they will inevitably experience multiple forms of violence, is not a solution to violence, in my opinion. I’m interested in the way our systems and communities fail us. I feel most connected to work that challenges the way we view violence and justice, how we organize against it and respond to it.

10401926_10202575254597255_3073216122382718368_nIn much of the writing, there is a strong sense of silences being broken, of long-pent-up feelings and thoughts finally coming to the surface. How did you find and choose the material?

In general, I felt pretty open in regards to what I was looking to include in the anthology. Because I just wanted people to write what they needed to write, the stories they wished to read, I was open to whatever that meant for someone. And because I am the only editor, I wanted to challenge myself in how I chose the pieces. While I do connect with each of the contributors on some level, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t only choosing pieces because I agreed with them or thought they were “right.” I was looking for pieces that explored our connected and sometimes conflicting identities. I also wanted to look at what is considered acceptable as far as moving forward in this work. I think sometimes there is this idea that in order to challenge something, an institution, larger systems etc, one must have a neatly packaged “better” solution ready to be put into practice. That was something I wanted to move away from. I didn’t expect that each person would have answers but rather that the pieces would provide space for larger conversations.

I ended up picking 35 pieces (I had originally hoped to find 20-25) to include in the book. I also feel privileged to have Reina Gossett, of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and writer, organizer and archivist, who wrote the forward. Reina starts us off strongly by challenging the ways people view violence, justice and who is deemed worthy of survival so I feel really lucky that she agreed to be a part of the book.

Tell us a little about what it took to get it picked up by a publisher.

Well, it was not a short process, I’ll tell you that. I didn’t have an agent so I wrote the proposal (and then rewrote and rewrote) to send to publishers on my own. I had a few people who were incredibly helpful and supportive and they were happy to edit and offer suggestions before I sent it out which was incredibly beneficial. I spent about 3 years submitting the proposal to various radical or small or LGBT or academic presses. It seemed to resonate for a lot of publishers and I got some great feedback but for whatever reason it was still hard to place. For some, it wasn’t academic enough, but then at other times, was deemed too academic. I understood; I made no attempts to make it an “academic” book but there are some pieces that are more academic than others. It’s also critical of the industry of anti-sexual violence non-profit work which I’m sure worried a few presses.

I finally found a home for it at Magnus Books, which I am really excited about. The publisher, Don Weise has been incredibly supportive and it feels great to be working with someone who is as excited and inspired as I am. As of now, it’s slated to come out in October but that isn’t 100% yet.

How does it connect to the work you are doing at Goddard?

This book (and the other work I did in anti-sexual violence work) has very much been a passion project. So while doing the book for the last 4.5 years, I also was balancing my “paid’ work in graphic design and social media management. I hit a wall where my life felt very fragmented, the things that I loved weren’t allowing me to survive and the things that paid the bills weren’t inspiring me as much anymore. I came to Goddard with the hopes that I could reframe what I was doing and connect some of the dots.

This past semester I focused largely on queer survivorhood and the impact on and use of the body after experiencing violence. I’m really interested in the ways that pleasure and pain overlap and how they can be used in some sort of healing process. I’m also really excited about exploring the good/ bad binary; what makes someone a “good” survivor vs. a “bad” survivor. I’m wanting to interrogate and break down the pathologization and stigmatization around the way queer people choose to inhabit, rebuild and utilize their bodies after experiencing violence on a personal and community level. Lots of reading about body modification, in the form of piercing and tattoos, BDSM and 1970’s gay radical sexuality, “writing” the body through creative non-fiction and the body as a source of inspiration and a site for artistic practice. I’m still pulling things together but it all feels really good to be focused on places that often are shamed and stigmatized.

Of course, who knows where I will head next semester!

This entry was posted in Activism, Community Building, Creative Writing, Embodiment Studies & Body Image, Feminism, Women's & Gender Studies, Transforming Trauma and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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