Silence must be broken on gender-based sexual violence

metoo illustration
Arianna Ninh/Staff

Near the end of his final term, former president Barack Obama consoled a nonbinary person coming out on live television, saying, “We are moving in the right direction (on gender equity) … in part because of courageous and young people like yourself — so stick with it.” This New Year’s, millions of Californians, including myself, will celebrate the arrival of birth certificates, driver’s licenses and legal documents recognizing our gender marker “X” as legitimate thanks to the Gender Recognition Act passed in 2017. While this is a historic moment for gender minorities across the spectrum, I am afraid of what comes next.

In 2016, members of Congress attempted to repeal federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act despite millions of Americans depending on these programs to stay alive. These same people were silent as  Brock Turner, a Stanford student who violently raped a woman behind a dumpster, was released from jail one year earlier. The UC system remains complicit in gender-based violence as UC Santa Cruz administrators encourage faculty to rent out rooms in their personal houses to students for stipends. And despite the basic needs of students not being met, this same institution remains silent regarding the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, known as FOSTA, which continues to push student sex workers into violent situations by legislating our bodies as contraband. As Brett Kavanaugh, an alleged rapist, continues to proceed toward a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, women and gender-nonconforming people must become political if we wish to see freedom in our lifetimes.

The time is now for all students to take a stand and break the silence that leaves us marginalized in order to demand equity, justice and safety as fundamental human rights.

The hardest part of breaking my silence after my sexual assault by an employee of the Clark Kerr Campus was wondering if anyone would believe me. I kept asking myself, “This shouldn’t be normal, so why won’t anyone listen?” Because of the #MeToo movement, I realized that I’m not the only survivor who has felt this way. When survivors of gender-based violence speak out, we are almost immediately met with defensiveness from people who believe their opinions are more important than our lives. “You must have led them on somehow,” one person says. “I’ll have to ask what they think about this. There are two sides to every story,” another says. While none of these questions are ever concerned with how we can live in a body stolen from us, we have to understand that these responses are not coincidental but underscore the programming by a system that intends to keep us enslaved.

As a nonbinary gender minority, I never saw gender as “blue” versus “pink” but rather chose the cotton candy wheel that included all of us. My gender only became political after people tried to define who I am, what I should do and what I should say. To that, I say, “I’m fighting back.” We have the opportunity to declare to those seeking power that the people across this country will no longer remain silent while our dignity and fundamental rights are being dismantled across the board.

I believe the fight for reproductive justice and sexual liberation is a struggle that extends far beyond class, gender, race or ability. It is a question of autonomy and dignity as fundamental to our survival: a universal right to exist. A system designed to force us into gendered behaviors and stereotypes will not save anyone; it will be a combination of our talents and compassionate leadership from each of us, regardless of gender, that will save our lives. I look forward to a day when gender is no longer political, because gender shouldn’t be about power but rather a unique experience meant to be shared.

While the gender marker X will protect a few of the trans, intersex and genderqueer lives from state violence in this country, now more than ever we must take to the streets and demand justice for all survivors regardless of how they identify. As the founder of the #MeToo movement Tarana Burke states, it’s time for us to show up “in person with our feet to the streets to say we won’t be treated this way and we won’t stand for another survivor to be treated this way.” The time is now to declare that we, especially students, are not put on this earth for anyone’s consumption, entertainment or impregnation; we are here to learn how to love ourselves.

Fellow students of UC Berkeley, please do not forget that while they have guns, we have flowers — and through the concrete, we will bloom. Our greatest strength is our community. From People’s Park to the Lawrence Hall of Science, for 150 years Berkeley has pioneered a way forward, bringing the hard light of knowledge and resistance to our world. Citizens of Berkeley, the time is now to remember our history and resistance. We must remember that the fight for free speech was a fight for silence breakers demanding to be heard. And we are not going back into the silence. Fiat Lux.

Aidan Hill is a nonbinary Afro-Latinx and is running for Berkeley City Council District 7.