Friday, April 17, 2009

Wo/Man Enough

As the trial of Angie Zapata's murderer begins, about a year after she was killed by a date who "discovered," in the course of sexually assaulting her, that she had a penis, a google search of "transgender" produces this companion story: opposition to a bill banning discrimination based on gender orientation (to be frank, I find US law-making processes confusing.. 11 states have a similar law in place, and there's a federal and other state laws in the works, I think).
It's a precedent-setting case: the first murder of a transgendered woman to be tried as a hate crime. News reports stated that Zapata's killer began to suspect her gender identity, and, when she refused to "prove" that she was female, he put his hand on her crotch without her consent and felt her penis. This is mentioned in passing, as they describe how and why he "snapped" and "killed it," as he referred the the woman he beat to death and robbed. Though they did mention tha the two had "spent the night" and Zapata's mysterious not-putting-out behaviour, no commentary was provided about why, after suspecting that Zapata had formerly identified as a boy, he decided to sexually assault her rather than stop seeing her. Apparently, having a suspect gender is asking for it. But we already know that some sexual assaults just don't "count," right?
Opposition to the anti-discrimination bill, which is the basis of a hate crime prosecution, calls it a "bathroom bill," giving legal protection to perverts who want to use the "wrong" bathroom. I used a unisex bathoom in residence at school, and I can't say any harm came of it, aside from a few awkward conversations with a particularly chatty guy who sometimes occupied the stall next to mine. The rapes that took place in a university dorm the following year happened in bedrooms, not bathrooms (and were perpetrated, as is typical, by a male-identified, heterosexual man). But here's the rub: our cultural taboos about the toilet, and who should or shouldn't be allowed to see us using it, are being used as legitimate criticism of a bill that is aimed at preventing violence, employment, medical, legal, and educational discrimination. It's a measure that will protect transgendered people from poverty and illness, making them less vulnerable to violence in the first place, and which will provide necessary education to violent criminals who expect our courts to excuse their "gay panic" style attacks.
Why the opposition? There have never been any attacks on bathroom users by trans persons, ever, so that's clearly not the issue. Let's let gender/orientation lines get blurry for a moment, and think about why either/or/neither/both/other identifications (people who don't fit in to white-idealized versions of strong male man/submissive female woman gender dichotomies) are the target of so much violence. Zapata's killer stated that she performed oral sex on him. If he liked it, does that make him gay? In his mind, probably. Would it make him gay if he enjoyed oral sex with someone who identified as male? In my mind, no... but I tend not to fuss over gender.
What about a bunch of guys who attend a strip club together? Sure, they're looking at a naked woman, but the sexual relationship they're exploring is with each other. And if the stripper performs with a female partner, are they, or their audience, now lesbians? If the next show is a drag performace, and both gay- and straight-identified audience members think she's hot, what's their orientation? What gender do we call men who are raped in self-contained all-male societies, like prison? What gender do the hetero-identified rapists call the victims, or themselves? Who is more man: a white transgendered man/woman or a black transgendered man/woman (by Western standards, the black "look" is far more "masculine")? And what to make of all that muscley man-on-man action in professional wrestling, football, ufc? Where and how do any of these men fit into a system of sex-based heirarchies, once we recognize that manhood and heterosexuality are pretty fluid concepts? Much of men's objectification of women (I use this term against my better judgement, for lack of a better phrase, and without the implied disrespect to femme folk who work in sex industries) has nothing to do with women at all, and everything to do with male fraternity. Actually, even the word "fraternity" calls to mind homoerotic imagery of Bush and his "Skulls" pals dancing around in robes and spanking each other. Hawt. And male violence, whether against women or other men, tends to be about establishing male power: over women, over the earth, among competing men, over nations/races/cultures, and by collecting the most money or land. Anti-trans discrimination and violence are necessary components of a system that lets men engage in sex-based explorations and exchanges/seizures of power without having to sacrifice the ideal of the straight, masculine man.
My point is this: the non-existant victims of non-existant trans bathroom predators are a decoy, and Zapata, and every murdered woman like her, are what we're not supposed to see. Continuing anti-trans discrimination won't nail any sex predators because sex predators, by and large, are male-identified, heterosexual men. But it will protect the ideal of masculinity and the excuses it provides for "straight" men to create and maintain power through violence.
#END


6 comments:

Bandbabe said...

Wow! This is an incredible post. Thank you.

This quite particularly stood out to me:
"And male violence, whether against women or other men, tends to be about establishing male power: over women, over the earth, among competing men, over nations/races/cultures, and by collecting the most money or land."

Right on!!

uppitywhore said...

thanks! i am often frustrated by "men's rights" claims that men are victims of violence, too, so women's shelters, and awareness programs etc. are discriminatory. men *are* victims of violence, but it is still perpetrated mostly by other men, and all within a system that establishes oppressive power through violence: from domestic arenas to war. even the relatively minute number of women who batter men (which does not make it any less criminal or traumatic, just less common) are doing so within a system established to maintain male power, and are likely, just like male abusers, to have been abused by a male family member themselves.

Adam said...

"Much of men's objectification of women...has nothing to do with women at all, and everything to do with male fraternity...sex predators, by and large, are male-identified, heterosexual men. But it will protect the ideal of masculinity and the excuses it provides for "straight" men to create and maintain power through violence."

--Really, excellent. As Bandbabe wrote, "Right on!!"

(Hu)man identity is so sacred in Western culture that any transgression threatens the very meaning of people in that culture to exist. Whoever deviates from the stable, self-contained, autonomous male condition is by default categorized as subordinate.

It seems that most backlash against civil and animal rights has less to do with whether those "Others" deserve or don't deserve them than with the "right" of men to subordinate them for their own existential project, which in part is maintaining (hu)man identity/privilege.

Alienation said...

Whoa! Great post! (Starting off strong, I see ;-))

"And male violence, whether against women or other men, tends to be about establishing male power"

Right, although the excuses are always a variety of things. Poverty, bad childhood, an absent father, mental illness the one that is CLEAR is that male violence is targeted towards those that are weaker because of power, and to prove strength.

Thank you for discussing this issue. Trans people are so dehumanized, we're not meant to view violence against them as being a normal heinous crime. Immoral violence only happens to "human beings". xo

uppitywhore said...

mmhmm. dead on.
like how grabbing her crotch wasn't even considered sexual assault because the "straight" guy couldn't possibly be sexually motivated to touch a penis.. except that having sex with trans women is an entirely "straight" pursuit, gay men being uninterested in women as sexual partners.
somehow the notion that "sexual assault is a crime of power, not sex" didn't translate here. he could have stopped seeing her, but obviously felt a need to re-establish his power and masculinity through sexual assault, witnessing zapata's humiliation, and violence. there is *no way* that assault would be just a passing fact if zapata had always identified as female.
trans people have it really tough, especially if they don't "pass" for "biological" men/women. for some reason none of the sex work abolitionists that decry survival sex for "bio" women ever speak out about trans women who engage in survival sex because of employment discrimination, or the difficulties they face in reporting assault and hate crimes or combatting police abuses. unfortunately, even when the abuse of trans women (and every other marginalized group that ends up engaging in sex work with less than average amounts of choice), they are discredited for their ability to care for themselves and sex work is blamed for the problem instead of the discrimination that limited their choices in the first place. i chose this as a first post because i thought zapata demonstrated how anti-trans discrimination/violence exists as a problem in and of itself.

uppitywhore said...

um..
i kinda talk a LOT, don't i... oops!