Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Trans Murder Apology

Where to begin?

Forums can be such catalysts for thoughtful articulations! Arguing with people has always been much more fruitful for my brain than analyzing by myself. Recently, as in, over the last two or three days, there has been a conversation going regarding the murder of Angie Zapata.

Now, any feminist who's been around the block has seen this exact same rationale leveled at women who are raped, "well if she didn't [whatever she did] then [that] wouldn't have happened to her!" And we call this rape apology.

I don't know if there is a term for this that I simply haven't come across yet, but there should be a term for the blame I see leveled at trans people for "getting themselves murdered" which is basically what I have been dealing with. In contemplating all the overlapping issues I could think of, I came up with a few things, which I'd like to share with y'all.

There seemed to be a few different concepts underlying people's responses to Angie's murder. The most prominent, which I have seen just about every time this topic comes up anywhere, is that she was "lying", she "deceived" the man she slept with, and don't we all get angry when we're lied to?!

I think it's a bit more complex than that, personally.

We have a situation where say, a transsexual (or intersexed) woman, who has not had bottom surgery, is getting sexually involved with a heterosexual, cissexual man.

Now, this woman is presenting as a woman because she in fact, is a woman. If she still has a penis in some form that doesn't make her a liar for presenting as a woman.

The cissexual man assumed this woman wouldn't have a penis, but if he got involved with a cissexual woman who had a hysterectomy he would likewise assume she had a uterus. This is because these are the typical bodily configurations of a woman. They are what we are taught to expect a woman to consist of. But they are not the only configurations of a woman. Her not telling him of her atypical bodily configuration doesn't make her a liar. She just happens to be a woman with a penis.

The real issue in any of these types of cases is with the murderer involved. It is he who is reacting to his assumptions being incorrect.

Now, there are two ways to react, assuming he is not attracted to women with intersex or transsexual histories. He can say "I'm sorry, I assumed you were cissexual and this doesn't work for me" and go on his merry way (I will refrain from getting into the latent unaddressed issues I believe such men have with their own sexualities) or a variation along the lines of "I'm sorry, I not sexually attracted to people with a penis" (I don't assign such issues to this response), OR he can go all irrationally rageful, as in the Zapata case, and beat or kill this woman for... Well, whatever exactly is going on in his head at the time. It sure seems to me like what these men really get angry about are those latent issues I mentioned earlier. Like somehow being attracted to a woman with a penis, or someone with an intersexed or male-bodied history makes you GAY, OMG.

This is why the issue really, really, never lies with the T or I person.

Yes there is baggage that comes along with ones sexuality and gender. Some guy might see my hairy legs and get instantly turned off. Fine he's not my type. We make these kinds of negotiations in establishing relationships constantly. But if I jump into bed with some guy and he discovers a much loathed hairy bush, he's not going to kill me for it.


Because it's understood that a part of dating is dealing with the fact that not everything one assumes about another person is going to be true. Ever. That is the nature of building a relationship, even a purely sexual one. Additionally, other information is routinely left out of discussion before sexual relations take place, and that discovery of that information, even important life impacting sorts of things, does not result in murder.

Taking that into account, there must be a unique element to the information of T/I history to the person hearing it, something that might cause such reactions.

I think Radha [yes she was there too] hit the nail on the head, that unique element is homophobia.

The man in this case is not upset that Angie didn't share information with him. Certainly a man you've been married to for 20 years probably IS upset at that, but that's not the case we're discussing here. The man in this story is upset because she "lied" to him, she "fooled" him into think she was a "real woman."

It's not her words or her lack of words that creates this "lie", it is her very existence, and more importantly, his response to her existence. He is attracted to her, and by his definition she is not a "real" woman, but in fact a man. Thus he was attracted to a man, in his mind. If this is what he is in fact responding to, as I'm arguing, then his resulting rage is rooted in homophobia.

These responses from these men aren't about the T/I person. They are purely about themselves and their fear of what their attraction to a person with an intersex/trans history means in relation to their self identity as a heterosexual male.

Which is why my cissexual husband wouldn't respond this way. I discussed this with him, setting up a scenario wherein he meets an attractive woman, they go home together and when things get naked or shortly before, he discovers she has a penis. I asked him what he would do. He said he would feel a mixture of "disappointed" and "terribly amused". Amused at this "oops" moment, because he is simply not sexually attracted to penis. Disappointed that he's not actually getting laid that night.

I asked him if he would feel this woman lied to him or deceived him. No, he said.

This is not to laud my husband. But it was mentioned in the thread also, that cis-men don't need to examine their sexuality in depth the way transpeople do. I couldn't possibly disagree more. In fact I think het-cis guys are the ones who MOST need to examine their sexuality, because (as my husband says too) their homophobia is directly rooted in their NOT doing so.

This is why hubby generally dislikes other het-cis guys (and actually actively prefers the company of gay men). The rampant, thinly veiled homophobia bothers him. The lack of security in their identity and sexuality grates on him. And he attributes it directly to the fact that they don't ever think about their sexuality, don't entertain the possibility that they might not be "all the way" straight. They can't even think about it because it causes how they view themselves to shift so much.

Whereas he did think about it. It occurred to him one day to be curious about the possibility and so he went out and watched some gay porn, studied it, absorbed his reactions to it. What did he discover? Did nothing for him, he envied the guys for their bodies a little bit, and then he went on his merry way.

I think if every "hetero" guy did this same thing, two things would happen. 1. There would be far fewer closeted gay men in the world (:P) and 2. us women would not be abused or murdered by them anymore (because I think misogyny and homo/transphobia are inseparably linked but that's an argument for another time), at the very least gay men and trans women in all their variations wouldn't be. No more Angie Zapata's and Matthew Shepard's and Duanna Johnson's etc etc...

Another element going on in these conversations is that they are simplistic victim blaming. I don't care if you preface your statement with "Now I'm not BLAMING this person for getting themselves murdered...BUT". Whatever follows is some variation of victim blaming!! "Don't swim with the sharks and expect your ass not to get bitten". Whatever way you try and spin statements like this you are putting responsibility for preventing crime against this woman on HER, and by it's very nature that diverts some blame from the perpetrator.

This is usually followed by "well I want people to stay safe! this is a dangerous world we live in!!"

Well, yah. Do any of us REALLY not know that though? Do we need YOU to tell us this?? Don't we as women learn very quickly what actions we need to perform, and what activities to avoid, to keep ourselves safe? Aren't those beaten into our heads on a regular basis from birth?

We are all conscious of the compromises we make in our lives to keep ourselves safe. And we shouldn't think about those compromises as anything but. I know they are, I'm sure you know they are.

And the bottom line, we shouldn't HAVE to make compromises to "stay safe". That is idealistic, I know, but letting the conversations in response to these events revolve around us and how we can stay safe we are in some ways letting abusers off the hook, when the conversation should be revolving solely around THEM and their atrocious actions.

Until there is a resounding "HOW DARE YOU" response to stories like Angie's from the mainstream I feel like I have to just yell it louder to compensate, and going immediately into "stay safe" reinforce exactly what they want...For us to continue making adjustments FOR THEM, thinking how WE can adjust OUR behavior FOR THEM, instead of insisting to be treated like human beings BY them.

When it's doing the latter, and calling men out on their homophobia and misogyny, which will eventually, gods willing, make it possible for us to live in, take up space in, the world without making those compromises.


  1. Thank you so much for this reasoned, deep post. Being transsexual puts one in a dangerous situation automatically just for the reason you mention: People can be very shocked to have their preconceptions proven wrong.

    Whilst I live my life as much as possible as a normal woman, not telling people I meet on the street or work with, I do try to make sure that anyone who comes close to being a romantic interest is aware of my history. I've had both men and women react with pure disgust and I think that had I not shared this earlier, it could have ended in a violent reaction (more so from the men than the women).

    I've challenged the heterosexuality of straight men and the homosexuality of lesbian (cis)women and seen the same reactions. I think there is something deep in the psyche of how society reacts to a woman that makes masculinity a horror.

    I've discussed this with friend of mine who is a terribly butch lesbian (and she looks just amazing in her tailored men's suits) and whilst an amazing amount of people assume she's male, she doesn't get the same reaction as I do when she tells them that she's not (she's not trans, so she doesn't identify as male). Why is her femininity being revealed so less worrying than my masculinity?

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Hey Julie, I don't know why you deleted your comment, I thought you asked a compelling question. I'd be happy to answer it if you come back. :)


    Why is her femininity being revealed so less worrying than my masculinity?

    Honestly I think it has to do with a lot of things. But one of them is that quite simply, women aren't taken as seriously, and femininity is viewed as a disempowered position, AND as essentially tied up in a female body. So, realized femininity is not threatening.

    Whereas I think male bodied femininity is seen as threatening as well as more of a source of ridicule because you are choosing the dis-empowered position (to their eyes). They think you're just a non-threatening woman, but, oh, "actually" a man! Suddenly the power positions in people's head switch around, I think.

    There is also the added element of the relative flexibility of the female role versus the male one. To be a "real man" there is a very narrow role one must conform to. Whereas women have forced people to recognize that there is a range of gender expression we can perform. For a transsexual man that's not necessarily better though, because it just means people will generally see you in their head as still a woman performing masculinity.

    Those are my initial thoughts anyway.

  4. @Watsername,

    I think you're spot on there. First of all, it is more acceptable for a woman to play with a wider range of gender roles, which is something I can even now enjoy post-transition!

    For men or transsexual women, the discovery of 'gender treason', giving up the masculinity for the 'inferior' femininity is almost the worst one can do.

    Men looking for a woman are suddenly faced with someone 'on their level' who they are still attracted to. Lesbian women find themselves with 'an evil, horrible, attacker' who they found themselves attracted to.

    It's funny how there are a great deal of people who focus on transsexual women having male advantage when we end up having neither. We lose before transition because we're so uncomfortable acting male and we lose post-transition because we're supposed to have enjoyed the advantages of male socialisation.

    My only memories of male socialisation is being beaten up at school and being sidelined in later life because I wasn't 'forceful enough'.

  5. I think Radha [yes she was there too] hit the nail on the head, that unique element is homophobia.

    As a cishetmale dude, I am 100% convinced that this is correct. And I am also 100% convinced that homophobia is all about misogyny.

  6. On that I think it is that there is a common root of both homophobia and misogyny. One I haven't entirely rooted out and named yet.


whatsername reserves the right to delete your comment if you choose to act like an asshole, so please engage respectfully