Print Issues
Destler Dodge

Friday, April 10 saw the return of the annual Rochester Slut Walk to Rochester's East End district. Slut Walk, which was organized following the sexist remarks of a Toronto police officer, has grown into an international campaign, with iterations permeating college campuses and city streets globally. The event began with speeches from victims of sexual assault.

Up first was Rheytchul Kimmel, who donned a blue dress in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other.

"I kept this dress, and I wore it again," Kimmel said as she proceeded to cut into and tear the dress. "Let this blue dress be everyone's blame, let it let you breathe, let this arm lift your weight of burden, let this bottom let you spread your legs and stride."

Kimmel finished her speech by tossing the dress to the ground, punctuating her final statement:

"My name is Rheytchul Kimmel, and I am not a fucking victim."

Kimmel's powerful words were followed by a heart-wrenching tale.

"I was 21, I was a new resident in my husband's small town in Georgia," Michele began. "I was getting back home from questioning by the police."

Michele went on to detail the horrific events surrounding her rape by her husband's friend in a Georgia graveyard, and the detestable events that followed.

"I went home and my husband proceeded to beat me, calling me 'bitch,' 'slut' and 'whore' for letting myself get raped," she continued. "It didn't matter that I had only wanted to see him, it didn't matter that I had been led to a place that I had been told was a club my husband was at only to find out it was a mausoleum, it didn't matter that I had to beg this man to not make me get in a freshly dug grave, because I knew if I did I would never get back out."

Michele's story continued into the complete denial by the police and the blame that was placed on her, and the fatal burden that her rape inevitably ended in.

"I didn't bother to get checked, I figured that it couldn't be me, that it had only been one time," Michele said. "But I was diagnosed with AIDS. By the time I got to Rochester, I had about 2 T-Cells left. I came here to die."

Michele finished her speech with a brash rally cry of, "Is it ok?" to which the crowd responded in unison, "Hell no!"

Following the speeches, protesters marched down East Ave, bearing signs that read "HELLO, MY NAME IS LYING WHORE" or "FUCK ME MEANS YES, FUCK YOU MEANS NO", all the while singing chants of "No matter what we wear, no matter where we go, yes means yes and no means no!" and renditions of Twisted Sisters' "We're Not Gonna Take It," all the while receiving cross-glances from passerby and affirmative car honks.

As the rally came to a close and protesters returned to Rochester's Liberty Pole, an overwhelming amount of energy could be seen. An immense backlash to the conventions of society culminating in a peaceful yet powerful message of the nature of feminist philosophy, accompanied by powerful speakers whose bravery echoes through the East End. It is here where, if the story ended, Rochester Slut Walk could be seen as a true step forward in spreading the message of the flaws of our modern society.  

However, while Slut Walk has received its share of controversy in the past due to its name and its promotion of provocative clothing, it is through deeper investigation that a more insidious presence is found in the practices of the Rochester Slut Walk organizers. That is, a form of contradictory policies which selects the types of speakers allowed based on gender and sexual identity, regardless of their experiences.

Brandon Kulp, 20, explained their experience in attempting to become a speaker at this year's Slut Walk.

"I saw that the fourth annual Slut Walk was happening in downtown Rochester and wanted to speak, so I reached out to the organizer's through their Facebook page telling them I wanted to speak on things like aggressive sexism, benevolent sexism and sexual assault, and at first they said this was great and would be happy to have me speak," Kulp said. "Later, I was told that I was not allowed to speak because this was an event focusing on female victims of sexual assault, and they do not allow men to speak. So I explained to them that I am not a man, I'm non-binary transgender. I did receive an apology, but I was still not allowed to speak, as I was told that all speakers had been established months ago. They had posted on their Facebook page in early April that they were still looking for speakers, so that was a lie."

Kulp, who prides themselves on their outspoken views on transsexualism in modern society, interpreted this as an extremely damaging occurrence, especially coming from a group that prides itself on freedom of sexual expression and inclusiveness.

"It hurt, because people who I viewed as my allies were treating me how my enemies, or oppressive people, would treat me," Kulp said. "Rochester Slut Walk practices what's called 'white feminism,' and it's not to say that straight or white women don't experience misogyny or sexual assault, but when you focus solely on them, you're essentially erasing intersex or trans people. I see a genocide of trans people globally, trans folk who have literally been set on fire, and they refuse to even acknowledge that."

Kulp went on to discuss the fundamental flaws in the practices of Rochester Slut Walk, and the implications behind them.

"They're still following this idea that a man has a penis, a women has a vagina and that there's nothing in between."

"They still seem to be pushing this idea that a person can''t be trans unless they're 'passable,'" Kulp said. "I was told that, because of my name and profile picture, that she assumed I was a man. They still seem to be stuck in this very mainstream perception of sexuality."

This limiting of trans speakers can play into a broader problem of silence among the queer community.

"I am extremely vocal about being trans, but not everyone is able to be. Not allowing me to talk, or [not] being inclusive in general, in a group that is opposed to sexual assault will just keep people from being able to have voices."

Slut-shaming, a pivotal portion of scrutiny for the Slut Walk campaign, refers to the objectification or belittling of women based on their sexuality or how they dress. Kulp explained that this not an issue solely faced by straight, heteronormative women.

"I've heard all kinds of things; at work, I've had someone come up to me and ask me 'Who sucks better dick, guy or girl?' and I'm just trying to smoke a Newport here," said Kulp. "Other times it's people telling you to shut the fuck up when you talk about pronouns, or people being like 'Wow, that's so cool!' when I'm trying to explain who I am."

When analyzing the structure of Slut Walk, it becomes apparent that regardless of the good that's done, there is still the ugly presence of ignorance, of pigeon-holing social philosophies to an extent that even those that could greatly benefit from these events are either marginalized or completely ignored. Whether referred to as an exercise in selectivity or pure hypocrisy, Kulp's story echoes a fundamental flaw in the policies of these protests, and furthermore may serve the purpose of perpetuating the very same ignorance and arrogance which they are battling against.