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.

Gay men still banned from blood donation

I will admit that this article by Mark Joseph Stern in Slate is clearly biased – though I would hope you could tell that from the headline. That said, I agree with it, so here’s my endorsement.

It’s utterly ridiculous that, despite all medical evidence that it’s utterly ridiculous, the FDA still bans gay men from giving blood, even if they swear they have been celibate for the past year. Take a look at the article. What do you think? Is the FDA acting based upon homophobia and bias and fear? If not, what else could explain the ban, which effectively prevents thousands of men from donating blood in a time when blood is critically needed?

Hope in the future

What do African-American Baltimore students do to help them process the recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island? For some, writing helps to work through their complex emotions. Check out this story by Jeff Guo of the Washington Post to learn more about Writers in Baltimore Schools and these students, and read one of the poems below by Afiya Ervin, 15, of Baltimore City College High School:

I’ve never written about this topic because the silence

Of my pen will never be as strong, never be as deep, never

Be as stifling as the moment of silence from a mother.

 

I’ve never written about this topic because I’m afraid.

I’m afraid that the next teenage black boy face will be

The face of my brother, I’m afraid I’ll see his instagram selfie with a black and white filter on

The news and I’m afraid of seeing hoodies with his face on them.

I’m afraid of seeing pictures of his dead body on the street for 4.5 hours.

 

I’ve never written about this topic because I

Know a little black girl like me will never be heard because of

The white patriarchy in my community, in my country.

 

I’ve never written about this topic, but I’m starting now.

I’m starting to write because one day, hopefully another little

Black girl won’t be scared for her brother, father, or friend. Hopefully

A black male can hope for a future instead of hoping

For the ability to walk down the street.

 

I’ve finally started writing because hopefully one day the scratches

Of my pen can uplift the mother, uplift the

Country, and uplift our people above the wet, dark backs of our

Ancestors and break the chains we’ve been carrying since we were taken

From our African Empires to work for the stripes and stars that have

Held us down for centuries.

 

I’ve finally started writing.

In Using My Voice and Social Media Platforms More Effectively (step two)

Wondering how to act when your Facebook feed is full of condemnation for Michael Brown and Eric Garner? First, read this. Second, click on the link to the poem by Danez Smith, and use it as the basis of a prayer for a better world.

As It Ought to Be

Credit: Joshua Sinn, Flickr Credit: Joshua Sinn, Flickr

In Using My Voice and Social Media Platforms More Effectively (step two)

by Perry Janes

*A version of this originally appeared as a post on the author’s Facebook page. It’s reprinted here with permission.

There are people on my newsfeed with posts and memes that read “Michael Brown is dead because of Michael Brown’s actions.” There are others voicing their support of the NYC police officer who choked and killed Eric Garner. There is literally no word in the English language to express the outrage I feel at these sentiments – at seeing them when I log in to my account – or to unpack the levels of racism and hatefulness implied here. Let’s set aside the fact that an armed, white police officer in a community already rife with racial tensions fired six shots into an unarmed teenager – six shots against an unarmed youth –…

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Hope in the Shadows

… excerpted by B. Cox’s sermon by the same name (let me know if you want the link).

There have been many photographs and videos within the last week that depict the longing for
justice for the shooting of Michael Brown. There was one in particular that touched and
challenged me, maybe you saw it too. It is of a 12-year-old African American boy named
Devonte embracing Sergeant Bret Barnum, a veteran police officer who is white, both with tears
streaming down their faces. Moments before the photo was taken, this is what took place:

As the protest was occurring, “[Devonte] trembled holding a Free Hugs sign as he bravely
stood alone in front of the police barricade. … After a while, [Sgt. Barnum] approached him and
extended his hand. Their interaction was uncomfortable at first. … [Then] he asked Devonte
why he was crying. His response about his concerns regarding the level of police brutality
towards young black kids was met [by the police officer] with an unexpected and seemingly
authentic response. , ‘Yes,’ he said and sighed. ‘I know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’ The officer then
asked if he could have one of his hugs.” And they then embraced.

My prayer is that we won’t miss the potential in this glimmer of hope between Devonte and
Sergeant Barnum, and those that emerge in other places. That we also won ’t allow images like
these to allow us to settle, to come to the conclusion that reconciliation has happened. For we
know that beyond this picture that racism is not over. When Jesus calls us to keep awake, we
cannot stay idle, we cannot call for the arrival of justice without our own participation in its
coming. What this photo serves as is a mirror of our hope and a beginning place to challenge
ourselves into participating into its coming.

…So this Advent, as we settle into the apocalypse of our own time, humanity’s
search for hope continues trudging through racism/ classism/ and other systems of distorted
power, along with our own individual experiences of loss, brokenness, and darkness. When we
hear the words of Jesus telling us to “Keep Awake” and to “Be Ready” for a hope that is to come,
it is possible that we might be fed up with hearing the same story of struggle, and we have
moved on to the instant gratification commercialized Christmas gives us.

Except if we are honest, we know the Christmas fanfare is not enough on its own to give birth to
the hope that we so desperately long for, for the hope that will transform. For out of struggle
comes transformation. This has to be our first stop on this journey of Advent, it only makes
sense.

Because #objectification, #white flight, #gentrification

Today’s reading roundup.

Up first, because objectification, because #yesallwomen, because I cannot say enough that catcalls are not compliments: here “An Open Letter to the Men Who Still Don’t Understand Street Harassment” by Drew Bowling (who happens to be a man).

Second, because the issues of community segregation and integration are important, because white flight and gentrification are complicating factors that require space in the conversation, a Washington Post piece by Chicagoan Daniel Hertz.

All About that Beis (Medrash)

A riff on Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass,” inspired by my friend Emily Filler’s dissertation title: “All About that Beis (Medrash): modern Jewish Scripture, troubling texts, and the recovery of classical rabbinic hermeneutics.” I hereby present “All About that Beis (Medrash)” by Rebecca Epstein-Levi!

Because you know I’m all about that Beis,
‘Bout that beis, beis (Medrash)
I’m all about that Beis,

‘Bout that beis, beis (Medrash)
I’m all about that Beis,
‘Bout that beis, beis (Medrash)
I’m all about that Beis,
‘Bout that beis, beis, beis, beis.

Yeah, it’s pretty clear
These texts’ll trouble you
But we can read ‘em, read ‘em
Just like we’re ‘sposed to do

‘Cause we’re going back to the sources
That all the scholars chase
Puttin’ all the right derash
In all the right places.

I see those other readers
Saying those texts should drop
We know that shit’s bad style

Come on, now make it stop

If you got classic readings
Just raise them up
‘Cause every word of it is Torah
From the bottom to the top

Yeah, our Rabbis, they told us
Don’t worry about those lies
They said, “read it like us,
“And you’ll see it with brand new eyes
“No it won’t be no gentle, pacific scroll
So if that’s what you’re into,
We think you should go take a stroll.”

We’re bringing Medrash back
Go on and tell those anti-Semites that
We know you want to give us flak
But we’re here to tell you,
Every inch of it is Torah,
from the bottom to the top