“How to Kill a Transperson” by Ceridwen Troy
On Saturday, Sanesha Stewart, a transwoman of color living in the Bronx, was murdered in her own apartment. She was 25 years old. Her accused killer, Steve McMillan, had known her for months, yet when he was arrested, he claimed to have been enraged to find out that she was what the media coverage called not really a woman. He stabbed her over and over again in the chest and throat. She tried to fight him off; there were defensive wounds found on her hands.
On Tuesday, eighth-grader Lawrence King was in a classroom in Oxnard, Calif. He was openly gay, and often came to school in gender-bending clothing, makeup, jewelry and shoes. According to another student, it was “freaking the guys out”. One of them shot Lawrence in the head. He was declared brain-dead on Wednesday.
It is easy to look at cases like this and think, how tragic. How random. How senseless.
But then, you forget how easy it is to kill a transgender person.
You forget that all across this nation, faith leaders of all stripes, men and women who claim to speak for God Himself, call us sinners, call us abominations, call us evil.
You forget that at best the media depicts us as something to be pitied, something that our families must be strong and overcome. At worst, they depict us as abnormal, exploiting our bodies for ratings, exploiting the public’s fear of us for shock value.
You forget that on a good day, law enforcement agents are neglectful of us, and that far more frequently they join in our harassment. You forget the transwomen of color who are rounded up on suspicions of prostitution. You forget the beatings that go uninvestigated. You forget the molestation and rape we face when we are arrested.
You forget the medical establishment that drains our wallets for the therapy and hormones and surgeries they tell us we need. You forget the way we are then refused treatment when we are dying, dying of treatable diseases, dying of easily patched wounds.
You forget that, by the law of the land, it is legal in the majority of states to deny us employment, to deny us service, to deny us housing.
You forget the shelters and the rape crisis centers that will not allow us through their doors.
You forget that many of us do not even have family to turn to when we are at our most desperate.
You forget that the leaders of our own community have told us that it is not time for us to have rights, that it is not pragmatic for us to be considered worthy of the same respect as other human beings.
You forget that in our own circles, it is considered a negative thing to be too flamboyant. You forget the way our pride parades have been derided by our own community. You forget the scorn heaped upon drag queens by other gay men. You forget the fear to be seen in public with a friend who is considered too open, too queer.
You forget the way it seeps into the minds of transgender people, too. You forget the way a transsexual will shout that she is not a crossdresser, as if there were something wrong with that. You forget the catty names we call each other if we don’t “pass”.
You forget how many of us take our own lives every year.
You forget because the noise is always there, a constant drone in the background. Every newspaper piece that calls a transwoman “he” instead of “she”. Every talk show host who spends an hour talking about our genitals. Every childish taunt about “looking like a tranny”. Every transperson who talks about themselves as “true” transsexuals. Every activist and politician who tells us “now is not the time”.
You forget too, how easy it is to kill a person of color, with myths about “gangstas” and lies about immigrants. You forget how easy it is to kill a person living in poverty, cutting off her welfare because she is supposedly being paid to breed. You forget how easy it is to kill a sex worker, with sex-shaming language, slinging about slurs like “hooker” and “whore”.
You forget the message hidden inside every single one of those statements.
“You are less than I am. You are not worthy of the rights and respect that I am worthy of.
“You are not human.”
It is very easy to kill something that you do not see as human.
It is very easy to kill a transperson.