Laverne Cox’s Speech: http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/
In a speech on the intersections of racism, transphobia, and misogyny, Lavern Cox, black transgender actress and activist, identifies ways that hate crimes against members of the LGBTQIAP+ community disproportionately target trans women of colour. She proposes that most violence aimed at queer people, regardless of whether they are cisgender or transgender, is derived from a desire in the mainstream to enforce binary models of gender performativity. As a black trans woman, Cox also discusses encountering transmisogyny at the hands of black cisgender men in a way that her white trans counterparts do not: she immediately counters the notion that black men are more transphobic, and instead identifies racial trauma as contributing to black male unease with black trans women. Cox attributes the trauma to slavery and Jim Crow era lynchings, during which “the men’s genitals were cut off [and kept by white lynchers, betraying a] historic fear and fascination with black sexuality” (Cox). According to her, some cisgender black people see her “trans woman’s body, and feel that [it is] the embodiment of this historical emasculation” (Cox). Quoting Cornell West’s statement that “justice is what love looks like in public,” Cox suggests that to counter transmisogynistic, racialized violence and bigotry, there needs to be honest, genuine communication stemming from a place of love. As long as white members of the LGBTQIAP+ community blame and alienate black people, and present whiteness as ubiquitous with queerness and transness, the world is made exponentially more dangerous for trans women of colour, and black trans women in particular.
Stereotyping black communities as being more transmisogynistic, transphobic, and homophobic than any other racial group fosters white supremacy: it functions to erase systemic oppression on multiple axes, putting the onus on black people for the perpetuation of violence and bigotry against the LGBTQIAP+ community. When whiteness is seen as synonymous with queerness, the priorities of white, economically advantaged, cisgender community members become the sole focus of LGBTQIAP+ activism and organizing, leaving trans women of colour vulnerable to systemic violence and exploitation. With the trans community already marginalized within mainstream LGBTQIAP+ organizing, the role of white supremacy serves to utterly devalue and alienate trans women of colour. In an article for Slate Magazine, journalist Parker Marie Molloy uses the suicide of Leelah Alcorn to critique the media’s pattern of ignoring racialized transmisogyny: when “trans women of colour [are] murdered at a rate of roughly one per week, [the media should] recognize this violence for what it is—an epidemic” (Molloy). While the reaction to Alcorn’s death is good, the contrasting lack of regard for the lives and deaths of trans women of colour highlights the degree to which only white lives are valued by the media and mainstream LGBTQIAP+ community.
A troubling historical precedent of ignoring trans women of colour exists within the LGBTQIAP+ community: journalist Eunbyul Lee points to the Stonewall Riots as “a classic example of the whitewashing of trans legacies. [While Stonewall is lauded] as a cornerstone of the white gay liberation movement…crucial TWOC leaders like Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Miss Major [are ignored and erased]” (Lee). The whitewashing of trans and queer history serves to reinforce that these marginalized sexual and gender identities are inherently white, and positions trans women of colour as aberrations. It is not difficult, then, to see why the street harassment Lavern Cox experiences from black men is derived from a sense that she is “a disgrace to the race because [she is] trans” (Cox). For decades, white gay and lesbian movements have actively set themselves in opposition to blackness as a means of gaining social status and security. Instead of recognizing the marginalization black trans women experience, they actively distance themselves, and present white gay and lesbian identity as confined to a gender binary and social normative. In order to achieve acceptance within a heteropatriarchal, white supremacist, imperialist society, “[white] gay and lesbian [activism lays] claims to imperilled domesticity, privacy, and kinship” (Bassichis, Spade 195). The emphasis on marriage equality—compared to the lack of focus or resources directed towards violence against trans women of colour—illustrates the desire among white, cis, middle-to-upper class queer people to integrate into an oppressive system. Other projects, like Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign, also illustrate “a form of gayness implicitly linked to whiteness and upward mobility” (196) and “generalize a particular narrative in which white queers can ‘escape’ homophobia…[unlike] queer and trans people who will remain targets of policing [and other state sanctioned violence]” (196). Trans and queer people of colour cannot attain the social status afforded white, cisgender gay people, or participate in respectability politics that treat cis, white bodies as normative, and trans, non-white bodies as Other. If LGBTQIAP+ politics make inclusion within the state a priority, they invariably participate in a system that devalues black life. From housing and employment discrimination to criminalization and mass incarceration, black people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are harmed by the institutions to which white, cis gay and lesbian organizers look for validation and support (200).
White discourse within mainstream gay and lesbian politics frequently places the blame for homophobic legislation upon black voters, as with the passing of Proposition 8 in California, during which white, cis, gay organizers actively accused black people of being more homophobic than white people (197). When white, middle-to-upper class subsets of the community are actively dismissive of and hostile to the ongoing struggle for black humanity to be recognized and defended, cisgender, heterosexual people of colour are implicitly taught to connect LGBTQIAP+ organizing with their racial trauma. As Laverne Cox points out, the homicide rate for trans women of colour is the “highest in the LGBTQ community [comprising] 54% of all LGBTQ homicides” (Cox). This damaging and dishonest binary between white queerness and blackness ensures that trans women of colour, and black trans women especially, have no community to turn to for support and protection. To reduce violence against trans women of colour, it is vital that mainstream LGBTQIAP+ organizations actively address the racism they perpetuate, and work to provide support for trans and queer women of colour.
Until next time!
Bassichis, Morgan, and Dean Spade. “Queer Politics and Anti-Blackness.” Queer Necropolitics. Eds. Jin Haritaworn, Adi Kuntsman, Silvia Posocco. New York: Routledge, 2014. 191-203. Print.
Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. 7 Dec. 2014. Web. 6 Mar. 2015. <http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/>
Molloy, Parker Marie. “Trans Women of Color Deserve to be Mourned as Much as Leelah Alcorn.” Slate. 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 7 Mar. 2015. <http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/ 2015/02/13while_the_media_focuses_on_leelah_alcorn_murders_of_trans_women_of _color.html>
Lee, Eunbyul. “Who Gets to be Human in Death?: Leela Alcorn and Trans Legacies.” Black Girl Dangerous. 6 Jan. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/ 2015/01/gets-human-death-leelah-alcorn-trans-legacies/>