“Said Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart, ‘In all the work we do at Lambda Legal, we are fighting for a basic principle: everyone has the right to be true to their sexuality, gender identity and gender expression and to live, work and love with dignity and equality. This is a core American value. Yet transgender people in this country too often face harassment, discrimination and physical violence. This is unacceptable and must end.’
Transgender folks face a lot of street harassment, from both cismen and ciswomen (“cis” means people who identify with the gender identity they were assigned at birth).
For example, you may remember earlier in the year I wrote about assault incidents by cismen against transwomen in Queens. Two men assaulted Leslie Mora with a belt buckle in a targeted hate crime. Less than a month later, men shouted anti-gay slurs and threatened to slit the throat of Carmella Etienne. They also threw rocks and a beer bottle at her, and the resulting injuries left her in the hospital. The New York Daily News reported that “Etienne is now afraid to leave her home” and quoted her as saying, ‘The law will hopefully bring them to justice. I love being myself.’”
It is unfair and not right that just being oneself can mean so much hate and violence.
In the context of the work I primarily do (men harassing women), I want to share a few people’s thoughts.
On the Community Feministing blog, contributor Josh T. wrote about the specific harassment and difficulties transpeople face in public spaces.
I am trans bashed on the street constantly. People who present as cismen will start yelling, getting upset, moving to the other side of the street as if I am scary, a threat. Groups of teenagers will discuss me as I walk by; what ‘it’ is… I also experience this strange highbred of bashing and catcalling when someone simultaneously mocks my presentation and sarcastically expresses attraction. My experience is different from what ciswomen experience on the street. Ciswomen are followed and targeted by cat calling because of their proximity to fitting into the predefined role of men’s inferior. Trans folk have these experiences because we don’t fit. But both groups are targets of the everyday vocalizations that reassert male supremacy because we are the other. We are not men, so we are objects.
Blogger Bird of Paradox also wrote about street harassment a few months ago.
Street harassment happens. To me and to other trans women. Every day, everywhere. It’s cissexist and trans-misogynistic. It’s hate speech and it’s violence….Possibly the worst thing about it, in those moments when it happens and in thinking about it later, is the sense of helplessness coupled with the awareness of just how exposed, how vulnerable, how much of a minority we are. It’s depressing that cis people feel entitled to lash out with such casual violence in the first place – because, for them, there are no consequences for their hate speech. They’re not the ones who have to try to make their way through a life where they’re outnumbered by a ratio of thousands to one, a life where hostile scrutiny of their every move is the default.
To date, there have been 99 recorded murders of transgender persons in the United States for 2009. Outrageous. Yet there are police officers who trivialize and dismiss the harassment and assault experiences of transwomen. This is true for many ciswomen too, but officers also may unfairly judge a transwoman or question her identity, deterring transwomen from seeing law enforcement as a viable option for seeking justice and staying safe.
Rebecca Ashling wrote a comment about this on a Bird of Paradox’s blog post. “It would never occur to me to actually make any complaints about transphobic harrasment [sic] to the police. I know instinctively that I don’t belong to any of the categories of people they would take seriously.”
A positive recent change is that through The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, crimes against transgender people are now recognized as hate crimes. This is the first time a federal law has included protections for transgender people.
Mara Keisling, the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said about the occasion, “Every day transgender people live with the reality and the threat of personal violence, simply because of who they are. This must end and it must end now. The new law provides for some vital first steps in preventing these terrible crimes as well as addressing them when they occur.”
I hope that the law does lead to an improved climate of acceptance and non-hostility toward all transpeople, including on the streets. And I hope that awareness weeks and days of remembrance like today can help, too.