How would you describe your project & what do you hope to accomplish? Why is this work important?
In Solidarity, We Resist’s mission is to empower Queer and Trans survivors of sexual violence through community building, education and art. We create workshops, organize community events, and use art to foster healing for Queer and Trans survivors of sexual assault. It started out as one person engaging a campus about sexual assault and has grown into a team of badass feminists engaging a community to support queer and trans survivors. Our ultimate goal is to engage, empower, and support survivors. When survivors leave our workshops feeling like they’ve been heard, maybe they’ve healed a little, and know that they are not alone, we’ve been successful.
I hope to demolish the singularity of the narrative of cis straight white woman as the only victim of sexual assault. Sexual violence has affected all genders, abilities, ethnicities. When we don’t give space to a variety of narratives we isolate survivors who are from the most vulnerable and marginalized communities.
Queer and trans people face much higher rates of sexual violence in our communities but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a public story about sexual assault in the queer community that hasn’t villainized the queer person. Our stories don’t support a narrative of “respectable trauma.” The problem is that healing from trauma it isn’t a linear, clean cut, happy-ending. Healing is messy, and isolation only makes that more dangerous. At least half of trans people have faced sexual assault, 44% of lesbians, 61% of bisexual women, 26% of gay men, 37% of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence. Statistics for genders other than men and women aren’t yet available; even in collecting data people outside the gender binary are erased. People who have experienced sexual violence have higher rates of PTSD, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and suicide. Isolation from our communities and further marginalization can only increase those rates. The majority of my chosen family has struggled with healing from the trauma, shame, and isolation that comes from sexual assault.
Is collaboration something you incorporate into your practice? Why or why not?
The first year of the project, I did everything myself. I organized the event, I trained teams of volunteers, I got campus ground permissions, and did all of the advertising. I also was dealing with high-functioning anxiety and depression so I did not sleep much and was always working. I also did not anticipate the heavy emotional labor of this work and it became increasingly difficult to complete. I became exhausted when working on sewing a quilt of survivors stories together. The student leader who took up the project a year later had a similar experience.
This year, I am working with a team of people I love and trust to expand In Solidarity, We Resist, and it’s grown beyond what I imagined. It’s expanded to a larger community beyond just one college campus, and it’s focused in on queer and trans survivors. We share in the same values and bring our different experiences to the group and it’s a beautiful thing. We’ve incorporated an Artist in Residence position which I hope to have every year. The Artist in Residence will be a yearly collaboration with survivors who want to participate in the project. This year, we had Jesper Beckholt as our Artist in Residence and they are in the process of making a Zine out of the stories we collected from survivors of sexual violence.
While organizing the events have become increasingly collaborative, the heart of the project has always been in collaboration with survivors who participate. I could not make my work without them imparting their work with such trust and that is a very special intimate collaboration which humbles me.
What inspired you to embark on this path?
One day, I saw the boy who raped me in the Medical Sciences building on campus. I saw him walking in front of me in the hallway when I previously thought that he had graduated. I once saw him in the checkout lane in a grocery store and in a parking lot on campus walking towards his classes and once he was with friends at the library’s Starbucks. I thought, “I can’t possibly be the only one, how many other survivors are going through this here on campus?”
In my own healing I often wonder if I was one of his last attempts at straightness. A (hopefully) last failing attempt at securing his heterosexual masculinity. Turns out, we’re both queer. I always hope I don’t see him at Pride events or the feminist places he feels comfortable inhabiting.
These experiences paired with a growing interest in performance art, social practice art, and social justice activism became In Solidarity, We Resist.
How do you balance your mission of social justice with earning a living?
This is such an important and relatable question that I feel is necessary to include in this interview, but I don't have a complete answer. Right now, we’ve been fortunate enough for this years events to be funded by Equitas Health in Dayton, Ohio and I am so thankful that we have such a good partner in our work. We are pursuing our 501c3 status to help us receive funding for future events and I hope that will lead to an ability to do Ohio wide outreach. I work part time at a craft store for $10/hour and am lucky enough to be married to a supportive spouse who has a job as an engineer. This work depends on the commitment of volunteers (including myself) but I hope to make it more sustainable in the future. It’s definitely a labor of love.
How do you make your work more inclusive?
This has been a focus from the very start. All of our advertisements make it clear that the space ISWR creates is a space for survivors of all genders. Whenever we have the chance to talk about the disenfranchisement of other communities we do our best to include that in our work. It’s a growing project and I’m the first to say that I am not an expert on how to make everything perfectly inclusive. That’s part of why I’m excited about a yearly Artist in Residence collaborating with ISWR--we’ll always bring a fresh perspective and always prioritize disenfranchised communities.
What do you wish people understood about your area of interest within feminism?
I wish people understood that lip service and performative ally-ship isn’t enough. It’s not enough to say that you’re not transphobic, you have to be willing to get called out and show by your actions that you’re not transphobic. In the early stages of creating ISWR, I kept running into references to a “sisterhood” of survivors, but as a GenderQueer person whose family is made up of Transgender, Non-Binary, and Gender Non-Conforming people, that immediately made me cringe and feel as if I did not belong. Queer and Trans folks face different challenges and can’t all be under the banner of “sisterhood.” My community of marginalized people healing alongside each other helped me heal, and that’s because we didn’t erase each other in respectable narratives of sisterhood, whiteness, straightness.
Stop throwing Queer and Trans survivors away when creating space for survivors. Allowing space for more narratives to be heard doesn’t take away from anyone, it only strengthens us in our resolve, in our healing, in our community.
What are 5 ways our readers can support the work you’re doing?
- Follow and share our posts on Facebook and Instagram!
- Share your story with us.
- Buy our Zine (or donate whatever you can) in September.
- Expand your discussion of Sexual Assault to include Queer and Trans Survivors.
- Support survivors - Whether we know it or not, we all know survivors of sexual violence. Listen and support them (feel free to use the educational resources we provide on our facebook and instagram.)
- Visit the In Solidarity, We Resist site.
Charmaine Renee (They/Them pronouns) is a genderqueer maker who created In Solidarity, We Resist in 2014. They currently reside in Cleveland, Ohio while taking care of two cats and a spouse. They recently graduated from Wright State University with a major in Fine Arts, a minor in Women’s Studies, and are currently trying to figure out how that degree applies to life and this thing called “adulthood.” They continue to make work dealing with trauma, healing, and identity.
Featured image from the In Solidarity, We Resist Facebook page.