June 24th, 2004

protege

the politics of silence

About 70 people showed up for the West Hollywood town hall meeting on transgender hate crimes. Honestly I was moved to see so many people there. I doubt more than 20 would have showed were it not for the Gwen Araujo (mis)trial, which drew even an ABC newscrew to the auditorium. Tonight there was a palpable sense of of single-mindedness, of outrage, that I haven't felt in a long time.

The focus was entirely on the recent events surrounding the trial. Talia was on the panel and spoke, more eloquently than anyone, about the implicit narrative of deception written into most media accounts of the murder. She described how the language used in these reports enforces a discourse in which Gwen was 'really' a man who tricked her assailants into having sex with her, thus unloading some of the moral burden from the murderers. And Shirley, bless her heart, ended the meeting with an account of Gwen's murder so chilling that people were moved to tears, and rage. "Are you angry yet??" she repeated, over and over.

It was on that note that we began our march down the Boulevard, shouting "Trans justice now" and "We are stonewall" to the circuit boys and L-word dykes milling outside the clubs. Officers from the WeHo sheriff's station escorted us on motorcycles, closing down lanes of traffic as we passed by.

It was heartening to see everyone from the trans women's community so united for once. But far more telling was who was not there. Where was the FTM Alliance? Where was the larger LGB community? Don't you all remember? Hello, we started your fucking revolution! It is really sad; so many people just don't seem to care. Especially the people who really ought to.

But what disturbs me most, i think, is the utter lack of engagement of young people, especially college students -- groups that are usually at the forefront of social justice movements. I mean, most of my friends are college students. Hell, most of my friends are trans college students, and yet i never see most of them at these events, events that address the single most significant crisis facing our community. Nor do I ever see people from college groups, trans or not, that supposedly work for social justice, even after cross-posting the fuck out of their listservs.

And it all stems from the worst kind of classism. I think there is a real belief that the murders of Gwen Araujo, of Freddie Martinez Jr, of Bella Evangelista are "not our problem" because they disproportionately affect young, working-class trans women of color -- many of them sex workers. Maybe there is the sense that if you're not involved in sex work, it won't happen to you. Perhaps it's easy to feel insulated from the violence, walking around a progressive college campus. Perhaps we're all too distracted by our Halberstam readings, or the coming gender insurgency, or whatever.

But the whole "trans panic" defense ought to scare the fuck out of every queer person who values their life. It hinges on the notion that every trans person is, essentially, a deceiver and an imposter. If some of the jurors were persuaded by this argument, that is not a failing of the justice system. The only failing lies with a society that teaches men to be so horrified by their own penis, so disgusted by any possibility of attraction to another human with a penis, that they respond in the most cruel, inhumane way imaginable.

How fucked up does our society have to be, that a penis can throw a man's entire identity into murderous crisis? How chilling was it to hear that seconds after Jose Merel learned of Gwen's biological sex, just minutes before bludgeoning and strangling her to death, he broke down in tears, repeating "I'm not gay... I don't like men." How devastating was it to read Zach Calef's article claiming that Gwen had tricked her attackers into having sex with her without revealing her sex, which was in fact "a form of rape" -- although he conceded that "Given the circumstances, murder is a bit much."

This is all symptomatic of a profound crisis of contemporary manhood, a tragic flaw in the way men in our society are socialized. It will take a very long time to change. Until then, we are going to have to make it absolutely unacceptable to target our community through violence. This isn't like the civil rights or even the gay rights movements. There aren't nearly enough of us to effect sweeping social change or influence policymakers on our own -- especially when so many of us are invisible and prefer to remain that way. It will take a few radical leaders - like Shirley Bushnell and Maria Roman - and a broad base of allies, which so far are asleep while Paris is burning. The problem is, so are most of the Parisians.