I wrote this paper for one of my classes this semester. It was worth 40% of my grade in that class. The class' purpose was to examine the literature, issues, and perspectives of transgender people of color. It was the hardest class of my graduate career. The instructor wanted it to be "less formal than academic" and to use the "style of your discipline" (which for me is APA.)
Still, it isn't the easiest read. It's still an academic paper, after all. However its topic is Violence against transgender people. So here it is, warts and all, exactly as I submitted it.
Oh, It got an A-.
Old Main, PSU, a few weeks ago
Still, it isn't the easiest read. It's still an academic paper, after all. However its topic is Violence against transgender people. So here it is, warts and all, exactly as I submitted it.
Oh, It got an A-.
Seminar paper: Trans of Color Critique
Pennsylvania State University
“There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that anti-Trans sentiments are pervasive in Western culture.” (Hill, D. B., & Willoughby, B. L., 2005, p. 531.) My area of research analyzes cisgender (cis) and transgender relations, specifically why do cis men hate transgender women to the point where the men murder them. According to research, the perpetrators are always male. (Jauk, 2013, p.815.)(Stoltzer, 2009, p.176.) I will approach this from an Adult Education perspective, as I believe that education is the only way that transgender (Trans) people can overcome the waves of hate and violence arrayed against them. I narrowed the scope of my research to transfeminine people to make the study more manageable.
This paper will examine physical and sexual violence on transgender people. Verbal harassment is so common that many transgender people don’t even consider it as violence. (Dauk, 2013, p. 812.) so for brevity’s sake, I won’t explore it. (I encounter verbal harassment almost every day when I am in public.) It will also examine self-violence by transgender people: suicide. I will then show how one can lead to the other. I selected these articles from the literature due to what they contained, but read them not just for content, but also examining the content for whiteness and intersectionality. I want to make sure my work does not use whiteness as a baseline, and that Trans of color are fairly represented.
I write this paper from my perspective as a Caucasian transgender woman of European heritage. I acknowledge that while I endure the struggles that almost all Trans people face in the United States, my struggles pale in comparison to those who face the intersectionality of racism, transphobia, and necropolitics. I write this paper as part of my search to understand the total Trans experience, not just what I and those I know encounter. As this paper is part of my search, I will include some anecdotes and thoughts from my journey.
Trans people are frequently victims of violence, “because of their gender non-conformity.” (Stotzer, 2009, p. 170.) Violence takes many forms, but Stotzer (2009) wrote that verbal harassment, physical violence (including murder), and sexual violence are the most common. (p.171.) “Numerous studies have demonstrated that transgender people experience high levels of violence from strangers and known others alike, and that they often face a lifetime of repeated victimization.” (Stotzer, 2009, p.171.) None of this is news to Trans people, as we live it. We always check our surrounding to make sure we are safe, and, among the group of Trans people I know, especially in Philadelphia, we never go anywhere alone at night.
I searched for sources of statistics of transgender violence. I found many different sources, and while their actual numbers may vary, they all agree that Trans people experience higher rates of violence than cis people. (Dinno, 2017, p. 1441.) I read many papers on the topic, yet only one separated reports by race. All others lumped all Trans people together for statistical purposes. That one report, Dinno (2017.), found that:
“Transfeminine residents aged 15 to 34 years who were Black or Latina were almost certainly more likely to be murdered than were their cisfeminine comparators. Indeed, as Table 1 shows, a large majority of transgender homicide risk is borne by young Black and Latina transfeminine individuals. Because the rate of cismasculine murders among Black and Latino US residents aged 15 to 34 years is so high, the possibility that transfeminine Black or Latina residents aged 15 to 34 years have even higher rates of being murdered is alarming." (p. 1446.)
Table 1 (Dinno, 2017, p. 1442.)
Stotzer (2009) mentioned Trans of color in his statistics of the typical Trans murder victim.
“They found that most [murder] victims were people of color (91%), most victims were poor and lived in major cities, most were biologically male but had some variant of a feminine presentation (92%), few murders received media coverage, all the assailants were male and used extreme levels of violence, and most of the murders were not investigated as hate crimes (71%), and most assailants go free. Only 46% had been solved, compared to 69% of other murders (Wilchins & Taylor, 2006).” (p.176.)
That’s a lot to unpack. I tried to find the report she cited, but was unsuccessful. The statistics note that 91% people of color and that only 46% of the murders are solved. Is there a correlation between race and cases not being solved? I searched, and found an article about Chester, PA. Maxon, J., Wright, K., & Rios, E. (2015) wrote “while Chester has one of the nation’s highest homicide rates, it has a far lower than average “clearance rate.” Not even one-third of last year’s 30 homicides have been solved, a rate less than half the national average.” (p.1.) The rate that murder victims of color have their killers caught is below the national average according to several studies. (Taylor, T. J., Holleran, D., & Topalli, V.,2009, p. 561.)( Riedel, M., 2008, p. 1145.)( Petersen, N., 2017, p. 372.)
The intersectionality of race and transgender means that those who murder transgender people have a good chance of never being arrested for the crime. As necropolitics asserts, their deaths serve as statistics and nothing more. However, many crimes are never reported as being crimes against transgender people. Stotzer (2009) wrote transgender people are rarely mentioned as victims because there is no place to list gender identity on a standard police form. (p. 176.)
I have the police report concerning the suicide of one of my dearest friends, who, while transfeminine, died in male clothing. The police report has no space for gender identity, even if her gender identity was known to the police on the scene. (Price, J., 2013, p.1.) Her autopsy report also didn’t mention that she was transgender, despite the toxicology report noting estrogen in the bloodstream. Also the autopsy also noted that her toenails were painted pink and that she had “previously augmented breasts.” (State of Maryland, 2013, p.1.) (This was in error and was later amended, as they were a natural result of the estrogen, not surgery.) Her life ended tragically, and the authorities didn’t have the capability of noting her transgender status, even after her widow informed them.
In addition to the issues with police reporting being unwilling to officially recognize transgender crime victims, one of the problems of studying transgender violence is that it often goes unreported. At the many transgender conferences I’ve attended, one of the topics often discussed informally is the need to “police ourselves” because of the perception that calling the police will lead to further discrimination. Many of my friends reported that the police discriminated against them in several ways. The research confirms this problem. Stotzer (2017) wrote that 7.7% of Trans people surveys were unjustly arrested, 37% of the perpetrators of verbal abuse were police, 14% of physical assaults were by law enforcement personnel, (p. 176.) and that 4.9% of sexual assaults were by police. (p. 173.) I couldn’t find statistics that separated those reports by race.
Trans people in the US experience discrimination from the police, but nothing compared to Latin American countries, where 80% of Trans women experienced gender-based violence. (Lanham, M., Ridgeway, K., Dayton, R., Castillo, B. M., Brennan, C., Davis, D. A.,& Cooke, J., 2019, p. 37.) I wondered if that number correlated with the experiences of Trans of Color here in the US, but I found no research either way.
With issues like those it’s not surprising that Trans people don’t trust the police. Most Trans people know we have to protect ourselves for that reason. Getting a dog and buying a gun are the two most common strategies. (Jauk, 2013, p.818.) Not everyone can afford those though. I carry pepper spray and an assortment of knives when I’m out in public (but not on campus.) A self-defense course for women recommended that I make sure my bag has heavy items in it so that it may also be swung as a weapon, and I have done that. I also have martial arts training. Due to hyper masculinization prior to transition, many transfeminine people have military experience as well. In my circles, I don’t know any transwomen who aren’t armed in some way while out in public. Despite all of that, am I still afraid? Sometimes. 56% of transgender people report feeling in public, and 43% reported that they felt uncomfortable in public as well. (Stotzer, 2017, p.174.) Again, I found no statistical breakout by race for those numbers.
More academics began studying the violence endured by Trans people after the turn of the 21st century. Hill and Willoughby developed a Genderism and Transphobia Scale (GTS). (Hill & Willoughby, 2005, p. 540.) They say that three key constructs can be used to conceptualize hate against trans persons: transphobia, genderism, and gender-bashing.” (p. 533.) Hill and Willoughby (2005) provide the following definition of these terms.
“Transphobia is an emotional disgust toward individuals who do not conform to society’s gender expectations…. Genderism is an ideology that reinforces the negative evaluation of gender non-conformity or an incongruence between sex and gender… Finally, gender-bashing refers to the assault and/or harassment of persons who do not conform to gender norms (Wilchins,1997). Thus, genderism is the broad negative cultural ideology, transphobia is the emotional disgust and fear, and gender-bashing is the fear manifest in acts of violence (Hill, 2002).” (pp. 533-4.)
Their terms make sense, and the GTS is quite thorough: it has 32 different indicators. Nagoshi, J. L., Adams, K. A., Terrell, H. K., Hill, E. D., Brzuzy, S., & Nagoshi, C. T. (2008) developed a different scale with only nine. (p.521.)
The Nagoshim et al.(2008) scale was developed on a college campus, and they made interesting assertions. They said that even college environments aren’t free from LGBT hate (Nagoshim et al., 2008, p.522.) Their scale concentrated on the nine issues that Kate Bornstein considered important, citing her 2004 book Gender Outlaw as well as her 2008 work My Gender Workbook. Another important set of findings were that lower education, right wing beliefs, and religious fundamentalism tended to discriminate more against LGB in general and Trans in particular. (Nagoshim et al., 2008, p.524.) Another important note: in developing their scale, Nagoshim et al. had a very low incidence of non-white respondents.
All of these methods and charts help predict violence against transgender people, but don’t address one of the most important factors: socioeconomic status. Jauk (2013) quoted Mara Keisling (NCTE) when she wrote “Low social class exacerbates the problem of trans violence because transgender individuals with more resources can choose to live in safer neighborhoods and can afford facial surgeries for enhanced visual conformity.” (p. 818.) As with many things in life, those who have the money have an easier way through life. For transfeminine people, facial surgery can be the difference between being targeted for violence or not.
Trans people also suffer a high rate of sexual violence. Stotzer (2009) notes that sexual violence is the most documented form of violence against Trans people. She also wrote that “perpetrators are motivated by hatred or negative attitudes toward transgender people.” (p.172.) Jauk (2013) states that 64% of Trans people report being sexually assaulted. I am one of them, as is my roommate. Neither of us reported these assaults to the police, for the reason listed in the discussion about law enforcement above.
Jauk (2013) also wrote that “Transgender women face disadvantage because they choose to be feminine in a world in which women and men devalue femininity.” (p. 816.) Julia Serano (2012) coined the term Trans-misogyny, writing “Trans-misogyny is steeped in the assumption that femaleness and femininity are inferior to, and exist primarily for the benefit of, maleness and masculinity.” (p.1.) Of note, Serano’s book Whipping Girl, from which the cited essay was developed, has been criticized for its whiteness. With men feeling negatively about cis women and feeling hatred toward Trans women, that high rate of sexual assault isn’t surprising.
In my case, people assume that since I’m trans, I’m there for their amusement. The first time I was sexually assaulted was 2009 in a Philadelphia gay bar. I was talking to two self-identified gay men about Star Trek when one of them suddenly grabbed my breasts with both hands. As this occurred before I started HRT, I was wearing breast forms, so I felt nothing. I was stunned and didn’t react immediately. Fortunately, the bouncer saw what happened and violently ejected both men. Through the years, I’ve had several incidences of men grabbing my breasts to “see if they’re real.” This must from their belief that they can do whatever they please because I’m Trans, and that makes me less than human.
I understand where they learn this. I grew up in the 1960s and 70s. In my very small town, all the boys were taught that they were superior to women in every way, and that women were “only good for two things, and one is raising kids.” Since I started doing Transgender focused talks at colleges and businesses in 2014, I’ve mentioned this, and asked if that’s still how boys are raised. Unfortunately, I’ve heard many times that this is still the case. I know that for myself and many trans women I’ve spoken with, this led to internalized transphobia, which made “coming out” to ourselves even harder. The intersectionality of seeing women as less than human as well as thinking transgender people are not human makes a powerful combination for hate. I found no research adding the intersectionality of race to this except for a piece covered in class: Eli´as Cosenza Krell’s Is Transmisogyny Killing Trans Women of Color? Black Trans Feminisms and the Exigencies of White Femininity (2017.).
What effect do the high levels of violence have on Trans people? According to research, it leads to self-harm. I found many studies making that connection. I’ve had my own issues with suicidal ideation, including attempts. For that reason, I approached this section with some apprehension.
Testa, R. J., Michaels, M. S., Bliss, W., Rogers, M. L., Balsam, K. F., & Joiner, T. (2017) wrote that:
“Research on suicidality among transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) people has revealed alarmingly high rates of suicidal ideation (SI) and suicide attempts, with 45%–77% of study respondents reporting a history of SI… and 28%–52% reporting a history of one or more suicide attempts… strikingly higher than the estimated lifetime prevalence of SI and suicide attempts in the general population of 13.5% and 4.6%, respectively” (p. 125.)
Testa studied the subject for many years with different combinations of researchers, and published several papers on the subject. (Testa, R. J., Sciacca, L. M., Wang, F., Hendricks, M. L., Goldblum, P., Bradford, J., & Bongar, B., 2012, p. 452.) One of the theories he discusses in depth is Joiner’s IPTS model. The IPTS model has three parts: “thwarted belongingness… perceived burdensomeness… and the acquired capability for self-harm.” (Testa, et al., 2017, p. 127.) I encountered this model in a Newsweek magazine article back in 2013 while researching a piece I was writing. Thwarted belongingness is a feeling of being alone. Perceived burdensomeness is a combination of self-hatred and feeling like a burden on others. These two are linked. The third factor is a lack of fear toward dying. That third factor is the ‘wild card’ in that it is the difference between SI and a suicide attempt. (Testa, et al., 2017, p. 127.)
Using my pen name, I wrote about Joiner’s theory in a piece about the dear friend’s suicide I mentioned earlier. I’m convinced that Joiner is correct.
“I previously mentioned Joiner's theory on Suicide. And it fit Lisa to a T. I have had those three things a few times in my life. And survived. Right now, I strongly feel two of them. But there is one that is NOT there. I Know I am not alone. That knowledge keeps me from calling out to my Sister "Hey Lisa! Wait up! Let's explore the Light together!" and following her away.” (Lynne, 2013, n.p.)
Testa and colleagues developed a Trans-centric model which they called the Gender Minority Stress and Resilience (GMSR) model, which is adaptation of Meyer’s Minority Stress Model. (Testa, R. J., Habarth, J., Peta, J., Balsam, K., & Bockting, W., 2015, p.65.)
(Testa, et al., 2015, p. 67.)
Distal stress factors are external to the person, while Proximal stress factors are internal. The distal factors lead to the proximal factors, which can lead to SI. However, there are the resilience factors: Community and Pride. In the model, these can counteract the negative stress factors. Being connected to the Trans community and having pride in their identity are crucial to surviving the negative experiences that affect Trans people daily. (Testa, et al., 2015, pp. 66-7.)
The Community aspect of the model relates back to Meyer’s model. This is significant.
“Meyer pointed out that not all of the effects of minority stress are negative. Members of minority groups typically develop coping and resilience in response to prejudice and other insults. In particular, by coalescing around a minority identity, minority members avail themselves of “important resources such as group solidarity and cohesiveness that protect minority members from the adverse mental health effects of minority stress” (p. 677). One way that minority members accomplish this is by creating a within-group identity against which they may then compare themselves, rather than using those whose prejudice they face as their comparison group. In this process, minority members begin to “evaluate themselves in comparison with others who are like them rather than with members of the dominant culture” (p. 677). This reappraisal allows members access to validation that might not otherwise be available to them. As a group, minority members create a positive view of themselves that effectively counteracts stigma.” (Hendricks, M. L., & Testa, R. J., 2012, p. 462.)
This applies to all minority groups, including Trans and Trans of color. I know in my case, the Trans community is who kept me alive when I was at the greatest risk of suicide. I began not caring about what society at large thought; I just wanted to be a positive force in my community. I stopped comparing my appearance to cisgender women, as I could never compete with them. Applying my experience as transgender, I hope that the Trans of color community, who face worse violence than me, find strength within their shared community.
Testa and colleagues mentioned the racial composition of their study group in each piece, and in each piece, they are overwhelmingly white. I wonder if they used more Trans of Color if the results would be different. While the model seems universal, the higher prevalence of violence against Trans of Color may change some of the variables they used.
Testa et al (2017) then compared the GMSR and IPTS models to possibly integrate those factors to explain SI in Trans people. (Testa, et al., 2017, p. 125.) For this, their study had 816 respondents, 86% of whom were white. They made an effort toward representation. “In addition, specific e-mails and postings were distributed recruiting “Trans People of Color” on applicable listervs, social media sites, and through professional networks of study collaborators.” (Testa, et al., 2017, p. 128.)
(Testa, et al., 2017, p. 129.)
When integrated, the model looked quite different. The major absence I noticed was the lack of positive mitigating factors from the GMSR model. I assume that these are accounted for by the IPTS model’s third factor: lack of fear toward dying, which while also not represented on the integrated model, is the mitigating factor in that model.
(Testa, et al., 2017, p. 129.)
However, their research also found “Although no significant differences were found in current SI based on race or living environment, SI did vary based on age, socioeconomic status, and gender identity.” (Testa, et al., 2017, p. 133.)
In researching Trans related violence; I hoped that whiteness wouldn’t be as prevalent as it was. The research showed that Transpeople of Color experienced far higher incidences of violence than white Trans people, yet all the research used white as the baseline. Burnes, T. R., Dexter, M. M., Richmond, K., Singh, A. A., & Cherrington, A. (2016) listed multiple possible stress factors.
“For individuals who engage in both social and medical transition at various points throughout the life span, there may be multiple, intersecting traumatic experiences that can serve as stressors. Such stressors include childhood sexual and physical abuse …familial neglect and social rejection… discrimination in health care, educational, and employment settings…barriers in legal policies…housing discrimination…and high rates of hate crimes…” (p.75.)
They mention all of those intersecting factors, but neglect racism, the intersectionality of which is a major factor in the lives of Trans of color. This reinforces the concept of necropolitics, which before this class I’d never encountered.
The extraction of value from Trans of color lives through biopolitical and necropolitics technologies not only serves the sovereign, but also indexes much more subtle and complex shifts in power. Trans rights activists' participation in and complicity with this process is what compels us to make this intervention. (Riley, S. C., Jin, H., Aren, A., & Susan, S., 2013, p. 71.)
The researchers I cited in this paper have the best of intentions. They’re documenting violence in Trans lives, and applying that data to search for solutions to the problems Trans people face. However, by using whiteness as their standard community, they ignore the people who suffer a far greater proportion of the violence: Trans of color. Ignoring Trans of Color reinforces that they are more valuable as statistics to bolster agendas, as well as to generate outrage which only helps the white Trans community.
Reflecting on this class in general, and the research I completed for the papers assigned, I’ve had to re-evaluate my own thoughts and prejudices. I examined my white privilege more deeply than I ever have.
I knew that Trans of Color were disproportionately murdered, and I’d read that was probably because more Trans of Color had to resort to sex work to survive due to the intersectionality of transphobia, misogyny, and racism. Sex work put them in harm’s way, thus contributing to the higher murder rate. It was a vicious cycle, which I would combat by trying to break the transphobia portion by activism and education. Yay me. Yes, in my ignorance, I was buying into the whole “white savior” trope, even if I didn’t realize it.
That’s the difference: now I realize it. I see the whiteness in the research, and understand the necropolitics involved in the lives and deaths of Transpeople in general, and Trans of color in particular. However, seeing whiteness and understanding necropolitics isn’t enough. I will be conducting my own research, and using what’s left of my life to work toward Trans rights. I must apply the knowledge I’ve gained of these concepts to ensure that my research truly represents all Trans people, and that I remember that all these numbers and statistics represent the lives of people like me, some of whom have a much worse situation than mine.
One person will not end transphobia, racism, or hate in general. It’s a process. Just as those Trans people who came before me made my journey possible, so my work should make the journeys of those Trans people after me easier. Only by keeping in mind what I’ve learned can I ensure my life and work have an effect on more than people like me.
It’s a dream I have.
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