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Duanna Johnson sues police department, is murdered
November 16, 2008 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Duanna Johnson broke the news in June when vidotape of her (alleged) beating by Memphis police was leaked (youtube). According to Johnson, the provocation for the (alleged) assault was asking to be called by name rather than as "faggot" or "he/she." Involved in a lawsuit against the Memphis Police Department, she was murdered on Sunday. Answering a call for donations for funeral expenses, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition raised $5,300 in four hours. There are nagging questions about the circumstances of the case and the level of coverage this case has received in comparison to Prop. 8 protests. (More coverage: bilerico, feministing, the HRC, questioning transphobia.)
posted by KirkJobSluder (52 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
If it's on video, I don't think it's alleged anymore.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:22 PM on November 16, 2008


Yeah, the "alleged" was sarcastic, but no doubt there is some stupid person out there who will take a look at the video and say it was just an appropriate technique for non-compliant subjects.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:27 PM on November 16, 2008


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posted by youarenothere at 2:35 PM on November 16, 2008


Most homicide victims do not receive “enough” coverage compared to, say, innocent blonde female homicide victims. As ever, though, transgenderists insist that their issues are in the same category as gay issues and are the most important examples of same.
posted by joeclark at 2:41 PM on November 16, 2008


At least the cops were fired pretty quickly. Hopefully there will be charges.
posted by Snyder at 2:45 PM on November 16, 2008


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posted by Busithoth at 2:48 PM on November 16, 2008


joeclark: I don't see anyone saying that this is "most important." The argument is that the murder of a person pressing a lawsuit alleging police bias against lgbt persons should be a critically important issue. It's impossible to draw a hard boundary and say that police violence in this case is and X issue and not a Y issue.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:53 PM on November 16, 2008


As ever, though, transgenderists insist that their issues are in the same category as gay issues and are the most important examples of same.

What a ridiculously moronic thing to say.
posted by mediareport at 3:01 PM on November 16, 2008 [7 favorites]


Speaking as someone who has worked in law enforcement, the amount of stupid that would be required to insist the beating was appropriate for "non-compliance" under those circumstances with a straight face would be, well, Brobdingnagian.

(Not saying there isn't that much stupid in the world.)
posted by illiad at 3:05 PM on November 16, 2008


As ever, though, transgenderists insist that their issues are in the same category as gay issues and are the most important examples of same.

Issues aren't some zero-sum competition. You can be both for gay rights and against murder. Well, maybe you can't, but some people can.
posted by scottreynen at 3:26 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


What an awful video and ugly beating by those apparently sociopathic cops, rogue monsters corrupting the police force with their brutality.

Horrible she was murdered. I hope there is some justice in her death in making healthy changes "At great personal cost, Duanna was the public face of our community’s campaign against racism, homophobia, and transphobia,"
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posted by nickyskye at 3:36 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


There can be tension between some in the gay rights community and some in the transgender rights community and there is often tension between strains of feminist thought and transgender issues. Yet there should be no tension here and this is a case where all who care about equal rights should be able to come together.

It's a shame when all glbt issues/activists are painted with one brush, but it's a much smaller shame compared to what happened in Memphis.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:40 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can't possibly bear to watch that video. Just hearing about this makes me feel quite literally sick.

It does do me some good to see that the GLBT community raised funds to cover Duanna's funeral.

Echoing from Questioning Transphobia:
How loud do we have to scream for gay and lesbian organisations to spend any time, any resources, on trans rights? How loud for feminists to see trans women as women, as victims of a never-ending stream of hate crimes?

How loud must we scream to be treated as human, to get justice for our murdered sisters?
As a queer feminist, I have to say that the answer sadly, is too loud. I've been a trans-ally for what feels like eons now and every time I encounter such blatant transphobia, I have the same reaction as Keith Olbermann on Prop 8: What's it to you? Why does someone else's gender expression infringe on anyone else's well-being? I fundamentally do NOT get it.

Transphobia needs to be addressed as a part of homophobia. Any GLBT identified person or ally needs to be a trans-ally as well. It's the T! It's in the acronym! Pushing for tolerance and acceptance needs to be an over-arching thing, we're all under the big queer umbrella and we all deserve respect. Our community can't afford any more Brandon Teenas or Duanna Johnsons, and it's heart-wrenching that this is the level of intolerance that it takes before a lot of people notice that this type of injustice even exists.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:05 PM on November 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


As ever, though, transgenderists insist that their issues are in the same category as gay issues and are the most important examples of same.

Asshole.
posted by youarenothere at 4:23 PM on November 16, 2008


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posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:35 PM on November 16, 2008


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posted by CitizenD at 5:02 PM on November 16, 2008


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posted by Rykey at 5:36 PM on November 16, 2008


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posted by rtha at 5:47 PM on November 16, 2008


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posted by Faint of Butt at 5:56 PM on November 16, 2008


As ever, though, transgenderists insist that their issues are in the same category as gay issues and are the most important examples of same.

I'm sorry that when you see someone getting beaten and possibly murdered for being transgender you somehow believe that they are taking attention away from gays.
posted by Snyder at 5:56 PM on November 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Why does someone else's gender expression infringe on anyone else's well-being? I fundamentally do NOT get it.

I'm assuming you're being literal here. The answer I would wager is simply: The GLBT-phobes are uncomfortable in the knowledge that homosexuals and transgendered people even exist, and to deny the GLBT at least one thing that causes them to be less-than-equal gives the GLBT-phobes a sense of power, something that allows them to assuage their insecurities. Straights remain first-class citizens; GLBT are relegated to second-class status.

The GLBT-phobes will never publically admit to the above; they know better. But they'll do anything they can to eradicate what they think of as "those who have the buttsecks."
posted by illiad at 7:49 PM on November 16, 2008


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I'm not queer, and I won't pretend to speak for anyone involved in this issue. Still, it sounds like she was a sex worker. Or, at the very least alleged to be a sex worker. If so, it is not surprising that this something that the community might not be as actively involved in.

The truth is, for straight people Prop 8 is not that unappealing of an issue. Even if some people are icked by the idea of gay sex, all of us can appreciate the idea of two people who love each other wanting to be life partners. So I think with the exception of religious conservatives (which do count many people of color in their number), most people view gay marriage in a positive light. Much more positively than the actual concept of homosexuality. Because hetero is largely the norm, we straights don't really tend to "see" sex in what we do. So we can just be straight and be nice and clean and wholesome and maybe be a bit kinky when we do our own private things in our bedroom. But when it comes to everyday identity, no one has to think of us in a sexual context.

People in the LGBT community, by being the "other", are essentially presenting their sexuality out in public. Even the most timid, abstinent gay guy is going to represent in the average straight person's mind (and possibly even for those who are not) active, rather than passive, sexuality. So someone like Duanna is going to push a lot of buttons in the larger community. She breaks the taboo of sexual identity. She breaks the taboo of sex not being something you can sell to others. She breaks the taboo of being a person of color.

If you look at the stereotype of the acceptable gay indiividual in the public's mind, they are usually upper middle class, they are usually corporate or artisitic, they are not transgender, and they are often white.When people talk about gay marraige, and someone in the general public decides to view it in a positive light, odds are good that the image they have in their mind is two guys who match this stereotype.

A lot of straight people's comfort levels just do not extend to the idea of a transgender woman.

The only time I have ever really felt sexually awkward was when this gay guy hit on me (as in, physically my space with his groin area) when I had sent pretty clear singals to him that I wasn't interested. I think that must have been the only time in my life when I had a glimpse of what it must like to be a woman going to a bar and getting hit on by men. That incident aside, I've never personally felt threatened or weirded out by LGBT people. They seem like normal people who want all the normal things, and who should be treated like normal human beings. I don't understand people who are threatened by transgender people. I think pretty much the only interaction that might warrant it is if you had a "Crying Game" type experience. Maybe that's why people are threatened -- that they might hit on some hot chick somewhere, and then it turns out to be a guy. It might also be that some people really just don't like the idea of people crossing identity boundaries. Some people don't like shades of gray when it comes to identities or who a person is.

All I would ask of the trans community who, to be fair, have gone through a lot, is: please be forgiving when we use the wrong pronoun. Someone I know for a long time is a he now, but when I first met them they were a she, and I had a huge crush on "her" when I was in high school. So when I slip up occasionally and call him her, please let it slide a little?

To joeclark: as someone on the "outside" I can say that most straight people I know would have difficulties separating out the different groupings under LGBT. I agree that there are a lot of difference between gay and transgender issues and that purely on a demographic level the groups are very different and can be motivated by very different internal motivations. I'd argue it's probably harder to be transgender than gay, that homosexuality is at least more known and understood, and that the social infrastructure is set up to accommodate homosexuality (aside from marriage, at least). I have no evidence to prove this, but I'm guessing that gays, overall, are more economically and politically successful than transgenders. All that said, transgender issues do fall into the same general category as gay issues simply because most of the issues for transgenders center around disenfranchisement, persecution, and prejudice. And here, there is a lot of overlap between gay issues and transgender issues. There is still a lot of work ahead if full equal rights for homosexuals are to be achieved. But transgender people are really only now being able to get any kind of recognition that they exist. For them, equal rights are probably decades away.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:39 PM on November 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Transgender issues are transgender issues. Transgenderists insist they are gay issues. Sometimes they insist that gays are actually transgendered and didn’t know it.
posted by joeclark at 9:32 PM on November 16, 2008


Kirk Job-Sluder specifically linked to coverage that complained that e.g. Proposition 8 was getting more coverage than this issue. It’s legitimate to counter those complaints.

I thought the issue was the homicide. If transgender activists concentrated more on that actual issue, they’d have more people supporting them on that actual issue. Not everything is about Proposition 8 in one way or another, is it?
posted by joeclark at 9:35 PM on November 16, 2008


I think they might be saying the issue is solidarity. Something horrific happens and, yes, okay Prop 8 is a big deal but why isn't the gay community up in arms about the death of "one of their own" (so to speak).

This seems to me similar to how it's panned out for people of color. There are efforts to have a united front of "People of Color" working together to fight generalized racism, but in the long run their interests are going to be in conflict, or there will be other factors that minimize a coordinated response.

Right now Prop 8 is a useful watermark for measuring the "attention" of the gay community. So I think it's less a criticism and more just what the title of the article says -- where's the outrage? Here's the money quote:
Don’t think I’m being deliberately unrealistic or dismissive here. I don’t deny that the passage of Proposition 8 is harmful to the LGBT community and bears much anger, attention, and agitation. I understand the difference in magnitude of the number lives directly affected by the passage of Proposition 8 versus the number of lives directly affected by Duanna Johnson’s murder. I get that.

Yet still, the disparity in attention is damn stark. And that skew isn’t limited to this particular incident; it is a skew that is present in the collective coverage of and attention paid to all violence against trans women of color. And it is a skew that reflects what the GLb(t) mainstream chosen to prioritize with time, energy, and resources, and what it has chosen to address primarily with lip service and leftovers.
If I felt disenfranchised by people who were supposed to be, you know, my people, I'm sure I'd be upset too.

Realistically, there is not a group outside of LGB etc. that would embrace transgender people (at least within most of the Western world. "Trans" bathrooms are becoming common in Thailand). No offense to the gay community, and as a straight white male I have really no right to say this at all, but it seems to me that of all the letters in LGBT those who are "G" are much more accepted in society in general. For lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders, general acceptance is much more difficult and for them the solidarity might be more important.

If I were bisexual or transgender, I might look at the current focus on gay marriage and think something like, "Okay, it's great that we'll be able to marry, but at the same time I am concerned that part of this is about mainstreaming homosexuality rather than actually pushing forward the idea that differing notions and practices of sexuality and gender are not just okay, but actually really positive."
posted by Deathalicious at 9:59 PM on November 16, 2008


Transgender issues are transgender issues. Transgenderists insist they are gay issues. Sometimes they insist that gays are actually transgendered and didn’t know it.

Oh, my stars and garters!
posted by sondrialiac at 10:30 PM on November 16, 2008


Transgender issues are transgender issues. Transgenderists insist they are gay issues. Sometimes they insist that gays are actually transgendered and didn’t know it.

The problem here is, how do you separate the two? Was Duanna Johnson beaten because she was transsexual, or because the cop saw her as a "faggot" in drag? Was Lawrence King killed because he was out of the closet in his middle school? Or because he visibly cross-dressed? The "tranny panic" defense is not that much different from the "gay panic" defense successfully used by the man who killed Victor Manious.

There is also a cross-over with marriage as well. Many transsexual people are involved in legally same sex relationships even though those relationships are heterosexual from their perspective.

I thought the issue was the homicide.

The issue is the homicide of a woman who had become a visible critic of anti-gay and anti-transgender bias by a police department.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:15 AM on November 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


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posted by cashman at 7:28 AM on November 17, 2008


I'm not sure the implied cause-effect in the title "Duanna Johnson sues police department, is murdered" is really appropriate here.
posted by electroboy at 8:04 AM on November 17, 2008


I'm with electroboy on the choice of headline.
posted by alby at 8:46 AM on November 17, 2008


My fault, trying to minimize verbage without implying cause/effect was tough.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:58 AM on November 17, 2008


Transgender issues are transgender issues. Transgenderists insist they are gay issues. Sometimes they insist that gays are actually transgendered and didn’t know it.

*bangs head on desk*

Good. Fine. Let's draw strong lines, because god knows divide-and-conquer is what works best.

Issues that pertain to gay men should not be considered important by lesbians (or straight women). Issues that affect black people should not be of concern to anyone not black. Events that hit the "gay community" in the face should not be considered hurtful by anyone not in the "gay community."

It's a good thing that no lesbians or straight people stepped up to the plate in the early days of the AIDS crisis. It's really awesome that no men ever offer support to women suffering from breast cancer. I bet it would have been SUPER if straight people hadn't stood side-by-side with gay people in the aftermath of Matthew Shepard's murder.

Because we should just stick to our own kind, and refuse to see or acknowledge or seek connection.

Am. I. Rite?
posted by rtha at 9:24 AM on November 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


The problem is there are so many homicides in (e.g.) the U.S. that by definition not all of them can attract significant media attention. Even if you define “media” narrowly to include only incumbent or old media, it takes something as calamitous as 9/11 to prompt the New York Times to run a biography of everyone killed in the attacks, for example.

Individual homicides often do not get a lot of attention. There is a kind of power-law effect that causes some homicides to attract prolonged and detailed attention, like the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson, Matthew Shepard, and (here in Toronto) Jane Creba. In a lot of cases, critics complain that other murder victims aren’t getting the same amount of attention and that is because news media have made a choice to focus on a formerly famous football star’s wife, a crucified young waif, or a pretty blonde girl (to reuse the previous examples).

In fact, it might not be conscious bias at work but simply the power-law effect that guarantees only some events get a lot of attention. There isn’t necessarily a reason; power-law effects are emergent phenomena.

The issue is “Did this murder get the attention it deserved?” Well, maybe it did – we’re talking about it here. The issue is not “Why does Prop 8 get so much attention?” and it also isn’t “Why did [some other murder] get more attention?”

In other words, no, they aren’t necessarily picking on the victim because the victim was transgendered.
posted by joeclark at 12:41 PM on November 17, 2008


The issue is “Did this murder get the attention it deserved?”

In other words, no, they aren’t necessarily picking on the victim because the victim was transgendered.

Well, the problem is that there's a lot of tragedy in this story, but they're not all connected directly.

Event 1. Transgendered woman who works as a street level prostitute is arrested and abused by police because of her gender and later sues police for the abuse. She's arrested for being a prostitute and abused for being transgendered.

Event 2. Transgendered woman who works as a street level prostitute is murdered, possibly due to her gender, but it's completely unknown. Most likely murdered because of her work as a street level prostitute.

The responsible parties in events 1 and 2 appear to be unrelated, but the motivation behind the crimes may be similar and directed at her because of her gender. Either way it's pretty terrible.
posted by electroboy at 12:58 PM on November 17, 2008


IMO calling this awful thing a "transgender issue", "gay issue", "race issue" and/or "feminist issue" are all wrong. There is no subsection of people who ought to be especially outraged at the threat to one of their own. What this is, is a police issue, and the threat is to everyone, including cops themselves.

There seems to be an attitude of contempt and hatred and cruelty, not unique to American cops but certainly most distinct in them among first-world nations, that they take to the public, those whom they are expected to "protect and serve". Watch American street-cop TV shows (there are a million of 'em, I need not list any), and then do the same with European shows ("The Bill", "Inspector Rex"), and compare the attitudes of the cops. Now I realize that it's hardly the fault of the police, and surely is a significant burden to them, that so many TV shows unimaginatively and inaccurately feature them running around doing absurdly over-the-top things. (Those who work with computers will empathize.) However, whether TV creates or reflects the social narrative, that social narrative does exist.

Verbal harassment is police brutality. There is absolutely no reason for a police officer to address any person as "faggot", no matter what, even if the "faggot" in question is shooting a gun at them (although in that case it would be understandable and forgivable, it's still unprofessional). Maybe it stems from American fetishizing of free speech - but on the other hand, mainstream Americans feel no shame about restricting say, store clerks and DMV employees from speaking as they see fit.

Verbal brutality has vast and wideranging toxic effects. I am sure it strongly influences maltreatment of American prisoners, escalation of violence against and by police, fear of police by the lower and lower-middle classes (and hence reluctance to report crimes and act as witnesses), and distaste for police--snobbery of them--by upper middle and upper classes, whether liberally or conservatively inclined or both. Politicians use police, but they don't respect them. And of course this sense of disrespect and isolation makes the cops themselves more angry and contemptuous of the ungrateful, fearful, stupid public. Because the cops, on a daily basis, see people at their absolute worst, they come to think that that is how people are, that an "innocent" is just a crim who hasn't been caught yet. Toxic.

I'd recommend taking that tactic: Duanna's individual circumstances are relevant only insofar as they serve as a "handle" for police verbal brutality towards her. The police brutality is the issue, and that's something that affects anyone who deals with them.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:35 PM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


aeschenkarnos: I think that it's dangerous to gloss over the strong possibility that this was not just a case of police entitlement, but an expression of a particular form of bias against a class of Memphis residents. If it was the case that everyone was treated equally badly, then we have a very different problem.

electroboy: Even for persons of high-risk occupation, the chance of being shot is quite low in the United States. For a person to be a victim of both police brutality and a later murder should arouse considerable suspicions.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:12 PM on November 17, 2008


If it was the case that everyone was treated equally badly,
I'd be very surprised if it wasn't. It seems unlikely that the police would single out transsexuals to uniquely be treated with gross disrespect.

For a person to be a victim of both police brutality and a later murder should arouse considerable suspicions.
Is there any serious reason to suspect her murderers were cops?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:20 PM on November 17, 2008


It seems unlikely that the police would single out transsexuals to uniquely be treated with gross disrespect.

And yet...

Transphobia is pretty rampant and appalling. There's something jarring about violating both the gender and sexuality norms that infects even the GLB section of the queer community with transphobia at times. Certainly transsexuality is the area of queer identity that is the least accessible to the straight world - compounded by the need/desire by trans folk to "pass." I would wager that yes, transsexuals, especially transsexual sex workers, ARE treated with unique disrespect by some members of the police.

And to answer this: Why does someone else's gender expression infringe on anyone else's well-being? I fundamentally do NOT get it.

I'm assuming you're being literal here. The answer I would wager is simply: The GLBT-phobes are uncomfortable in the knowledge that homosexuals and transgendered people even exist, and to deny the GLBT at least one thing that causes them to be less-than-equal gives the GLBT-phobes a sense of power, something that allows them to assuage their insecurities. Straights remain first-class citizens; GLBT are relegated to second-class status.


Oh, I know all about identity politics and the subjugation of the other. I just don't think it should happen. Period. Creating "second class citizens" so that you can feel that your status is elevated because you're x and that other person over there is y is the societal equivalent of bullies on the playground who decide that you're uncool because you're wearing green. We're all CITIZENS. I get that heterosexuality is the norm in our society, so heteros want to preserve their status by subjugating the GLB crowd, who in turn feel that gender normativity makes them of higher status than the T folk.

I just think that this whole thing is a mess and we all need to come together under the big queer umbrella and fly the freak flag high, because we're ALL freaks on some level. And really, our identities shouldn't fundamentally threaten anyone. Just because I'm queer doesn't make you queer by association if you sit next to me! Promise! And my trans friends haven't made me start binding and taking testosterone. Really! Our identities are all valid expressions of the human spirit! Anyone else's sexuality/gender/relationship choice/religious belief does not and SHOULD not impinge on your ability to be your true self. WE'RE ALL PRECIOUS FUCKING SNOWFLAKES, G-DDAMNIT.

I know I'm an idealist, I know. I have a dream, man. And in the meantime, I'll be sitting in my little corner singing kumbaya.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:47 PM on November 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


Even for persons of high-risk occupation, the chance of being shot is quite low in the United States.

I'm not sure you can back up that assertion, as I'm unaware of any data that correlates your chances of being shot to death with being a prostitute, let alone a transgendered one. Memphis has an extremely high murder rate, which, like my city, is mostly confined to areas of high drug activity.

So yes, your overall risk of being shot as an American is pretty low, but as a street level transgendered prostitute in an area of high drug activity in a city with one of the highest violent crime rates in the US, it's a lot higher.
posted by electroboy at 2:49 PM on November 17, 2008


electroboy: That article claims that victimization were 1,900 per 100,000. Or in other words, just under 2% across all violent crime. Certainly I will agree that it's a lot higher on the basis of race, gender and gender expression, but still, that's one heck of a coincidence.

aeschenkarnos: I'm not saying that the police are singling lgbt people out, although that would not be unheard of. If the accusations of Johnson and her lawyer are true, then this is part of a pattern of bias that happens frequently when police work with lgbt suspects, witnesses, and persons reporting crimes.

Is it known that a police officer or a former police officer are suspects? Not at this time, but statistically speaking, random murders are in the minority.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:20 PM on November 17, 2008


The link was mostly to illustrate the fact that Memphis is a violent city. Besides, 1900 reported violent crimes per 100,000 people doesn't equal a 2% probability of being victimized. I obviously don't have the actuarial tables on being a drug addicted transgendered street prostitute in North Memphis, but I'm reasonably confident their risk is a lot higher than the general population.
posted by electroboy at 8:56 PM on November 17, 2008


What grapefruitmoon and KirkJobSluder said. I've been feeling somewhat battered by global and local events affecting trans women lately - particularly local, with the Julie Bindel kerfuffle - so all I really have to contribute is that I'm not sure Duanna was a sex worker; I thought it was that when she was originally picked up by the local police she was simply in "the wrong part of town" while being black, trans and female. Trans women - and particularly trans women of colour - are often assumed by police and the media to be sex workers whether they are or not; it seems to be one of the (many) ways people can convince themselves not to have to care about our deaths, since apparently sex workers are worth less than real people.

This week there are events in many cities worldwide to mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

I am perplexed by the implication that the causes of trans and gay rights are considered separate by anyone; I've always thought the two were linked because one of the primary crimes of both trans people and gay people is that we both defy gender roles. Much of the abuse that I've seen directed at gay men has been for not being "the way a man should be", which seems pretty damn linked to trans issues as far as I'm concerned. Splitting us up into little groups who all fight our own corner against everyone else (and who deny intersection) is a game for our enemies, not our allies.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:23 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


ArmyOfKittens

There's a few news stories that confirm she was living a pretty marginal existence both before and after her encounters with the police. By one report, she had been living in an abandoned house and was being supported by an elderly neighbor. It appears to be pretty well supported that she was using sex work to support her drug habit as well. My point is not to belittle her or suggest that her life was worth less than anyone else's, but to reinforce that she was living a marginal existence that had significant risks, not just from the police.
posted by electroboy at 8:16 AM on November 18, 2008


ArmyofKittens, please stop being perplexed. Trans and gay rights are, in fact, separate. I assume you want “gender identity” added to human-rights laws, on the assumption that “gender,” “sex,” and “sexual orientation” are insufficient. (Not all places agree with this assessment, viz Ontario.)

You seem to be suggesting that viewing these separate issues as such implies that one is more equal than the other. This is an unfair suggestion. It is a perfectly ethical distinction to make, just as differentiating between e.g. race and disability in human-rights law is an ethical distinction. It does not imply that discrimination against any named group is less undesirable or more permissible.
posted by joeclark at 3:18 PM on November 21, 2008


Trans and gay rights are, in fact, separate.

How so? Or, I should say, how, and why, should they be?

Gay men and lesbians have been beaten up, and worse, for appearing to crossing gender lines. The one time I was (nearly) gay-bashed, it was by a guy who chased me down the escalator at Dupont Circle, screaming "You think you a man, bitch? You think you a man? I'll show what a man is!" Nearly every gay man I've known has been "accused" of being like a girl if he was perceived as gay. When I was growing up, "faggot" was a synonym for weak, girly, feminine. It's not very common any more, I hope, but coming out used to entail fielding the question (if you're a lesbian) "So which one of you's the man?"

I am not transgender - except in the sense of standing in political solidarity with the trans community - but I am a butch dyke who gets called sir all the time, and I'm not even trying to pass.

So. Why, and how, are they separate?
posted by rtha at 4:11 PM on November 21, 2008


joeclark, obviously gay rights and trans rights are separate. Gays want the right to be treated equally even though they'd rather pork someone with the same kind of genitals. Trans want the right to be recognized and treated as a gender that's different than the genitals they were born with.

However, as army of kittens said, the causes of gay and trans rights are not separate. Which is to say: both groups want to be treated as normal human beings, and be able to live normal and fulfilling lives with all of the "straight" trappings like not getting fired for your identity, getting married, having kids, etc. For each of them, the rights are pretty different. However, the cause seriously is the same: being treated like a human being even though you're not behaving the way that, for lack of a better word, "normals" do.

I am a straight male who identifies as straight. This means that I can get married, have children or not, adopt, teach children, be a member of nearly any religion I choose, become a bishop, priest, rabbi, or sheikh (after making the necessary conversions in each case), know that I got fired because I'm a lousy worker, not an unusual porker, and so on. I have a number of acquaintances in the queer community so I'm aware there are issues, and from them and the news I get a pretty clear idea of what those issues are although I am entirely outside of them. As I said in an earlier comment, many straight people are not going to be nearly so discerning when it comes to non-"normals". I don't think most members of the homophobic community care whether you are a gay man, a straight man who likes to wear the odd dress, or a woman who happens to be born with a penis -- all of you are equally awful in their eyes, and none of you should get married, have kids, adopt kids, teach kids, etc. etc.

Race and disability are separate in human rights law because they are totally and completely different spheres of reference. You can be a black man in a wheelchair, and be discriminated against both because you're black and disabled. But generally you're trans or you're gay (I guess technically if you were both trans and gay, then...you would appear genitally heterosexual, but since you, say, self identified as a gay man even though you were born with woman parts, then you would be having homosexual love with your boyfriend...). And generally, if you're discriminated against, it's because you're queer. You're not going to have one right infringed because your trans, and another right infringed because your gay.

I think a better analogy would be rights for the physically disabled and rights for the mentally disabled (with physically standing for gay and mentally standing for trans). One has been around longer and has a little more cache, and I can see how some in the physically disabled camp might resent or seek to distance themselves from the mentally disabled newcomers. Requiring public buildings to have ramps is one thing, but requiring corporations to accommodate, say, someone with ADHD might seem to some of them to be outrageous. But you know what? Deep down, they are the same issues, and really they should stick together. I think the same is true for the queer community.

joeclark, you feel very strongly about it but it seems to me the extent of your argument is that the causes and issues are simply different. You also seem to suggest that the trans community acts as if their issues are more important than gay issues. Your earlier comment -- that some transgendered people have suggested the gay people are simply transgendered - makes me wonder whether you harbor some resentment towards transgendered individuals.

However, thinking over all of this, it occurs to me as a straight male I should probably just keep my mouth shut.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:11 PM on November 21, 2008


Deathalicious: I think you make some good points - but it would help you to simplify your arguments if you thought of "gay rights" as being inclusive of trans-rights. All too often the T is left off of the GLBT community out of exclusion from the GLB's who say "your rights are different." And they're not. The right to present your sexuality and your gender in a way that's true to yourself is the same right that gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans folk all fight for. A lot of trans folk *are* also queer in some way and even those who are trans and heterosexual fight a lot of the same prejudices as their GLB bretheren and sisteren.

GLBT issues are G. L. B. AND. T. issues. The rights of any members of the community need to be fought for and protected by ALL members of the community and it saddens me to see a sort of latent transphobia coming out of GLB's when they say "Oh, trans issues aren't gay issues. We don't need to worry about those."

I think as a queer community and a human community we can come together around the idea that our sexualities are and should be viewed as valid, and this is something worth fighting for.

Yeah, I'm still over here singing "Kumbaya." La la la.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:44 AM on November 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


Deathalicious, go right ahead with your wondering.
posted by joeclark at 4:43 PM on November 22, 2008


joeclark, you brought it up the relationship between gay and trans rights first, and you keep interjecting your disdain for the apparently uppity transpeople into this discussion. Perhaps you should find an elsewhere to vent.

Okay, back to singing kumbaya with grapefruitmoon.
posted by desuetude at 6:30 PM on November 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


from Questioning Transphobia, After Duanna Johnson: What Next?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:08 PM on November 23, 2008


As ever, any disagreement with “trans” orthodoxy is viewed as disdain. I think you should reread my comments here. Nonetheless, while you might want to, you don’t control other people’s opinions.
posted by joeclark at 9:24 PM on November 24, 2008


Asking you to explain and expand on your view that trans issues should be and are entirely separate from glb issues does not constitute marching in lockstop with some alleged trans orthodoxy. Deathalicious offered some thoughtful commentary, and all you offer in return is single-sentence snark. I asked you directly to explain how and why they should be separate, but you've declined to address that. Asking you to explain your point of view is not attempting to control your opinion.

What I view with disdain is your tone of sneering contempt - "trans" in scare quotes? Really? Why? - and your unwillingness to answer the questions posed to you.
posted by rtha at 6:14 AM on November 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


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