As the title suggests, everything on this blog concerns violence against trans women.
The Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project is a trans feminist project addressing issues of systematic, institutional and interpersonal violence and oppression experienced by trans women (those who were coercively assigned male at birth and identify or are identified as women/female) across multiple identities (e.g., race, class, dis/ability, citizen-status, nationality, sexuality, age, HIV status, and form, status, or age of transition, etc.)
Ida Hammer is a writer and social justice communicator. She organizes the Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project. She presents workshops and trainings on cis privilege and being a trans ally. She's also involved in organizing against sexualized violence. She's a proud dyke-identified trans woman and an organizer of the New York City Dyke March.
Trans women are disproportionately impacted by murder and violence, and yet there is a serious gap in anti-violence and anti-oppression organizing when it comes to people who live at the intersection of being both trans and a woman.
November 20th of each year is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Events across the United States and the world are held to memorialize trans people who were killed in the past year. The murders are called anti-trans violence, even though the dead are exclusively trans women or people who were female-presenting at the time of their death. If being a trans person were the main factor, why are there not roughly equivalent numbers of male trans people who are targeted? We believe it’s because these women are no less the targets of anti-female violence than they are of anti-trans violence.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects, which tracks the murders of people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV affected communities in an annual Hate Violence Report, has found that trans women are disproportionately impacted by murder. In 2010, 44 percent of LGBTQH (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected) murder victims were trans women, and in 2009 trans women were 50 percent of murder victims. Yet trans people as a whole are only about 1 percent of the LGBTQH population. Trans women also more often experienced multiple forms of violence and more severe violence, as well as more police bias and violence.
The Trans Women’s Anti-Violence Project is a trans feminist initiative addressing all aspects of violence experienced by trans women.
As people who are both female and trans, trans women experience the overlapping effects of anti-trans and anti-female discrimination and violence. In her book, Whipping Girl, Julia Serano popularized the term “trans-misogyny” to describe the unique intersection of discrimination and violence that is simultaneously anti-trans and anti-female. It is trans-misogyny that is the focus of the Trans Women’s Anti-Violence Project.
Anti-violence organizing that addresses violence against women generally focuses on cis women, while failing to account for violence against trans women. And anti-violence organizing that addresses violence against trans people generally tends to treat violence against trans people as nongendered, which also fails to account for violence against trans women.
Trans women experience anti-female violence and discrimination as women. But this gendered violence and discrimination is masked by gender-neutral language identifying it as against trans people. Framing violence and discrimination against trans women as purely anti-trans — instead of anti-female — prevents us from understanding its intersectional roots.
This year, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released, Injustice at Every Turn, a national survey of discrimination against trans people. Significant gender differences are documented throughout the report with trans women and girls experiencing higher rates of violence and discrimination than that of male and nonbinary trans people.
Trans women experience higher rates of physical and sexual assault, less advancement in education and more discrimination in hiring. They are more likely to be fired and denied promotions, more likely to do survival sex work or trade sex for housing and are more often affected by HIV. They are also more likely to have a court stop or limit their relationship with their children, are at increased risk of incarceration, serve more time and experience greater physical and sexualized assault from law enforcement and while incarcerated.
While the Trans Women’s Anti-Violence Project believes that gender differences in violence and discrimination are important, we also believe that racialized violence and discrimination are no less important. The publications, Injustice at Every Turn and Hate Violence Report show that trans women of color disproportionately bear the brunt of the violence and discrimination.
Too often, violence against trans women is not seen as violence against women. But as the scholar and activist, Barbara Smith, said, “Feminism is the political theory and practice to free all women; women of color, working-class women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women, as well as white economically privileged heterosexual women.”
This is the feminism on which the Trans Women’s Anti-Violence Project is based. Trans women are women, and so their issues are feminist issues. We agree with Smith: “Anything less than this is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement.”
(Originally published in On The Issues Magazine)
The bodies of women have been turning up for a year now on Gilgo Beach in Long Island. These women are the victims of a serial killer who has been using the remote shore as a dumping ground. A total of 10 bodies have been discovered since the first four women’s remains were found on the overgrown beach last December. The killer has specifically targeted women who were selling sexual services.
What we’re not hearing much about is the one of those who was killed was a trans woman. This Asian woman has been misidentified by the police and media as a “man wearing women’s clothing,” and otherwise constantly misgendered. Since she was presenting herself as female at the time of her death, and all the other victims have been women, the Trans Women’s Anti-Violence Project believes it is appropriate to recognize this victim as a woman.
While the police and media fail to correctly identify her (if they acknowledge her at all), this unknown woman also hasn’t been recognized by the trans community. For instance, she is not listed on the Transgender Day of Remembrance website, which keeps track of murder trans people. So it’s no surprise if she wasn’t remembered at any of the memorials and vigils that were held last month.
What is most obvious is that this woman was not so much targeted for being trans, as she was for being a sex worker. Trans women are disproportionately represented in sex work. According to the report “Injustice at Every Turn,” 15% of trans woman have done sex work. For comparison, that same report notes that one percent of cis women have done sex work.
Because we recognize the impact violence against sex workers has of trans women, the Trans Women’s Anti-Violence Project is co-sponsoring International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, NYC:
On December 17, 2011 people in the sex trade and the people who love and support us will gather at Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan from 2 to 4 pm to hold a vigil for the victims of the Long Island killers and the many other people killed every year because they trade sex and are vulnerable to violence. The event will feature community activist speakers, a candle lighting, and a reading of the names of people in the sex trade who have been murdered this year.
WHEN: Saturday, December 17, 2011 from 2 to 4 pm
WHERE: Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan, 164 West 100th Street near Amsterdam Avenue. 1, 2, or 3 train to 96th Street. New York City.
WHO: Organized by sex worker support and advocacy groups the Red Umbrella Project and the Sex Workers Outreach Project New York. Attendees will be people currently or formerly involved in the sex trades and our friends, family, allies, and those concerned for our health and safety.
Being a trans hooker is hard work these days. Not only do you have to navigate a potentially dangerous work environment, try to stay out of the criminal justice system, possibly deal with being HIV+, often live precariously without immigration status in the country you work in, worry about violence and harassment from other sex workers, and deal with a society that puts so much stigma onto your profession that you might not be able to get stable housing, you also have to hear just about every non-sex working trans person alternately use your existence as a political pawn in their campaigns for middle-class privileges (often called “rights”) and condemn you for either being a victim or making the movement look bad. As I said, it’s hard work.
Here are some of the dumbass things you’re probably going to hear regularly when you enter non-sex working trans spaces, especially trans activist spaces (and these activists will, of course, lament the lack of involvement from sex workers in their efforts).
Sex work is perfectly fine as a choice, but we need to talk about how survival sex work and “trafficking” are hurting our community!
What they’re actually saying here is that sex work is fine if you have an MA in Women’s Studies and work in queer feminist porn (which they can happily jerk off to without feeling like bad feminists). These same people usually have only a tenuous grasp on the concept of trafficking, probably don’t have any sex workers in their close circle of friends (unless they have the aforementioned MA in Women’s Studies). They are quick to become angry if you suggest that coercive sex work is actually rare, statistically, or that you chose street sex work because it made sense for your life at the time.
All sex work is survival sex work, in exactly the same way that I could describe all jobs at McDonald’s as survival food service jobs.
I wish the media would stop making it look like we’re all hookers!
I actually hear this as: you sex workers are making the rest of us look bad! How will my parents/grandmother/best friend/dog ever accept me if they think that I’m a HOOKER?
Let’s be real for a minute. Media representations focusing on a single stereotype suck for every oppressed or underrepresented group. That’s totally fair. What’s not fair is when the rest of the community backlashes against this by trying to distance themselves entirely from those represented by the stereotype. At the end of the day, I don’t care if the fact that I and a lot of my friends are or were sex workers makes your grandmother uncomfortable. What I care about is the fact that sex work is still illegal in so many countries, leading to more violence, stigma, and murders of trans and cis sex workers, yet there’s been little effort by mainstream trans (or queer) organizations to help sex worker organizations fight for their rights. Nevermind that our entire movement in North America was founded by sex workers. Do the names Silvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson mean anything to you?
Trans Day of Remembrance is about the murders of transgender people simply for being transgender.
This happens a lot. I try to come from a place of compassion when responding to this, but my first thought is usually “You must be new here.” Trans activists will be more than willing to “fight for your rights” as long as you’re dead and they can list you on their TDOR list. Most of the organizations that hold TDOR events, especially those on college campuses (organized by the army of Aydyns), won’t mention that you were a sex worker. They won’t mention that you were murdered while doing sex work. They won’t mention sex work when they speak at the event about how hard it is to be a white, male, queer, trans University student. Won’t somebody please think of how hard that is for them?!
I am often the only person in the room at trans organizing events who has sex work experience. I know that I am there because I hold a position within the community that is seen as important and because I’m a former sex worker, rather than a current sex worker. The trans men in the room (who inevitably make up 90% of those in attendance) will often ask me, together or in private, how they can make the space more accessible to trans women and to trans sex workers. And I think about the things that they say about sex work, the way that they treat having their cis femme girlfriends in the room as being “inclusive of women’s perspectives,” and the fact that almost all of them either have degrees or are students. And I just smile say “I really don’t know.”
Morgan M Page sometimes wishes she could reach back and hug her 12-year-old self: a lost and confused drug-addicted trans sex worker on the streets of Hamilton.
Page, 24, now leads trans programming at Toronto’s 519 Church St Community Centre, including the annual Trans Day of Remembrance on Nov 18. The event commemorates trans people who have been murdered.
“If you look at the list of names that we read on Trans Day of Remembrance, almost all of them are trans sex workers of colour,” Page points out.
Rose Osborne, a Winnipeg trans woman, was murdered in 2008. In 2010, police in Winnipeg arrested a Saskatchewan man in connection with the murder of another trans sex-trade worker in 2004.
According to numbers released by the Trans Murder Monitoring project in 2010, there have been more than 420 reported murders of trans people internationally since 2008, which means a trans person is killed every three days.
“A key factor in all those murders is whether or not they were sex workers,” she says. “The discrimination and stigma faced by sex workers is likely a major contributing factor towards the murder of trans people. That’s why we should push for the decriminalization of sex work in Canada and other countries.”
Page worked as a sex worker, on and off, between the ages of 12 and 18.
When she first started, she says, she saw dollar signs and an easy way to pay for the party drugs she was taking. She didn’t yet publicly identify as trans. “I lived in a glass closet,” she says now.
“I was underage. Street sex work tends to be much more dangerous … It was quite a scary experience.
“I was pretty frightened most of the time that I was doing it … I was worried there would be violence, worried about my sexual health and whether my parents or friends would find out. It was an anxiety-causing experience. But I just kept going back and doing it. Money and excitement.”
Page was lucky. She experienced minimal violence from her clients. “There were a lot of pushy clients and grabby clients, who probably wouldn’t have taken no for an answer if I said no.”
Page says many street-based sex workers are moving off the streets and onto the internet, except for trans sex workers, who, for the most part, have stayed on the streets.
There are several reasons for this, Page says, including poverty, addiction, HIV status, isolation and homelessness. There is also a sense of family, she says. “Trans sex workers are more likely to find community on the streets or in clubs, like street mothers. That’s powerful and helpful, like an informal support network.”
Page says that as a teenager, she identified as gender-queer before coming out as trans at 16.
“At some point through the transition process I dropped the drugs I was addicted to,” she says. “As a result I didn’t have any motivation to continue in sex work. For me, sex work was a way to get money for drugs and validation.”
That validation is intoxicating, she says. “Especially for trans women: we find our validation in doing sex work, which is not necessarily true for other sex workers. People who interpreted me as trans were valuing me in a sexual way, valuing me at all.”
Page remembers being viciously bullied in school. She eventually dropped out. “So, it was powerful to have people want you around.”
Page’s mother died when she was 18, at which point a friend’s mother started taking care of her and got her involved in sex-worker activism in Hamilton.
Page arrived in Toronto in 2007 with an eighth-grade education. Then, in 2008, she helped organize protests to fight the Homewood-Maitland Safety Association, which was attempting to push trans sex workers out of their neighbourhood in downtown Toronto.
Page says she is actively following the ongoing debate around the Homewood stroll.
In 2010, she launched T-GUAVA (Trans Girls and Guys United Against Violent Assault), a series of workshops for trans youth about intimate partner abuse.
Not long after the 2008 protests on Homewood St, Page landed a youth placement at The 519, which eventually led to her current job.
In June, Page won the award for Outstanding Contribution to Community Empowerment at the LGBT Youth Line awards.
She is looking forward to this year’s Trans Day of Remembrance. The 519 will honour trans people who have been murdered around the world, and their names will be read aloud at the solemn event.
The Toronto event will also feature speeches and performances by several members of the trans community, such as dancers Ill Nana. “This is the only event all year that centres directly around trans people. Most queer events ignore us, and as a result, ignore the violence that continues to marginalize trans people, especially trans sex workers.”
Page is thankful for Toronto’s trans services, like those provided at The 519, but she reminds that the situation is very different outside Toronto.
“We have to do more to help trans youth in rural areas because there’s nothing right now … Coming out in Hamilton sucked, so bad. We have to reach out to youth.”
Trans Day of Remembrance was started to commemorate the life of Rita Hester, an African-American trans woman murdered in 1998. It is celebrated in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and other cities across Canada and the US.
Jan. 21, 2011, was a bitterly cold night, and the snow was crunchy under our feet as 300 members of our community walked in silent candlelight through the outskirts of downtown Minneapolis. Our destination was the steps of the apartment building where Krissy Bates, a transgender woman, lived and died at the hands of an assailant only two weeks earlier.
Krissy’s home was in an older brick brownstone building that stood alone, as if other buildings had run away to avoid standing nearby. The building was a stark metaphor for the desolation that many members of the transgender community experience, isolated from family, from spouses and partners, from old friends, even sometimes from our very selves.
We were young and old, diverse in race and ethnicity, class and ability; we were transgender, intersex, bisexual, lesbian, and gay; we were straight (and gender-conforming) allies. Standing in front of Krissy’s apartment building, each of us silently confronted our own fears, and many of us confronted our own internalized transphobia. We were there to celebrate the life and identity of Krissy and to acknowledge our grief. But most of all, we were there to stand together against the irrational fear and dehumanization that leads people to murder those of us whose gender identities or gender expressions do not conform to their expectations, or to the expectations of society.
Sunday, Nov. 20 is the 13th annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance. On this day we grieve the deaths and memorialize and celebrate the lives of persons who have died at the hands of those whose hatred and prejudice toward transgender people has led to acts of unspeakable violence against an oppressed community. On this day we also call attention to the ongoing oppression and violence against transgender persons.
It was just a matter of time until death would come to our doorstep in Minneapolis. According to statistics summarized in a 2010 report by the Transgender Europe (TGEU) Trans Murder Monitoring Project, “every second day a homicide of a trans person is being reported.”
The report of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released this past July represents data from 17 anti-violence programs in 15 states across the U.S.A. In 2010 there were 27 reported hate murder victims of LGBT and HIV-affected people in 2010, representing a 23-percent increase over 2009. A disproportionate number (70 percent) were people of color, and nearly half of the victims (44 percent) were transgender women.
Transgender people live at the intersections of systemic oppressions. Our gender identities don’t conform to the expectations of society. And if we are trans[ ]women of color, we are subject to additional stigmatization and harassment. Transmisogyny is at the root of much of the violence against trans[ ]women, and racism plays a large part in this violence.
Murders of transgender persons are often characterized by extreme violence committed by persons filled with deep-seated hatred. This hatred is often born of the language of marginalization that characterizes much of the everyday rhetoric against transgender people and communities. According to Clarence Patton, former Acting Executive Director of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, “individual victims of bias crimes suffer tremendously. Hate-motivated assaults generally involve more brutality than other assaults.” He also writes, “Besides being an assault against an individual, a bias crime is an assault against a community, and sends a clear message of fear to that entire community.”
Much of this extreme violence against transgender people begins in the violence of language that represents what is all too often an acceptable prejudice in our society. This in turn leads to stigmatization of our community and feeds the dehumanization and transphobia that can ultimately erupt in physical violence. What can we do to end this vicious cycle of murders of transgender people that brings us together every Nov. 20? We need gender-conforming allies to interrupt the language and actions that feed the fear of transgender people. We need transgender and gender-conforming people who are willing and able to educate others about the lives of transgender people and the oppression that we experience. We need allies who will work for passage of legislation that will give true justice to trans people. We need allies from secular and faith communities who are willing to fight for justice for all people and to work to end systemic oppression.
The landmark 2011 report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey of 6,450 participants across the United States reveals the systemic oppression faced by the transgender community. The report reveals that anti-transgender bias interlaced with systemic racism is particularly devastating to the transgender community. Many respondents to the survey live in extreme poverty. And an almost unbelievable 41 percent of respondents report having made a suicide attempt, compared to 1.6 percent of the general population.
Transgender people experience significant harassment and discrimination in education, employment discrimination and economic insecurity, housing discrimination and homelessness, discrimination in public accommodations, barriers to receiving updated identification documents, abuse by police and in prison, and discrimination in health care and poor health outcomes. We have a long way to go until our transgender community can stand shoulder to shoulder with gender-conforming people and proclaim that we have equal access to the fruits of justice.
Violence against trans people is rampant, and not well reported by the FBI when it comes to hate crimes statistics. Many crimes against trans people go unreported or uninvestigated. In Tennessee and Kentucky, several trans women have been murdered over the years, but no one has been brought to justice for those crimes, and in Texas, a police officer who raped two trans women was given nearly no sentence whatsoever.
GLAAD is urging the media to do more with regards to reporting anti-trans violence, especially as the 13th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance approaches.
Presentation by Emi Koyama on November 20, 2011.
Transcription of slides (Slides transcribed by Amber Yust on November 21, 2011.)
Regardless of the venue — domestic or international — the results for this year show that not only are the figures not improving, but in some places it has become far more dangerous to be trans than ever before. From the end of 2010 through January of 2011, no less than six trans women were slain in Honduras, precipitating world outrage and a response from Human Rights Watch. One woman was apparently both set on fire and stoned. In February, a Malaysian trans woman was found dead after having been beaten with an iron hammer. And, the shooting of a Brazilian trans woman had been caught on surveillance cameras. She had been shot seven times, execution style.
In other countries, there were killings in Mexico, Indonesia, Puerto Rico and Mauritius. We can have no idea as to the real extent, internationally, of transphobia which has turned deadly. In countries with little understanding of trans issues, news of this kind is too often buried along with the victims.
Perhaps the cruelest incident on the international stage occurred in Turkey. This was not the only instance wherein Turkish transphobes were unable to control themselves, but this was by far the most heinous. A trans woman was killed by her family in what has been called an honor killing. According to the report in the Hurriyet Daily News, the victim’s brother, Fevzi Cetin, turned himself into local law enforcement.
Here in the U.S., cities across the country have seen brutal and vicious attacks as well. New York was bad, but Washington, D.C., was the absolute worst, with an incident involving metro police. But first, some of the other cities and their incidents: Minneapolis’ first homicide of the year was trans woman Krissy Bates and, in Baltimore, Md., Tyra Trent was strangled to death. As Spring approached, Marcal Camero Tye’s life was cut short after being shot and then dragged several hundred feet.
June brought the shooting death of Nathan Eugene Davis, from Houston, and the summer of 2011 found both Camila Guzman and Rodrigo Ruzman stabbed to death in New York City.
In October, in two separate incidents, two Savannah, Ga., trans women were fatally shot. And, clear across the country in Hayward, Calif., Lucie Parkin was stabbed to death.
But, our nation’s capital proved to be the most dangerous place to be this past summer, especially if you were a trans woman of color. Starting in July and continuing for most of the summer, the violence perpetrated against trans persons ran rampant. Lashai McClean was shot and killed on July 20. In September, Gaurav Gopolan was found beaten and unconscious and subsequently died. Sandwiched in between these two murders were copious incidents of violence, which included the shooting of a trans individual by an off-duty police officer. Another occasion found a trans woman had been shot in the neck.
On Nov. 20, every year, we remember those whose lives were needlessly wasted. For all those across the globe who will not get to see 2012 arrive, for Krissy, Tyra, Camero, Camila. Rodrigo, Lucie, Lashai, Gaurav and all the others who lost their lives this year, let’s make an effort, nationally and internationally, to make this the year trans hatred starts to decline. Each and every one of these individuals had a gift to offer the world. That gift has been lost and there is no excuse or justification.
It doesn’t just bother me that the only trans woman on stage was an afterthought, disempowered and invited at the last minute because the organizers wanted to look inclusive. It doesn’t just bother me that at least one or two rad trans women probably showed up to the first planning meeting but were totally pushed out prior to the group having to find a token trans woman to appear on stage at the last minute. It doesn’t just bother me that the performers were white trans men in college, making no place in the organization for trans women of color sex workers, all while claiming trans women of color sex workers’ experiences as their own. It doesn’t just bother me that Aydyn & Jaydyn & Caydyn & Gaydyn have actually deluded themselves and really believe their sensationalized fantasy that they will be murdered for trying to go to the bathroom, in spite of the fact that, as a trans man who probably looks a lot like Aydyn & friends, I can say pretty confidently that that’s not something I’ve ever worried about in real life. It doesn’t just bother me that these guys have these smug looks of martyrdom spread across their faces and that they actually believe themselves to be some sort of heroes or “voices” of the “trans community”.
What really bothers me—what really just makes my skin crawl—is that everyone in the audience fucking loves them for it. That everyone in the audience is apparently blind to the fact that transmisogyny is going on in their own, “safe,” queer community, and that bullshit like this is its very birthplace. Or, worse, maybe they’re not blind to it, but they don’t do anything to stop it, they don’t think it’s important and they still treat the purveyors of transmisogyny in the queer community like gods or something. It pretty much makes me want to vomit.