Following a recent spate of anti-trans violence in the month of June, this summer saw two more horrific attacks against trans women in DC. Media coverage surrounding the attacks — including recent police reports — have all but glossed over the fact that these crimes are part of a larger culture of hate crimes against gender non-conforming folks, with trans women of color disproportionately affected by such violence.
How are we to make sense of such, well, senseless violence? Of abject cruelty? The virulent comments on online forums in response to these news stories are both disheartening and telling: trans individuals are not worthy of our sympathy, and they are certainly not, in the words of HIPS’ Executive Director Cyndee Clay, “worthy victims.” Take this comment from the poster kicksandgiggles:
“Victim? Victims don’t ask to be assaulted. If you get in a stranger’s car at 3:30am, you are asking for trouble.. She/he was not looking for a ride but to make some $ and it back fired. So tell the ‘victim’ next time, try a nice safe convention.”
Kicksandgiggles’ comment, while not the most inflammatory found in the comments section, chillingly summarizes out culture’s attitude towards trans folks: if you are trans, you are asking for it. Your gendered body is de facto devious, and therefore invites violence. The playful moniker this poster has chosen makes such comments all the more haunting. Nonchalant victim-blaming at its most flip and vile.
Criminologist and HIPS volunteer Katherine Jares calls bullshit.
In 2013, Jares conducted a study about violence against sex workers by examining HIPS’ “Bad Date Sheets,” or reports of violence documented and distributed amongst sex-workers in order for individuals to keep themselves safe.
In reading Jares’ report, the same disturbing story repeats itself ad nauseum: violence against sex-workers and trans individuals is overwhelmingly pre-meditated. Such violence is not, as popular belief would suggest, random (let’s say, in response to a sex-worker denying certain services or being non-compliant to client wants and needs, as k&g would seem to think). These acts have motive. Perpetrators of sexual assault and other forms of violence are keenly aware of how our culture treats trans individuals and sex-workers; perpetrators know that they can inflict such violence with relative impunity because we are continually told that trans individuals and those engaged in sex-work are “throw away” citizens. They are somehow less-than.
This commenter can offer little by way of conclusion. Over the past year, I have witnessed the profound ambivalence of our clients in the face of such far-reaching and insidious violence. “It is what it is,” seems to be the mantra of many a client. Or, worse still, our clients blame themselves for the violence inflicted upon them. “I shouldn’t have turned my back on him” or “I really shouldn’t be out here so late,” or even, “I must’ve given him a wrong look.” The actions of our clients are not to blame: the poison rests in a culture that demeans and disregards those most vulnerable to the hands of the global economy, a society that tacitly endorses violence against trans bodies.
So what to do? As allies — as fellow human beings with dignity and worth — let us bear witness to this violence, calling it out for what it is: transphobia. I asked once before how we are to make sense of this violence. I hope it forever remains senseless, for there can be no justifiable rationale for such unadulterated hate.
July 18th was deemed “World Listening Day” by the World Listening Project. I ask you: to whom will you listen?