Lived Experiences is a series organised by Southampton student Kestral Gaian, which aims to reconnect with the human experience through speeches from people who have lived through different narratives. On Monday 4th February, Lived Experiences began with the theme of survival. We saw three people talk about surviving experiences of child sexual abuse, mental illness and transphobia, as well as how they recovered from this.
The three experiences covered a lot of ground and presented a range of different people. One was a married, recently out, trans-man who spoke about his life in another country and their customs, as well as the difficulties faced with their mental health, transitioning and dealing with family life. Another saw a trans-woman who suffered multiple counts of transphobic and sexual abuse, who had been let down by the police and friends as they struggled with their mental health. Another told an early history of child sexual abuse and being conditioned by low self confidence as they grew up. Most of these stories ended with positive narratives of survival, recovery, and using their experiences to help others.
In terms of transitioning, it was emphasised that for some it is often not always a case of knowing since they were young. Some grew up feeling uncomfortable and knowing something was wrong with their current gender identity, eventually finding a pronoun and identity that they felt accurately expressed who they were. They went on to talk about how they grew up whilst section 28 was still strictly enforced, and how they had not been exposed to much beyond gay, lesbian and bisexual, let alone transgender. One commented at their amazement of coming to University as a mature student, and discovering that there was LGBT+ month, a Sexual Consent Awareness Society; there were movements that are actively fighting for change, whereas before it was vastly different.
They also went into detail about recovery and how it’s different for everybody. Two people rediscovered their creative identities, and reignited their passion for expression through singing, art and other modes of creativity. It was mentioned that learning is a lifelong process, and sharing our experiences is a way of moving forward. One person made the analogy that life was a ‘patchwork quilt’, made up of good and bad experiences that are sewn together as you go through life. Sometimes that quilt is used to shield and hide under, but learning to share, learning to receive support, and learning to use their experiences to help others, gave them back control of their patchwork again. They said they will never ‘be free‘ of that patchwork quilt, but ‘nobody else has the power to add to that except [them]anymore‘.
When asked why it was so important for survivors of all experiences to use their voices, the panelists said that we need to be able to create spaces and speak openly about issues that affect all of us, directly or indirectly. The sense of solidarity was emphasised, and noted that one voice gets lost in the crowd, but many voices won’t be.
Anger came up a few times: Anger that it happened, anger that they felt helpless, anger at the world, anger at the lack of support and change. The discussion afterwards saw different ways to channel that anger into passion, to make it a motivation to change the situation around you, and make an impact on other peoples lives.
The role of allies of the LGBT+ community was also brought into discussion. How can we ensure our friends and family feel supported? How can we help change the situation for them? One noted the importance of using correct pronouns, stating that their new partner making a point of using their pronouns in public and in groups made them feel supported, and heard. Another said that we often idolise celebrities but we need to come back to our everyday life and understand the impact we have on each other. Often, a role model is someone that is living their best life, and being a caring and good person; this automatically and silently has an impact on other people.
Overall, the Lived Experiences series looks very promising, and it is especially important for both activists and non-activists alike to take a step back from the statistics and humanise the conversations we hear. Too often we feel reduced to a statistic, one of thousands who suffered. It is often easy to disassociate with this because of the sheer coldness of numbers. Being brought back to the reality of individual experiences, of individual feelings and the need for solidarity reminded the room, and me, that we all have a story to tell; and we can use that story to help others tell theirs.
Sexual Consent Awareness Society and the LGBT+ society supported this Lived Experiences event and we are very much looking forward to the next one, which will be in April on the topic of mental health.
If you want to use your voice and tell the Union about your experiences with sexual assault, you can partake in SCA Society’s survey here.
If any of these topic affected you, here are some resources you can reach out to:
The Harassment Tool: An online anonymous reporting tool to report incidents and have a choice to investigate.
Enabling Services: Drop in’s 1-3pm in building 37
Student Life: 24/7 team within University halls that can be called, or found via your Halls reception
Sexual Consent Awareness Society : SCA Support Booklet
Yellow Door Southampton’s Rape crisis charity: helplines are Wednesdays 4pm-7pm at: 02380 63 63 13
Treetops Crisis a crisis charity for survivors open 24 hours at: 0300 123 6616
LGBT+ Specific resources:
Stop Hate UK: stophateuk.org and their helplines, LGBT and Transgender Hate crime: 0808 801 0661 & Learning Disability Hate crime: 0808 802 1155
The LGBT foundation https://lgbt.foundation
Male Specific: Survivors UK
BAME specific: The Angelou Centre: This is a black woman led movement dedicated to raising awareness of BAME sexual assault and providing holistic support for those affected by sexual abuse.
Yellow Door also have a dedicated diversity team who run various workshops for women from minority backgrounds. Their helpline is 4pm-7pm on: 023 8063 6313