Making Threats

One of my therapists knows my former partner. I see her independently, but my ex and I used to see her together. We began attending sessions under the auspices of incorporating BDSM into our relationship “more ethically.” She tells me now that she knew this was an incomplete truth within ten minutes of our first appointment. Sensed that there had never been ethics in the first place.

My former partner weaponized himself against me with sex, using a number of rationalizations by disclosing his own injuries, psychic and embodied, whenever I resisted or named his rapes. There is one version of events in which, as we grew closer over the course of a three-year relationship, my rapist felt safe discussing these past traumas in ways that approximated mutual vulnerability: “we have both been hurt.”

There is another version of events in which, as I grew more acute in naming the violence he enacted onto my body, he needed to strategically deploy graver obfuscations about why, specifically, raping me was so viable an option in the face of his own perceived disempowerment. In this version of events, my rapist sensed me as a growing threat.

I will not look to the state to hold my rapist accountable because I know what investments the state has and does not have in my body. By the state, I mean the illegitimate governing structures that dictate what justice is and is not and how it circulates on the land where I live.

Canada, a white supremacist fantasy.

Alberta, a province integrated into the false confederation a few decades after the merging of two violent corporations, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company; their competition was interfering with their respective capacities to extract resources and displace and murder Indigenous peoples effectively.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, founded to surveil people perceived as a threat to Canada’s campaign of land thievery and white wealth. The Canadian Criminal Code. The Edmonton Police Service.

We imagine criminal law as a set of rules designed to protect communities against aberrant and dangerous individuals, but the people sent to jail the fastest are people who undermine colonialist and capitalist ideologies, usually by virtue of their very existence.

We imagine criminal law as a set of rules designed to protect communities against aberrant and dangerous individuals, but the people sent to jail the fastest are people who undermine colonialist and capitalist ideologies, usually by virtue of their very existence. Black and Indigenous women, non binary, gender non conforming, and two spirit people. The community centred and protected by Canada’s criminal justice system is the same community who “founded” Canada: white settlers.

In some ways, I am useful to the state. I am a light skinned cis Black woman. My Blackness is sometimes palatable to white people because my Blackness is not so-Black that I strike active hatred or terror into their hearts. But my Blackness is certainly Black-enough that it is easy for white people to be curious about me, to figure that my purpose is to serve white supremacy in other ways.

I am public property: I exist to be interrogated. My body is public property: white people desire relationships with me that they can employ to confirm their superiority.

White men believe that their willingness to be in relationships with me makes them special, believe that intimacy with me affords them social capital in that they are widely perceived as “progressive” for their interracial partnership. My father, a white man, informs me often that he cannot be racist or misogynist, because he has a Black wife and three daughters.

White employers obsess over my skin and hair; they manifest owning my Black body by becoming sanctimonious, thinking themselves stronger because of the way I bring “diversity” to their institutions. This is white supremacy.

When I call the police department’s Victim Services unit around a month after moving out of my former partner’s house to ask about emergency funding for people who have relocated to leave abusive relationships, they advise me to create a safety plan. Their recommendations involve a free app that calls a designated emergency contact on your behalf if your phone senses that it has been dropped (Turn your iPhone® into a multi-functional safety device with our unique app! Available in the app store now!). Violence unto my body is a site of potential profit for software developers.

“This way,” Victim Services says, “if he knocks your phone out of your hand and it crashes to the ground before you get the chance to call anyone, your support network will know that you’re being assaulted and the app will tell them to call 9-11.” I breathe slowly, intentionally, focusing on one area of my body that holds tension and working to exhale that tightness out of my body, as I have been taught. White settlers have manifested a system I cannot navigate and they profit by teaching me to navigate the system. Systems of bureaucracies, systems of intimacy. There are economies predicated on my vulnerability.

At the last counselling session we attended as a couple, we talked about how it made my then-partner uncomfortable that I would refer to him as my rapist. “The word has so many negative connotations,” he explained. “I feel like there’s a lot of stigma around it. You said you wanted me to stop hurting you but that you refused to hurt me in the process.”

After he finished explaining his perspective, our counsellor asked me why it was so important to me to be able to use the word rapist in reference to the person who sat next to me on the couch, a person whose pet names for me were “lover” and “poops,” a person who cried happily when I told him, after we’d said that we loved each other for the first time, my ideal configuration for relationships was “a best friend who I wanted to have sex with all the time.”

“There are so many forces that conspire against people who are raped to discourage them from using the word ‘rapist,’” I explained. “I am proud of myself for learning what rape is, and for getting to a place where I am able to use the word in reference to all of my rapes. I feel that if you accept that you have raped me, which you do, then it follows that you must accept that the word ‘rapist’ applies to you. I feel that if I can reconcile the fact that you are both my rapist and my partner, then you can too. If you did not want to be called a rapist, you should not have raped me.”

Victim Services also advises me to convey to my employers that my former partner represents a threat to my safety. I do, and they express surprise. I am not who they think of when they think about women who are victims of domestic violence. They would have never conceived of my ex, a man literally twice my size, as a threat. Threat is a funny thing, I think, because the very reason my partner raped me is because he perceives me as a threat.

When I ask, at a police station, if it is possible to report without pressing charges, an officer tells me, “If you’ve been raped, you don’t have a choice as to what happens next.” The state will choose for me. A white man’s rape of my body is definitely not a crime against me, but it is a crime against the state. “You might have interfered with her capacity to labour reproductively or within the market proper,” the police may as well say to my rapist: “we need to investigate.”

I know what they will ascertain: have his rapes interfered with my ability to sell my labour? No, I am a highly functional victim; a well-trained, efficient subject of capital. Have his rapes interfered with my reproductive capacity? No, I am still fertile, able, without any sexually transmitted infections. I can bear children, later, at my leisure, thanks to the graciousness of the state in allowing for the specific form of reproductive justice for which white cis women have agitated.

Has the process of my “recovery” been an undue burden on the state? No, I have only accessed services that fuel the care industries, the services of colonial cleanup that bolster whiteness: psychologists, universities, governmental social services.

Am I still available to labour in the way Black women specifically are expected? My maternal grandmother settled in Canada in the late 1960s, amongst a wave of Caribbean women suddenly permitted entry to the false confederation following forty-odd years of specifically anti-Black immigration policy. White women had begun to garner access to non-household economies of labour, and in their stead the state required different workers they could count on for low-wage and unpaid domestic employment. Nannies. House cleaners. Seamstresses.

Because of my education and conditional class privilege, I am not easily compelled into labouring in these low-wage positions, in these roles intentionally constructed to exploit Black people: the slave, the inmate, the research object, the poor. But I am still lovable. I may still seek out an amatonormative relationship, and my partner, always imagined by the state as a white man, will be able to extract untold amounts of emotional labour from me. Use my body as a means of recycling and reaffirming the circumstances of his power. So yes. I am still useful. My rapist has not interfered with my capacity to labour reproductively or within the market proper.

Should an investigation occur, the state will bless my rapist and send him on his way to a future where he will have learned something from his experience and be changed for the better from it, relieved. Buoyed. Emboldened. Affirmed.

Because the state’s intentions are patriarchal and white supremacist, the state perceives me as a threat. When the state perceives you as a threat, it must invent systems to disarm you. The criminal justice system is one of these systems. If prisons are the response to a crisis in the security of the state—the response to threats of difference, deviance, criminality, the response to state-produced determinants of injustice—they demand bodies in crisis in order to continue manifesting that function.

The state conjures and fortifies isomorphic and collaborative structures of crisis-creation in the name of this goal. The hospital, where the state can violate and traumatize you until you do not trust healthcare systems to such an extent that white settlers can claim you must not be invested in the maintenance of your own health. The school, where the state preaches vicious lies about your existence and co-opts your strategies of resistance to inform its own praxis until you are driven from their halls and they can claim you must not be invested in your own education, your own success.

Systems of crisis-creation are inherent even to social structures where the state’s influence seems less present: the “helping” professions—psychologists, career counsellors, social workers—who pathologize our deviance from whiteness and endeavour to set us on the path to normalcy, respectability, compliance, assimilation. Normative romantic partnership, to syphon off and stockpile any leftover caring energy you have, silo your vulnerability, terrorize you intimately until you are driven to crisis, or until, on the verge of crisis, you have no choice but to herd yourself into shelter at one of these institutions designed to permute and perpetuate crisis, completing the transformation.

The state molded my rapist in the same way that it molded these institutions. The state’s impositions are conducive to a system where another person could assault him as a child and feel powerful themselves. The state’s impositions are complementary to an environment in which his peers could antagonize him for his fatness and for his latent queerness to feel powerful themselves. The state is invested in a system where it was easy for him to do the same to me, to his siblings, and to his previous partners to “empower” himself and deploy these historical traumas as rationalizations, as inescapable constitutive forces outside of himself. The state is complicit in developing the neoliberal language of sex positivity (sex as individually identity-forming, sex as vital to the constituting of independent, tireless, happy, productive liberal agential subjects) that my rapist could rattle off as a justification for rape when I demanded: “why.” A system where “feeling empowered” is paramount, and always conflated with domination.

The state emboldened him in this way because it is in the state’s best interest to weaponize whiteness and patriarchy against us. The state requires rape in order to fulfill a supply of crisis. If I report, if I pursue a charge, I will enter the carceral system as a victim, and I will be surveilled at best, under the guise of protection. The condition of Blackness is inherently a condition of crisis, but the police would mark me administratively, irrevocably, with further crisis. A Black woman in crisis is an easier target for exploitation.

A few months before I left, my former partner authored a piece. In it, he reflects on my confronting him with the fact that he is a rapist. He submitted it to the Good Men Project, a blog dedicated to unpacking what it might mean to be “a good man,” and it was rejected. In part, it reads:

Only recently and through the hard work of my current partner have I started to make changes. I was taught that what I did was indeed rape, and that it was my job to be accountable. Not hers. She asked me to go public with that information, and I refused. I refused because I was scared of what would happen to my career, my friends, and my reputation. I know that what I did was wrong, and I was so afraid that people I cared about would find out and judge me as harshly as I judged myself.

The “what I did” my former partner references in this letter looks like this: asking you what you like, helping you come very carefully, and then choking, hitting, swearing, name-calling, and forcibly penetrating you in whichever orifice he prefers until he is able to find his own way to orgasm. What he fears is the end of his reign. He desires the maintenance of his right not to be scrutinized, the right to “privacy,” the right not to interact with institutions of crisis-making. The right not to be pursued by the state.

When I undertook third party reporting at a sexual assault centre—a process where, remaining anonymous, you provide a written statement about your rapist and their behaviour to the centre which they file with the police—the person recording my testimony concluded our session by asking me if I was okay. I appreciate this care, but I also am skeptical of how apparatuses of care are established and how they might envelop me if I am vulnerable with them.

Utterly foreseeable and undesirable consequences flow from my hypothetical permitting of the state to investigate my case. Imagine a world in which the state pursued my case to trial. Imagine a world in which the state incarcerated my rapist. He would complete his period of incarceration with more knives in his back about the perceived injustices he’d suffered, the interruption of his future and his career, this social death. He knows that his future potential, contingent on his ability to own property, accumulate capital, use Others as accessories to his success, is his to grow into, uninhibited, and feels himself deserving of all the securities this entails.

Right now, I am not in social crisis, contrary to the state’s desires. My non-crisis, in many ways, means my rapist did not do a good enough job of raping me. I have successfully exited the crisis-making system of structurally incentivized romantic monogamous partnership, and haven’t, at this point, been snared by another, different state-sanctioned system of crisis-making. There is no easy way for the state to make me sick, disenfranchised, or poor. The state needs me to be raped so it can continue its colonial project of incarceration.

I’ve come to realize that the rape of my body is not a crime against me nor a crime against the state: it’s an action in the state’s favour.

I’ve come to realize that the rape of my body is not a crime against me nor a crime against the state: it’s an action in the state’s favour. My rapist is an agent of the state, weaponized against me for the purposes of facilitating my entry into crisis. How could he be undermining the law, when all he has done is exercise his sanctioned right and impetus to dominate?

My rapist, much like the state, is too cowardly to give up the power he feels he accrued from raping me. My rapist and the state are high on the false power they accrue from the self-serving fictions they deploy around the neutrality, rationality, believability, and empathizability—humanness—of whiteness and a specific form of masculinity. They are high on how they have made domination and alienation viable as strategies for approximating power, or the feeling of empowerment.

My rapist and the state are able to treat us the way they do with impunity because the stories that people know about the land I live on endow both my rapist and the state with the sense that their comfort and future—which they conflate with their safety—are more important than our status as people with the fundamental right not to be raped. To my rapist and the state, my existence is a threat. My Blackness is a threat. My femmeness is a threat. My love for people of multiple genders is a threat. My love of myself is a threat. My love of my kin is a threat.

I encourage you to see crime as enacted by people who institute and perpetuate systems of power and domination. They are the ones who need their intentions scrutinized. Both the state and my rapist experience refusal, boundaries, as a punishment because they feel they have the right to your body, your time, your energy, and your love, and they have a tantrum when they feel they are being denied these things. When rape is disclosed, who is undermining the law? Our rapists by exercising their sanctioned right to dominate, or us by trying to undermine their dominance?

Works Consulted

AB, JB, SV, PL, BW, CS, KL, HM, MK, CM, MS, EA, NK, DK, KM, EW, KR, LS, MC, Twitter: Collective knowledge and vast capacity to stand in solidarities of grief/fury/boredom/care.

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press, 2010

Browne, Simone. Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. University of Duke Press, 2015.

Carter, Sarah. The Importance of Being Monogamous: Marriage and Nation Building in Western Canada to 1915. University of Alberta Press, 2008.

Davis, Angela. Are Prisons Obsolete? Publishers Group Canada, 2003.

Guenther, Lisa. “Life Behind Bars: The Eugenic Structure of Mass Incarceration.” Feminist Philosophies of Life. McGill-Queens University Press, 2016.

Folbre, Nancy. “Who Cares? A Feminist Critique of the Care Economy.” Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office, August 2014.

Haley, Sarah. No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity. The University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

Hewitt, Steve. “Policing the Promised Land: The RCMP and Negative Nation-building in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the Interwar Period.” The Prairie West as Promised Land, edited by R. Douglas Francis and Chris Kitzan. University of Calgary Press, 2007.

LeFlouria, Talitha L. Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South. The University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

Mathieu, Sarah-Jane. North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955. University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

Monchalin, Lisa. The Colonial Problem: An Indigenous Perspective on Crime and Injustice in Canada. University of Toronto Press, 2016.

Reynolds, Graham. Viola Desmond’s Canada: A History of Blacks and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land. Fernwood Books Ltd., 2015.

Wilson Gilmore, Ruth. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. University of California Press, 2007.