ID Check: The murder of transgender women must stop

ID Check Leela Ginelle web image

By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly

In an average week, I read about the murders of two trans women. The women are American, and predominantly young. The details vary, but they’re generally murdered in their homes, and almost always by men they know.

The crimes are covered by news outlets where the women lived, and the reporters often misgender the deceased. Activists pressure the media to correct their errors, but are only occasionally successful, which, in a way, is fitting.

These murders are the most brutal, bloody expressions of transmisogyny.

In the perpetrators’ actions we see the distillation of the idea that transgender women should not exist, and that those who try, and who pursue social and sexual connections, should expect to pay with their lives.

When I began transitioning I was not as well-versed in these cases as I am now, but the thought of appearing in public as a transgender woman filled me with dread.

While I did experience constant workplace harassment, my fear of being physically unsafe in the world slowly faded. Age, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, income level, and geography all likely combined to keep me safe.

While I’ve stopped fearing the outcome shared by these murdered trans women,  though, their murders — brutal, senseless, and consistent — have continued.

Watching the carnage, I’ve travelled internally from vulnerability to numbness, to rage, unable to understand the silence of the queer community regarding this massacre.

Young trans women of color murdered over and over. Has any LGBTQ leader, with the exceptions of Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, spoken out? Has any national LGBTQ organization spent a cent raising awareness around, or campaigning against, the persistent threat of violence and death faced by this group, who are marginalized and targeted routinely for their visibly queer identity?

Some LGBTQ goals can be reached concretely through legislation, such as marriage equality and employment non-discrimination, and others come from stating boundaries loudly and clearly. In this case it’s time for voices to start shouting from every quarter that murdering a woman because she is transgender is something our community will not allow, and not stop until our allies are saying it’s something our country will not allow, and not let them stop until the murders themselves stop.

It’s possible the local news outlets misgendering these victims truly don’t know they’re making mistakes, and it’s possible they’re simply practicing transmisogyny. It’s possible LGBTQ leaders and organizations are ignorant of what’s happening, and it’s possible they’re turning a blind eye, because they believe they can.

What seems certain is that the stigma plaguing every trans woman — the stigma that makes dating torturous, that leads to an unemployment rate twice that, and a suicide attempt rate 25 times that of the national average, and that makes this violent homicide endemic — is not going to change until we begin to demand, with all our voices, that it changes.

There is nothing wrong, abnormal, or unnatural about being a transgender woman. There are, however, innumerable things wrong, abnormal, and unnatural about the way transgender women are treated — in schools, in the workplace, in prisons, in the media, in popular culture, where the idea of our being romantic and sexual partners is, itself, a punchline, and in matters of life and death, where violent men seem to feel entitled to act as our executioners.

This is systemic, and we are not to blame for it. I know no trans woman who has requested such treatment.

Having seen it for what it is, however, it’s time for all of us to demand it stop. That means calling out anyone who perpetrates such hate, prejudice, and violence on every occasion until transmisogyny joins racism and homophobia as a practice any self-respecting person would feel ashamed to take part in.

Only then will transwomen feel assured that they are seen as what they are — human beings.

That fact should seem so basic as to be beyond doubt, but the recent laws proposed to bar trans people from public spaces, the opposition to granting trans students equal access in schools, and this constant, nationwide menace of physical violence all demonstrate how far trans women are from enjoying basic human equality in our culture.

The journey to that goal starts with naming the injustices that impede it: the stigmatization, harassment, shaming, battery, and, above all, murder of transgender women must stop.

Leela Ginelle is a journalist and playwright living in Portland, Ore. Please write her at leela@pqmonthly.com.