Sometimes I forget I’m different because I’m trans. Sometimes I get up and eat and do yoga and feed my rabbits and watch TV and go several full hours without remembering that 99% of my fellow Americans don’t understand me. Not this morning. Today, I was less-than-gently awoken by nasty cramps, which immediately triggered my body dysphoria. Very little makes me grumpier than being REMINDED that I have body parts I DON’T WANT because they’re HURTING me, except being reminded that in the trans community, period-related woes are the least of our problems.
When I got to work and began my daily routine of scrolling through my news outlets, I was greeted by article after article about Cemia Acoff’s murder, and the horrendous coverage of the crime by a variety of publications. This twenty-year old woman was killed, dumped, and then written about in the least respectful way possible by nearly every news outlet that covered her death.
Let me make one thing crystal clear: Trans* women and trans-feminine people are at a MUCH higher risk of violence than trans-masculine people. And as a white trans-masculine person who works at a non-profit, and currently has secure housing, I am much safer than my trans peers of color. I’m much safer than my trans peers who do sex work, and my trans peers who live below the poverty line. It would be reprehensible to compare the struggles I face with being mis-gendered, and dealing with my period, and being unable to find clothing that fits me to the violence and discrimination that faces other, less privileged members of my community. I’m unlikely to die in a hate crime, and yet, when I die (peacefully at the ripe age of 200 please), will the local paper use the right name in my obituary? Will they respect my identity, my honorifics? Will they recognize my relationships to my children and partner and siblings the way I have chosen to define them?
This is the same problem, at the root. We don’t want to make room in our culture for any kind of other.
The image above illustrates the sliding scale of hatred. Genocide is the most heinous, and rarest, form of prejudice, but genocide never occurs without the universal hatred of a certain group of people. When hate crimes are committed, we are often quick to dismiss them as the work of a solitary brute. But they rarely are. Instead, they’re the logical result of a culture that dehumanizes minorities. Making jokes about trans women and spreading misinformation about them leads to ostracizing them and viewing them as undesirables, which leads to legal discrimination against them, which leads to further social marginalization. Whenever we classify trans people as different from “regular” people, we push them to the edges of society, and it becomes a little less frowned-upon to hurt them.
To use a simplistic example: if you kick a dog, most people will be upset with you. We think of dogs as sensitive creatures with feelings. We don’t want them to be hurt. If you kick a rat, you’re less likely to be criticized. Although some people like rats, most people view them as pests, or at least not as valued members of the family. We think this way about people, too. It’s obvious by the way Cemia’s murder was covered by, for example, The Plain Dealer, that the reporter who wrote this article did not care very much that she had been murdered. The same reporter manages to report factually and without disrespect on several other attacks, and even manages to assemble some compassion when reporting on the death of a local rapper. It’s clear that he’s not a sociopath. He’s just a man who, like many people, cares less about the murder of a twenty year old woman because of her trans identity.
When I wrote “Please Don’t Call Me Ma’am,” I got this comment*:
I don’t mean to belittle your struggles…However, the simple fact of the matter is that as long as gendered honorifics are the norm I am going to use them. What’s more, I’m going to make gender-normative assumptions when I do, because that is what’s socially optimal the vast majority of the time. If I get to know you and suspect that might not be right then I’ll certainly ask for and defer to your preference…
This person was defending their right to make assumptions about me, and anyone else they encounter, because our country is behind the times linguistically.
I can’t believe I have to say this, but the right thing to do isn’t always what everyone else is doing. The right thing to do is to make room linguistically, culturally, and in every other way for people who fall outside of the rigid categories of gender we’ve developed. The right thing to do is pay attention when a marginalized person asks for something, and do it. The right thing to do is report on the murder of a young woman with at least a shred of compassion, and allow her friends and family the small comfort of a dignified memorial of the loved one they lost.
The problems with the coverage of Ms. Acoff’s death have already been written about at length here and here and here, so I’ll simply add a link to the TransOhio fund set up to pay for a respectful, sensitive memorial service for Cemia.
* I’m linking to the full comment here because although I take issue with some of what the commenter said, I want their words to be taken in context.