Every 27 hours a trans person is murdered, over 2,600 the last 10 years – that we know about. A number that is rising annually and particularly affects those in the Americas but also in nearly 70 other countries around the world.
Whilst nobody in the UK was knowingly killed this year, nonetheless, Ruth Hunt, CEO of Stonewall described Britain today as “at an absolute crisis point in how it treats trans people”, in no small part down to media attention.
“Britain is no longer considered a safe part of the world for trans people to live in…It should be considered a national embarrassment that this is where we now are as a nation.” – Ruth Hunt, Stonewall
Trans women of colour are the most likely to be killed of all transgender people. Instead of horrific headlines of transphobic killings it would be great to see more like this one, celebrating the political victory of poet, activist and social historian, Andrea Jenkin, winning a seat on Minneapolis City Council:
Andrea Jenkins makes history as first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in US – The Independent
But today, trans people are in the news for the shocking recurrence of their frequent murders. It seems recently, however, that they’ve been in the news every day. Frequently, there are 2-3 trans questioning or outright transphobic articles in The Times alone, not to mention other papers daily, and continuous TV and Radio programmes to boot.
Trans people’s lives are already under a microscope as part of their transition pathway, but to be so in the media spotlight too puts their private and social lives up for involuntary discussion and invasive dissection.
Lucy Meadows took her own life in 2013 in strong part due to “the toll the press was taking on her mental health”, says her former partner. “The media later claimed, [that] by putting out an “official” letter, the school [where she taught] had “officially” placed Lucy’s transition in the domain of public interest.”
A Day of Statistics, Sadness & Solidarity
Instead of the prurient public interest being in trans ‘sex changes’, former lives, and scaremongering fears of ‘sex pest perverts’, the media should be concerned about the levels of abuse, bullying, murder and suicide that so blight trans lives.
Last year, saw 295 trans and gender-diverse persons added to the list of those killed for being trans. This year that number is 325, up 10%. It went up 9% in 2015-2016 too. Improved news monitoring could account for it but hate and visibility are also on the rise.
“These figures only show the tip of the iceberg of homicides of trans and gender-diverse people on a worldwide scale.”
The majority of the murders occurred in Brazil (171 up 48 or 40% from the previous year), Mexico (56 up from 52), and the United States (25 up from 23), adding up to a total of 2,609 reported cases in 71 countries worldwide between 1st of January 2008 and 30th of September 2017.
5 trans people were killed in Europe (down 50%)
25 in the USA (11x more likely than in Europe)
53 in Mexico (50x more likely)
171 in Brazil (120x more likely)
You are 25x more at risk in the US than in India but 7.5x more at risk in Pakistan than India. For all its talk of being the “land of the free” you are just as likely to be killed (in the street, or your home, etc) for being trans in America as in Saudi Arabia! (More data)
Hate crimes against trans people in America were up 44% in 2016, according to FBI data.
“Since the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, there has been a notable increase in the vitriol and anti-transgender rhetoric — from the top levels of government down through the rest of American society.” – HRC Report
The majority of murders were of trans women (80% in the US)
62% were sex workers (4% were hairdressers & 2% artists)
69% of the reported murder victims in W.Europe were migrants
86% of the victims in the US were people of colour and/or Native American
In many countries, trans and gender non-conforming people live riskier lives, not by choice, but usually as a last resort due to the oppression, rejection and lack of rights within their cultures and societies. Many struggle to find work to survive, let alone to transition, and resort to sex work and/or flee their countries as migrants. Either or both of these paths putting them into the line of fire of greater exploitation and risk.
These numbers do not include suicides, the countless thousands who take their own lives – around 40% try, twice as many consider it. Sometimes it is the result of an attack:
Today I think about my smart, beautiful, open hearted friend Sarah. She was a courageous woman who fought every day for a more equal kind world. After a brutal attack ripped her of her dignity she took her own life, today we light candles but everyday we must love harder #TDOR
These numbers barely scratch the surface of the actual violence trans people experience, as much goes unrecorded, or cause/status unknown. Many countries don’t mention trans status in reports of violent death or in their internal statistics – particularly in anti-LGBT regimes and regions. Again, many may be killed in their acquired gender but the death not be because of it, of their pre-transition life simply not known about.
In addition to violent deaths, 1-in-2 trans people experience domestic abuse and/or sexual violence (DASV). Trans men and women alike often suffer in silence and fear that shelters and services won’t be there for them.
81% of trans people have suffered physical and/or verbal abuse.
Are they not women if people and society perceive them as such and treat them equally badly?
Yes, their social and biological experience when growing up is not that of natal women but many in medicine now recognise a biological rather than purely psychological basis for the origins of gender dysphoria.
“Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity.” – The Endocrine Society
How then can some in society – conservative religions, some feminists, right-wing journalists, think that being trans male or female is something that we can fight against?
The personal is political and it’s hard to avoid the political, for murder is as personal as it gets. The irony that this was a rallying cry of late 1960s/70s Second Wave Feminism and yet is also the lived and embodied risk of being trans is not lost on me. Women regularly experience sexism and discrimination because of their sex. Black women even more so, adding racism to the crimes against their person.
The majority of feminists recognise the intersections between sex, sexuality and colour, not to mention class. Again, most modern and particularly young student feminists recognise the further intersection with gender identity. A few do not, and instead regard trans women as a threat to gendered spaces and trans men as traitors erasing butch lesbianism.
The conflation of sex with gender and/or sexuality is an issue needing better education to better understand people’s authentic ‘born this way’ identities.
Don’t scapegoat us as perverts and rapists. Don’t harm us and kill us. Instead, be allies, support us to be ourselves, and let’s bring these murder, abuse, and suicide rates down next year!
What can we do?
We need to:
end discrimination at work, in training and employment opportunities
provide decent healthcare
create healthy environments at school to explore identity and expression
recognise that Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence happen to trans women and men too, at the hands of cisgendered men and women
ensure prejudice is rooted out of criminal justice and police systems
provide legal protections against online and offline hate
end the language of violence* and exclusion between TERFs, as well as other vociferous transphobes, and Trans
develop positive dialogues rather than debate our right to exist
foster greater unity with allies of the wider LGBT+ and feminist communities
[*I denounce all #punchaFemiNazi, #punchaTERF, #punchaTranny memes and tweets, because no form of violence, real or humorous should be being encouraged.]
TDOR remembrance meetups were held around the UK including London, Liverpool, Brighton, and Norwich, as well as around the world including Paris and New York and dozens of other locations.
Norwich, my adopted home city held two TDOR events, one at the UEA attended by over 80 people (Concrete Online report), and another outside the Forum, with 40-50 people including the Lord Mayor and representatives of the CofE clergy. Speakers included me (Katy Jon Went) using the text above, Evie Thomas of UEA, and poetry read by Sarah Corke and Poppy Rose.
I was most impressed by the number of allies that attended, showing that society and Norwich in particularly is openminded and accepting in the main, and supports the rights, lives and wellbeing of trans and gender non-conforming people, despite media articles to the contrary.
India has, today, ruled in its highest court that transgender people, usually called Hijra there, will henceforth have the option to be recognised as a third gender and all forms, documents and facilities will have to provide for them as such. Whilst numbering some 2-5 million people or up to 1-in-200 of the population, they will be given minority rights, job quotas, full access to education, adoption and healthcare.
In development since 2009, and in time for India’s current elections, the Election Commission has also allowed for a third gender option, “Other”, on voting forms.
Justice KS Radhakrishnan, headed up the Supreme Court ruling and said:
“It is the right of every human being to choose their gender…Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue…The spirit of the Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender.”
Anita Shenoy, lawyer for the petitioner National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) said:
“We are quite thrilled by the judgement…The court order gives legal sanctity to the third gender. The judges said the government must make sure that they have access to medical care and other facilities like separate wards in hospitals and separate toilets.”
The case demanding equal rights first came to court in 2012 initiated by a trans-activist group led by trans Hindi film star Laxmi Narayan Tripathi. She said, upon hearing the ruling:
India is the world’s largest democracy yet especially in rural areas is far from an equal society. Tripathi proclaimed that, “The progress of the country is dependent upon [the] human rights of the people and we are very happy with the judgement.”
These rights are extended to trans and or intersex people that are living in a way that is different to their birth gender and yet also allows post-op transsexuals to legally choose their gender: male, female or transgender/other. Thus both binary and non-binary individuals are able to choose their identity, it is not a category that is being forced upon them but one they have fought for.
Western trans activists should remember two things here, firstly, that hijra=trans is not an exact Western/Eastern label match. The cultural evolution of their fight for recognition comes off the back of centuries of religious, social and cultural development, in context, and against different prejudices, classes and castes. Their identity was formed in the crucible of their history. We should not, therefore, seek to impose our LGBTI rights battles on their personal and political paths, we should, however, support them in their moves to self-assert their chosen identities.
Secondly, the concept of ‘third gender’ has been sought by them, whereas many in the West oppose that concept and fear its use in a 1930s anti-Semitic way to categorise and potentially segregate trans people as if with some kind of yellow star (Jews) or pink triangle (homosexuals).
Trans masculine identities in India
“If trans people are a minority with almost no rights in this country [India], transmen are a minority within that minority.” Just as “there are hijras, kinnars, mangalamukhis, aravanis, kothis, jogappas, shiv shaktis among trans women as identities, there is a wide range of trans masculine expressions”, says an Indian transman, one of 74 that co-signed a letter to the Indian Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, “We have many names to identify ourselves like bhaiya, thirunambi, gandabasaka, babu, ftm, trans man etc. For an umbrella term, to refer to us in all our diversity, we would like the use of the term, trans masculine. We do not identify with PAGFB [Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth] which is what is being used in reports and meetings here to describe our identities. We strongly urge you to refer to us by identities that we assume, not ones that are imposed on us without due democratic discussions and consent.”
Another “term for FTM in Hindi is Sadhin“. Last November, an Indian trans man fled the country after being ‘outed’ by the media and sought asylum in the UK. This was before this week’s more positive news for trans rights. Although more sparse, trans masculine support does exist in India, but they have a lower profile in society, media and rights activism.
[The above section of this post has been reblogged many times including on several transmen Tumblr blogs – read the comments and reposts there for more thoughts]
LGB Gay Rights in India
Meanwhile, LGB rights of India’s gays, lesbians and bisexuals, are still behind the times though, having recently restored an old British colonial law banning homosexual activity. India has granted these historical Hijra rights, yet still bans gay sex in a logical anomaly. How is gay sex to be defined now there are three genders? If a newly defined Hijra/Third Gender has sex with a man is it gay or straight sex? If a Hijra has sex with another Hijra is that homosexual?
Trans rights in Pakistan
Back in 2011 after actions that began in 2009 Pakistan granted “third gender” status and improved rights to trans people, for example on national identity cards, employment and inheritance rights. Whilst many Hijra end up begging, wedding dancing or in prostitution, Pakistan has been enterprising in employing them as official agents pursuing tax evaders. Apparently, recovery rates are up 15%!
LGBT rights in Nepal
Thirteen years ago Nepal’s LGBT activists initiated a campaign for full LGBT equality, which resulted in a landmark decision in 2007 but which took another 5-6 years for full implementation of trans equality. The court decision ordered the then government to scrap all laws that discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and “that they study and implement a same-sex marriage policy, and that citizens be allowed to self-identify as a third gender on all official documents and registers.”
Nepalese activists have urged the government to use the word “other” rather than “third gender” or “trans” as a “more inclusive” term that allows full “self-identification”.
Trans rights in Bangladesh
Last year, Bangladesh also granted third gender rights and recognition to Hijras – a term in Bangladesh adopted by 10,000+ people including many male-to-female presenting individuals and some intersex persons. Cabinet Secretary Muhammad Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said: “They will be referred to as hijras in both English and Bangla. Any other translations to English would be misleading.”
Non-Western Trans terminology
Across India, South and Southeast Asia numerous terms describe gender non-conforming people in ways which, because of cultural, historical and religious differences, are not totally synonymous with Western usage of trans terminology. For example in Thailand and, Cambodia, they are called, Kathoey, elsewhere the most common term is Hijra, but we also find Aravani, Aruvani, Jagappa, or Chhakka (Kannada), Bambaiya (Hindi), Khusra (Punjabi) and Kojja (Telugu). In Pakistan, terms include Khwaaja sira, Khusra (trans), Zenana (crossdresser) and Narnban (eunuch).
Polynesian Samoa has its Fa’afafine, Tonga its Fakaleiti, and Hawaii and Tahiti their Mahu. Both fa’a- and faka- are prefixes meaning “like a” or “in the manner of” and fafine and leiti mean ‘woman’ or ‘lady’. On the surface, therefore, they would pass as the prefix trans- before woman, but Western legal, political and cultural transgender terminology should not be imposed on their cultural-historical usage of the terms.
Native Americas traditions
Numerous indigenous Native American tribes had gender options outside the seemingly conventional Western binary. Berdache was a term meaning effeminate male used by Westerners of some tribal members encountered. More recently, the preferred term is Two-spirit, but some tribes went beyond three to several gender expressions, roles and identities. The Mohave Indians had the terms Alyha (Male-born) and Hwame (Female-born) for their Two-spirit identities. “Two-spirit natives comprised a distinct social class within most of these tribal communities; for example, among the Hidatsa of the northern Plains, two-spirits were observed at no less than fifteen to twenty a village and typically pitched their tipis together in a group.”
Similarly, among southern Mexico’s Zapotec there were the Muxe/Muxhe possibly a variant of the Spanish word for woman, mujer, describing people born male but who behaved as female in role, dress or sexuality. Because the word described effeminacy across gender or sexuality it accounted for some 6% of the population in some studies.
Modern Western/Antipodean/Americas Gender Identification
Argentina, Australia and New Zealand all allow passports to be stamped with the full range of internationally allowable options: Gender – | M | F | X |. Despite it being explored and to some extent encouraged by the Liberal Democrats, the UK Passport and Identity Service seems to have mothballed any likely change in Great Britain. Although as of June 2014 it has now been tabled for another Early Day Motion in Parliament, though is perhaps unlikely to reach debate stages.
In Europe, Germany has recently allowed “other” as a temporary designation on birth certificates to allow families to delay decisions on children born with intersex differences. The Netherlands are considering a third category to protect trans people during transition.
All gender designation is ultimately sexism. However, in an imperfect and unequal world some level of gender designation for protection can benefit in the here and now. Ideally gender neutral bathrooms would be the norm, but how to protect the vulnerable? The sooner all nations accept fully equal sexual relations, parenting and marriage between two or more persons of any gender, the sooner we can dispense with legal gender designation.
More important than third or more genders, reinforcing the binary, opposing the binary, gender sexism, is the simple inalienable human right to self-identify. Restricting identification, whether legally or culturally, to just two genders goes against human respect and rights especially when medically there are dozens of conditions that can make typical birth-sex identification impossible, quite apart from gender identity issues and/or gender non-conformity. Celebrate diversity and difference and the right to self-identify, as Radhakrishnan has said: “It is the right of every human being to choose their gender” – and that includes “Other” and “None”, in my opinion.
This post is an extended edited version of an article that first appeared here.