Working at SurvivorsUK presents us with a difficult dilemma: how can we provide male-centric services (that we believe are much needed within the sexual violence sector) and yet remain inclusive towards trans* people, and those who identify as non-binary? Despite asking ourselves this many times, we still have no satisfactory answer, and we still don't feel we have it right. Part of the appeal for us in writing this blog is to encourage readers' thoughts and opinions, to help us grow and become more inclusive.
SurvivorsUK was established in recognition of the absence of services for those who identify as men, and the differences in how male-identifying survivors of sexual violence are perceived. We would never say that sexual violence affects these people more than women, but we do say that it affects them differently. In large part, this is to do with the idea of masculinity, and what it means to be a man, that we have all unavoidably absorbed as part of our growing up. Although the world has changed in recent years, and it is doubtless that non-cisgender, trans* and non-binary people are more included and more able to be open about who they are, it is still fair to say that society remains fundamentally cisnormative. Views on what it means to be masculine or feminine, male or female, a boy or a girl remain deeply ingrained in all aspects of life.
At SurvivorsUK we know that sexual abuse, assault or rape can have a profound negative impact on a person's sense of masculinity. Despite progress in social attitudes, men are still taught they should be masculine, strong, able to protect themselves, and to do so without crying or showing 'weak' emotions. This can mean that when a man is the victim of sexual abuse, assault or rape, he is often blamed, shamed or disbelieved. We need look no further than the recent comments made by Eric Bristow about the sexual abuse revealed by over 20 professional footballers for evidence of this. Though female survivors are also subject to victim-blaming and poor treatment, it is the different nature of this treatment that underlines the need for male-centric sexual violence services.
The current crisis in football further illustrates the contradiction we face, as a support service for those who identify as male. That this is such 'shocking' news and the surprise that this should happen in football (the epitome of traditional masculinity in the UK) shows us that even despite change and more modern understandings around masculinities, these only exist in comparison to traditional notions of masculinity. The 'new man' is not just called simply a 'man.'
The contradiction for us is that, despite our good intentions, our presence could serve to deepen and further cement this pre-existing gender split. By merely existing, we confirm that men should be on one side, women on the other, and that there is no in between.
SurvivorsUK does not want to do that. We want to bridge the gap, and acknowledge that we all have a 'masculinity' and a 'femininity,' given that these are societal constructs, and not biological givens. We also want to recognise that these gender identities are not linear, with a dividing line down the middle. Gender identity is a complex, beautiful and intangible concept, and in a perfect world sexual violence services would be able to work with every individual, treat them uniquely, and not pre-suppose any ideas around that person's gender identity, and what the sexual violence might mean for them.
Clearly, we are not there yet. But we want to get there. And we believe we can.
SurvivorsUK does now welcome anyone who identifies as a man, trans* or non-binary, or anyone who simply feels that we are the right fit for them. We are trying to bridge that gap, and perhaps the only way we will know that we have achieved that, is when we no longer need to exist in the form that we currently do.
Andy Connolly & Alan Roberston