Top image from Transposes, by Dylan Edwards
By Guest Contributor Samantha Allen, cross-posted from The Border House
[Trigger Warning: Discussion of transphobic joke, real-life experiences of transphobia.]
Like many graduate students, I was still finishing up last week’s work at 6 PM on a Saturday. I put on Spike TV’s annual Video Game Awards (re-branded this year as VGX) to have some background noise while I put the finishing touches on a paper.
I expected the usual: some Michael Bay-esque graphics packages, some puerile pandering to their core demographic of adolescent boys, some Mountain Dew, some Doritos, some trailers. I can stomach that, even laugh at it. Less than five minutes into the program, however, co-host Joel McHale jokingly put the rumors to rest that Wario had “undergone sex reassignment surgery.”
If you’re reading this, you might know that a joke like that is politically ill-advised. It violates the comedic wisdom that one should punch up rather than punch down. It not only repeats the exoticizing focus on transgender people’s genitals, it also casts transgender identity itself as something scandalous and laughable.
By Guest Contributor Monica Roberts; originally published at TransGriot
Since Brazilian trans models have been ripping up the runways around the world since the 1980s; sex reassignment surgery in the country is free courtesy of the national health plan; and a Brazilian trans beauty pageant sends its winner to Thailand all expenses paid to compete in Miss International Queen, Brazil seems, on the surface, to be a friendly haven for trans people.
But for those of us who have been attending Transgender Days of Remembrance (TDOR) over the last few years, it’s been fairly obvious that my Brazilian trans sisters are catching hell.
If you are of Afro-Brazilian descent and trans it’s even worse, as this year’s TDOR, approaching on November 20, and a perusal of Eduarda Santos’ Transfofa em Blog, documenting what’s happening in Brazil, will sadly demonstrate.
Global Rights.org recently released a report documenting what’s happening to my Afro-Brazilian trans sisters, and it’s not a pretty picture.
An annual report by Grupo Gay de Bahia (Gay Group of Bahia) or GGB, a leading national organization in Brazil combating anti-TBLG violence against LGBTI Brazilians noted that there was a 21% increase in murders directed at BTLG Brazilians between 2011 and 2012.
There was also a 5.6% increase between 2002 and 2010 in the number of homicides of Afro-Brazilians as they declined 24.8% amongst white Brazilians during the same period
The lack of Brazilian federal legislation to prevent violent acts based on sexual orientation or gender identity also has been a factor in fueling the anti-trans murders aimed at trans Afro-Brazilians.
You may wish to read this sobering Global Rights.org ‘Report On The Human Rights Situation Of Afro-Brazilian Trans Women‘ by clicking on the link.
By Guest Contributor Sikivu Hutchinson
It isn’t until the end of director Marta Cunningham’s new HBO documentary film Valentine Road, the gut-wrenching chronicle of the 2008 classroom murder of 15 year-old Lawrence King, a homeless gay youth of color, that the viewer learns the significance of the film’s name. Valentine Road is the location of King’s Oxnard, California grave, the final resting place of a caring, intelligent child whose death became a lightning rod for a racist homophobic heterosexist nation ill-equipped to see much less affirm King’s personhood. Place is a central character in this film, which dubiously frames King and white working class “boy next door” murderer Brandon McInerney as bookends in an American tragedy set in multicultural Oxnard. The film opens with a collage of the moments leading up to King’s execution in a classroom at E.O. Green Middle School. We are treated to the sterile interior of the school, the gray tyranny of the computer lab where King was shot at point blank range, the blood-soaked floor that cradled King’s head after the slaying. Throughout the film King is represented in still photos, in the blurred fleeting footage of a campus security camera, in whimsical stylized animation that attempts to capture King’s transition from Larry to Letisha/Latonya (which friends say was her preferred identity before her death). The recollections of schoolmates, teachers, social workers and a foster parent touch on her fragility and kind-heartedness, yet in many of these testimonies her emerging identity is reduced to the “ungainly” performance of “cross-dressing”, crudely applied makeup, and awkward high heel boots. It is clear that King’s “inappropriate” gender expression was construed by the school as an embarrassment, a behavior problem that school administrators sought to contain with vapid compliance memos which downplayed the culture of structural violence against LGBTQ youth.
While King’s narrative plays out in fragments, the narrative of 14 year-old McInerney is vividly nuanced. The product of a violent home, McInerney’s drug-addicted mother and homicidal gun-toting father appear as deeply flawed yet loving. When he is cross-examined after the murder by a police detective he is treated with dignity, respect, and sensitivity. When his case is taken up by two “juvenile justice” advocate attorneys enraged that he may be tried as an adult, the female half of the duo expresses her devotion and undying love for his so-called beautiful spirit.
In this regard Valentine Road ably, perhaps inadvertently, captures how the criminalization of people of color shapes American presumptions of white innocence. Despite McInerney’s apparent fondness for Nazi paraphernalia and use of racial slurs to refer to black classmates, prosecutors dropped a hate crime charge against him. His defense team trotted out the repugnant “gay panic” defense (which was prohibited for use in criminal trials under a 2006 California law named after Gwen Araujo, a transgender teen who was brutally murdered in 2002) egregiously portraying McInerney as a victim of King’s unrelenting sexual harassment. Unable to reach a unanimous verdict, the jury in McInerney’s first trial deadlocked. Some of the jurors voted for voluntary manslaughter and others for first-degree or second-degree murder. After the mistrial we see telling footage of white female jurors expressing sympathy for McInerney over pastries in a spacious suburban kitchen. In their minds King was clearly the aggressor; the dark sexual predator whose moral deviance sent the troubled young white boy into a (justifiably) murderous tailspin. Indeed, at least one of the jurors mailed prosecutors Religious Right propaganda excoriating the “abomination” of King’s sexuality and the injustice of “poor Brandon’s” plight. And in a show of motherly solidarity, the white female jurors even display “justice for Brandon” slogans.
In order for white hetero-normativity and heterosexism to flourish, violent masculinity must be fiercely protected by white women. The recurring theme of straight white innocence is one of the film’s most powerful subtexts. At every turn McInerney is humanized and contextualized; redemptively positioned as a son, boyfriend, brother, lost boy, conflicted student and victim of abject circumstances that were beyond his control. As per the national narratives of so many young white high profile murderers—from the Columbine shooters to Newtown killer Adam Lanza—we are carefully guided through McInerney’s world and made to “understand” his emotional turmoil and “damaged” psyche. While McInerney’s family members testify to his horrible upbringing Cunningham does not include interviews (save for one that was conducted with a short term foster parent) from King’s family members, guardians or adoptive parents, Gregory and Dawn King. The film never attempts to place King’s homelessness, her foster care status, biracial cultural background and history of sexual abuse in the broader context of systemic disenfranchisement of queer and trans youth of color. We learn from a classmate’s passing reference that King was “part-black” and that she strongly identified with and perhaps saw herself as an African American girl. Yet the implications of her biracial ancestry are never seriously explored with respect to the jury’s biases.
Aside from Dawn Boldrin, the instructor (who was subsequently terminated) who attempted to counsel and mentor King through her transition, many of the adults at the school policed and pathologized her behavior. Throughout the film, King’s queer and trans Latino classmates comment on the impact of her murder and how it influenced their own courageous struggles for empowerment. In one of the film’s most glaring oversights, it is unclear what, if anything, the school and district did in the aftermath of King’s murder to address the culture of institutionalized racism, homophobia and transphobia that contributed to her death.
After the outrage of the mistrial, McInerney eventually received a 21 year sentence for murdering King. He will be released at the age of 39. One of the final scenes shows him rejoicing in juvenile detention with his family after receiving his high school diploma—a beneficiary of the criminal justice system’s devaluation of black queer and transgender lives. Despite the advocacy of Larry King’s friends there is still no monument to or recognition of King at E.O. Green Middle School.
Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of the newly released Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.
By Guest Contributor Koko Jones; originally published at Koko Jones
Watching the Melissa Harris-Perry show this morning I wanted to join the conversation on Race and Identities. On the show there was a white woman who is raising two black children and a white woman who is the mother of two interracial children. It made my mind wander a bit as well as wonder a bit about my own duality and identities. There has been a theme this week with conversations about identity and labels (i.e.: B. Scott).
I grew up knowing I was a black child; I knew nothing else. All of my friends were black, my neighbors were black, my uncles, aunts, cousins were black, the only grandparents I knew were definitely black. We ate typical southern black cuisine in our house; neck bones & cabbage, collard greens with ham hocks, pig’s feet, fish and grits, the list goes on. The music we listened to and what I remember from childhood was all basically black music; from Mahalia Jackson to James Brown and Aretha Franklin. Jimi Hendrix was considered a Rock God in our house.
However, my mother looked incredibly like a white woman despite the skin color of her father. My brothers and sisters; six of us in total all had relatively the same pigment of skin. It has been a bone of contention in our family for years; what are we really? I am a child of many ancestors. Some of those ancestors are black; some are white and some are Native American (Cherokee and Choctaw). I knew nothing of the culture of Native Americans growing up and knew nothing of the culture of white people. I was often teased as a child about my skin color and sometimes I still am by some of my closest friends in jest. Terms like “Light Bright” or “Injun Joe” have been used by some of good friends and I laugh at along with them.
So it’s natural for me to identify as “Black”. Not to give up my age but for context I will. I was born in 1959 and grew up during the civil rights movement of the 60s. My mother joined the fight to integrate the Englewood Public School system in the 60s, which I vaguely remember. While growing up in my little New Jersey suburb in Englewood, neighborhoods were segregated. Just over the town line from us in Teaneck there was a white neighborhood we called “Crackatown”. The houses were nicer; the streets were smoother and kept much better. It was those nicely-paved streets, excellent for bike riding, that attracted the kids from my neighborhood. One day a group of friends and I went riding in “Crackatown” when we were attacked with water balloons by a group of white kids. A water balloon hit me in my head and I went flying off my bike. That was followed by the hurling of racial slurs: “You niggas get out of our neighborhood!” That neighborhood has long since become integrated. But the memory still remains. It didn’t matter to them how light-skinned I was, I got the smack because I was still black.
Despite this, there were times when I first started to go to public school where I felt a strange awkwardness when my mother picked me up from school. I remember kids asking me, “Yo, is your mother white?” I would answer, “No, she’s black. She’s just really light-skinned.” It was if I had to prove somehow that I was totally black.
As the years went on it was well established that I was black, but in a certain way I always felt that perhaps I had to prove my blackness. Could this be the reason why I chose to play congas and African drums?
Yet and still, there was another search for my identity in terms of gender. As one who transitioned relatively late, I had to deal with (and still deal with) people questioning my gender as well. There are those inside and outside the trans community that sometimes question whether I am trans enough. After all, I play a very physical instrument: the drums. I play like I’m supposed to play. To me there is only one way to play the congas and that is the way that I was taught. I carry my instruments from the car to the venue without asking for any help from anyone. This is the way of the drum. Max Roach used to tell me, “Learn to carry your instrument.” It’s just a part of the learning process and the oneness of you and your instrument. It doesn’t make me more ‘butch’ or less ‘fem’. I’m just an artist doing my art, my craft that I have honed for 44 years.
In my years it has taken a lot of growth to accept myself the way I am without a ton of surgery or having the ability to transition early in life. It takes a lot to love your self when there are so many standards set for women in society. I believe myself to be a beautiful woman. But there are times when I feel eyes upon me. I often use the example of going into the ladies restroom in the Port Authority in New York and getting stares–or at least what I feel are stares. Sometimes I feel it so fiercely that I want to ask them, “Do you want to see my female realness card? Can I see yours?”
So the question is: What is “realness”? Is it being what the status quo believes or is it created by our own perceptions based upon our experiences?
Just the fact that someone feels like they don’t belong to any group for whatever reason, can be very traumatizing. I remember standing out in front of the legendary club, the Grapevine, in the early 80s and getting “read” by a trans woman there. She said to me, “You tryin’ to be a woman with that face?” Of course, I was questioning at that time and I hadn’t truly started my transition. But the fact remains that there are still those in our community that judge one another based solely on looks.
Being judged on several levels is a tough thing to take at times. I have lost jobs; no I have lost a career based upon judgment and looks. It is only through my resilience and tenacity that I still continue to pursue my music career. Just a couple of years back I lost a really good job with a band that I worked with on a pretty regular basis. I will never forget those emails and the letter that was written to me by the manager and owner of the entertainment company I was employed by, explaining the reasons that they were letting me go. I will paraphrase: “I know I have been a chicken about approaching you about this and I’m sorry. Although you are unbelievably talented, it is because of the complaints of our clients that we are unable to book you for future gigs.” A range of feelings from sadness, to self pity, to anger permeated my being at that time. But self doubt about who I am seemed to creep into my soul. It was just one more trauma I had to endure. Certainly it is painful to see my good friends and colleagues in the music field continue to work and further their careers. However, I was fully aware that this would take place before I transitioned physically from male to female.
It hasn’t been until recently that I have been able to fight those feelings of self-deprecation with tools that I have learned in my study at Hunter College. Coping skills are extremely important for “Girl Like Us” for we face such a wide variety of challenges. I am hoping to be able to teach these skills that have been helpful to me to others. I have a long way to go but we can only keep what we have by giving it away. Of course I am a teacher, too, so teaching comes so natural to me. I am not giving up on society for I believe that everyone has goodness inherent in their lives. But we can start by discontinuing the propensity for us to judge one another.
By Arturo R. García
Like a lot of people this holiday weekend, I powered through all 15 episodes of the fourth season of Arrested Development. (Apparently I’m one of just 10 percent of viewers who finished the whole run by sundown. I don’t know if this is an honorific or a red flag.)
And as it turns out, there’s quite a bit to go through as regards the series’ treatment of people who aren’t the Bluths. But I want to try something a little different from our open threads — I’d like to crowd-source some reactions to some of the various depictions we saw this year. Spoilers and general guidelines under the cut.