Posted by: lisaparavisini | August 22, 2015
Trans Deaths, White Privilege
This op-ed piece by Jennifer Finney Boylan about the death of trans-gender women of color appeared in the New York Times. Some of the dead women to whom she pays tribute have Caribbean roots. I am deeply touched by their being publicly mourned.
IT was snowing in Maine on Jan. 9. I’d been to the dentist’s the day before. The staff there were pleasant enough when I changed genders 12 years ago. “We’ll just change your forms,” the receptionist had said, cheerfully. “It’s no problem.”
That day, Papi Edwards, 20, a transgender woman of color, was shot to death outside a hotel in Louisville, Ky.
If you’d told me in 2000, as a transgender woman just coming out, that I was a person of privilege, I’d have angrily lectured you about exactly how heavy the burden I’d been carrying was. It had nearly done me in: the shame, the secrecy, the loneliness. It had not yet occurred to me that other burdens, carried by other women, could be weightier.
On Jan. 17, I moved into a new apartment on 106th and West End in Manhattan, in anticipation of the spring semester at Barnard College, where I teach English. My son Zach came down with me, helping to carry my luggage. He was heading back to college the next day. We had lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant called Awash, on Amsterdam. I pointed out the window at the building across the street, where I’d lived with the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in the early 1980s. I wasn’t out as transgender then; I couldn’t imagine it. Yet here I was, 30 years later, a Barnard professor, having lunch with my son, who is a drama major at Vassar.
Lamia Beard, a 30-year-old black trans woman, was shot that day in Norfolk, Va. It was the weekend before the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.
Feminist scholars write of the concept of “intersectionality” — the way people who occupy multiple oppressed identities can be understood only in terms of their sum, rather than as a set of independent experiences. As two trans women, Ms. Beard and I had some common experiences. But the differences between us have to be understood not only in terms of race but also in the way the oppressions generated by race and gender are bound together.
It snowed hard on Jan. 26. The subways closed that night. The day before I’d gone to services at Riverside Church. Sitting in the pews, staring at stained glass, I’d felt the power of God shining on me like a bright light.
Later, I talked to a friend about the thing I’d felt. My friend, an astrophysicist at Columbia, is a trans woman, too. We are both white.
They found Ty Underwood’s body in her car that day. She was a black trans woman, a nursing assistant who lived in Tyler, Tex.
Like a lot of white people, a lot of the time I’m not aware of having “white privilege.” In a similar way, I can tell you that I wasn’t aware of having “male privilege,” either, in the years before transition. It’s something you come to understand only when it’s gone, like the first time I walked down an empty street alone after midnight as a woman, and heard a man’s heavy footsteps behind me.
On Jan. 31, my wife came down from Maine. We went to see the movie “Selma” at the AMC theater on West 84th Street. There, we saw the actor playing Dr. King say, “It is unacceptable that they use their power to keep us voiceless.”
Firefighters found Yazmin Vash Payne that day in an apartment in Los Angeles. She’d died of multiple stab wounds, reportedly the third trans woman killed in Los Angeles in four months.
On Feb. 1, I spent the day grading papers. That morning I worshiped at Riverside again. Sitting there listening to the carillon, I remembered the words my mother used to say: Love will prevail.
Around the time I was at Riverside, Tamara Dominguez, in Kansas City, Mo.. She’d been stabbed. A trans woman of color in her 30s, she was a member of Bayview Church. Her mother described her as “beautiful inside and out.”
The 2012 National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported that trans people faced pervasive bias in housing and employment and suffered from higher rates of suicide. In almost every area, black trans people reported that they were doing worse than white trans people.
On Feb. 11, I appeared on MSNBC with the anchor Thomas Roberts and the actress Judith Light, who stars in the Amazon series “Transparent,” about a family with a transgender parent. We talked about the progress being made on transgender issues. But the progress isn’t equal for everyone.
Penny Proud, a 21-year-old trans woman of color, was shot to death the day before, in New Orleans.
On Feb. 16 Barnard — an all-women’s college — had a community forum for students, alumni, faculty and staff members to talk about the issue of admitting transgender women. I spoke at the event, and told everyone to open their hearts.
Kristina Gomez Reinwald, also known as Kristina Grant Infiniti, was found dead the day before in Miami. She was a transgender Latina in her mid-40s. A Miami TV station reported that, since there were no signs of forced entry in her home, she may have known her killer — a person whose heart, one might guess, had not been opened.
I talked to Caitlyn Jenner by phone for the first time on May 18. She struck me as a kind soul, from a very different world than my own, but determined to do good. “We don’t want people dying over this issue,” she told me.
Londyn Chanel, a 21-year-old black trans woman, was found dead in North Philadelphia that day of stab wounds. One of her friends told a local station, “She had a heart of gold.”
On May 30, I was in San Francisco for a meeting of the board of Glaad, the L.G.B.T. advocacy group.
Mercedes Williamson, a 17-year-old trans woman, reportedly disappeared that same day in Rocky Creek, Ala. Her body was found a few days later, in a field behind the house of the alleged murderer’s father.
On July 21, my wife and I were in a Los Angeles restaurant with the transgender minister Allyson Robinson. “God knows us,” she told me, “before we know ourselves.”
India Clarke, a 25-year-old trans woman of color, was found beaten to death in Tampa that day. A local station referred to her as a “man dressed as a woman.” Her father said: “The Lord made us this way. It’s a shame that we could lose the life because of who we are.”
Two days later, I spent an evening on the set of the Amazon series “Transparent” on the Paramount lot. My son, who knows all about having a transgender parent, is working on the show as a production assistant.
K. C. Haggard was killed that day, in Fresno, stabbed by someone passing in a car.
On Aug. 8, I went to dinner at the Village Inn in Belgrade Lakes, Me. The inn is across the lake from our house. My wife and I traveled there by boat.
Amber Monroe, 20, a trans woman of color, was killed in Detroit that day. Someone shot her as she was getting out of a car near Palmer Park.
In the last three weeks, news reports have come out about the deaths of at least five more trans or gender-nonconforming people including Shade Schuler, in Dallas; Kandis Capri, in Phoenix; Ashton O’Hara, in Detroit;Elisha Walker, near Smithfield, N.C.; and Tamara Dominguez, in Kansas City, Mo.
My mother told me that love would prevail, and for me it has, as it often does for people of privilege in this country, people who can find themselves insulated from injustice by dint of race or class or education or accident of birth.
For many trans women, though, especially those of color, something other than love prevails: loss. Did their lives matter any less than mine?