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Jun 06 2012

Trans “People”: Intersectionality And The Distribution Of Risk

A few weeks ago, a latina trans woman named Lorena Escalera died in an apartment fire at her home in Brooklyn.

The manner in which the New York Times reported her death demonstrated an egregious lack of respect for the deceased, and equally disturbing lack of professionalism on the part of the reporter. Lorena, in this article, was only “called” Lorena. Slut-shaming hints were given as to the number of men she allowed into her apartment. Possibility of foul-play or negligence on the part of the two men who were in the apartment at the time but left her there, somehow surviving while she did not, was hinted at but quickly brushed aside in favour of several hundred printed words speculating on the nature of Lorena’s sexuality, gender, identity… the legitimacy of each, all with the constant thematic tug in the direction of finding this person just another one of the big city’s fascinating “weirdos”, her death simply providing the circumstances where she’d no longer be able to object to be treated like a Coney Island exhibit. Could no longer correct the speculations her neighbours made on her history and character, presented as being somehow legitimate content for journalism.

Notably, the article printed assertions about Lorena’s medical history. Vague wonderings about what procedures she had or had not done. One of the neighbours asserts in the article that she’d had her lower ribs removed to help grant her a more “hourglass” figure (I have never, ever, ever heard of a real life trans woman undergoing such a procedure, much less being afforded and pursued by an impoverished woman of colour living in a cheap, shoddily wired Brooklyn apartment building who may have been a sex worker. Was Lorena even able to afford SRS?). Would a report on the death of a cis woman ever include casual musings on her medical history from uninformed neighbours? Would it include irrelevant details of her medical history at all? “Ms. Crowne, who’d had an ovarian cyst removed three years prior, drowned today at Ritter’s Beach.”

And even that level of unprofessional conduct would be analogous to this only if we’re either naive or absurdly generous enough to grant the neighbours’ speculations on her medical history any credibility. Do you recall the now thoroughly debunked urban myths claiming Marilyn Manson had undergone such a procedure for the purposes of autofellatio? It’s appallingly unprofessional that the journalist would print, as though credible and authoritative, without seeking actual confirmation, what is most likely simply a product of transphobic imaginations desperately trying to grab onto some scenario that could account for finding a trans woman, a “man”, beautiful and sexually attractive. “Such beauty,” the transphobe imagines, “must be artificial. The product of a surgeon’s craft. It cannot be ‘his’ own. It cannot be natural. My nice, normal heterosexual desires must have been deceived by a fancy, technological illusion”. These are the same neighbours, remember, who later stated that she was attractive “for a man”.

(I’ll leave well alone the deeper mythic resonances tying the removal of a man’s ribs to the “creation” of a woman)

I had intended to write about this, but extensive commentary emerged in the trans (and, encouragingly, LGBTQ) blogosphere very shortly afterwards. But what I saw in that commentary filled me with renewed anger. I saw those championing for the New York Times to be more respectful of the deceased engaging in equal levels of such disrespect, albeit with different motives. While the New York Times were simply trying to sell papers, these trans people were attempting to simply sell ego, and an exaggerated image of their own opression, exploiting deceased trans women of colour to do so.

We’ll come back to Escalera in a moment, but first let’s look at Gunner Scott, a (white?) trans man writing in the Boston Phoenix about the recent multitude of deaths we’ve had in the trans community, in an article titled “It’s Still Dangerous To be Transgender In America” (notice it in the title?)…

Add racism and poverty to the mix, and it can be a deadly combination. Young transgender women of color face some of the most brutal consequences. Although there is slow-growing acceptance of transgender people and a recent uptick in visibility with the help of such celebrities as Chaz Bono, this stands in stark contrast to the experiences of young transgender women of color.

In the past few months, several such women have been killed due to what is most likely hate-motivated violence. Some of these women included Deoni Jones, who was stabbed in the head while waiting for a bus; Coko Williams, who was shot outside her home; Brandy Martell, who was shot while sitting in her car; Paige Clay, who was shot in the head and found dead in an alley; and, just a few weeks ago, Lorena Escalera, who died in her apartment from a suspicious fire. This is not just a bad spell of violence for transgender women; this is an ongoing epidemic. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, in 2010, transgender women made up 44 percent of the 27 murders related to hate violence against the LGBTQ community reported nationally.

What has shifted slightly in the past year has been coverage of these cases by the mainstream media. Some reporters are helping to show the humanity of those lost by including stories from friends and family about how loved and cherished they were, and how much they will be missed. This type of reporting is challenging the idea that transgender women are not valued.

Just a few years ago, media coverage labeled transgender women as “men in dresses” and “perverts,” and insinuated that they were responsible for their own deaths. There is still some use of incorrect terminology in reporting today, as well as inappropriate disclosure of past names, but a number of more recent stories focus on the fact that violence and discrimination against transgender people has a ripple effect on all of us. Family and friends have lost someone they loved, and society has lost that person’s potential for greatness.

Bolding is my own.

And let’s take a look at Asher Bauer’s open letter to the New York Times in response to their coverage of Lorena Escalera’s death…

Editor,

How dare you.

The transgender community is hurting really badly right now. Since the beginning of this year, five trans women of color have been killed– Deoni Jones, Coko Williams, Paige Clay, Brandy Martell, and Lorena Escalera– three of them (Coko, Paige and Brandy) in April alone.

Another trans woman of color, CeCe MacDonald, is expected to spend 41 months in a man’s prison for defending herself from becoming the victim of a similar hate crime.

Transgender artist Mark Aguhar also committed suicide this year. Her loss was crushing to many, especially to young trans people who live in isolated areas and depend on the internet for a sense of community. She is far from being the only one. 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide, and this number does not take into account those who have completed suicide successfully. No wonder, given that we constantly hear about people like us being murdered. It leads to a certain sense of hopelessness.

Trans people, especially trans people of color, are dying constantly, by murder or by suicide. Trans people who dare fight back, like Cece MacDonald, are punished for surviving. The rest of us live in fear, and are exhausted by grief.

Your disgraceful article about Lorena Escalera, a talented young model and performer, was utterly devoid of compassion, respect, or of awareness of its context. It was smug, sneaky, and mean. It started out referring to Lorena as the beautiful woman she was, albeit using a series of misogynistic tropes and innuendos about her character, then made the “shocking” revelation that she was transgender mid-stream, and ended by referring to her as “the dead man.”

Trans people are often accused of being “deceivers” for not broadcasting our gender history to the world (no wonder that we are hesitant to do so, given the murderous way that non-transgender people sometimes react when we come out!). I felt that your article was in fact deceptive. It started out somewhat innocently, and ended up downright insulting. In retrospect, I suppose the comments on Lorena’s appearance (since when is it appropriate to refer to a dead woman as ‘curvaceous?’) should have tipped me off to its slimy intentions,

It’s bad enough that our trans siblings are dying left and right, without the media spitting on their dead bodies and trying to take their hard-won genders away.

The fact that so many of you non-transgender people think that it is OK to mock the dead shows that you lack the smallest shred of human decency.

You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

Disgustedly,

Asher Bauer

Again, bolding is my own.

Do you notice the issue here? What’s being left out? Let’s take a look at the deaths (and attempted murder) that were referenced:

Deoni Jones

Paige Clay

Brandy Martell

Coko Williams

Mark Aguhar

Lorena Escalera

CeCe McDonald

And one more hint: Mark was AMAB genderqueer, not a trans man.

All of these deaths, despite the articles being framed as about how it’s “dangerous to be transgender in America”, or the constant fear that trans “people” live with on account of how many trans “people”, how many of our trans “siblings”, get murdered, were all trans women of colour.

The more respectful of the two articles, Gunner Scott’s, does explicitly acknowledge, to a degree, the disproportionate distribution of risk, but then turns around and makes the claim that despite the clear manner in which the violence falls almost exclusively on trans women, and to a much more frequent degree on trans women of colour, that this nonetheless is indicative of the conditions that the transgender community, himself notably present, live under.

And honestly, Gunner, what the fuck does Chaz Bono’s “visibility” have to do with the circumstances these women lived and died with?

I hear Gunner Scott went kayaking last week. I hope he had a nice time.

Asher Bauer doesn’t even bother with that much. The deaths are all trans women, but the moment he pulls away from specifics and into the abstract, into making declarations of the community’s experiences, they become “trans people“, “trans siblings“, “People like us“.

The fact that Bauer explicitly acknowledged the disproportionate distribution of violence and risk along lines of race while continuing to erase how that violence falls along lines of gender makes it painfully overt. Makes it almost impossible to regard as unintentional. While acknowledging the racial discrepancy wouldn’t hurt his image or his cause, his ability to pose himself as one of “us” who are afflicted by this climate of fear and violence, acknowledging how trans men are simply not living under that same climate would ruin his ability to stand in the “us” like a righteous sibling of the dead, speaking about his oppression. So he says “people”, says “us”, and just hopes it never occurs to us how safely he can walk down the street at night. Hopes it doesn’t occur to us how secure and insulated is the vantage point from which he dares describe the fear that “the rest of us” live with.

And Boys Don’t Cry remains the principle cultural artifact we think of when envisioning transphobic violence. Brandon Teena is sure to be mentioned at every TDoR, before the guys go off to kick it at Dean Spade’s dance party. Even while the disabled black man who was murdered that same night, in the same farmhouse, by the same men, was cut from the film. Forgotten. Feel free to mention it in the comments if this is the first time you’ve ever heard he existed.

There was a time when trans men were deeply fucked over within the trans community. While trans women at least had a few pockets of existence in the cultural landscape (albeit as objects of ridicule, disgust and pathologization), and we had certain networks of information, certain resources available, trans men were all but entirely erased. Invisible. Non-existent.

But over the years the situation has shifted dramatically. Trans men now enjoy considerable resources and access. They’re capable in many instances of enjoying spaces and resources that are both geared towards women and towards men. They can, and do, freely inhabit certain women’s spaces even as those same spaces explicitly exclude trans women. They can be lauded as ground-breaking and forward-thinking, getting a little ticker tape parade (and a lot of sex), for stating the exact same ideas trans women feminists have been shouting to deaf ears for years.

Yet a lot of the same attitudes of fighting aggressively to be heard, and have themselves acknowledged in the trans community, such as insistent use of term trans people, the attitudes that were at one point an extremely justified and much-needed response to widespread erasure, have begun to be the hallmarks of entitlement and privilege. A means of exploiting oppressions and violence that explicitly target trans women of colour as a means of marketing their own oppression to the public. A means of appropriating dialogues that rightfully should be based around listening to the women affected. A means of steamrolling over trans women, speaking in our place, speaking for us, speaking from the vantage point of privilege. Ignoring the particularity of our experiences and suffering and fear.

Claiming TDoR for a fucking dance party, where the few AMAB attendees, having just listened to a long list of names of deceased women like themselves, undoubtedly stand around awkwardly, being ignored as the unsexy wet blankets of the celebration.

I can’t help but wonder what exactly these dance parties are celebrating. I hope it’s not what I think it is.

In short, what were once strategies for combating erasure have become means of erasure. Dominance. Maintenance of privilege. Exploitation.

When you use the term “trans people”, the least you can do is think about why, what it is you’re referring to,  and what it is you may be excluding. Are trans people really what you’re describing? Or is it just the most convenient term for your agenda?

On whose behalf are you writing?

Intersectionality counts.

52 comments

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  1. 1
    The Nerd

    #ThatAwkwardMomentWhen I realized that as a white designated-female-at-birth person, this issue isn’t really mine to “claim”. I think a lot of trans* people want a feeling of community, so we tend to have a mentality that what affects one of us affects the rest of us. And it does, but not in the same way. When someone attacks my trans* sisters, they gotta deal with me now, because the enemy of my friend is my enemy. So it’s tempting to say “you attack her, you’ve attacked me too”, even though I haven’t been. Must… resist… *drills into brain*

    1. 1.1
      Natalie Reed

      It’s totally fine to have our backs. The problem is when the distinction between being metaphorically attacked alongside us and LITERALLY living under the same fear and risk isn’t made.

      1. Abbey

        What do you mean ‘us’? We (you and I) are white.

        1. Shaun

          My initial reaction was that there’s more than a little hypocrisy in this post, Natalie. I enjoy reading what you write, even when it’s not really meant for me. I like having the detritus of cultural baggage rattling around in my head pointed out (and I’m trying to get to a point where I’m not relying on others to bring these things to my attention.)

          I can’t escape the feeling that this entire rant about speaking from the viewpoint of people who aren’t you was awfully unselfconscious. I’m going to read it again and see if that’s what I still think, but this:

          “It’s totally fine to have our backs. The problem is when the distinction between being metaphorically attacked alongside us and LITERALLY living under the same fear and risk isn’t made.”

          seems disingenuous at best. I know transwomen, whether they belong to other oppressed minorities or not, get a raw, shitty deal in our society. I think you’re undermining your point here, though.

          1. Shaun

            Bother. I hit the wrong “reply” link.

          2. Shaun

            On rereading, it seems I was wrong. There are a couple of places where the viewpoint shifts, and I was reading too much into that. Sorry!

          3. Natalie Reed

            I’m sorry… I’m a little confused as to what you perceive as the hypocrisy. Do you mean that I’m calling out the lack of self-awareness of how insulated trans men are from violence while being apparently unaware of the degree to which my white privilege insulates myself? That would be a fair criticism. But noticeably, a white trans woman is at greater risk of violence than a trans man of colour.

            But you close on saying that all trans women are victimized in our society, which seems to imply the opposite of the hypocrisy it initially seemed like you were accusing me of. That’s somewhat true. Even the absolute most privileged of trans women are still heavily marginalized in our society, and still live with a tremendous amount of oppression. But it doesn’t change the fact that intersectionality should not be erased, and that victims of transphobic violence are overwhelmingly women who dealt with intersectional oppressions.

            I don’t speak from the vantage point of people who aren’t like myself, nor do I presume to speak FOR the trans community… especially not as some monolithic united whole (it’s not). When I screw up in this regard, I count on my readers to let me know, so that I can avoid making those mistakes, and hopefully become better at it over time.

            But I do make a conscious, consistent effort to LISTEN to different branches of the trans community, and take their identities and experiences into account, rather than assuming that my own background is in any way representative of what “most” trans people live with. Acknowledging other types of trans experiences is not the same as speaking for them.

            But if you could clarify what you felt the hypocrisy here was, I might better be able to respond, or learn from it.

        2. Natalie Reed

          In this particular instance, I meant trans women, since The Nerd was speaking of trans women. But it’s certainly fair to acknowledge that as a white trans woman I live under considerably less risk than trans women of colour do.

          However, as mentioned elsewhere, in North America white trans women live with greater risk of hate-crime violence than any trans men, regardless of race.

          1. Abbey

            No doubt this is true. I’m just keeping it on the table that if it’s wrong for their ‘we’ to include women, it has to be wrong for our ‘we’ to include black.

            My actual opinion on this is that it’s energy thrown in the wrong direction. Feels like the reverse of ‘oppression olympics’, in fact; trying to force everyone’s ‘we’ into smaller and smaller increasingly matching slices.

            Seems to me that more ‘intersections of oppression’ makes a smaller minority, and so much less likely for any movement to take place on the actual issues. What if the men you lambasted decided to agree with you, and thereby decide that ‘we’ – and thus the issues they care about – does NOT include nonwhite people and/or trans women?

          2. Natalie Reed

            It’s not about dividing anything into any smaller slices than currently exist. It’s that just as there are times when political coalition is wise, there are other times where using a certain version of “we” is exploitative and harmful. While trans people face a great deal of oppression together, it is NOT “trans people” that are experiencing these murders. It is trans women of colour.

            Sometimes making such distinctions isn’t important. Sometimes making them is VERY important, and to fail to do so is incredibly insensitive and dangerous.

            This is one of the latter times.

            Note how Asher Bauer has no trouble with saying “especially trans people of colour”, but totally glosses over the “especially women” part. Do you really think that’s just a coincidence? Do you really think this is a non-issue? Do you really think addressing this problem is more of a problem than the original problem?

            This isn’t an abstract thing. This isn’t saying “we always need to be totally, compeletely specific”. This isn’t saying that trans men and trans women and non-binary trans identities should all be permanently kept apart and always treated as distinct oppressions. This is saying that certain things, like ignoring the discrepancy in violence between trans men and trans women, and specifically white trans men exploiting the deaths of trans women of colour to make claims about oppression being experienced by “people like us”, is really, really fucked up.

          3. The Nerd

            I don’t see it as Oppression Olympics. It seems that the message isn’t “don’t stick up for these people” but rather “when you do, please be mindful of how”. I for one would like to know that my efforts are maximally helpful and minimally harmful, and listening to the breakdown into finer detail is one way of learning how.

  2. 2
    sc_345ee9d5a451ffe48609f9a26571ea55

    Fucking brilliant. Needed to be said.

  3. 3
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    I’ve seen this a lot. I did my undergraduate at a women’s college that is pretty highly regarded, academically and socially.

    The administrations policy towards trans students is to shove their fingers in their ears and pretend that there is no such thing, that if the applicant’s legal documents say “F” then that’s what matters.

    Which has the effect of welcoming AFAB people, at any point in transition – unless they’ve gotten new documents, or AMAB people who have transitioned enough to get new documents. I don’t have to tell you the massive amounts of luck, privilege, and effort it takes to be a AMAB who has legal documents with “F” on them. Also, since this is an undergraduate institution, most applicants are 17 or 18, which also affects the amount of transitioning that a person can do prior to arriving.

    And this is a single-sex school. Very proud to be single-sex.

    This has the effect of pissing of exactly 100% of the students and alumnae – trans, cis trans-allies, cis trans-haters.

    It is not uncommon for AFAB students to transition while students. There are regular “I had top surgery!” and “I’m starting T!” announcements and parties. Students who are presenting as male are a common sight on campus.

    But AMAB students? They’re rare. Most are older than the bulk of the student body. Many have issues with finding accommodations on campus. Like, the staff at the student health center knows how to advise students asking for help managing their top surgery, and how to help manage the effects of T, but stares blankly when a student asks for a prostate exam to be included in their physical. Roommate issues are a common refrain.

    The point is made that it isn’t easy being a trans man. That trans men struggle to find accommodations and welcoming environments. Which is true. But for a school that prides itself on helping under-represented women and women overcoming adversity find success, there’s kinda a glaring problem.

    But the administration makes no moves. They even tried to stop a statistics class from surveying the student body my senior year with a survey that asked – anonymously – “What is your sexual orientation? What is your gender identity?” Because so long as the administration can shrug their shoulders and say, “We don’t ask that. We don’t know.” they can deny that they have a problem.

  4. 4
    Lisa Millbank

    And it’s even more precise than ‘just’ trans women of colour. It’s prostituted transsexual women of colour. That’s the absolute killer intersection. Or, rather, it’s people at that intersection who cis white men are killing. It’s race hate, it’s transsexual body hate, it’s woman hate, it’s the special concentration of woman hate that is hate against prostituted women.

    1. 4.1
      chexuma

      …who cis white men are killing.

      Actually, just cis men. A majority of the killers are African American or Latino.

      1. Lisa Millbank

        I didn’t know that. Though I usually ask for sources for something which suggests that perpetrators are less privileged than I thought, or that the people they target are more privileged. Is there anywhere you can point me to where I can learn more? No worries if not, I’ll try to find out more myself as well.

    2. 4.2
      hall_of_rage

      Transsexual yes, and thank you for pointing that out. And of life stories I’ve heard with near-fatal violence, mostly those have been from trans women of color about times when they were sex workers. But not all the victims on that list were murdered in the context of sex work! Cece McDonald survived and wasn’t a sex worker, and I think it was Brandy Martell who was murdered by some guy who came up to her car ti flirt with her.

      (possible trigger warning)
      Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that a lot of trans women (of color or not, I think) are often assumed to be sex workers, or unrapeable? Or is that what you meant by “prostituted”?

      (I am actually asking for clarification. You are more qualified to know than I am.)

      1. Lisa Millbank

        This whole topic is about pointing out trends. Of course there is no one group who men are exclusively murdering, but there are strong trends. More here and a link to statistics on % of the murdered women who were in the sex trade. In this case, 68 of the murdered women were in the sex trade, the next most common occupation being “hairdresser”, 6 people, followed by “employee”, at 3.

    3. 4.3
      Natalie Reed

      Not all of those women were sex workers.

      Also, I HEAVILY object to the term “prostituted women”, given the degree to which it denies the agency of sex workers.

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed/2012/04/10/but-seriously-prostitution-is-not-sex-slavery/

  5. 5
    Marcelo

    Can you consider going easy on the acronyms?
    Before saying “google it”, remember searches depends on context, and since mine are in another language (I’m from Brazil) the term alone is often not enough to find.

    Anyway, amab -> assigned male at birth.

    1. 5.1
      Natalie Reed

      There are a few acronyms that I use consistently and have defined in my glossary. I freely use those without clarification, such as SRS and AMAB.

      However, criticism happily accepted in regards to TDoR (Transgender Day Of Remembrance), which I ought to have clarified.

      1. Marcelo

        Forgot you have a glossary, and TDoR came up easy on google, but I was pretty sure the AMAB you were talking about wasn’t the “Magistrates Association of Bahia”.

        Note the TDoR there where I used the Abbr html tag that is great for this things.

        Thanks for listening.

        ps: Bahia is a brazilian state.

        1. The Nerd

          Color me an HTML noob, but I had no idea abbreviation hover-titles were possible. That’s so cool! *nerding out*

  6. 6
    inchoaterica

    part of the problem is that by co-opting the murders of trans women, who are overwhelmingly trans women of color, a lot of “trans activists” have decided that it’s easier to paint it as a semi-universal “trans struggle” rather than focusing on how trans PEOPLE generally need to center the fact that those of us who are trans WOMEN of color are overwhelmingly the ones getting killed and to accept the difficult realities around how race, gender, gender identity, social class, and state repression/violence work together to create a system where many trans women and at that a whole lot of trans women of color are left in a vulnerable position merely by existing.

    the Asher Bauer, Dean $pade, Gunner Scott types have made a career out of being outraged about violence towards trans people. to remain relevant, they have to erase that the vast majority of anti-trans violence is against trans women of color because they’re too busy speaking over us because it keeps them paid. none of these three people have bothered to use their position of power and privilege to get to the mic and promptly pass it to a trans woman or, fictitious saints preserve us, a trans woman of color. no, it’s easier to keep talking so they control the monologue and they keep making a buck off their transness. at the same time, it also helps them maintain political primacy so that they can keep taking up space as self-appointed leaders. by being in charge, you get to decide who gets the mic, and by keeping it out of the hands of trans women, especially trans women of color, you can minimize our existence and our contributions.

    oh, except when it’s time to get our names and pronouns wrong at Remembering Your Dead. they’re damn good at keeping us in mind. i guess a dead trans woman of color is worth more to our leaders then we are if we’re alive.

    1. 6.1
      Amy Marsh

      Hey, I’m not sure where people are getting their data but they are making a helluva lot of assumptions about Asher. I can tell you from personal knowledge that Asher Bauer is a college student who has made – to date – $30 for teaching one class on Trans issues on an online website, at my request. Hardly a career or a living. His income is below poverty level. Teaching a few online classes may provide an additional income stream. Do you begrudge that?

      As for his supposed entitled sense of safety, he was raped multiple times at the age of 18 over the course of a couple of days – see this:
      http://carnalnation.com/content/44367/1067/suffer-silence-surviving-abuse-trans-male

      He suffers from fairly intense post-traumatic stress and other residual injuries as a result. This young man has gotten a lot of attention for his writing and activism, both good and bad, but I really have to wonder about the assumptions people make here.

      His concerns about the fates of trans women, men, and others, is based on his personal experiences as well as the experiences of his friends – a wide range of people – who actually do get a lot of threats and at times experience violence – even in San Francisco. I am just happy he is able to get up and keep fighting for myriad forms of social justice, given everything he’s been through.

      1. Natalie Reed

        That’s fine. I don’t undermine that. At no point was I suggesting Asher Bauer is middle-class…those references were to certain others, such as a particular member of the legal profession, not him. But nothing about his personal history, and certainly nothing you’ve mentioned here, changes the fact that it’s damaging, dangerous and immensely disrespectful to gloss over the disparity in risk of violence between AMAB trans people and AFAB trans people, as Asher was very blatantly doing.

  7. 7
    Rogi Riverstone

    AFAB, presumed white here. I broadcast GenderQueer Atheist News on YouTube. As usualy, I was running around appropriate FaceBook pages, posting links to the latest broadcast, which happened to include a lead story on a survey about Latina Trans* women & dealings with cops. The admin of one page, “Atheist Quote of the Day,” complained about my post. Essentially, when media, science, etc. focus on issues surrounding Trans* people of Color she (AMAB Trans*, white) complained, people forget the rest of the Trans* community suffers, too. Everybody thinks about people of Color, and the white Trans* folk are forgotten. I didn’t reply, mostly because I was too amazed for words, but I’ve been wandering around, occasionally having “WTF?” blink over my head like a light bulb. So, you’re what? JEALOUS that people of Color are getting too much attention, by being murdered? Srsly? Open season on Trans* women of Color is the newer, more “palatable” version of racism. See the women as freaks or threats to masculinity, homophobia. Racism makes them too scared to challenge a cis-man of Color (because they might hurt) so it’s open season on lynching Trans* women of Color. None of us is free ’til all of us are free. But that doesn’t mean all of us are targets because some of us are targets. We’ve got to get the solidarity thing together around this. The suffering people will exploit for their own, personal gain is embarrassing. You got it, Natalie. Again, articulating something that’s been driving me to distraction. Brava.

    1. 7.1
      Rogi Riverstone

      I found it, made a screen capture of it for GenderQueer Atheists on FaceBook, quoted the text and post it, with a link to the screen shot, here:

      http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4139031354966&set=o.257889894257845&type=1&theater

      Atheist Quotes Of The Day
      Rogi, Transgender\transsexual activism is something I have been engaged in for more than fifteen years, I don’t believe that the Latino or black trans community experiences any more or less discrimination and violence than any other group of transgendered individuals in this country, or worldwide for that matter. Currently nearly half of all transgender individuals will have been murdered or commit suicide by age thirty because of that violence, discrimination and social rejection. Although I think GLAAD is a good organization that has made huge strides for the LGBT community, I often find their studies and reports to be a little too skewed. Transgenderism and Transexualism is the least understood topic by most people because of it’s complexity. Right now I think it’s best that Activism should focus on making the topic simple to understand and reasonable for most people to understand. Right now splitting up the transgender community into smaller groups and claiming one group is more deserving of attention to another subgroup or the whole is counterproductive towards the end goal of acceptance. La. has made strides and is one of the few police departments in the country teaching it’s officers to treat transgender individuals with dignity and teaching them to treat trans people as the gender they perceive themselves as and not what it says on their drivers license. Furthermore they have just opened up a wing of a local jail there just for transgender individuals so as to keep them out of general population and harms way, that’s a lot more than all of the other major cities in this country have done. Gays and Lesbians are far from gaining full social acceptance right now and are still being denied rights, it’s going to be a long time before transgender rights are going to be addressed, it’s best that the transgender community remain unified at this point so that those rights can be attained sooner.
      April 19 at 5:42pm · Like · 1
      Rogi Riverstone I just meant: could you be supportive of GenderQueer Atheists? I produce these videos.
      April 19 at 5:51pm · Like · 1

      1. kagerato

        “I don’t believe that the Latino or black trans community experiences any more or less discrimination and violence than any other group of transgendered individuals in this country, or worldwide for that matter.”

        *HEADDESK*

        Wha…ha … ?!

        There’s just no words for this kind of ignorance. This isn’t a matter of opinion; it’s a matter of fact. Stop ‘believing’ and start researching.

        1. Rogi Riverstone

          Precisely! And this is an atheist: presumably exposed to critical thinking, rationality and scientific process, throwing all of that out, simply to tell people of Color to stop making so much noise about bleeding, or it might divert attention away from. . . um, white people? I was totally dumbfounded. And, since this is 1 of 5 admins for the FaceBook page, I can’t even have a conversation about it with the person. I just don’t understand.

  8. 8
    mx.punk

    as a white, dfab non-binary trans* person, i think this totally had to be written. thanks for this, natalie! white and dfab trans* privileges seem to get swept under the proverbial carpet instead of being examined. thanks for calling bullshit when you see it!

  9. 9
    Alasdair

    I don’t want to undermine any of the points you’re making here, because this was an important article that needed to be written. But I think there are some general observations to make here.

    (Apologies for the long, rambling wall of text that follows.)

    It strikes me as one of the biggest ironies of social justice activism that every movement of an oppressed minority group will inevitably be led by the most privileged members of that group. A feminist group will be led by white, affluent, cisgendered, heterosexual women; a gay-rights group will be led by white, affluent, cisgendered men; and so on. I can’t think of any counterexamples, and I’d be surprised if there were any, because that’s simply the way intersectional privilege works. Almost everyone who is oppressed in one respect is also privileged in another, and there’s no reason to expect that a group that opposes one privilege should be immune to all the others.

    Dividing the group doesn’t work, because even in the smaller group there will still be more and less privileged individuals. In a group of women, the cisgendered women will take the lead, leaving the trans women behind; take them out, leaving only the trans women, and the white trans women will take the lead, leaving the trans women of colour behind. And even amongst them some are more privileged than others.

    In fact, I’d say this phenomenon, while undesirable, is actually unavoidable: in every group, the members with the most privilege will necessarily have the most money and time to commit to activism, and have the most power and influence to wield in society. So they always make the most ‘natural leaders’.

    So, in this case the problem is that the group of ‘trans people’ includes trans men and trans women (as well as a few intersexed/genderqueer/etc), and the trans men are speaking for the group without recognising they are more privileged, and most of the disadvantages of being trans overwhelmingly affect trans women. That is indeed problematic. But even if it was left to trans women to speak for themselves, it is still likely that the more privileged trans women (white, able-bodied, relatively wealthy) would take the lead and the least privileged would remain silenced.

    Is there a solution? I don’t know. Part of me fears that any time members of an oppressed group criticise each other, they only end up helping the oppressor; but I know it’s also sometimes necessary to do so, otherwise the group will always be dominated by the most privileged. Talk about a Catch-22.

    It’s tempting to say that one should never try to advocate for those less privileged than oneself, but if we all did that nothing would ever change. The tricky task is to support those less privileged than yourself without speaking *for* them or trying to claim you share in their oppression (except to the extent you actually do).

    (Of course, we’re all humans: since we all have that in common, we do all share each other’s experience to some minimal extent. But if you share in the humanity of the victim, necessarily you share in the humanity of the oppressor as well.)

    Anyway, back to the case in hand: I can’t fault the writers of those letters for trying to raise the issue of violence against trans women. That needed to be done. But it’s unfortunate that those letter writers tried to claim they shared in that oppression when they really didn’t. Perhaps they were just trying to empathise with the victims; but it’s possible to empathise with a group, even show solidarity with it, without claiming to be part of it and that its oppression affects you equally. Isn’t it?

    Ideally, of course, these letters should have been written by trans women of colour themselves. (Perhaps such letters were written and not published.) Failing that, they should have emphasised the particular harm to such people without claiming to share in it. It can be hard to mentally separate oneself off from people who one sees as one’s allies and feels sympathy towards; but it can and sometimes must be done.

    1. 9.1
      Alasdair

      As a final, ironic afterthought: I suspect that the people primarily doing the oppressing don’t actually consciously make the distinctions that are being made here (e.g. between trans men and women, those of colour and not, etc), and instead just see all non-cis non-straight people as ‘just a bunch of queers anyhow’.

      Not that that’s any excuse for not making such distinctions ourselves.

  10. 10
    Ringo

    This is the first time I’ve heard about the second murder, and I read the Brandon Teena story in a Playboy article before the movie. It was missing a few pages

    The problem I have with Boys Don’t Cry is Kimberly Pierce, the writer and director of the film. I don’t know if she even considers Brandon Teena to be a trans man.

    She uses “Teena” and “she” in interviews, sometimes calls him “an amalgamation”. I might be wrong, but I seem to recall Pierce calling Brandon Teena a lesbian on the DVD commentary.

  11. 11
    Ania

    Hi Natalie,

    I am sorry for posting this here, but I think my emails have been going into your spam folder.

    I would like to invite you to speak at Echaton 2012 in Ottawa, ON. The conference will be held Nov 30-Dec.2 and is being hosted by CFI Ottawa.

    I believe a series of Freethought bloggers have already been invited.

    If you have any questions, or any comments, or anything, please feel free to email me at dearania (at) gmail.

    1. 11.1
      Ania

      Oh wow I thought that would go through moderation and be seen then. I am suddenly honoured that I can seem to post directly xD

  12. 12
    Genderqueer Trans* Guy

    I’m FAAB and identify as a genderqueer male, and because of my identity I have been beat, shot at, and received death threats. Not allowing me to talk about the violence that I have experienced simply because of the body that I was born into is the exact kind of prejudice and oppression that I would hope we would be trying to avoid. I know that trans women of color have received most of the violence, but denying that I have experienced any erases me and my experience.

    1. 12.1
      Natalie Reed

      No one is universally denying that AFAB trans people EVER experience violence, nor are we talking about denying anyone the capacity to speak of the violence that has happened TO THEM.

      But spinning the discussion in that direction when the issue here is obvious? Prominent trans men repeatedly erasing the discrepancies in risk, and exploiting violence that has happened to TRANS WOMEN OF COLOUR to further their own agendas, claiming it as somehow a “people like us” thing?

      Sorry, but this is classic derailing. The trans version “but what about teh menz?”

      Yes, trans men and cis men and white people and able-bodied people and everyone ever CAN suffer. But that doesn’t give them the right to appropriate or derail discussions concerning the victimization of those less privileged than themselves. Period.

    2. 12.2
      mx.punk

      i’m a white, dfab trans* person. i’ve been called a pervert. i’ve been harassed for using handicapped/family bathrooms instead of gendered bathrooms. i was once raped to “correct” my transness. i bet other dfab trans* people have similar experiences. and that sucks, obviously.

      however, those lists of murdered trans* people don’t tend to include any dfab trans* people. we just don’t face the same level of oppression and violence that dmab trans* people do. full stop.

      transmisogyny, a dominant system of oppression, doesn’t directly oppress dfab trans* people, imo. we are more privileged than dmab trans* people are– so when natalie, a trans* woman, tells us to check our privilege and quit appropriating dmab trans* experiences, i think we should shut up and listen.

      that doesn’t mean we aren’t oppressed. that doesn’t mean unspeakably horrible things don’t happen to us. it doesn’t mean we’re “not allowed” to talk about the violence we experience. it just means that we derail a lot of conversations and make them about us when they should really be about our sisters. because while some of us may face violence on an individual level, we don’t face violence on a societal level.

      1. Natalie Reed

        Thank you.

  13. 13
    TBS

    I read this and did not know immediately what to say. I also saw some of the comments. Violence against trans-women is something I am deeply against. And I agree, I dont see the same outcry about trans-men.

    I am going to ask a question, that may be unpopular. Could this be due to a difference in reporting?

    As a cis male, got beat up a couple of times in a locker room. Didn’t lead to Death like the examples above, though. Thoughts?

    Best,
    TbS

    1. 13.1
      Miri

      There is a difference in the prevalence of violence toward trans women in general, trans women of colour, trans men, cis men, cis women, etc. Of course, violence can happen to anyone, but for trans women, and particular trans women of colour, the statistical likelihood of this vastly outweighs what is faced by other groups. It is highly unlikely to be a difference in reporting. The reasons are many and varied as I think Natalie has been over this, but a key point here is the acceptability of violence. In our society certain people are considered better targets, and violence toward certain people is seen as more acceptable than to others. For example, violence toward women is seen as less socially acceptable than violence toward men. Violence toward LGBT people is seen as more acceptable than violence toward cis/straight people. Violence toward people of colour is seen as more acceptable than violence toward white people. So, if we look where all these scales acceptability intersect, we can see that violence toward trans women of colour is night unquestioned: they are LGBT “freaks”, they are not white, and they are generally considered to be men by bigots. Does that make the differences any clearer?

  14. 14
    Bia

    While reading posts on http://renetaxian.wordpress.com/ I came across a linked Wiki picture that struck me as curious. I made a short post about it here:

    http://nemesisinfurs.blogspot.com/2012/02/combating-myopia-southern-strategy.html.

    I didn’t go into this in depth but the gist is there’s a large intersection between racism, politics, and LGBT issues.

  15. 15
    sphex

    I hadn’t known about the second murder. But then again, I am ignorant about many things, as I learn every time I come here. Of course, by coming here, I become less ignorant. Thank you, Natalie.

  16. 16
    aaskew

    Great article. just wanted to add a couple of points:

    1. I’ve said this elsewhere before, so this isn’t the first: but as a trans man of colour, I’m frequently uncomfortable with the dichotomy of ‘trans women of colour’ / ‘white trans men’. While I fully acknowledge that I’m a lot more privileged than trans women, this isn’t equivalent to that received by white trans men, and it’s unsettling being often lumped together with them as the privileged group when there are, for instance, probably white trans women who are overall more privileged than me.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a post addressing trans men of colour, actually. It’s always either white trans male activists being activist-y, or people pointing out (with good reason) that trans women of colour are getting the bulk of oppression and should be focused on. But anyway, that’s just my selfish what-about-me rant. /o\

    2. I realise that you’re writing within an American context, but the Internet is an international space, and things that hold true for the trans community in the US do not hold true elsewhere. Things like trans men taking up space in queer/trans spaces are very culture-specific, as are other aspects of the LGBT community dynamics in the US.

    Or for instance, a 2012 local report showed that trans men in my country actually face *higher* rates of oppression, discrimination hate crimes and than trans women, in every area (physical assault and other violence, workplace discrimination, denial of service, etc) other than rape or other sexual assault.

    This does worry me and make me highly paranoid regarding my safety, such that it’s upsetting when I express these fears and get accused of appropriating trans women’s oppression, from people who assume that things are the same all over the world.

    1. 16.1
      Natalie Reed

      For the record, I’m not actually American, I don’t live in the States, nor am I writing from a specifically US-centric background. My background does have a North American tilt, and I understand your point, but please don’t assume that English Speaking World = United States, or even North America = The United States.

      1. tigerlily

        Your biggest worry about his post is that he wrongly assumed you to be from North America?

        1. Natalie Reed

          It’s something I felt like responding to, yeah. The other things he said are worthwhile contributions to the conversation.

          The issue, btw, was that he wrongly assumed me to be from the States. I am from North America.

  17. 17
    Minerva

    “Yet a lot of the same attitudes of fighting aggressively to be heard, and have themselves acknowledged in the trans community, such as insistent use of term trans people, the attitudes that were at one point an extremely justified and much-needed response to widespread erasure”

    I’m confused – how is appropriating the oppression which trans women and non-binary DMAB trans* people face an acceptable thing at any point in time?

    1. 17.1
      Natalie Reed

      It isn’t. But strongly fighting for use of the word “trans people” and things like that, to make sure that trans men weren’t erased / ignored, was at one point a very appropriate thing to be putting a lot of energy into, a thing that was more positive than harmful.

      1. shaedgreenwood

        Your criticism of Asher seems not to take into account that Asher’s significant other is a DMAB nonbinary person, and thus that some of the gender neutral language it uses is to recognize that not everyone who is harmed by transmisogyny is a woman. And that when Asher is talking about “people like us” it is not talking about some vague abstraction of trans people, but Asher’s immediate community and family.

        You, on the other hand, refer to dmab trans people constantly as “all women,” even just a sentence after mentioning that one of the dead was genderqueer.

        Yes trans *people*. Yes trans *siblings*. I hope everyone knows where they can stick their binarism if they have a problem with this language.

  18. 18
    mx. punk

    hi, natalie! i’m writing a post in which i’d like to link back to this post (cuz it’s awesome). please let me know if you don’t want me to link back here. thanks!

  1. 19
    The second great schism « Lyssa and Me

    [...] treat those with a disability as human beings. It means the cisgendered should treat those of other gender and sexual identities as human beings. It means the rich should treat the poor as human beings. It means shucking off [...]

  2. 20
    (Reblog of) The second great schism | Atheism, Music, and More…

    [...] treat those with a disability as human beings. It means the cisgendered should treat those of other gender and sexual identities as human beings. It means the rich should treat the poor as human beings. It means shucking off [...]

  3. 21
    the dfab trans* privilege checklist: a community project | rainbowgenderpunk

    [...] 13.  if i die under suspicious circumstances and the media picks up the story of my death, it is unlikely that my sex life and my body will be examined and judged.  (tw: cissexism, racism, violence!  example, example.) [...]

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