Silencing Black Transgender Women

A recent DiversityInc article raised awareness of the 12 transgender women who were murdered in the US in 2014. The article isn’t perfect – it criticizes the media for its attention to Eric Garner and Michael Brown and not these transgender women, ignoring the fact that many more Black men and women’s stories were also not in the media, simply because they also were not killed by White police officers. Murdered Black men and women, cisgender and transgender and queer, simply do not make the news very often, so I doubt that homophobia is what prevented these stories from being heard (racism would be a more likely culprit). The lack of national outcry over these murders is, sadly, tragically, not a surprise to me.

However, the author does raise a more subtle point, and one that I think *could* be addressed and ultimately “fixed:” in reporting the deaths of these women, they are referred to as men, both by the police and the media. As Chai Jindasurat of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) notes, “The harm of the media misgendering and victim-blaming is that is sends a message to the public that these homicides are not as series, and that somehow transgender people deserve it.” Police departments have claimed that they are legally obligated to use the gender on the victim’s drivers license in official statements. But why is this necessary, and what harm is this causing?

The harm:

1. Misgendering leads to inaccurate reporting of transgender attacks and hate crimes. When the gender identity of victims is not included in legal paperwork, this can lead to incorrect reporting of hate-motivated violence. According to the article linked above, the FBI only captured 10% of the attacks recorded by the NCAVP.

2. Misgendering is disrespectful to the victim and his or her family, who are already suffering enough. In this case, four women have been murdered. At least provide them with some dignity after death by using their preferred gender pronoun. It really isn’t that hard.

3. Homophobia is rampant, especially against transgender people. Mislabeling leads to victim-blaming and mockery of those who, again, deserve some dignity in death. While I’m not sure that proper gender pronouns would wholly eliminate this (I’m sure it wouldn’t, sadly), what it would do is demonstrate respect for the victim. And when others – particularly the media and police, all people in positions of authority – treat transgender men and women with respect, maybe the public will start to follow suit.

So what we can do: encourage the media and law enforcement to use a victim’s preferred gender pronoun when discussing his or her case. This humanizes the victim and shows him or her the respect he or she (or ze) deserves.

Why hating celebrities isn’t okay

It’s easy to do and easy to justify.

Celebrities, after all, put themselves in the public space. Therefore, they open themselves up to comment on everything related to them: their looks, their weight, their personal lives, their professional decisions. They must know when they sign up for that movie, that TV pilot, that modeling gig that they are also signing up for paparazzi stalking and endless speculation on FB, Twitter, and gossip rags. Right?

As Erin Tatum at Everyday Feminism asks, “does your status as a public figure obligate you to endure and even invite ridicule from not only one, but millions?” Tatum notes that she “behaved with the assumption that because she [here, Kristen Stewart] made herself available to public space, she became public property. And that’s just not how humanity should operate.”

We can stop objectifying celebrities. And in doing so, we are reminding ourselves that others’ bodies are not simply for our consumption. If we want others to respect our individuality and our right to be the sole owners of our own bodies and our own stories, we need to learn to respect others the same way.

So take a moment to read Tatum’s article, and then think twice the next time you’re tempted to bash a celebrity on the basis of what you think you know about him or her. Put down the tabloid in the Target aisle. Stop policing the bodies and activities of celebrities, especially other women (ladies, I’m looking at us). We all deserve better.

Bruce Jenner

Google “Bruce Jenner” today. Go on. What do you notice?

The news, of course, is that Bruce Jenner has agreed to be interviewed by Diane Sawyer to discuss his assumed transition from male to female. I say assumed, because while the media has been rife with speculation, Jenner himself has yet to speak publicly  (or herself, if Jenner prefers that pronoun; again, I do not know yet, so please forgive me for continuing to use “himself” until Jenner speaks publicly and lets his preference be known).

Some might say that Jenner’s (alleged) transition is of course subject to public scrutiny because he is a public figure, and in many ways, I agree. He has, in full mental capacity, agreed to be the subject of a reality television show and will star in a docuseries. He has opened his life to consumption, more so than a former Olympic athlete might otherwise. But, but, but – does that mean he is fair game for the type of bullying and ridicule that leads so many transgender people to commit suicide? I don’t think so, but apparently I’m in the public minority.

Go back to your Google search and look at the headlines. The best are sensationalistic (Bruce Jenner’s Mom CONFIRMS His Transition Plans! Find Out What She Had To Say About Her ‘Gifted’ Son HERE!). The middle are mocking: his “journey.” His “transformation.” The worst, of course, are those that automatically assume transgenderism is something unnatural and worthy of the utmost ridicule. These call him “strange” and worse.

“The trans movement has a face that could take it more mainstream than ever – and it is the face of a Kardashian,” bemoans Kevin Fallon at The Daily Beast. “Not only that, it is a face that we have cruelly belittled and joked about for over a decade now. A movement that has already struggled to be covered with nuance and care in the more legit corners of the mediasphere is now heading to the tabloids. Bruce Jenner is in the midst of what is probably the most human moment of his life. I fear that we’re going to treat him as part of an exhibit at a zoo…. We will demand that he talks about it. And because of that he will now be a mouthpiece for the trans movement, whether or not he wants to be, and whether or not he should be.”

What will this do to our next generation of young trans people? Will they see Jenner as a role model, or someone to be scorned? Will they be able to separate the “common” mocking of Jenner-as-Kardashian from the mocking of Jenner-as-transitioning? Look at the comments to the first article I linked to, above. Think about a young trans person excitedly reading this article to learn when Jenner’s Diane Sawyer interview will be. Then think about him or her reading the comments. Some of the more innocuous call him an abomination, a fruit cake, sad, sick, disgusting, a freak… I could go on.

By contrast, check out these comments from a Laverne Cox Gawker article. I hope Jenner is able to turn the conversation the way the inestimable Ms. Cox did. I sincerely hope, for the sake of young trans people, he is able to speak eloquently and honestly about his very public transformation. Bruce Jenner, as odd as it feels for me to say this considering the Kardashians, our young people are counting on you. Please don’t let them down.