This is Not a Theory: Transphobic violence

I’ve been thinking about what to write in response to the recent blog coverage of violence against trans women, coverage which has been sparked by the murder of Angie Zapata, a young Latina trans woman. I didn’t want to write a post repeating what other people have already said so well, but neither did I want to say nothing.

Reading the posts about this dreadful death and other violent attack on trans women, I realised that I need to return to real lived experience.  You may have noticed that I like theory — all kinds of theory — but let’s get one thing clear, the fact that I try and maintain a trans-supportive position on this blog and in my actual life does not have to do with my reading theory (no matter how queer), it has to do with what I’ve seen of the real lived experience of trans men and women.

The other day I sat down with my notebook and started to make a list of incidents I know about which involve the mistreatment and oppression of transfolk in my area.  Here goes:

An older trans woman is having a drink in a local gay-friendly bar. A couple of men come up to her, take hold of her hair and pull, assuming it is a wig.  It isn’t.  Ok, let’s rewind and run through that again.  A woman is minding her own business in a bar and a couple of men come along and try and pull her hair off in an attempt to publicly humiliate her and prove that she isn’t really a woman.  Have they done this before? I would think it highly likely.  She tells me this story and laughs it off. She also tells me that she gets a lot of verbal abuse while travelling on the bus. She laughs this off too and tells me it doesn’t really bother her much.

I meet a trans woman at a conference.  We have a conversation about the work she’s doing in transgender rights and I don’t think about it again until a couple of years later when I hear that some men broke into her house one night and beat her almost to the point of death.  They did not steal anything so we can only assume the attack was due to the fact that she was a prominent out trans woman.  She was in hospital for a long time and I don’t know what’s happened to her since then.

Another well-known trans woman and her family are attacked and beaten up at their home by a gang of men.

An older pre-operative trans woman is kept in hospital unnecessarily because none of the care homes in the area can “cope with it.”

Another older trans woman is denied her hormone treatments because she’s been moved into a care home and the new doctor there “does not believe in it.”  Local transgender advocates have a struggle on their hands to get this rectified.

I hear that suicide attempts have gone up because the waiting list for treatment is so long.

I hear that a young trans woman I know, who lives in a nearby town, has been put under police protection because the threats against her are getting so serious.

I am aware of a young trans man being placed in entirely inappropriate student accommodation with a large group of cis-male students and then having to decide whether or not to be out or to risk discovery and possible consequences.

The student union LGBT representative tells me that a high proportion of the calls received by the local student helpline are to do with people seeking advice about gender issues, but the  students themselves remain largely invisible and do not come forward for help due to fear of being identified.

What I think I’m trying to say here is that cis-gendered people must not forget that these murders happen at one end of a continuum of violence that trans folk have to deal with every day of their lives, a continuum starting with “smaller” acts of violence which, in devaluing transgender lives, lead logically to the big ones.  Attempting to rip a trans woman’s hair off  follows the same logic as beating her to death – both actions are based on a deep feeling that this person’s life is unimportant, is not worthy of respect and is not to be valued.

And one for the road…

At a feminist event I watch as a feminist patiently informs a trans woman of the reasons why she shouldn’t expect to be allowed to join a Reclaim the Night March with the women, but should stand on the sidelines with the men as a supporter.  The trans woman admits to being confused by this argument.



3 thoughts on “This is Not a Theory: Transphobic violence

  1. I love theory too.
    I wouldn’t want to strictly oppose some kind of real-world “just-plain speaking” about trans issues to “theory which does nothing.” My letter was short, and angry, so nuances are not so apparent.
    Rather, my problem is the Foucaultian one of power–why *that* conversation when we have, as you point out, all these other problems worth talking about. It’s self-indulgent, even insulting, to spend all this time when we have all this violence, legal issues and so on to face.
    So, when feminist discussions centre on transitioning, or women’s space, that *is* an exercise of power, when you centre cis women as the “real” women, and reduce trans people to objects in the discourse and not subjects. There’s a compulsion towards confession being enacted, only there’s no good answer for trans people to give.
    So that conversation is imo pointless, because a trans perspective is foreclosed right from the start as illegitimate or even illegible. And the incoherent constructions of trans women are the result–sexually overdetermined playing-to-the-male-gaze-but-masturbatory-but-invading-women’s-space etc etc.
    I’m quite happy to talk theory, so long as it’s a conversation that feels like it is getting somewhere, like it’s actually meaningful or – dare I say it – might actually help someone somewhere.

  2. I’m quite happy to talk theory, so long as it’s a conversation that feels like it is getting somewhere, like it’s actually meaningful or – dare I say it – might actually help someone somewhere.
    Yes, I don’t want to institute some kind of pseudo “real life v. theory” opposition here because I think theory shapes the world as much as the world shapes theory. And I think theory can help people; it’s certainly helped me in my real life.
    But sometimes, I just feel the need to stop and ask myself why I believe something based in lived experience.
    The theory then helps me make sense of the experience I guess.

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