Solidarity with Aderonke Apata

Content note: This post discusses lesbophobia and treatment of migrant women

Aderonke Apata is a lesbian woman who was born in Nigeria. There, she faced absolute horrors. She was tortured by police, three members of her family were murdered, her girlfriend of 20 years was murdered. Aderonke herself was sentenced to death by stoning by a Sharia court, and due to a homophobic law passed in Nigeria, she faces 14 years in prison if she returns. What happened to Aderonke–and what could happen to her–happened because she is a lesbian woman in a world that would rather lesbian women were dead.

Over here in the UK, the Home Office too would rather send Aderonke to face–at the very least–prison and the very real threat of being killed. They’ve refused to grant Aderonke asylum, a decision which Aderonke is challenging. They refused, even after Aderonke was forced into all sorts of degrading things to “prove” she is a lesbian, such as submitting a DVD and intimate photos of her sex life.

Their reason? Aderonke has children, and had previously been in heterosexual relationships. They are playing on lesbophobic tropes to try to send this vulnerable woman into danger, because they know that society at large thinks horrible things about queer women.

The issue of “provability” is in and of itself a lesbophobic trope. Under heterosexual patriarchy, sex doesn’t actually count unless a man is involved. In terms of “proving” that she is gay, Aderonke must fight a losing battle, because she is trying to battle against a world that doesn’t believe in lesbians anyway.

Aderonke’s relationships with men, many years ago, are unduly weighted as her “real” relationships, negating her true identity as a lesbian and devaluing her relationships with women.

Unfortunately, the definition of “lesbian” is kind of baffling to most people who aren’t queer women who have given this some thought. There is a demand for a “gold star”, for lesbian women to have never even kissed a man, let alone had sex with one. “You can’t be a heterosexual one day and a lesbian the next day. Just as you can’t change your race,” said the barrister against Aderonke, summing up this ridiculous societal attitude pretty fucking well, by accident.

Under heterosexual patriarchy, women are expected to have sex with men. Wanting that is presented as a norm, a default. A hell of a lot of lesbians have had sex and relationships with men, simply because it is expected (and often, because men feel entitled). When there’s a norm presented, most people will at least have a pop at living the normative way. This is even the case in countries where homophobia is nominally, legally Not A Thing, the sort of countries where gays can marry.

The “gold star” drivel has sadly been internalised by some lesbians. It’s used to devalue lesbians and queer women who haven’t managed to figure it all out early, or those of us who are bi. The myth of the gold star is something we desperately need to destroy.

The other thing, of course, that needs smashing, is the idea lesbians are incapable of reproduction. That’s really not the case. A lesbian couple can reproduce all by themselves.

The sad thing in regard to Aderonke’s case is this is not abnormal for the Home Office. The Home Office is where misogyny, homophobia and racism come together to crush women like Aderonke. Ultimately, we’ll stop seeing cases like Aderonke’s only after we have ground that repulsive institution and the ideologies that underpin it into dust.

But in the meantime, there’s some things you can do to help and support Aderonke. You can sign a petition. You can follow the Facebook page for updates about actions in the meatspace and what’s going on with her case. And finally, there’s this beautiful photo project for queer women and femmes to show solidarity. Please help Aderonke, and help women like her by rejecting the structural lesbophobia and racism coming wafting out of the Home Office.

 

An open letter to Rape Crisis South London from a devastated survivor

Content note: This post discusses rape and transmisogyny

Dear Rape Crisis South London,

I’m at work today. I’m supposed to be working, but I can’t. My hands are shaking, and a knot in my guts twists about itself as I veer on the edge of vomiting. My head is full of thoughts of things my rapist said and thought, things I’d worked hard to believe aren’t true about me, things that aren’t true about anyone–or at least shouldn’t be.

Some years ago, you helped me get on top of the violent chattering in my mind and the sickness pervading my body. You were there for me, and you helped it stop hitting me like this.

So it’s horrifically ironic that it’s you, Rape Crisis South London, who are responsible for throwing me right back into this state.

You hit me with a blindside–it feels like it was hours ago, days ago, weeks ago, like I’ve always been like this–a mere half hour ago:

RapeCrisis SthLondon on Twitter   @stavvers Hi Zoe. Have you considered choosing to apologise for this  You can hold yr point   rage   also respect for survivors speaking out

It was in response to a string of tweets of mine from a few days ago. A deeply transmisogynistic article had come out, and I’d spoken out against it as a survivor. I said:

Storify link

After demanding an apology from me, Rape Crisis South London, you decided to pretend like both sides were in the wrong.

RapeCrisis SthLondon on Twitter   @stavvers Hold onto your rage and your point Zoe. Both are important. But all survivors deserve respect. You   Rachel. You have a choice.

Yet I don’t see you going after Rachel Hewitt. I don’t see you demanding an apology from someone who thinks in the same way as my rapist. I only see you going after me, the Bad Survivor.

You’ve made it clear, Rape Crisis South London, who you prioritise in your help, and it’s not women like me. Women like me can be thrown to the wolves to protect the hurt feelings of bigots and transmisogynists. You don’t mind rage of survivors, as long as it’s rage directed at vulnerable women, rather than rage directed at those who exhibit exactly the same pattern of logic as rapists.

I feel myself growing stronger as I write this, because a lot of survivors, trans women and trans women who are survivors (which is a fucking big overlap, if you’ve done your research) have got in touch with me, and they feel the same as me. And the way I deal is I take their pain with mine and I scream and shout about the lies you’re supporting in demanding an apology for me.

Rape is not something that springs into being due to the presence of a penis. It’s a choice a rapist makes. In supporting the transmisogyistic line that a penis is some sort of magically-guided rape missile, you’re letting rapists get away with it. My rapist claimed he couldn’t help it, and you taught me that yes, yes he could. It’s devastating to see you taking a U-turn on this.

Genitals don’t matter, it’s obsessing over others’ genitals that’s creepy. My rapist viewed me as a walking pussy. A lot of other survivors I’ve spoken to have had the same experience. So I find it really disturbing that you are implicitly supporting the transmisogynistic line that genitals should dictate who should and shouldn’t be allowed in women’s space. I don’t want to be around people who are thinking about what’s in my pants. I find it terrifying that you would prioritise having creeps who do in survivors’ spaces over women who are more likely to experience rape and sexual assault.

Our trans sisters need our help. Let’s fucking give it to them if we’re serious about tackling male violence.

Survivors shouldn’t have to apologise for anything. Once again, you taught me this, when I felt bad about feeling angry and upset at seeing my rapist’s reasoning everywhere and reacting to it. Pretending a valid emotional reaction to someone reducing you down to your genitals is something to apologise for is…yep, you’ve guessed it, something my rapist did. So yes, it fucking hurts like fuck to see you turning around on this.

I say these things so they will sink in to me and I can believe them too, after the huge setback you provoked this morning. I know them to be true, and I know they will break through and become truths to me once again as this triggered feeling passes.

Meanwhile, I want something positive to come from this destruction of me this morning. I offer my hand, sincerely, in helping you to avoid hurting survivors in this way again, because it’s not just me who feels this way. I will come in and talk to you, I will work with you on these topics. I offer my hand in friendship, because I feel like you were integral to helping me recover, and I don’t want to see you slip under and become an organisation that does more harm than good.

Before that can happen, I need to know that you’ve read this and understood it. I need to know that you’ve realised you’ve fucked up quite seriously. From there, perhaps we can heal. I’d like for that to happen, because it would help me heal, too.

Update 11.13am 2/3/15: RASASC_London have offered to engage by telephone. I’ve replied that this isn’t possible for me, and asked them to send me an email. I await their response.

13.30 2/3/15: RASASC and I have arranged to discuss this issue this evening by email. I will keep you abreast as to how it goes.

18.30 2/3/15: I was emailed by the tweeter from RASASC opening the lines of communication. She offered a heartfelt apology which I accept. Right now, I’m holding off replying fully because I want my thinking to be clear. I’m also aware I have decentred the issue of transmisogyny in support provision onto myself, and I want to talk to trans women about the problem and what you want to happen. If you’re a trans woman survivor, please email me with your thoughts. Thank you, everyone.

3/3/15, 10.30: I received another email from RASASC which makes me less optimistic, reiterating their demand that I apologise. RASASC also tweeted the text of yesterday’s email, again publicly demanding that I apologise. I have storified my response in tweets to this. I am very disappointed that this has happened, especially given how positive I felt yesterday. I am still clinging on to hope that this can be resolved, and that resolution must include justice for trans women survivors.

Things I read this fortnight that I found interesting

I do mean to do these round-ups weekly, you know. Anyway, I have some excellent links for you, so sit down and enjoy.

Sex redefined (Claire Ainsworth)- Nature examines the science of biological sex. Read this article and bookmark it for when someone is chatting crap.

It’s Time To Talk About Why Our Young People Turn Against Their Country (Chimene Suleyman)- Addressing the issues the white media have been completely ignoring or spinning through a lens of racism.

I Dated Christian Grey: How Women Are Groomed For Abuse (Samantha Field)- Explaining neatly why 50SOG is so dangerous.

You are oppressing us! (Sara Ahmed)- Truly amazing article about free speech and those who shriek about it.

Freedom of speech: not what you think it is (Eve Livingston)- A student feminist explains no platforms.

Real work (Sometimes it’s just a cigar)- A quick overview of the absurd argument put forward that online activism isn’t “real”.

Excluding Transgender People Doesn’t Make Anything Safer For Anybody (Sarah Thomasin)-  Very good piece on “female-only spaces”.

Chelsea racists are a distraction from a much bigger problem (Sam Ambreen)- Sam talks about the face of British racism.

‘Latin American women in the UK need this domestic violence refuge. Why are we facing closure?’ (Reni Eddo-Lodge)- The only refuge run for and by Latin American women faces closure. Read about why it’s so important.

Want more sex crime? Send more kids to jail (Lorraine Atkinson)- Important read on the evidence surrounding young people in prisons.

Transgender Elders Show Us the Meaning of Survival– A beautiful set of portraits.

Honoured bodies– In memory of Leonard Nimoy, here’s some of his photographs of fat women, which are gorgeous.

And finally, here’s some cats teaching tiny versions of themselves how to cat.