Society is all too eager to wash its hands of our blood. To suggest it’s a “lone wolf” every time — one particular case where things got out of hand and it just so happened to end unfairly. If we even get so far as to address that something happened that shouldn’t have. That someone’s life was stolen and that is criminal.
See, the truth is if we’re not dying by your hands, there is still the matter of your silence, your decision to deny us our humanity and genders to reckon with.
They’re not killing us in anger, or in betrayal, in shame at what they’ve done or who they’ve been with. The murders of trans people aren’t based on the lie that someone misled them about their genitalia or about sex. That’s the easy answer and tends to keep everyone comfortable.
We have already so normalized violence in the name of romance, love, and passion that it actually doesn’t disturb any of our reason or trigger any red flags. We understand and make space for the fact that aggression, harassment, abuse, and even murder are just part of the package when it comes to love and sex. That is its own lesson and shame we have to unpack and deal with.
When we speak about violence targeting trans people, we have to make it very clear that the “lie,” the “trick,” the “trap,” trans people are punished for — by everyone in society — is not about what happens when people have sex. It is punishment for daring to say “I am not what you think I should be. I am more than what you want me to be. I won’t submit to the system you’ve forced on me.”
We punish trans people to protect society’s self-righteousness and hopefully stamp out its shame. That same thrill that goes through us when we see someone and can’t identify how they fit into gender as we like it. The pointing and whispering and gossiping and laughing. The ways we dissect and analyze and critique trans people who pass so well, even we find them attractive.
The ones who’ll reach out and snatch our lives, our breath from our bodies, laugh and jeer (as always) to navigate the choices they’re faced with. They embolden each other and flag to everyone around them, “I’d kill them if they ever tricked me like that.” They beg for permission, for support, for absolution. We deliver on all counts, every time we demand children “act like men/women;” whenever we gender objects, subjects in school, activities and interests; whenever we defend our right to claim our own gender that exists in a system that is killing others for living beyond it.
Lil Duval didn’t need to be told not to make that kind of joke. Ignoring that the punch line was setup and framed by the hosts, everyone in the space should have disagreed and said exactly why they find Janet Mock (and trans people) worthy of respect, of dignity, of humanity, and, yes, of attraction without stigma or shame or fetishization. We need people with as much privilege and social capital on the line to say they respect trans people. That they will defend attraction to, and compassion for, trans people to their dying breaths.
He wasn’t joking about how ridiculous it is to ask if Janet Mock is attractive. He was responding the best way he knows how . Considering that we all know she is and that admitting that she is, would be to give up everything that holds his sense of humanity, of manhood, of Blackness together. No one laughed because it was funny. Everyone laughed because it is the only safe or acceptable answer: I would kill her. There is no acceptable answer other than I would kill her. “She tricked me … I didn’t know … look, I will kill her to prove it.”
That is the only path we would not strip him of every ounce of credibility, of humanity, for.
That is the only way he can even indirectly come into contact with the way we treat gender and everyone who lives beyond it, and hope to escape unscathed or perhaps on top. He would not have killed a trans person for being secretly unattractive. He wouldn’t have killed a trans person for lying about their sex. He would have killed a trans person because every day society ENFORCES gender in two very specific ways, and anyone who proves the lie in that is a LIAR, a THIEF, a PREDATOR. It is a civic duty to make sure everyone who misbehaves, who doesn’t wear gender the right ways, is brought back into line.
Trans women murdered by partners and lovers aren’t killed in a fit of rage at being deceived. That is NEVER the case. Trans women are murdered to protect people who “just don’t get it,” who “don’t mind it, as long as they keep it to themselves,” who “support but only if you don’t walk around looking…”
Men kill trans women not only for their egos. They kill us to preserve Black manhood and womanhood, masculinity and femininity as a whole. They kill us to preserve “Black excellence.” They kill us to keep hope alive and do right by the families and communities who birthed them and raised them.
There is no separating the one from the other.
There is no separating how much gender plays in the foundation and development of a person’s identity and character. There is no separating that we teach children it is a MORAL value to perform gender the right ways. There is no escaping that we teach children they are not boys, they cannot be men, except at the expense of girls and women and femmes. There is no escaping that we teach children that they are not worthy, they are not human, if their girlhood is not pliable, and attractive, and serves a purpose and brings satisfaction to those she owes allegiance to.
Normalize being more than what gender allows for any of us to be. Normalize challenging and unlearning all the ways you’ve learned to police gender and the hierarchies of “real” genders/women/men for yourself and others. Normalize NEVER asking anyone about their genitals who did not agree to discuss specifically about their genitals.
Sex will ALWAYS be a hot commodity; as will intimacy, affection, attraction, and the politics of beauty. The LIE that adding trans and gender non-conforming people into the mix makes it taboo and inconceivable and impossible is what is killing us. Trans people are already sexual beings; trans people are already desirable and coveted and lusted after. There is actually entirely too much of that — as is always the case, those most vulnerable to violence, and attractive to predators, are those who are silenced and repressed and marginalized in their communities.
We don’t need you all to point out what’s wrong when someone else is laying dead, when another child is abandoned. We need you on the front lines and attacking, combating the root long before that happens. We need you defending and protecting gender non-conformity, when it isn’t attractive to you, when it doesn’t appeal or meet some arbitrary standard that makes you feel comfortable. We are no safer when you realize that all of gender is pageantry and trans people excel in ways you’ve never even entertained. We excel out of necessity and for our own pleasure, we excel through creativity and for our survival.
We need you not to just tolerate or look the other way but educate yourselves at your own expense and get COMFORTABLE with everyone playing fast and loose with “gender.”
We need you defending women’s rights to womanhood without a single criteria. Not one.
We need you defending people’s right to dress and present and express exactly how they see fit.
We need you to stop glorifying passing and beauty and attraction and sexiness and language that is most accessible to you, feels most familiar. Dig. Dig deeper.