Before you read this, know that it is going to be a really triggering read, and that most of the links are to really triggering content.
Yesterday, April 22, 2011, a video circulated around my circles on Facebook from the queer and feminist blogospheres of a trans woman being brutally beaten in a McDonald’s while the employees stand around and encourage the assailants to “go before the cops come.” This has yet to be reported on in any mainstream media outlets that I have seen, and I’ve been looking, and it started circulating after first being reported (as far as I am aware) by the Bilerco Project on April 22. It’s 9:30pm on April 23 and on the Huffington Post (even “HuffPost LGBT”) there is no mention of it yet, but they were all over the pink toenailed boy story that swept through the news nationwide like two weeks ago.
Neither this assault, nor this lack of news coverage surprised me. That’s really sad. What is, at times, frustrating is how surprised so many people were by this video and story. I noticed that nearly everyone I saw share or comment on this story noted things like “how did this happen” or “This is shocking/surprising that people could do this!” Well, I don’t think I saw a trans woman post anything like this when sharing or responding to this story, but nearly everyone else whose comments I saw noted how surprised they were that this attack happened.
I’m not mad at people being surprised, so please, don’t take this the wrong way. I am just frustrated and jaded by it. Trans women face this type of violence day in and day out, so why is it so surprising when it’s caught on video. It’s the sort of shit that I fear every day. My personal concern for myself is a little less immediate now, as I have noticed that in the last ten months or so I no longer get clocked as trans even when I am out at a bar or something, and the privilege in passing as cis has quelled much of the immediate threat – but the fear still lingers. I am fortunate in that I have never experienced physical violence of the sort that Chrissy Lee Polis did on Monday, but I have still endured my share of shit, yes, even here in “trans friendly” Burlington. Here in Vermont I have had rocks thrown at me, been called a “tranny” countless times with spit and vitriol, been followed around at night, had people get in my face and scream “what the fuck are you, freak?!”, been groped and touched in triggering and sexual ways in public by strangers, and even been sexually assaulted by someone particularly and openly interested in the ways that my gender related to my body. I’ve never reported any of this to law enforcement, in part because I have also endured verbal harassment about my gender from Burlington police officers, so no fucking wonder, right?
Don’t send pity my way for any of this, and please don’t say you’re sorry. At this point, I don’t need your sympathy, I need your solidarity. Please, instead of saying sorry, just realize that this kind of thing happens and that people who are not trans women need to mobilize in both little and big ways if it is ever going to change. This shit happens here. It happens everyday. It happens where you live. For trans women, every single day when we go outside it can be a fight. This violence is nothing new, and every other trans woman I’ve ever discussed this with has comparable experiences. Don’t be sorry, be angry. Be really fucking angry and don’t stand by, don’t tolerate transphobia, transmisogyny, or cissexsim anywhere.
I am left wondering, though, what was it about this particular story that made it so surprising to so many people? Was it the complicity of the McDonald’s employees, their apathy in such an obviously hate-motivated assault? If that were the case, then what about what happened to Christine Sforza in 2006 when she was assaulted by a McDonalds manager wielding a pipe at a location New York City, then arrested by the NYPD and later released without charges (http://www.veoh.com/watch/v710251WDGw82nw). What about all the people on Church St. who stood around, and the cops who were hanging out within earshot when some dude was circling me and in my face, shouting about my freakishness and how I should die. Spectator apathy and complacency in violence perpetrated against trans women, and hate motivated violence generally, is pretty much the standard I expect to see. It’s really horrific that I would even think that to be the case, but it’s my jaded perspective as informed by my experience. But if it was not the complacency or complicity of the employees, what was the surprise? Was it that there was finally video to go along with the story of a trans woman being assaulted? I mean, there was video when Duanna Johnson was beaten and left handcuffed on the floor by Memphis Police when she didn’t answer to “he/she” or “faggot” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IAPTk69XPo). Duanna was murdered by an “execution style” gunshot wound to the head in an unsolved case several months after she was beaten by police (who were punished and at least one of whom was fired after the assault). We’ve seen this kind of violence on video before.
Maybe it’s not that people are surprised that this attack happened at all. Maybe it’s that it’s a surprise reminder of what they already know. Maybe it’s surprising that this was reported at all, anywhere. Maybe this shit is so disgusting that people block it out, and so when it rears its head in ways that are too hard to ignore, it is surprising all over again. But I, and all those other trans women out there, can’t just forget about it. Thinking about the Transgender Day of Remembrance and knowing that the list, which in 2010 remembered the violent deaths of 31 feminine spectrum gender variant adults and one male toddler (whose killer said he was “trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl”). That is a murder every twelve days, and those are just the ones that the Remembering Our Dead Project identified. In 2009 there were 137 people on the TDOR list. They were all reported as trans women or other male assigned trans people, men in women’s clothing, and drag queens (with the exception of one who was a cis man who was murdered with his trans woman lover). That is one person every two and half days. Talk about pervasive violence and media silence.
I really hope that this essay is not taken the wrong way. I am not angry at those who are shocked and surprised at this violence (this kind of violence should always be shocking), and I am deeply thankful for and really can feel the support and love that those people have shown. But I am angry. I am angry that this violence occurs. I am angry that so many of my sisters are beaten and killed every day. I am angry that the status-quo is to not talk about this violence, except on TDOR. I am angry at how complicit the police are in transmisogynistic and transphobic violence. I am afraid. I am afraid when I go out. I am afraid in public bathrooms. I am afraid because I am open about my trans status and am a fairly well known face in a fairly small town (last night I was recognized by strangers in two bars for various reasons). I am frustrated. I am frustrated that so many people’s reaction to this kind of violence is surprise before condemnation (even though the two often go hand in hand). I am frustrated that “Gay Inc.’s” main issues the last several years have been fighting for queer people to have the ‘right’ to serve as agents of genocide and war in the US military and for state sanctioned gay marriage recognition, when trans women are beaten and killed in this country every single day, and still the powerful voices are silent about it. I am frustrated at the media silence in the face of such pervasive and particular violence. I am frustrated that I am so jaded that this video didn’t surprise me at all, even as it triggered, shocked, nauseated, and disturbed me.
So please, don’t just express your shock at this video and move on. Please speak up. Say something. Do something. Don’t be complacent. Recognize that this kind of violence, however terrifying and disturbing and unfortunate it may be, is not new or unique. Please stand in support and solidarity with Chrissy Lee Polis, and with every other woman (or person!) who has faced bias-motivated violence. And please, if you have cis privilege, advocate for trans women when you can, because it’s tiring, draining, and often dangerous for us to do it ourselves, but still we must, and too often we are left standing alone.