THE BLOG

Trans* People Murdered for Truth Telling

02/12/2015 04:01 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

Abolitionists jointed together to work for the immediate end to the institution of human slavery and the cessation of racial discrimination and segregation. They faced steep opposition from many quarters including a number of Christian denominations who asserted that sacred scripture not only condoned, but more importantly, mandated the practice of slavery.

Trans* Women:

Alejandra Leos, 41, fatally shot, Memphis, Tennessee.
Aniya Parker, 47, fatally shot, Los Angeles, California.

Young people conducted a number of sit-in demonstrations at Southern lunch counters to end Jim Crow laws of segregated public facilities, to the abusive taunts of onlookers and crashing batons of local police. Demonstrators faced imprisonment and the imposition of permanent criminal records.

Ashley (Michelle) Sherman, 25, fatally shot, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Betty Skinner, 52, fatal severe head injuries, Cleveland, Ohio.

Feminists formed a new wave in the fight for women's suffrage against a high tide of obstructionism within a patriarchal system of male domination and misogyny, and an attitude that the enfranchisement of women would destroy Christianity and civilization itself.

Gizzy Fowler, 24, fatally shot, Nashville, Tennessee.
Jennifer Laude, 26, Olongapo, Philippines.

The Church convicted physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei on the charge of heresy by insisting that the Earth revolves around the Sun, rather than, as per Church teaching, that the Earth was the immovable center of the universe with the Sun revolving around the Earth. Galileo spent the remainder of his life under house arrest.

Kandy Hall, 40, fatal massive bodily trauma, Annapolis, Maryland.
Brittany-Nicole Kidd-Stergis, 22, fatally shot, Cleveland, Ohio.

Joan of Arc, the teenager who helped defeat the English in her native France, became one of the greatest war heroes in French history. In spite of this, she was tried by the Catholic Church on the charge of heresy in rejecting Church authority in preference for direct inspiration from God, and most importantly, by donning men's clothing. Joan died by burning at the stake.

Mayang Prasetyo, 27, dismembered, Brisbane, Australia.
Mia Henderson, 26, fatal severe trauma, Baltimore, Maryland.

Alan Turing, one of the original creators of the computer, mathematician, logician, philosopher, and cryptanalyst, was largely responsible for cracking Nazi coded messages, which many believe shortened the war by two to four years, and he saved Great Britain. However, the British government chose to convict Turing on the charge of being a homosexual, and ordered him to undergo "chemical castration" by taking estrogen injections as an alternative to spending two years in prison. Turing took his life a few weeks before his 42nd birthday.

Tiffany Edwards, 28, fatally shot, Walnut Hills, Ohio.
Michelle (Yasmin) Vash Payne, 33, fatally stabbed, Norfolk, Virginia.

History is replete with groups and individuals facing colossal odds for simply expressing their truth, and for that, they were often forced to pay the ultimate price. Governments and powerful individuals have devised ways of silencing opposition for the purpose of maintaining and extending its control and domination. They commit atrocities upon the true human liberators, the profits, the visionaries who advocate for a just and free world. These visionaries, who were persecuted in their own time, have achieved not only exoneration, but more importantly, have become venerated as the visionaries they truly are.

Ty Underwood, fatally shot, North Tyler, Texas.
Sherman Edwards, 22, fatally shot, Louisville, Kentucky.

Antonio Gramsci wrote about the concept of "cultural hegemony," which describes the ways in which the dominant group successfully disseminates its social definitions of reality and its social visions in a manner accepted as "common sense," as "normal," and as "universal." This hegemony maintains and expands the marginality of groups with differing identities or opposing views.

Jessie Hernandez, 16, unarmed, fatally shot by police, Denver, Colorado.
Lamia Beard, 30, fatally shot, Norfolk, Virginia.

Trans* people have exposed the truth regarding this fabrication we call "gender" as a social construction, one which our society ascribes to each of us as it assigns us a sex at birth. With the label "female," society forces us to follow its "feminine script," and with "male," we are handed our "masculine" script to act out. As scripts are given to actors in a play, gender scripts also were written long before any of us entered the stage of life. In fact, they have little connection with our natures, beliefs, interests and values.

Lamar Edwards, 20, fatally shot, Louisville, Kentucky.
Rosa Riibut, 35, fatally beaten, Edmonton, Canada.

According to social theorist Judith Butler:

The act that one does, the act that one performs, is, in a sense, an act that has been going on before one arrived on the scene. Hence, gender is an act, which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actors who make use of it, but which requires individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as reality once again.

If we challenge the director by refusing to follow our lines, and when we tell the truth about this human lie about gender, the director (society) doles out harsh, often fatal punishments. Members of the trans* community often suffer the consequences of other truth tellers of the past. Nearly every two days, a person is killed somewhere in the world for expressing gender nonconformity. The vast majority of murders are trans* women of color.

Taja De Jesus, 36, stabbed to death, San Francisco, California.
Michelle Vash Payne, stabbed to death, Van Nuys, California.

Murderers of trans* people react in extreme and fanatical ways at the direction of the larger coercive societal battalions bent on destroying all signs of gender transgression in young and old alike in the maintenance of gender scripts. Most of us function as conscious or unconscious co-directors in this drama each time we enforce gender-role conformity onto others, and each time we relegate our critical consciousness by failing to rewrite or destroy the scripts in ways that operate integrally for us. Those who bully in society and filtered into the schools often fulfill the social "function" of establishing and reinforcing the socially constructed scripts handed to them when they entered the performance.

Deshawnda Sanchez, 21, fatally shot, Los Angeles, California.
Yaz'min Shancez, 31, burned to death, Fort Myers, Florida.

I cannot help thinking about something Frederick Douglass, who escaped enslavement and worked for the cause of liberation, once said when he described the dehumanizing effects of slavery not on those enslaved alone, but also on white slavers whose position to slavery corrupted their humanity. While the social conditions of Douglass's time were very different from today, nonetheless, I believe Douglass' words hold meaning by analogy: "No [person] can put a chain about the ankle of [another person] without at last finding the other end fastened about [their] own neck."

Zoraida Reyes, 28, choked to death, Anaheim, California.
Çağla Joker, fatally shot, Istanbul, Turkey.

Though it cannot be denied that oppression serves the interests of dominant group members, eventually it will backfire and the chain will take hold of them. Therefore, I have come to understand that within the numerous forms of oppression, members of targeted (sometimes called "minoritized") groups are oppressed, while on many levels, members of the dominant or agent groups are hurt. Although the effects of oppression differ qualitatively for specific targeted and dominant groups, in the end everyone loses.

First, cissexist (transgender oppression) conditioning compromises the integrity of people by pressuring them to treat others badly, which are actions contrary to their basic humanity. It inhibits one's ability to form close, intimate relationships with trans* people, generally restricts communication with a significant portion of the population and, more specifically, limits family relationships.

Gypsie Gül, murdered, Istanbul, Turkey.
Jacqui Cowdrey, 50, murdered, Worthing, England.

Cissexism locks all people into rigid gender-based roles, which inhibits creativity and self-expression. It also prevents cisgender people from accepting the benefits and gifts offered by the trans* community, including theoretical insights, social and spiritual visions and options, contributions in the arts and culture, to religion and spirituality, to education, to family life, indeed, to all facets of society. Ultimately, it inhibits appreciation of other types of diversity, making it unsafe for everyone because each person has unique traits not considered mainstream or dominant. Therefore, we are all diminished when any one of us is demeaned.

Mahadevi, 22, fatally pushed off a moving train, Bangalore, India.
Marcela Duque, 46, stoned to death, Medellin, Colombia.

The meaning is quite clear: When any group of people is targeted for oppression, it is ultimately everyone's concern. We all, therefore, have a self-interest in actively working to dismantle all the many forms of oppression, including cissexism.

Mary Jo Añonuevo, 55, strangled and stabbed 33 times, Lucena City, Philippines.
Sevda Basar, 29, fatally shot, Antep, Turkey.

I believe we are all born into an environment polluted by cissexism (one among many forms of oppression), which falls upon us like acid rain. For some people, spirits are tarnished to the core, others are marred on the surface and no one is completely protected. Therefore, we all have a responsibility, indeed an opportunity, to join together as allies to construct protective shelters from the corrosive effects of prejudice and discrimination while working to clean up the cissexist environment in which we live. Once we take sufficient steps to reduce this pollution, we will all breathe a lot easier.

With this in mind, each time we rewrite the scripts so as to give an honest and true performance of life, each time we work toward lifting the ban against our transcending the gender status quo by continually questioning and challenging standard conceptualization of gender, then will we begin as individuals and as a society to experience life to the fullest with our humanity and our integrity intact.

I am proud and thankful to the trans* community for courageously calling into question this social myth of gender, the boxes society places us into as it imposes upon us all our gender scripts. Trans* people have opened the boxes for all of us to ultimately obliterate the gender status quo of binary oppositions by demonstrating the visible ways, the options upon an enormous gender continuum, one that does not depend upon a sex assigned to us, and a gender that is imposed and forced upon us by others. The trans* community has shown us the essential fluidity of gender.

Trans* visionaries, who are persecuted in their own time, will one day be perceived as the visionary truth tellers they definitely are. Until that day, the harassment, the marginalization, the fear, the violence and the murders must end. It is up to us all to work toward this on a daily basis.