Guest Blogger

Trans* People Murdered for Truth-Telling

Filed By Guest Blogger | February 13, 2015 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: anti-trans murders, anti-trans violence, gender binary, gender continuum, truth

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Warren J. Blumenfeld is a professor in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


Abolitionists joined together to work for the immediate end to the institution of human slavery and the cessation of racial discrimination and segregation. They faced steep opposition from many quarters -- including a number of Christian denominations, who asserted that sacred scripture not only condoned, but more importantly, mandated the practice of slavery.

Trans* Women: Alejandra Leos, 41, fatally shot, Memphis, Tennessee. Aniya Parker, 47, fatally shot, Los Angeles, California.

Young people conducted a number of sit-in demonstrations at Southern lunch counters to end Jim Crow laws that segregated public facilities, enduring the abusive taunts of onlookers and the crashing batons of local police. Demonstrators faced imprisonment and the imposition of permanent criminal records.

Ashley (Michelle) Sherman, 25, fatally shot, Indianapolis, Indiana. Betty Skinner, 52, fatal severe head injuries, Cleveland, Ohio.

Feminists formed a new wave in the fight for women's suffrage against a high tide of obstructionism within a patriarchal system of male domination and misogyny -- and an attitude that the enfranchisement of women would destroy Christianity and civilization itself.

Gizzy Fowler, 24, fatally shot, Nashville, Tennessee. Jennifer Laude, 26, Olongapo, Philippines.

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The Church convicted physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei on the charge of heresy for insisting that the Earth revolves around the Sun, rather than -- as per Church teaching -- that the Earth was the immovable center of the universe with the Sun revolving around it. Galileo spent the remainder of his life under house arrest.

Kandy Hall, 40, fatal massive bodily trauma, Annapolis, Maryland. Brittany-Nicole Kidd-Stergis, 22, fatally shot, Cleveland, Ohio.

Joan of Arc, the teenager who helped defeat the English in her native France, became one of the greatest war heroes in French history. In spite of this, she was tried by the Catholic Church on the charge of heresy for rejecting Church authority in favor of direct inspiration from God, and most importantly, for donning men's clothing. She was burned at the stake.

Mayang Prasetyo, 27, dismembered, Brisbane, Australia. Mia Henderson, 26, fatal severe trauma, Baltimore, Maryland.

Alan Turing -- a mathematician, logician, philosopher, cryptanalyst, and one of the original creators of the computer -- was largely responsible for cracking Nazi Germany's Enigma code, which many believe shorted World War II by two to four years and saving Great Britain. However, the British government chose to convict Turing on the charge of homosexuality, and ordered him to undergo "chemical castration" by taking estrogen injections as an alternative to spending two years in prison. Turing took his life a few weeks before his 42nd birthday.

Tiffany Edwards, 28, fatally shot, Walnut Hills, Ohio. Michelle (Yasmin) Vash Payne, 33, fatally stabbed, Norfolk, Virginia.

History is replete with groups and individuals facing colossal odds for simply expressing their truth -- and for that, they were often forced to pay the ultimate price. Governments and powerful individuals have devised ways of silencing opposition for the purpose of maintaining and extending control and domination.

They commit genocide on the true human liberators -- the prophets, the visionaries who advocate for a just and free world. Persecuted in their own time, these people have achieved not only exoneration, but more importantly, they have become venerated as the visionaries they truly are.

Ty Underwood, fatally shot, North Tyler, Texas. Sherman Edwards, 22, fatally shot, Louisville, Kentucky.

Antonio Gramsci wrote about the concept of "cultural hegemony," which describes the ways in which the dominant group successfully disseminates its social definitions of reality and its social visions in a manner accepted as "common-sense," "normal," and "universal." This hegemony maintains and expands the marginality of groups with differing identities or opposing views.

Jessie Hernandez, 16, unarmed, fatally shot by police, Denver, Colorado. Lamia Beard, 30, fatally shot, Norfolk, Virginia.

Trans* people have exposed the truth: this fabrication we call "gender" is a social construction, one which our society ascribes to each of us as it assigns us a sex at birth. With the label "female," society forces us to follow its "feminine script," and with "male," we are handed our "masculine" script to act out.

As scripts are given to actors in a play, gender scripts also were written long before any of us entered the stage of life. In fact, they have little connection with our natures, beliefs, interests, and values.

Lamar Edwards, 20, fatally shot, Louisville, Kentucky. Rosa Riibut, 35, fatally beaten, Edmonton, Canada.

According to social theorist Judith Butler, "The act that one does, the act that one performs, is, in a sense, an act that has been going on before one arrived on the scene. Hence, gender is an act, which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actors who make use of it, but which requires individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as reality once again."

If we challenge the director by refusing to follow our lines, and when we tell the truth about this human lie about gender, the director (society) doles out harsh, often fatal punishments. Members of the trans* community often suffer the consequences of other truth-tellers of the past. Nearly every two days, a person is killed somewhere in the world for expressing gender nonconformity. The vast majority of the victims are trans* women of color.

Taja De Jesus, 36, stabbed to death, San Francisco, California. Michelle Vash Payne, stabbed to death, Van Nuys, California.

Murderers of trans* people react in extreme and fanatical ways at the direction of the larger coercive societal battalions bent on enforcing those gender scripts and destroying all signs of gender transgression in young and old alike. Most of us function as conscious or unconscious co-directors in this drama each time we enforce gender-role conformity onto others, and each time we relegate our critical consciousness by failing to rewrite or destroy the scripts in ways that operate integrally for us.

Those who bully in society and filtered into the schools often fulfill the social "function" of establishing and reinforcing the socially constructed scripts handed to them when they entered the performance.

Deshawnda Sanchez, 21, fatally shot, Los Angeles, California. Yaz'min Shancez, 31, burned to death, Fort Myers, Florida.

I cannot help thinking about something Frederick Douglass, who escaped enslavement and worked for the cause of liberation, once said when he described the dehumanizing effects of slavery not just on the enslaved, but also on white slavers, whose close proximity to slavery corrupted their humanity.

While the social conditions of Douglass's time were very different from today, nonetheless, I believe Douglass's words hold meaning by analogy: "No [person] can put a chain about the ankle of [another person] without at last finding the other end fastened about [their] own neck."

Zoraida Reyes, 28, choked to death, Anaheim, California. Cagla Joker, fatally shot, Istanbul, Turkey.

Though it cannot be denied that oppression serves the interests of dominant group members, eventually it will backfire and the chain will take hold of them. Therefore, I have come to understand that within the numerous forms of oppression, members of targeted (sometimes called "minoritized") groups are oppressed, while on many levels, members of the dominant or agent groups are hurt. Although the effects of oppression differ qualitatively for specific targeted and dominant groups, in the end everyone loses.

First, cissexist (anti-transgender) conditioning compromises the integrity of people by pressuring them to treat others badly, which are actions contrary to their basic humanity. It inhibits one's ability to form close, intimate relationships with trans* people, generally restricts communication with a significant portion of the population, and more specifically, limits family relationships.

Gypsie Gül, murdered, Istanbul, Turkey. Jacqui Cowdrey, 50, murdered, Worthing, England.

Cissexism locks all people into rigid gender-based roles, which inhibits creativity and self-expression. It also prevents cisgender people from accepting the benefits and gifts offered by the trans* community, including theoretical insights, social and spiritual visions and options, and contributions in the arts, culture, religion, spirituality, education, family life -- indeed, to all facets of society.

Ultimately, it inhibits appreciation of other types of diversity, making it unsafe for everyone because each person has unique traits not considered mainstream or dominant. Therefore, we are all diminished when any one of us is demeaned.

Mahadevi, 22, fatally pushed off a moving train, Bangalore, India. Marcela Duque, 46, stoned to death, Medellin, Colombia.

The meaning is quite clear: When any group of people is targeted for oppression, it is ultimately everyone's concern. We all, therefore, have a self-interest in actively working to dismantle the many forms of oppression, including cissexism.

Mary Jo Añonuevo, 55, strangled and stabbed 33 times, Lucena City, Philippines. Sevda Basar, 29, fatally shot, Antep, Turkey.

I believe we are all born into an environment polluted by cissexism (one among many forms of oppression), which falls upon us like acid rain. For some people, spirits are tarnished to the core, others are marred on the surface, and no one is completely protected.

Therefore, we all have a responsibility and an opportunity to join together as allies to construct protective shelters from the corrosive effects of prejudice and discrimination while working to clean up the cissexist environment in which we live. Once we take sufficient steps to reduce this pollution, we will all breathe a lot easier.

With this in mind, each time we rewrite the scripts to give an honest and true performance of life -- each time we work toward lifting the ban against gender transgressions by continually questioning and challenging standard conceptualizations of gender -- then will we begin as individuals and as a society to experience life to the fullest with our humanity and our integrity intact.

I am proud of and thankful to the trans* community for courageously calling into question this social myth of gender, the boxes society places us into as it imposes upon us all our gender scripts. Trans* people have opened the boxes for all of us to ultimately obliterate the gender status quo of binary oppositions by demonstrating the options upon an enormous gender continuum -- one that does not depend upon a sex assigned and forced upon us by others. The trans* community has shown us the essential fluidity of gender.

Trans* visionaries, who are persecuted in their own time, will one day be perceived as the prophetic truth-tellers they definitely are. Until that day, the harassment, marginalization, fear, violence, and murders must end. It is up to us all to work toward this on a daily basis.

Elizalber Oliveria de Mesquita, Paloma, Rayka Tomaz, Prince Joe, Toni Gretchen, Luana, Cristal, Thifani, Joice, Sarita, Juju, Raísa, Tatty, Rafaela, Alex Medeiros, Paulete, Camila Veronezi, Lu, Kitana, Sarita do Sopão, Andressa Pinheiro, Rose Maria, Vitória, Marciana, Nicole, Giovana Souza Silva, Mileide, Valquíria, Marcia Moraes, Paola, André Luiz Borges Rocha, Kellen Santorine, Mackelly Castro, Lele, Dennysi Brandão, Alisson Henrique da Silva, Karen Alanis, Cris, Bruna Lakiss, Gaivota dos Santos, Gélia Borghi, Sara, Aguinaldo Clãudio Colombelli, Flávia, Maicon, Letícia, Raquel, Adriana...

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