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Hi, I'm Danielle (a writer, digital marketer, casual runner, and whatever other labels you want to pick and choose from). I also happen to be transsexual. I have a sneaking suspicion that it'll be a while until I publish my first best seller, so in the meantime, here are my thoughts on everything.

Monday, March 16, 2015

the appropriation of black and hispanic trans deaths by white trans women and political opportunists

I think the trans community overstates and appropriates trans murder victims (especially black and hispanic trans women) to advance a political agenda that ignores many (if not most) of the urgent needs of the people actually being victimized. Said differently, transphobia isn't killing trans people as much as institutionalized racism, misogyny, and classism is killing trans people.

When you read about trans violence, whether it's in an op-ed in the NY Times or even my own blog, you often find a phrase like: 'trans women, especially trans women of color, are disproportionately subject to...' [discrimination, violence, etc.]. Especially undersells the problem so I'm going to stop using that phrase ("women of color" can also be problematic for different reasons, so I'll try to avoid it too).

When I started working on this blogpost in early February at least 4 black and Latina trans women had been murdered. Since then, more names have been added to the list. At the end of February there were 11 queer/trans victims in 2015 - ten of whom were black or Hispanic. Now in mid-March the list is up to 13 LGTBQ victims. Seven or eight were 'trans' in the typical transition narrative sense, which raises the question why all gender identities seem to count in death but not in trans politics, but let's move on....

Janet Mock has discussed how trans women of color 'fall between the cracks' at the intersection of race, class, and gender and that's a point a lot of people miss when they make transphobic violence a rallying cry.

We often describe trans deaths as the result of deadly transphobic bigots running into trans people on the streets because that's exactly what happened in the murder of Islan Nettles. However, sometimes trans people die for reasons unrelated to their trans status. Half of these women were killed in intimate partner violence incidents. Golec's dad had a violent substance abuse filled past. Jessie Hernandez was killed by the Denver police while operating an automobile, so calling that a murder may not even be accurate (though it is suspicious).

Of these victims, only one (Ms. Edwards) seems to be clearly a victim of transphobic violence. For the past two months most people in the LGBT space thought she was a gay man who sometimes dabbled in drag (so her name isn't even on some of these 'trans only' lists). Her story is proof that transphobia doesn't end with death. Transphobia is why the media doesn't pressure police to solve trans crimes, why victims are misgendered (and reluctant to file reports), and why victims are blamed for being a sex worker, involved with drugs, or not disclosing their trans status to someone who invokes the 'gay panic' defense.

In these other cases, trans status may or may not have played a part. Maybe the murderer was ashamed of his/her relationship with a trans woman. Or maybe violence in queer relationships is just an issue that needs to brought out into the open and discussed more honestly. Yet here they are named as murdered transgender victims with the implication being they were murdered because they were trans. Maybejust maybe what we're actually seeing is better visibility of victims who happen to be trans. After all, if trans people are some percentage of the population, that means we should expect to see our fair share of murder victims too.

So I think it's time we stop with the 'trans' death count and focus instead on telling the stories of the black and Latina trans women who are murdered - stories of individuals - not numbers. Any amount of trans violence is unacceptable, but that doesn't mean we should embellish and exaggerate it just because it's politically expedient (trans people are not 400x more likely to be assaulted or murdered).

As Stalin said, one death is a tragedy but 10,000 deaths is a statistic. So lets look at that math more closely before we get back to focusing on the real tragedy:

There's not a lot of information out there regarding the trans prevalence rate, or how many trans people there are in any given population. I've previously used a 1:3,000 rate that represents the estimated prevalence of post-op or SRS seeking trans women (based on work Lynn Conway did with SRS data from western European studies). That's an extremely conservative lowerbound (a bare minimum) that undercounts the trans population as not all trans people can access or even want SRS. Conway thinks 1:500 is probably a better guess, but the Williams Institute's .3% rate is even higher at 1:333. The range for 'transitioning in some part' seems to be somewhere between .1% and .5%, while the broader gender non-conforming umbrella could be as high as 1-2%. If we use .3% that'd mean there are about 800k trans people in the United States over the age of 12 (320m Americans * 84% who are over age 12 * .3% trans prevalence rate).

According to the FBI, the violent crime rate in the United States is 387 for every 100,000 people while the homicide rate is 4.7 per 100,000. And yes, I'm aware hate crimes are known to be under reported - and that trans crimes are poorly covered (if at all) in the media, making other forms of tracking pretty difficult.

Applying the FBI's 4.7 homicides per 100,000 means we'd expect to see ~38 trans murders a year if the rates were identical to that of the general population (4.7 * 8). That's three times as many trans deaths as were actually recorded in 2014. Keep in mind that if you use a higher trans prevalence rate, you'd expect even more murders. Doubling the prevalence rate from .3% to .6% means you'd expect there to be ~76 trans murders per year.

If you adjust those numbers for race and gender it becomes obvious how some trans women are obviously at higher risk. Blacks and Hispanics are about 29% of the general population, and women are about half the US population, which means ~15% of the trans population should be TWOC - and those black and Hispanic trans women account for more than 90% of all trans murder victims.

Notably, white trans women were killed less often per capita than cis white women. Yes, there are issues with applying one white trans death per year against the white trans population, and yes, there are other forms of violence (in addition to murder), but the point is that transphobic murder appears to be an issue almost exclusively affecting trans women of color.

(Note: All of this analysis is constrained by data sources of limited accuracy, which when applied against large population sets can cause wide variance in the output of the model. The big question is the trans prevalence rate since that sets our denominator. While there could be unreported deaths, such as murders of deep stealth trans women, it seems reasonable to assume those would be non-trans related and/or not frequent enough to significantly increase the count). 

Nevertheless, this should raise the question: Why do white trans women keeping talking about how they'll end up murdered for being trans?

I think we (white trans women) need to stop talking about how 'victimizing' it is to be trans and instead talk about socioeconomic oppression. Parker Molloy speculated that the deaths of TWOC don't get as much coverage Leelah Alcorn's because of racial bias in the media, but that's only half the story. This goes beyond media bias because there's just as much prejudice and racism in the trans community as there is in the heteronormative mainstream. Euynbul Lee was on point when she called out those in the trans community who "failed to recognize how their combined power and prejudice produce undeniably racist ideologies, as if their trans identities erase their systematic privileging over trans POC."

I think a lot of trans people need to paint themselves as victims in order to justify their otherwise ridiculous politics.

The most cited source for trans victimization is the National Trans Discrimination Survey - that's where the infamous "41% of trans people attempt suicide" statistic comes from, even though it was 41% of the survey respondents - which included cross dressers, drag queens, and other identities that trans women typically want nothing to do with because they're nothing like us, right? Right! (Oops, there I go talking about inclusion of gender identities only when expedient again - I'm looking at you Zoey Tur).

To be clear, any percent of a population attempting suicide is too much. However, the NTDS was distributed online and through trans/LGBT networks and support groups, so there's probably a degree of selection bias since the people taking the survey were the people closest to the trans community. It seems unlikely that there were a lot of stealth respondents or individuals who transitioned and moved on, so 'positive' or 'neutral' trans experiences are likely undercounted. The survey respondents also don't reflect the general demographics of the United States, so the data is neither random nor representative, yet many cite it as though it represents the entirety of the trans community. Also worth noting is that the survey methodology reports that the 'attempted suicide' count itself may be inflated, as many people 'count' non-serious attempts, etc., which isn't to say that the NTDS isn't useful, but that we should be careful when playing the victim card.

That individuals appropriate these statistics and deaths is not an accusation so much as it is an observation of overall community dynamics and how they lend themselves to fear. A fear that is not rational when there is no deadly backlash for the white, middle-class, trans community.

This fear is so irrational that it even lead some to defend a someone who raped a 15 year old cousin because that was the past and she was doing important work tracking trans violence. Think about that: a convicted sex offender running an organization that tracks violence against vulnerable members of society. That is indefensible, yet some ask, "who will track the violence now?" as though that's more important.

It's undeniable that transphobia plays a role in many of the deaths of trans people - but it doesn't in all of them. Yet if I were to question the motives of people overplaying the 'trans violence' card (especially white trans women), I'd be accused of some variation of victim blaming and kicked out of the trans club. Someone said to me that I shouldn't be surprised that the trans community can have messed up politics just like everyone else - but I often feel like our politics are more messed up because we should have better perspective on these issues.

Then again, what's a better platform to prove "trans people are just like you!" than political opportunism, racism, and fearmongering?

EDIT: Since this came across a little harsh I'd like to elaborate a little. 

This is not a some people have it worse argument or a demand that white trans women (or white trans people) should simply check their privilege and shut up. The point is that on the issue of trans murder, white trans people should at least have the courtesy to read the stories of the victims whose deaths they cite in articles talking about trans discrimination and oppression.

Trans discrimination is a real issue that affects all trans people in a variety of ways. The 'perfect' transition does not exist and being trans is often hard even when socioeconomics aren't a concern. Being trans can be violent, painful, and frightening - I understand that. I've been there. I did not intend to diminish or downplay any trans/queer person's experience but should've put a disclaimer making that clear (so I'm preemptively calling myself out on that). 

A lot of factors play into trans discrimination and it is compounded by race, wealth, family support, employment, access to medical care, access to housing (including homeless shelters), criminalization of drugs and sex work, age, disability, and a lot of other things. The trans population mirrors the general population - and so do our issues. Trans* is not a monolith - we are a .5% to 2% slice of the entire world, we just happen to be trans. Being trans is an issue on its own, but we shouldn't let it be the only one we think about when it comes to discrimination. In addition to thinking about things like trans inclusive ENDAs we should also be thinking about how to make the judicial system [that would enforce such a law] more accessible and fairer so that all may benefit from the law. 

Said differently, there is a difference between equality and justice.


Empress Rita said...

You make some really good statistically points here, but since the umbrella of what trans-ness is is so big who determines the statistical standards used? Isn't half the point of politics to skew the data this way or that depending on your agenda?

Secretly Radical said...

This article is SO good! Thank you for it.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of appropriation, Jessie Hernandez was a lesbian and was nowhere even reported to be trans.

quixote said...

Interesting stats. I've wondered what the baseline rates of violent crimes might be, and this is the first time I've seen someone address that.

I come to this from a fairly big distance, since I've known all of two transpeople, both transmen. It happened to come up in conversation with one of them that he went to great lengths to avoid male violence.

Then there's your note that white cis women get murdered (almost entirely by men) at even higher rates than transwomen.

And the point that transwomen are very worried about male violence.

It almost seems like there's a theme here, and I'm not sure it's the danger of gender-nonconformity. It reminds me of the old joke about the fellow who wanted to figure out what makes you drunk. So he drank wine and water, scotch and water, and rum and water. He got drunk on all three, so it was obviously the water.

Anonymous said...

Hi: Jessie Hernandez was not trans. She is in the pic of the rollcall of the killed you posted.

She was a lesbian. She her posts on her facebook page. One of the issues with "queer" is that it erases that specificity, which is one of the subpoints that I think you are making. It erases lesbians, and it erases their deaths by violence.

Danielle said...

@Empress Rita - Who is being counted as 'trans' is an important point, and it seems to vary depending on who is asked in what context. When it comes to things like bathroom bills, the transsexual community seems willing to throw a lot of people out - but when it comes to death toll, suddenly anyone remotely 'trans' counts....

@Anonymous (both of you) - I am well aware Jessie Hernandez was not trans which is why I point out that not all of the victims on the roll call were trans. That was one of the points I was making, that when it came to counting deaths the trans community was happy to expand the conversation beyond trans and into queer - but that in many other conversations you don't see trans people being as inclusive.

Anonymous said...

Brian Golec wasn't trans. He was gay. He played around with his gender expression while he was alive but at no point did he ever say he was a woman. Friends close to him who knew his history were outraged that he was "transed" after his death--and this was a guy who respected and stood up for trans people and really the entire LGBT community.

In fact there's a general trend of transactivists rewriting history to suit them--they're saying Jeanne d'Arc was trans, they're saying trans people started the Stonewall riot. You know, they get pretty angry when we "misgender" them or don't allow that they know their own identities. Maybe they should extend that courtesy to other people. If someone doesn't out and out say they're trans, don't label them trans. Simply gender-nonconforming is not good enough. I wear pants all the time and forego makeup and I'm a woman, it doesn't make me a man.

Anonymous said...

This is great! But might it be possible to mention FTMs at all? It's important to point out that we have no way of knowing the assault rates for FTM because so often we are reported as "just another" dead female, or are afraid to report.

Anonymous said...

Thank You! I know it's near impossible to get stats right with so many moving targets. But the acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, white trans women sometimes use the pain of others to further their own agenda is refreshing. If other white people do it, why would I expect any different of white trans women?

Anonymous said...

The victim was Woolbert's stepdaughter, and she was 14, not 15. Also, in addition to trying to track anti-trans violence, Woolbert was also obsessed with tracking "terfs", which I feel adds a little something special to the fact that Woolbert is a convicted sex offender.

Valerie Keefe said...

We're obviously undercounting murders of trans people generally, because there's absolutely no fucking way white trans women are murdered less than white cis*women when white cis*men are murdered more often.