Since I was a young child I’ve known whom the “other” is when it comes to gender identity. If I wasn’t hearing negative comments from family members, then I was hearing it on TV and in movies. People around me had no regard or care and often used words like “fag”, “homo”, “she/he”, and “tranny” to describe those who looked or acted differently whether or not they identified as gay or transsexual. These words that I heard and the negativity that I saw definitely had a stronger impact on my views and opinions than I ever realized. This became apparent to me when I was 13 years old and found myself committing what some would call a hate crime. Keep in mind that I lived in a predominantly Black Caribbean neighborhood, and in telling this story and writing this paper I am speaking from the position of a black female. There was a gay couple that lived in my neighborhood; sadly this couple was often the victim of a lot of ridicule by children in our neighborhood. Many parents were very aware of what many of their children were doing and beside a small slap on the wrist they would pretty much get away with their antics. Now, I would say that I wasn’t as bad as many of the children in my neighborhood but at times I was, although I knew right from wrong I still continued to do bad things. One afternoon l I was out with two of my friends. We happened to find an old spray can around the neighborhood and decided it was a smart idea to vandalize our neighborhood. As we walked around we found ourselves in front of the gay couples house, right away we started with the jokes. My friend said that the couple was always hiding and acted like they were afraid to let people know they were gay. Of course smart, bigoted 13-year-old Nyah took it upon herself to let the whole world know that this was a gay couple in our neighborhood. I took the spray can and painted the word “GAY” in big letters on the sidewalk in front of their house with arrow pointing directly to their door so that no one would be mistaken. I knew what would happen when I painted that, people would go their house, some of the older guys would possibly attack them, their neighbors who had no problem with them would start to judge them and as I painted those letters I instantly felt regret. It hurt me the most when I saw the couple come out one day and get on their knees to scrub away the words that I had branded on their sidewalk. The point of me telling this story is not to address my specific issue but rather to look at the whole picture. Any other child that was in my neighborhood at that time could have committed that crime. The point of that story is to comment on the transphobia, homophobia, and transmisogyny that are very apparent within not only the black community but within all communities. People often say that words are just words but words hold power. The words that I heard as I child shaped how I viewed the world, and believing in that point of view is what caused me to put those words into action. We have seen in recent history how hateful words create hateful actions. The LGBTQIA+ community already has an alarmingly high rate of homicidal deaths but recently the murder of Trans women has been on the rise especially the murders of Trans Women of colour. “Trans women make up 72% of anti-LGBTQIA+ homicide victims, and 89% of these victims were people of colour.”[i]
Laverne Cox’s speech addresses this specific issue and takes it a step further and puts an intersectional analysis on it. She discusses and tries to explain the overwhelming amount of transmisogyny and transphobia within society and specifically within the black community. Cox explains how a history of oppression, demasculinization and humiliation within slavery and the Jim Crow South have affected the black people of today’s society. On this she made a comment that really helps to put context and a background to the problem of transmisogyny within the black community,
“Most of us know that during slavery and during Jim Crow, black bodies, usually black male bodies were often lynched. In these lynchings, the men’s genitals were cut off. Sometimes they were pickled and sometimes they were sold. There was this sort of historic fear and fascination with black male sexuality.”[ii]
This quote in many ways introduces hegemonic masculinity within the black community. This idea that because of their violent history, black men feel that they have to prove their masculinity. When seeing someone who does not share that same belief, it is deemed as disgraceful and inappropriate and often leads to hate speech and violence. This issue of proving or defending masculinity goes beyond the black community. Our society is based upon a strict gender binary that is detrimental to all who do not fit within it. This being said we have to realize then that transmisogyny and transphobia are learned practices and are social constructs.
Cox offers a solution to this issue by sharing a quote from Cornell West that says, “Justice is what love looks like in public” and she goes on to say that, “If we can love trans gender people, that will be a revolutionary act.” I think along with love we have to focus on educating people as well to destroy their preconceived ideas of the “other”. I know that my opinions were changed through love and education. When we love and support those that are marginalized as well as educating those around us we are fighting against all of the “isms” and “phobias” that society has created and enforced upon them.
[i] Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. N.p., 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.
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