Transphobia is an issue that affects thousands of people worldwide. Transphobia often leads to violence which in many cases, has resulted in death. Many individuals have been victims of transgender based violence due to existing notions of heteronormativity, associated with the black sexual politics of sexual deviance within black womanhood.
The article Transphobic ‘Honour’-Based Abuse: A Conceptual Tool, by Michaela Rogers from the University of Salford, discusses the origins of transphobia. Rogers defines heteronormativity to offer an explanation as to why transgender people represent deviance. She uses other scholars to aid in the definition of heteronormativity. She writes:
“…heteronormativity refers to an understanding of the gender binary and heterosexuality as natural and enacted through monogamy and procreation” (Warner, 1991). The workings of heteronormativity then, ensure that heterosexual identities are centered and privileged while non-heterosexuals are marginalised (Enke 2012).
To put this in simpler terms, heteronormativity is the idea that only monogamous sexual relationships between female and males are deemed acceptable in society and privileged. If members of a society do not subscribe to the mainstream culture, they then are marginalized and marked as “other.” She also writes in her article that violence tends to be from males with females as their victims.
The term “trans” is commonly used as an umbrella term that encompasses transgender, transsexual, bigender and intersex people, transvestites, cross-dressers and drag kings and queens (Rogers, 227). Unfortunately, the word “trans” is discursively constructed as deviant from the mainstream culture, since the person who identifies as “trans” falls outside of the gender binary of male and female. Due to not conforming to gender norms within mainstream culture, trans people often encounter “gender dysphoria,” which is discomfort or distress related to one’s gender identity being different than the gender identity assigned at birth.
According to the article I Have a Family: Relational Witnessing and the Evidentiary Power of Grief in the Gwen Araujo Case, the authors Cynthia G. Franklin and Laura E. Lyons, discuss the violent murder Gwen Araujo, a black transgender woman. The article details the dark events of October 4, 2002 in Newark, California. They write about the four men who murdered a black transgender woman named Gwen Araujo with whom, two of the four men engaged in intercourse with. The defense of the men who murdered Gwen Araujo was that they acted out of panic after realizing she was a transgender woman.
Their violence against Gwen Araujo was deemed “regrettable but also defensible” by the court system. The Gwen Araujo case was actual formulated into a movie on the Lifetime network called A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo, to publicize the case. The case portrays the complexity of the trans identity within the United States justice system. Franklin and Lyons writes, “The law, predicated on the idea of ascertainable truth and empirical evidence, is not supple enough to address an identity that defies the assumed correspondence between sex and gender,” (438). The murder of Gwen Araujo, disrupted the court system based on the perceived deviance of her gender. Her identity represented the opposite of what America held true (heteronormativity) and therefore the violence inflicted upon her was justified.
Transgender violence is increasing at exorbitant amounts. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), transgender women experience a greater risk of violence based death compared to any other group. However, transgender violence against women of color, is a rising statistics of transphobia. Gwen Araujo was one of at least 700 transgender woman of color killed worldwide based on the website operated by Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR); a list that includes homicides from 1970, yet mostly from 2000 to 2012.
Since 2013, the NCAVP reports that in the United States, transgender killings have accounted for over 50 percent of all LGBTQ+ community deaths. In 2013, of the 72 percent of transgender deaths, 67 percent were transwomen of color. In addition, 55 percent of the deaths amongst the queer community were from transgender violence, and 50 percent were transgender women of color alone in 2014. Lastly, in 2015, trans related violence accounted for 54 percent of homicides and of that 67 percent were transwomen of color.
The year of 2016 marked the highest transgender death of 27 people, with about 75 percent women of color. As 2017 is coming to a close, of the 23 deaths so far, 21 of them were people of color and all but one were transwomen.
Violence against transgender Black women is a global trend. Transgender women in Mongolia face similar challenges to those in the United States. Mongolian transgender women, who are considered women of color, are increasingly targets of violence due to resisting heteronormativity. In the article Sexual Violence against Men Who Have Sex with Men and Transgender Women in Mongolia: A Mixed-Methods Study of Scope and Consequences, the authors discuss transgender and homophobic violence. They mention that individuals who assume more feminine expression are generally targeted for violence in public places and discrimination in employment. Therefore, violence against Black Trans women is a worldwide trend that not only affects individuals in the United States.
Violence towards Black transwomen is reinforced by the racialized gendered stereotypes of sexual violence, that coincides with black women. Patricia Collin states in Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender and the New Racism that the word “freak” in connected through the sciences and entertainment of colonialism . She continues by saying that the close interaction between people and wild animals in West Africa, created the vision of ‘wild’ sexual practices in an uncivilized, inherently violent wilderness”.
“Through colonial eyes, the stigma of biological Blackness and the seeming primitiveness of African cultures marked the borders of extreme abnormality. For Western sciences that were mesmerized with body politics, White Western normality became constructed on the backs of Black deviance, with an imagined Black hyper-hetereosexual deviance at the heart of the enterprise (120).
Sarah Bartmann is an example of Black deviance due to the sensationalism of her body being on display for thousands to see her bodily figure, during and after her life. This supports the admiration of abnormality which Collins states depicts human oddities, especially Black oddities, as freaks of nature. Thus, when blacks do not follow the dominant image of blackness, which includes heteronormativity, that his or her authenticity is questioned and it leads to trouble which Roxane Gay outlines in Bad Feminist: Essays (257). Furthermore, the trouble amongst transgenders, specifically Black transwomen, is death.
Ultimately, violence against Black transgender women is a major issue within contemporary society. Many Black transgender women have been vulnerable to violence and discrimination for centuries due to the perceived deviance of their race and sexuality. Statistics show that over half of deaths that occur in the LGBTQ+ community are transgendered women of color. Transgender Black women are subjected to unwarranted violence by members of their society all over the globe. Cases such as the Gwen Araujo murder and the struggles of Mongolian Transgender women, offer an example of the magnitude of hate directed towards Black transgender women worldwide. However, by bringing awareness to the issue of violence against Black transgender women, humanity can attempt to understand the daily struggles of certain members within their community and generate positive change. As former President Obama said, “Every single American — gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender — every single American deserves to be treated equality in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society.”
Co-Authored by Amani Pullock
- Adam, Nick. GLAAD Calls for Increased and Accurate Media Coverage of Transgender Murders. GLAAD, 2 Nov. 2017.
- Broverman, Neal and Desiree Guerrero. SAY HER NAME: As One Murder Case Is Closed, Another Begins, Marking 16 Trans Women Killed Before August.” Advocate, no. 1093, Oct/Nov2017.
- Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. Routledge, 2006.
- Franklin, C. G. & Lyons, L. E. “I Have a Family”: Relational Witnessing and the Evidentiary Power of Grief in the Gwen Araujo Case. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 22 no. 3, 2016.
- Rogers, Michaela. Transphobic ‘Honour’-Based Abuse: A Conceptual Tool. Sociology, vol. 51, no. 2, Apr. 2017, pp. 225-240.
- Schmider, Alex. 2016 Was the Deadliest Year on Record for Transgender People. GLAAD, 9 Jan. 2017.
- “These Are the Trans People Killed in 2016.” ADVOCATE, 14 Oct. 2016.
[Written for Dr. Zakiya Adair’s Black Feminist and Womanist Thought: November 10, 2017]