|This essay talks about the trials of CeCe McDonald and Eisha Love, the issues that trans women of color face and where the roots of these problems stem from.|
When we talk about intersectionality, in the sphere of feminism, we mostly focus on aspects such as race, class and religious identity. What we leave out though, is how sexuality and gender identity also factor into how we view and navigate the world, and how these aspects also play an integral part. For the sake of this essay, and to touch on what the authors of these pieces I will be referencing to also said, the word trans is an umbrella term which covers a multitude of gender identities, ranging from binary (mtf, ftm, intersex) and outside of the binary (non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, bigender, trigender and two spirited (for Native Americans)). (National Center for Transgender Equality, 2014).
The Criminalization of CeCe McDonald
The essay Cisgender Privilege, Intersectionality, and the Criminalization of CeCe McDonald: Why Intercultural Communication Needs Transgender Studies by Julia R. Johnson examines how things such as race, gender identity, cissexisim and cis-privilege affects how trans people are forced to navigate the world, and the repercussions they face from others who hold these types of privileges. Johnson uses the case of Cece McDonald to showcase the necessity of intersectionality as an inclusion in intercultural studies. CeCe McDonald, a working class black trans woman who was tried and plead guilty to second degree murder. CeCe Mcdonald was attacked by Dean Schmitz, who has a history of violent acts and also has swastika tattoo on his stomach, indicating that he is a nazi and white supremacist. He attacked McDonald in June 2011, while McDonald was on the way to the store with some friends, by slashing her face with a broken bottle. She attempted to flee from her attacker, but was pursued by him and was claimed to have stabbed him, which he died from the wound. McDonald’s violent experience, while incredibly sad and unfortunate, is not new for trans women, especially trans* WOC (women of color).
Johnson goes further into McDonald’s identity and how this ultimately affected her case and trial, but also how important McDonald’s case is to illustrate, in the sense of intercultural studies, the power and impact that race, gender identity and cis-privilege holds. One very important point that Johnson makes in analyzing McDonald’s case is the usage of cissexisim and the invalidation of trans identities by her attacker Schmitz. “When Schmitz stated that McDonald was ‘‘dressed in women’s clothing to “rape” him, he invoked a common claim made by cisgender men against transfeminine women (Bettcher, 2007). These accusations construct trans- identities as fake and 138 J. R. Johnson validate cissexists’ ‘‘gender as ‘real’ or ‘natural’’’ (Serano, 2007, p. 13).” (Johnson, 2013). This performance of cissexism undermines McDonald’s gender identification, ‘‘reverses blame’’ to affirm cis- identity, and re-asserts heterosexuality and heteronormativity. After all, a ‘‘real’’ man can never wear a dress, surgically and/or hormonally alter a body, or be sexually attracted to other ‘‘men.’” This is a thing that happens commonly to trans people, specifically trans women. They are seen as fake and invalid, and instead as gay perverts who get sexual gratification from dressing in feminine clothing. The fear that trans women are out to trick cis men is an abuse tactic presented by cis gendered people which stems from heterosexisim and cissexisim to demonize trans women, and paint them as the attackers or abusers rather than the victims.
Another important aspect is the way McDonald was treated during her trial. “McDonald was placed in a men’s prison in spite of her identification and presentation as a woman...Assigning prisons by genital sex does not account for gender avowal and is detrimental for most trans- persons because they are subject to significant violence in general populations or protective custody (Le´ger, 2012). Furthermore, McDonald’s personal history was featured in the courtroom and her attacker’s history was precluded from proceedings, which made McDonald hypervisible. During one hearing, McDonald was asked about whether her prior hospitalization for depression or use of ‘‘hormone patch treatment’’ impacted her decision-making or allocution (State of Minnesota, 2012).”(Johnson, 2013). This is another event of cissexisim that directly impacted McDonald’s trial, plea and jail time. The act itself of placing trans people in prisons which does not correspond to their gender identification is one of violence, because the system at hand here view McDonald as invalid and not a “real woman”, primarily because we equate to gender to sex organs on a mass scale. Also, the fact that McDonald’s mental illness and hormone usage was discussed in court and not retained like that of her attacker, is another way to demean her stance and paint her as unstable, further demonizing her; “In contrast to the scrutiny McDonald experienced, Schmitz’s criminal background was determined to be inadmissible, even though he had a history of physically assaulting others and had a swastika tattooed to his stomach.” (Johnson, 2013).
The Trial of Eisha Love
Another case that is a mirror of CeCe McDonald’s is one of Eisha Love, who is a 26yr old trans WOC. As reported on in the Huffpost article titled “State of Emergency for Transgender Women of Color”, written by Addison Rose Vincent, a trans activist - Channyn Lynne Parker of Chicago House, wrote a status on Love’s attack. “Eisha and a friend were at a gas station in the west side of Chicago when they were approached by two neighborhood men. The men violently harassed Eisha and her friend, using slurs and yelling that...she was not welcome in her own neighborhood. One of the men struck her in the face. Eisha continued to fight back, so her attackers called for backup. As the two women entered their car to escape further violence, two more men pulled up in a vehicle, blocking Eisha and her friend from behind. The women were outnumbered, two against four. The man who’d struck Eisha was now pulling at her door to force her out of the car. He made his way around the front of the car, and, in a panicked frenzy, Eisha drove forward into the man, pinning his leg to the wall.” (Vincent, 2016).
After the ordeal happened, the women fled the scene until friends arrived. Later, Love confessed what had happened to her mom, who convinced her to go to the police for safety measures. Instead, Love was arrested by police for attempted murder. She is currently facing a ten year sentence because her attacker had lost his leg. The fact that this is so highly reminiscent of McDonald’s case should not come as a surprise. Trans WOC are consistently and relentlessly abused by the court and legal systems, while their attackers and harassers are rarely put on trial.
The idea of “trans panic” that was mentioned earlier also plays into this case as it does into McDonald’s. Again, the majority of murders committed against trans women are done by cis, heterosexual men. “Suspects often justify their attacks with the “trans panic“ defense, the concept that, in the heat of the moment, internalized transphobia causes them to irrationally attack transgender individuals who “provoke” them.” (Vincent, 2016). Suspects who commit crimes, specifically murder, against trans WOC also usually do this by stabbing, which is known to be one of the most intimate forms of murder. “The act of stabbing is a very personal form of murder and raises the question of the intensity of the attacker’s transphobia. Though it can be argued that some suspects choose to stab rather than shoot due to the easy access to knives over guns, and to ensure lighter sentences if caught and tried, the assertion of dominance over women’s bodies with a phallocentric object is a symbolic rape of the victim.” (Vincent, 2015). By stabbing a trans woman, they are not only taking her life, but they are asserting their dominance, their sexuality and their cis-nes over her body. They have determined her to be worthless of existence.
Trans Women and The Media
The problem of these crimes do not only lie in the legal and court systems. News stations and the way we report on trans people also is a problem, or more so the lack of the reports we have on trans people. “In a 2013 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, it was reported that of 72 percent of victims of anti-LGBTQ homicide were transgender women, and 89 percent of victims were people of color.” (Vincent, 2016). It is very rarely that we openly hear, on popular news channels or papers, the reports of trans women's deaths. It is also in this that lies the problem, because we are not treating it like the crisis that it really is. Because these people are women, are trans and are not white, their bodies are treated as expendable and therefore their stories not worth being told to the masses. A hetero person or a cis person will never have to worry about their stories and faces being plastered around in newspapers and on tv screens for all the world to hear, while stories of trans WOC murders are whispered through cracks in doors.
Another problem with media reporting of trans WOC is how they are classified. Many times, by media, police and suspect testimonies that are used in these public reports, trans WOC are labeled as sex workers, because of how they present and because they are trans women. Suspects and police use terms like “strange clothing”, finding condoms in purses as all ways to manipulate this idea that trans women are sex workers. Not only does this create stigma about sex work, shames sex workers and is also demonizing, but it pushes this “trans temptress” agenda, where trans women are only out to trick men into having sex with them. “When Cemia Dove was murdered in Ohio last year, news sources felt compelled to post details of a past arrest record and state that she had “odd clothing,” trivializing the reason for the attack. By pointing out the clothing, professions, or neighborhoods of the victims, some of whom were sex workers or lived in areas where sex work was prevalent, reporters are blaming the victim, shaming sex workers, and perpetuating the “transgender woman as temptress” myth to justify the attacks.” (Vincent, 2016).
CeCe McDonald’s case and Eisha Love’s case is important because it talks about a very important factor that intersectional feminism and cultural studies needs to encompass, which is how gender and sex plays a huge role in the lives of people who live in different aspects of the binary or outside of it completely. The fact that McDonald and Love were consistently demonized by their attackers, by the court system, and the media is not only an act of violence but it directly stems from cissexisim, heterosexisim and cisprivlege.
When we discuss intersectionality, we must understand that ALL of these aspects play into each other, and that systems of oppression directly stem from these issues. It is not only about financial standing, class standing, race, religion, ethnicity and sexuality. While these things are big and valid facets, we must recognize and give space to the things which disproportionately affect trans people in the way they navigate the world. We need to strive for better trans representation, less sex worker stigma, and realize that this is the scary reality that many trans WOC live in. We need to let people know what is going on, we need to say their names, and we need to do better. We need to do better for them, for us and for all the future trans people of the world. Give them their voice.
Transgender Terminology. (2014, January 15). Retrieved November 13, 2016, from http://www.transequality.org/issues/resources/transgender-terminology
Johnson, J. R. (2013, May). Cisgender Privilege, Intersectionality, and the Criminalization of CeCe McDonald: Why Intercultural Communication Needs Transgender Studies. Journal of International and Intercultural Communication,6(2), 135-144.
Vincent, A. R. (2016, February 02). State of Emergency for Transgender Women of Color. Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/addison-rose-vincent/state-of-emergency-for-tr_b_5792722.html