When I first started to educate myself about the transgender community, I was shocked to learn the degree of violence that they face. I continue to fail to see how someone living their life makes another so uncomfortable that feel that it is necessary to express hatred towards another human being. In many cases this hatred impacts employment, housing, medical care, and can lead to violence.
Two trans men were recently verbally and physically assaulted at the Dupont Circle gay bar Fab Lounge.
According to the Washington Blade:
Mitch Graffeo, 40, of Alexandria, Va., said the incident began when he and a friend were getting ready to leave Fab Lounge shortly before 3 a.m. on Feb. 28 at the conclusion of the club’s weekly lesbian night. As his friend walked over to a sofa to retrieve his coat, a female customer began “groping” his friend, Graffeo said.
The 29-year-old friend, also from Alexandria, spoke to the Blade on the condition that he was identified only by his first name, Jaime.
Graffeo said Jaime, who is about 5 feet 4 inches tall and has a slender build, recently began a female-to-male gender transition process and has a youthful, boyish appearance. Graffeo noted he transitioned more than 10 years ago and his gender is readily recognized as that of a male.
“They said, ‘What the fuck are you? Are you a girl or a boy?’(emphasis mine)” Graffeo recalled one of the women saying to Jaime inside the club.
Graffeo said another woman, along with a man who was with them, joined the first woman in shouting insults aimed at Jaime’s appearance after Jaime asked the first woman to leave him alone.
Jaime told the Blade as many as three women in the bar ran their hands over his chest as they taunted him over his appearance, saying they wanted to find out if he was male or female.
He and Graffeo then left the Fab Lounge, which is located in a second-floor space at 1805 Connecticut Ave., N.W., in an effort to avoid a confrontation with the women, the two men said.
“When we were about 20 feet from the club’s entrance, one of the lesbians came up from behind and put [Jaime] in a headlock and again began to question his gender,” Graffeo said.
Jaime said that as the woman released him from her grip, another woman punched him repeatedly in the head and body, inflicting injuries that included a concussion, doctors told him later.
As the alleged assault unfolded on the sidewalk near the corner of Connecticut and Florida avenues, Graffeo said he asked the women to leave Jaime alone and announced he was calling the police on his cell phone. At that time, the woman who had held Jaime in a headlock “grabbed my phone out of my hands and hit me in the neck and head a few times,” Graffeo said.
Minutes later, Graffeo said, the male friend who had accompanied the women inside the club arrived in a car, which he stopped on Connecticut Avenue in front of the Royal Palace nightclub, which operates below Fab Lounge. He said the two women entered the car, which turned onto Florida Avenue and drove eastbound, Graffeo said.
The two assailants have been arrested but have yet to be charged with a hate crime. I find the delay in declaring this a hate crime reprehensible. Clearly the purpose of this confrontation was to demean and assault two human beings based on a trans gender identity. They asked if the victims were boys or girls and further touched them to ascertain how their bodies were configured. When incidents like this happen a strong message needs to be sent regarding the unacceptability of such behaviour. Fortunately these two men escaped with their lives but many have not been so lucky after confrontations with people that are determined to hate based in cisgender privilege.
When I read about this story at the bilerico, the focus seemed to be that we should not assume that the assailants are lesbian simply because they were in a lesbian bar. Though I agree with this statement, I find it completely irrelevant. The GLB community has been known for its virulent trans hatred but it is not uniquely transphobic. Transphobia happens across the sexual/gender spectrum. Our concern should be that these violent incidents keep reoccurring and that people are losing their lives.
When the media reports on violence aimed at trans people they often use the wrong pronoun, blame the victim, or somehow reduce the issue as unimportant. Trans people are thriving members of our community and they are being unfairly targeted. We justify the violence against them in a desire to preserve our undeserved cisgender privilege.
I have read the commentary from otherwise intelligent women using the most ridiculous justifications for their hatred like “trans women can’t give birth, or they don’t have periods and that is why they are not women”. Obviously there are cisgender women to whom those same conditions apply and yet we would never dream of declaring them unwomen. Essentially this is about the ability to express power over another and not because the gender identity of another individual is threatening in some way.
When we think of power, we always conceive of it as coercive and this ultimately creates an expression that reifies many of the binaries and social constructions that are damaging to our society. When we use the wrong pronoun what we are essentially doing is denying someone's existence by declaring that we have the right to determine what is understood as male or female, furthermore disciplining a failure to conform is yet another way in which cisgender privilege is maintained. We have so over valued hierarchy that we have allowed it to control what bodies truly matter in this society and this is why the trans panic defence is routinely employed to legitimate violence that we would find otherwise intolerable.
What happened to those two men is atrocious and that it occurred because of someone’s desire to maintain our artificial divisions. It further speaks to how far removed we are from the fair and equal society that we claim to live in. Someone who is trans gender has not made a lifestyle choice; they are living their lives and therefore they deserve to exist without violence, or threat of it. Acknowledging the humanity of a fellow human being will not devalue you in any way; in fact it is the first step to assuring that we all exist with the rights and freedoms that we give lip service to.