I wrote this zine almost 7 years ago. Some things have changed, but some things are sadly as rubbish as ever. I’m more confident in being Nonbinary, but the massive amounts of racism and other bigotries in Trans+ spaces are as bad as ever. This updated zine has more pics than before – most of which I took at London Trans Pride 2021. The zine also has a detailed resources section, with support groups, articles and shopping listings all by and for Trans+ Black people and People of Colour!
Trigger Warning: Physical and Sexual abuse, Child abuse, Torture, Victim Blaming
Cruelty is the opposite of Mercy; to have the power to hurt someone and choose to do so. It is not the same as being mean to someone. Here’s why…
Many times after I was sexually abused, the perpetrator blamed me for it. It seemed to be a way to make them feel better about hurting me – a type of victim blaming for simply being vulnerable around them, for being who I was in their vicinity. I was also blamed a lot for tempting men when nothing was happening, and all of that before I was even 8 years old. To blame a child for the actions of adults is cruelty.
As an adult I found a different kind of cruelty that happened when I was genuinely interested in being sexual with both Cis and Trans men. The men would often appear nervous at my enthusiasm, like they were assuming women and feminine people aren’t supposed to like sex, and so it they had to be tricked or forced into it. How could men conquer me when I was willing and ready for them? But many men don’t know what to do with that. And after the nerves would come the nasty comments – I must be a dirty slut who will screw anyone, or I must be a sex worker only looking to make some quick money. Some men cannot seem to be sexual without coercion, force and blame. An assertive, sex-positive woman or feminine person terrifies them. And blimey, men have often made me pay a high price for their fear.
Cruelty is knowing you’re hurting someone vulnerable, who depends on you for their lives or livelihood. This isn’t only where the victims are children, but the elderly, those with disabilities and sometimes even employees of the perpetrator. Cruelty is humiliating someone until they believe the perpetrator’s words and actions are justified – that the victim deserves the pain, so fighting back isn’t even an option for them.
Cruelty is the act of torture. Unlike the common depictions of torture in fiction, it is rarely about getting information. Victims of torture will say anything to make the perpetrator stop inflicting pain, so any information gained can’t be trusted anyway. Torture is not only done to prisoners of war either: it can be perpetrated by ordinary people in very strong positions of power. Torture is done to break the wills of the victim so the perpetrator doesn’t have to do anything further to carry on the terror.
Cruelty is threatening to hurt someone or something even more vulnerable, and sometimes carrying out those threats, so the victim will fall in line. Sometimes a perpetrator will eve encourage the victim to care about a pet, younger sibling, or even a doll, and then threaten to hurt that thing. I remember a few times where my little brother was asleep in the same room when my dad and his friend hurt me. The only thing circling my head was, “I mustn’t wake the baby.” It was all a form of leverage.
Society can set up vulnerable people, making it harder to get help when they need it, and that in itself is a type of cruelty. Men are supposed to be “too strong” to be sexually or physically assaulted, so if it happens then they are perceived as “weak”. Women aren’t supposed to be able to physically or sexually assault others, so their victims are rarely believed. Black women in particular are supposed to always be ‘resilient’ so they can shrug off the pain others inflict on them, and if they cannot then they’re silenced – the list goes on. Victim blaming and victim denial are acts of cruelty because it hurts and shames people who have already survived a traumatic event. Heaping pain upon more pain for the perpetrator’s pleasure and society’s reassurance is cruel in the extreme.
I have made a handbook for Black people who want to better support other Black people. We are not a monolith: some of us need more help than others, and some of us need very different kinds of help. This handbook is a conversation starter – some ideas to consider if you want to ensure ALL Black Lives Matter, not just the ones currently trending. A Trans and disabled Black person is going to have different needs than a young cisgender Black person living in a predominately Whyte country. We Black people are all individuals and our identities don’t stop after others see the colour of our skin. Included in the handbook is a list of resources for more information on each of the points.
This handbook is also useful for Whyte people and Non-Black Indigenous people or Non-Black People of Colour. I hope you can learn about the complexities of living as a Black person, and all the battles we have to fight on multiple fronts. I hope you can gain an increase in empathy and understanding, because we need as much help as we can get.
I’ve been an activist since 1995. Whether its for bisexuality, fat liberation, Black lives, disability, homelessness, nonbinary or for survivors of CSA, it’s something very important to me. However in all these decades a big issue have been other (usually white) people and organisations asking for help. I’ve been asked to give a speech at the start of Totnes Pride, address a room full of nursing students in East London, give a presentation to the police and much more. I’ve also been asked by students and researchers to pass on details of their studies to “hard to reach” groups (there’s actually no such thing as hard-to-reach people, but only those seen as not worth the effort to reach).
I’m usually fine with requests if I’ve been given decent notice, and if the request is politely and sensitively worded. But that rarely happens. What’s very common is this:
Hi, I’m in charge of X event, and I just realised there are no X marginalised/oppressed groups speaking. Please can you fill the gap? It’s short notice, but can you let me know by tomorrow if you can do this? The event is taking place at the upstairs room of a pub – first drink will be on me!
I’m a student at X University, finishing off my high-level research piece on X. I now notice there aren’t any X-minority/marginalised people in this study I’ve been doing for (long-ass piece of time). Can you pass on details of my research to your followers?
As I’m a student, I can’t compensate anyone for taking part.
Why are these problematic?
The first example assumes I drink, and am able or willing to climb a flight of stairs to get to the event. It shows a lack of awareness that I have a life of my own, and will drop everything at a moment’s notice. It’s also incredibly insulting – they obviously don’t care about the work I do or who I am, but they need someone to tick their diversity box. The final nail in the coffin is the lack of any payment. I’ve participated at events before for free, where the organisers have a track record of supporting marginalised people, or where the organisers are grassroots activists who are just as broke as I am. I once turned down a request to speak at a major London University, when I was told they couldn’t pay me, as they had already spent their funding on alcohol for the reception!
The second example shows that the student hasn’t given a single thought about who makes up their research – there’s probably a deadline coming up, and they know their supervisor/teacher is going to spot a blizzard in their test subjects. This example also shows a lack of respect of people who already have a difficult life in an awful society. Some students and educational researchers aren’t allowed or able to give cash, but there are other ways to help those who are helping you. This doesn’t count when I’m asked by corporate and government researchers. As someone once said, “F*ck you. Pay me!”
Some better examples of how to ask marginalised people to participate.
Example 3 (Events):
Dear (Recipient’s name)
I’m (name) from (group/charity). I’m in charge of (upcoming event that DOESN’T take place in few days time) We met at (event) AND/OR I’ve been (following your social media account/ work you’ve been doing) for (x amount of time). I’ve shared your (posts/lists of resources) with others who may benefit from them OR interacted with your posts/work and found them interesting/challenging. It’s because of this that I would like to invite you to (take part in/be on a panel/lead a discussion on) X subject at our event. Your work and experiences are valued by (group/charity) and we want to reflect that in this event.
I realise this current climate may be difficult for you, but I would appreciate if you would give my participation request some consideration. We have funds available OR are currently crowdfunding) so everyone who takes part can be paid/have their expenses met/are not out of pocket. If you need a carer or assistant to be with you, they will also be included. We are also working to ensure disability requirements will be in place both for our speakers and our attendees.
If you agree to take part, you would be asked to do so for (x amount of time). There will be water and light refreshments available, and there will be a quiet room/separate space if you need to take medications or just decompress afterward.
Please let me know if you have any questions/concerns/additional requirements.
(Contact number/textphone and email)
Example 4 (Research):
Dear (Recipient’s name)
I’m (name) from (educational establishment). I’m studying (subject name and level) because (your aim for the piece of research/what you hope to achieve with it). My Supervisor/Main teacher is (their name and title if applicable).
We met at (event) AND/OR I’ve been (following your social media account/ work you’ve been doing) for (x amount of time). I’ve shared your (posts/lists of resources with others who may benefit from them) OR (interacted with your posts/resources/work and found them interesting/challenging)
I realise this current climate may be difficult for you, and that you may receive many requests for research assistance, but I would appreciate if you would give my request some thought. As I’m at the START of my (piece of study), I want to undertake it with inclusion and ethical considerations firmly in place. I want to ensure everyone’s voices and experiences are heard. I would appreciate if you could pass on this (link to research questionnaire/information flyer/request I’ve worded in attachment) on to members of your group/your next social media post.
BONUS POINT I can provide questions in (X languages) if required.
I am unable to offer monetary compensation for taking part in this research, however I do can give some free (printing/photocopying/access to usually paywalled library sites or journals) that all participants can use.
As a thank you for taking part in this study, every participant will receive a voucher for X sum of money that can be used in X amount of places/supermarkets/essential outlets.
Please let me know if you have any questions/concerns/additional requirements.
(Your Contact number/textphone and email)
(Supervisor’s contact number/textphone and email)
Example 3 shows that some thought has gone into the request. It acknowledges that marginalised people should be compensated for their knowledge, time and energy. It takes into account that many marginalised people will have multiple oppressions, and physical and mental disability or Neuro diversity is a common one. It sets out exactly what is expected, so I can manage my energy levels (spoons), that I may need a friend or carer to be with me, and that what I have to say is important. Sometimes just having my travel expenses covered will be incentive enough for me to participate in an event, especially if they are a shoestring group.
Example 4 shows that the researcher is taking ethics seriously. It shows that although they may not have money, they have other resources that would be very welcome to marginalised participants. Free photocopying is like a gift from God! Most importantly to me however, is the timing. I’ve received countless requests from students who are in a last-minute dash to finish their research, and who never gave people like me a single thought. Marginalised people are not a handy addition or a footnote – we should be in your research from the very start. This example shows that I will be respected by the student, and that my experiences and knowledge are important to them.
So to end, stop treating marginalised people like trash. We are over-studied and under-funded. You have the power to change that.
Trigger Warning: Details of incest, childhood and adult sexual abuse and physical violence.
I ran away from my violent, abusive family 28 years ago. Last night I discovered that two of my worst abusers died – my mum and my eldest brother. I awoke from a nightmare about one of them, and then I did a ill-advised thing: I looked up my old surname on the internet. My old name was pretty unique, and I’d never met anyone with it unless we were related. Looking up my old name is something I have only ever did when I was drunk or petrified, but I still wish I’d never done it.
I always thought I’d feel a sense of relief when one of my abusive family members died. But I felt a howl of pain build up inside me instead. A few of my Alters went into a state of panic and dread. I started crying and couldn’t stop for hours.
My mum sexually abused me once. I’m trying hard to not say, “just the once,” because one time is too many. What she did far more was physical and emotional violence. I still have terrible flashbacks to a beating she administered to me on Christmas Eve in the middle of Ridley Road Market, as all the other shoppers looked on. She also set up weird ritual stuff that makes me want to vomit just thinking about it. I grew up terrified of her, and that I’d become just like her. Many people don’t want to acknowledge that a woman can sexually abuse someone. They don’t have a penis, right? Women don’t need a penis when they have fingers, hairbrush handles or bottles. The shame felt by survivors of abuse, where the perpetrator was a woman, is incredibly hurtful. We shouldn’t have to silence ourselves because so few will believe us.
Where my mum was pure rage, my eldest brother was totally charming. He was the rebel of my old family – a soldier, a painter, an open drinker, and non-religious in a community where church was only thing you did on a Sunday. He would give me booze and pills in secret. He would talk to me like we were equals, instead of 15 years apart. He also sexually abused me right up until I ran away.
There’s a page in my zine about surviving abuse, where I write of a time I once woke up in a pool of my own blood. That was his doing. The thing that stayed with me the most though, was of how neatly he’d adjusted my nightie, folding it under my armpits in a concertina, so none of my blood got on it. I realise how my Alters and my own brain employed amnesia to protect my fifteen-year-old self from the worst of that incident, but I still feel so messed up about that.
For most Black people, family is the most important thing in the world. For survivors who are Black, we face meagre support from medical and social services who don’t even think these things can happen to us. We also face ostracism from other Black people who see us as ‘deficient’ for not having a family or at least a good relationship with them. As survivors, we are often seen as broken and potential abusers instead of victims of terrible crimes that were done to us as children.
Support adult survivors of child abuse. Because right now it feels like nobody does.
Below is a zine I made several years ago about loneliness and how marginalised people are affected in a profound way by it. The zine is free, but if you’d like to put something in my tip jar you can do it HERE
Trigger Warnings: Brief and non-detailed mentions of Child sexual abuse, Gaslighting, Trauma
Forced Positivity is how others pave my road to Hell. “Good vibes only” can turn inwards so I downplay how rotten I feel to avoid being interrogated about why I don’t join in their fun. The stereotype of the fat and jolly person definitely feeds into this, as well as the Black and smiling woman/femme stereotype. As much as I share on Instagram & my blog, it is only the tip of the iceberg you can see. Forced Positivity hurts me, and when I ask people to stop doing that, it ALWAYS goes badly, regardless of how polite I request. Not only do people not want to know about the effects of abuse that Survivors have to live with, but they happily guilt-trip and gaslight me when I speak up about their behaviour.
Trauma Anniversaries can be any day of the week, month or year. The abuse and violence I survived happened on most days, but the days that stick out the most are when others expected me to celebrate and pretend everything was just dandy. It was 15 years ago when I stopped freaking out every single Sunday evening at 7:00pm. It’s a specific time when one of my sexually abusive sisters used to get me alone. I believe that it was the easiest date to deal with as a survivor, because nobody was forcing me to be happy on a Sunday. I haven’t been able to do the same with Christmas and my Birthday yet, and that is mostly because other people make such a flipping big deal out of those dates.
Trauma Anniversaries and Forced Positivity become deadly partners when the trauma occurred on a day of celebration. For those like me who have zero contact with my family, it can still feel incredibly lonely despite of all the pain that day brings. I miss cooking Christmas dinner for others; the noise of my nephews and nieces, and the yearly chance to seeing my Uncle Les who was a good man. I miss the fantasy that I belonged somewhere; that I had a family who loved me. It is incredibly hard to let that fantasy go, and it’s even harder when most Black folk and People of Colour believe family is everything, despite how dangerous they are…
Listen to survivors when they tell you they don’t want to take part in any activity you happen to love. Don’t call us a Scrooge, Grinch or Killjoy. When I don’t want to celebrate, it will take away exactly ZERO percent of your fun. Don’t try to cheer me up, don’t brush it off or tell me I should be over it by now. If you want to give me a gift, use the money and make a donation to a charity for Survivors of Abuse or to a refuge. Just stop being a wanker and leave me alone when I ask you to.
Some survivors of child sexual abuse are scared of animals. I don’t care how ‘friendly’ your pet is. The involvement of animals in sexual abuse of children is one of those things that is next-to-never spoken about. A few examples of this: Dogs can be used as a threat to a child – if they don’t go along with things, the abuser will say the dog will be released to attack the child. Animals can be used to take part in the acts of sexual abuse with the child, or used as a threat that this will happen. And family pets can be used as leverage – the abuser will say they’ll hurt their pet if they don’t cooperate.
Even within medical, judiciary and clinical settings, people don’t want to accept that these things happened to the person sitting in front of them when they were a child. Well it happened to me, and to other survivors of abuse too. So when I flinch when I see a dog, or don’t want to pet your cat, it’s easier for me to say I’m allergic to cats, or I was know someone who was bitten by a dog, than to tell you the truth. It’s desperately humiliating to share this post, but I need people to understand that Adult survivors can be affected by their experiences for decades after, and the shame we feel because of the reactions of non-survivors, only adds to it
Larry wrote the following piece. It’s the first time I remember splitting due to Dissociative Identity Disorder.
We were always the cats
The stairs were concrete.The walls were bare. There was always the smell of alcohol in the air. There were always men; always Black. There were a few other children there. We were always the cats. There was a dog, sometimes two. The scariest times were when one man would pretend to be one too. There was little talking. I can still hear all their breaths. I gripped my father’s hand tight as a little girl in a simple dress. They made me watch. Watch dogs fight, attack each other, fangs bared. Then the children would be next, and when it was my turn, they watched me as I stood there scared. We were always the cats in that sick game. The men would take Polaroids, as I crouched with shame. Positioned next to a dog, or the man who was one too, I had to make noises, had to prove. That I was a cat and I was their pet. And I had to stay still as I felt the dog’s breath. But one night I realised I was watching myself. From the outside instead of inside, my perspective altered and went. A part of mind that couldn’t handle the pain, separated off and became a teenage boy without a name. We had to meow, be good and come to the men when they called. I stood as a boy in the middle of it all. The breath of dogs against my legs; the fear they would bite me made me want to beg. But begging is for humans and that wasn’t us. We were just bodies violated in the dust, and though I could bear more than Lizzie could, I still hold the sounds, the gold teeth and the fear of blood. The man who pretended that he was a beast would snarl and grab and show his teeth. The dogs would surround us, just as the men did. I had to be still while they licked all over my skin. Time split off, just like I had done; all these moments merged into one. It still plays out behind my eyes, and though I am older, Outside Jacq wants to hide. For sometimes when Jacq is having sex with someone they trust, the old instincts come out as an animal does. The shame they feel when they mutter a ‘meow’ confuses them, but they understand now. The understanding doesn’t help their pain. Outside Jacq just feels the shame. We were always the cats. We were victims without names. Though time has moved on for them, I as Larry remain, the cause and the cure; the balm and the bane.