Letter To My Body Parts: How A Trans Writer Is Healing From Domestic Abuse

“I wanted every part of me to survive whether or not it was perfect,” says writer Lexie Bean.

Lexie Bean didn’t always consider themselves a writer. Growing up in suburban Michigan, they tore up anything they put to paper. “A big shift happened when I was stuck in a hospital in Hungary and the only person I had to talk to was myself,” Bean says.

They began to write letters to themselves. Specifically to parts of their body, like baby teeth and leg hair, that fell out or were removed. While the exercise implied a distance between themselves and their body, it helped Bean clarify an estranged relationship.

“None of my early letters ended with the word ‘love,’” Bean wrote in an essay for Teen Vogue earlier this year. “Sometimes they still don’t, and that’s okay. Like healing, relationships are never linear. I wanted every part of me to survive whether or not it was perfect.”

Through the letters, Bean found strength—and decided to share that strength with others. They asked people around them to write to their own body parts, and, in 2012, self-published an anthology, Attention: People With Body Parts. A year later came Portable Homes, another anthology of letters, this time written by survivors of domestic abuse.

As a survivor themselves, Bean found the process of sharing stories that are often silenced or denied to be healing. Afterward, however, Bean, needed a break from the project.

That break ended last summer when Bean came out as trans.

“[It was] the most alienating experience that I can think of,” they explain. “It’s exhausting to feel like my own sense of history and my experiences in my own body weren’t being validated by people who have been there the whole time.”

Bean says that people who had known them as a child pointed to so-called evidence their gender identity was female: “I was a competitive roller skater so I wore leotards a lot. And people pointed out a lot that sometimes I liked to wear dresses, which is true. But things like that don’t make someone a girl or a boy.”

They note that survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence are often challenged about their experiences: Bean decided to collect narrative from fellow trans survivors of abuse for a new anthology, Enough/Enough. It’s been a way to push back against urges for self-denial. It can seem easier to disregard truths that family and friends refuse to acknowledge, but by sharing stories and creating community around the complexities of the trans experience, Bean hopes to unpack another suppressed reality: pervasive domestic abuse.

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According to the Department of Justice, 50% of trans people have experienced sexual violence; and according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 15% of the nearly 6,500 trans and nonbinary people who had been jailed or imprisoned reported being sexually assaulted while in police custody. Many were also denied equal treatment in medical facilities or domestic violence shelters.

Given such alarming rates of sexual violence and lack of support, silence can seem like the best option, especially when one’s gender identity is assumed to be a response to sexual violence.

“One of the reasons why I made this anthology,” Bean says, “is because of people deciding that the reason that I identify as trans is linked to [my abuse].”

Bean recalls being told, “You could only feel that way because you were raped” and “You hate yourself and want to disown your body because this happened to you.”’

But they’re insistent it’s not a simple case of cause and effect. “That sort of cycle of having who you are be belittled to things that happened to you is really disempowering, and can make make someone not want to speak out at all.”

The reality is maintaining healthy boundaries while inhabiting a body that feels foreign can make trans people particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. This issue is explored in “Letter to My Body Hair,” from Enough/Enough. The contributor refers back to a time before they and their partner had transitioned—“before she was she, before I was they.” After their partner refused to pull out during sex as promised, she asked the letter-writer, “‘I just raped you, didn’t I?”

Other writers discuss the dangerous power dynamic that results from a partner dictating the terms of their transition. In “To My Humble Front Entrance,” one contributor writes about an ex, “He demanded my body fit his mold for what was acceptable for a trans man to look like in his fantasies. ‘You’re lucky I’m even attracted to you,’ he’d tell me all the time.’”

Because of privacy and legal issues, authors’ names or pseudonyms will be listed in random order at the front of the anthology.

Reading letters that are often raw and rife with pain is an emotionally intense experience that Bean has to confine to a set timeframe each day. While Bean does offer feedback if asked for it, they’re hesitant to edit the letters.

“I’ll never correct a grammatical thing or like, [say], ‘It would sound better if you said it this way’ because it’s messed up to censor somebody’s own letter to their own self.”

Although some readers have commented on finding typos and run-ons distracting, Bean says they’d never want to tell survivors that they’re “sharing wrong” or limit those telling their stories to those who are most eloquent or educated.

These terms set the book apart from most anthologies. However, it’s not the main reason Bean decided to self-publish and crowdfund. None of the publishers Bean approached felt the latest anthology of letters from trans survivors would be lucrative enough. Being told the audience is too niche solidified for Bean why sexual violence survivors, trans, and nonbinary people are so rarely represented in the media world.

Lexie Bean is accepting submissions for Enough/Enough through August 1, as well as donations through GoFundMe. They’re also working on a performance showcase based on the project.

Beenish Ahmed is a writer, reporter, and the founder of The Alignist, a project that connects current events to literary works.
@beenishfahmed