Talia Mae Bettcher writes an interesting article in Hypatia about transphobia and its connection to murders of trans people. Basically she points out that there’s this persistent theme that trans people are deceivers and that, if one checks what’s in their pants, one sees what they “really” are. So what we have here is the essentialist notion that gender depends not on how one dresses, acts and identifies, but what one covers up with one’s underwear.
Bettcher discusses the deleterious effects of the “trans=deceiver” idea in relation to the 2002 rape and murder of Californian 17-year-old trans woman Gwen Araujo. In part of the pre-murder humiliation and torture, her attackers forced her to show her genitals. The defendants and the defense tried to argue that the sight of Araujo’s penis violated her rapists in the same way that her rapists violated her. Basically, they were saying that Araujo’s identity as a trans woman was a bullshit performance because the existence of her penis was the ultimate truth, negating how she identified herself and how others perceived her.
Additionally, the defense claimed that Araujo, by being trans, was being a malicious, provocative liar who inflamed resentment and rage in the attackers by having a secret penis. Her secret penis, once revealed, blew her attackers’ minds so completely that it was like a mental and emotional rape. Of course they lashed out at her, raping and killing her! Well, that’s what the defense and the defendants would have you believe.
So…let me see if I get this straight [hur de hur hur]. The defense and the defendants were arguing that Araujo was asking to be raped and murdered merely because her physical unclothed being and her self-identification didn’t “match,” according to some idiots’ limited, provincial, antediluvian concept of gender. And I’m supposed to believe that trans people are using secret genital weapons to flagrantly oppress non-trans people and even rape them emotionally. Oh yeah, and your average straight man is so pathetic and unstable as to become completely unhinged by the merest sight of someone’s penis. Do I need to articulate how biased, insulting, stupid and just plain damaging these assumptions are to everyone involved, trans people and straight guys alike [and trans straight guys]? How the hell is such a bigoted argument supposed to excite one’s sympathy for the proponent?
The rhetoric being spewed in this case argues eloquently that feminism should not limit itself to women’s rights, but also encompass gay rights and trans rights, since much of the sexism and stupidity holding gay people and trans people back is the same sexism and stupidity holding women back.
I was going to title this one “I was raped by the sight of a secret penis!!!!” but I wanted to make it explicit that I am not using such language seriously, but rather mocking those who think that this is a valid defense. Also, despite the fact that this is a transparently public blog, I shy from explicit topic titles, preferring instead to be explicit in the post content, as if that makes it less raunchy.