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Do Transgender Issues Affect the Gay Community? (1992)

Do Transgender Issues Affect the Gay Community? (1992)

©1992, 2013 by Dallas Denny and Margaux A. Schaffer

Source: Dallas Denny and Margaux Schaffer. (1992, 21 April).Voc Populi: Do transgender issues affect the gay community? The Advocate, 601, p. 114.

Margaux Schaffer and I wrote the following in response to the murders in Atlanta of three crossdressed women of color in Atlanta in as many months. The original title was Violence Against Transgendered Persons: An Unrecognized Problem.


 The Advocate Page (PDF)


Do Transgender Issues Affect the Gay Community?

By Dallas Denny and Margaux Ayn Schaffer

The American Educational Gender Information Service, Inc.


They turn up alongside the interstate highways and in back alleys throughout the nation: dead women, who, upon inspection of their persons and paperwork, turn out to be men, or to have once been men. Others, fortunate enough to still be among the living, show up crossdressed, bruised and bloody, at the emergency rooms of hospitals or on the doorsteps of friends. Beaten. Robbed. Shot. Stabbed. Raped.

The police have been known to laugh at the violence and throw the unfortunates back into the pool with the predators. The media either ignore the victims or focus on their gender status, making them, and not the violence which has been done to them, the story. The most respectable, most productive person, if transgendered, becomes just another “transsexual” or “transvestite” when assaulted or murdered.

Due to their often ambiguous appearance, transgendered persons present easy targets for ridicule or abuse. Those who are living crossgender often have difficulty in changing their victim profile, for their body habitus is frequently at odds with their gender identity and their social role. Unlike the case with other sexual and gender minorities, transsexualism provides visual stigma which pervade every waking moment, even when the individual is trying to blend in. Although they are certainly at risk when crossdressed, drag queens and male crossdressers can and do go home and take off their dresses and go back to being men, and crossdressed women go back to being women—but the transsexual woman is not impersonating a woman, and the transsexual man is not impersonating a man. They are doing their dead level best to be men and women, and it can get them assaulted or killed.

Despite the fact that they are much more often victims of violence than they are perpetrators, transgendered persons are frequently portrayed in the media as psychotics or criminals. This is a legacy left us by Alfred Hitchcock. His Psycho is mirrored in such films as Dressed to Kil” and, more recently, Silence of the Lambs, as well as on innumerable television shows. In actuality, violent crimes by transgendered persons are quite rare, but homicide and assault of transgendered persons are very common. Yet how many television shows and movies have focused on transgendered persons as victims?

The murders of three transgendered persons in Atlanta in one month have made us acutely aware of the problem of violence in our society. We remembered having read newspaper accounts of such killings, but when we checked, we were appalled at the magnitude of the problem. Transgendered people have been turning up dead in many of our cities: San Diego, San Francisco, Dallas, New York, Chicago.

We found that transsexual people are sometimes beaten by the police, and have been abused and raped by their jailers. We found that transgendered inmates are sometimes housed in common areas with the general population of their original gender (recently, one transsexual woman had her breast implants ruptured in a scuffle with male prisoners in a holding tank). We found that care providers will sometimes refuse to treat transgendered persons, even when they are in obvious physical or mental distress. We found that there is little support for those who have been abused or attacked, and that perpetrators are rarely apprehended.

Our conclusion was that violence against transgendered persons pervades our society, and that a system to monitor and prevent it is not in place.

We would estimate that dozens of murders of transgendered persons are occurring every year. Most happen for unknown reasons, and are never solved. Certainly, the police in different cities do not seem to be communicating with each other. We doubt, for instance, that the Atlanta police have spoken with the police in San Diego, where there have been a number of recent killings.

Perhaps all these murders are unrelated, but consider this: what if there is a serial killer of transgendered persons? What if there are several serial killers? How would we ever know?

The murders and violence will continue unless our culture comes to understand that the transgendered are people, too. One need only substitute words for other classes of people for “transsexual” or “crossdresser” to see just how our society devalues transgendered men and women: Three Children Murdered in Inner City!” Another Dentist Found Dead on Interstate!” Would the police take immediate action if those were the headlines? Of course. Would the media make a big deal of it? They certainly did a decade or so ago, right here in Atlanta, when children were being murdered. You can bet there would be a police task force and national headlines if school teachers or preachers were turning up dead in Atlanta. But with three transgendered women recently murdered, the police and media don’t seem to be taking the problem seriously.

There is a problem, of course, and it is not an Atlanta problem, not a Georgia problem, not a Southern problem. It is a national problem. It is time that violence against transgendered persons is recognized as a matter for national concern, just as has happened with violence against gay men and lesbians. But just as it is not a local problem, it is not a gay matter, nor a transgender matter. It is a question of safety for all people. Everyone is at risk, especially those who do not fit into rigid gender stereotypes. Last year, for example, a woman who was walking with her husband in San Francisco was beaten because bashers perceived her to be a gay man.

The United States is based on freedom of expression. Allowing violence against any of its citizens subverts the intention of its founders. Inaction by the authorities can lead only to increasing violence and widening circles of victims. We must work cooperatively to deal with the problem of violence against American citizens, no matter what their sexual orientation or presentation of gender. We can do this in forums such as this, by approaching our lawmakers, and by educating those who are ignorant. We can do it by supporting hate crime laws, and by demanding that those who are sworn to protect us do so. We must let the authorities know that we do not demand special treatment, but that we do demand equal treatment. But by all means, we must take action now, for the violence has gone on for too long.