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What 'Euphoria' gets right about trans youth like me victimized by revenge porn

August 15, 2019

Please be aware this article discusses a variety of sensitive topics having to do with sexual assault including revenge porn.

Throughout the 4th episode of HBO’s Euphoria, “Shook One:  Pt II,” I was on the edge of my seat. A poignant, bitter feeling washed over me as I watched a hauntingly familiar scene in which Jules (played by Hunter Schafer), one of the main characters who is a transgender woman in real life and in the show, is catfished by a cisgender boy she truly had feelings for. Intuitively, I knew that Jules meeting up with her online love interest would spell disaster–I was right. When Nate, the catfisher, threatened Jules with nude pictures she had sent him in confidence, my stomach dropped like I was going to vomit. Like Jules, I am transgender. And, like Jules, I am a victim of revenge porn.

The summer before my sophomore year of high school, I was questioning my sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression. I met a boy who betrayed my trust when he put me through unimaginable pain by using sexually explicit images of myself against me. Similarly to Jules, I was told by my abuser that if I did not do what he wanted, he would expose my pictures. It was a devastating experience, and although I did not have the words to describe what I was feeling at that time, it significantly worsened my gender dysphoria and pushed me further into the closet.

It is exceedingly common for LGBTQ+ youth to be victimized by forms of cyber sexual assault like revenge porn. “Revenge porn” is the term used to describe this form of cyber sexual assault in which sexually explicit images and videos are taken or shared online without consent. Like all forms of sexual abuse, revenge porn is highly stigmatized, making it difficult to talk about as a victim because doing so can often lead to immense public criticism and shame. The term revenge porn can be misleading though, as it implies the victims have done something warranting retribution. From my perspective, toxic masculinity is a driving force behind acts of revenge porn. Toxic masculinity is a concept that refers to cultural norms where masculinity is associated with stoicism, strength, virility, and dominance. This concept promotes violence and sexism among men. For instance, glorifying dominance as a masculine trait can lead to men feeling entitled to use another person’s body for their own pleasure, even when consent has not been given. Toxic masculinity is harmful to those of all genders, and is often the root of sexual violence against transgender people.

There were times while watching this plotline in Euphoria that I, as a transgender, non-binary victim of revenge porn, felt unsure that I could stomach watching the rest of the season because of how much I saw myself in Jules and how much I saw my abuser in Nate. However, seeing a wildly popular show examine such a highly stigmatized issue was meaningful to me because I resonated with the unique nuances of Jules’s experience that comes with being transgender.

Transgender youth experience added levels of pain and violence as the victims of cyber sexual assault. Trans youth are already consistently shamed for their bodies not conforming to societal norms, so adding a public violation of their bodily autonomy can be even more traumatizing. These societal norms are referred to as cisnormativity, which is our culturally ingrained assumption that a person’s gender aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth. The existence of transgender people disrupts this idea ingrained in our society, which leads to shaming of transgender people by cisgender people because our bodies do not align with their ideal body which fits into a biological, male-female binary.

Additionally, as a trans person, sending sexually graphic photos of yourself to someone you trust can be an important source of validation. For some of us, dysphoria and social stigma can make it really difficult to form romantic relationships or feel comfortable enough to be intimate with others. Trusting someone enough to send graphic photos can be a big milestone for trans people, so having those photos used as a form of abuse can make it difficult to feel truly comfortable sharing our bodies with others.

Lastly, men like Nate who have repressed queer desires and target victims like Jules for being trans adds another layer of violence to an already despicable act. When I watched this plotline, I felt like Nate was essentially telling Jules “I’m hurting you because you’re trans and I can’t come to terms with the fact that I’m attracted to you. I can do whatever I want to you without repercussions because you are trans and so I have privilege over you.”

In a different romantic plotline throughout Season 1, Jules seemed unsure of how she felt about Rue (played by Zendaya), another main character, who was very clearly in love with her. Rue and Jules' friends made it very clear that their friendship and budding queer romance was helping Rue find motivation to stay sober and work through her drug addiction. Jules appears to feel overwhelmed by this because she does not want to hurt Rue or cause her to spiral again. This represents how Jules is having a difficult time navigating romantic relationships in the aftermath of the revenge porn trauma.

Throughout a surreal hookup scene towards the end of the season, there are moments when Jules hallucinates that Nate is present and that this Nate is apologetic for what he has done and truly cares for Jules, which could indicate that there may be a piece of Jules that still cares for who she thought was getting to know online and that she just wants him to stop abusing her and apologize. This goes to show that grief is not a static experience.

Like Jules, after my own experiences being victimized by revenge porn, I felt unsure of myself in romantic situations for years. I felt periods of intense depression and grief, and even longed for the care I thought my abuser had for me. All I wanted was for my abuser to say he was sorry and that he did not mean to hurt me. In the years that followed, it was difficult for me to form long-term friendships and romantic relationships because it was so hard for me to fully trust people. In the brief relationships I had throughout the rest of high school and even early college, I sought out people with similar personalities to my abuser because I still had conflicting feelings about the young man who hurt me.

It was incredibly powerful for me to see a trans character on a TV show be given room to grieve and make mistakes. As viewers, we got to see Jules genuinely hurt and struggle to handle her trauma in a way that is so much more nuanced and meaningful than the typical, outdated representations of trans characters that have plagued the mainstream for so long. Until I watched Euphoria, I had never seen anyone else be victimized by revenge porn like I had.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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To cisgender viewers, I hope Jules’s story gave you a better understanding of some of the abuse that trans and non-binary youth face. Her experience with cyber sexual abuse is not merely a plot point for shock value, it is something that happens to transgender youth every day.

As it stands at the end of Season 1, Jules has not yet been given the space to heal or find justice. I hope that Season 2 brings much deserved changes in Jules life. I want to see her begin to heal and I want her to be free of her abuser. Most of all, I want to see a trans character on a TV show that experiences something traumatic and then is given a chance to grow, to triumph and to find peace.

It is a genuine treat to see Hunter Schafer portray a trans character that myself and others can relate to. Jules gave me the strength to open up about my experience and finally begin to heal after so many years. I hope it gives other trans viewers the same opportunity.

If you are victim of cyber sexual assault, please check out the following resources:

Revenge Porn Crisis Helpline: 24 HOURS (844)878-CCRI

Cyber Civil Rights Initiative: Online Removal Guide

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 24 HOURS (800)273-8255

The Trevor Project - LGBTQ Youth Suicide Prevention: 24 HOURS (888)642-3405

Syd Stephenson is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and LGBTQ+ studies senior at the University of Oklahoma passionate about grassroots organizing and advocacy journalism. Currently, they serve as the Breaking News Director for YouGoGirl OK. They have previously worked as a GLAAD Junior Editor and as a National News Reporter for Her Campus.

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