“This might sound messed up and I don’t care, but she dying.”
Weeks ago, best-selling trans author and activist Janet Mock appeared on The Breakfast Club, by invitation of co-host Angela Yee, to discuss her new memoir Surpassing Certainty and speak on her experience as a trans woman.
On Friday, a black man joked about violence toward transgender women and the out-of-body laughter of other black men permeated the room. The only black woman in the room sat in the corner nearly silent.
If violence is the joke, black transwomen are the punchline. They have always been the punchline.
The Breakfast Club, branded “The World’s Most Dangerous Morning Show,” interviewed comedian Lil Duval. Conversation shifted from The Real Sidechicks of Charlotte to Duval’s thoughts about President Trump’s recent ban of trans men and women in the military. During the conversation, Duval and Charlamagne referred to trans individuals as “trannies” and “transgenders” (i.e. even the caption of the tweet below is problematic).
DJ Envy asked Duval what he would do if he met a woman who was trans to which Duval responded: "That ain't a boy, that's a girl." Envy continued asking Duval what he would do if he had sexual intercourse with a woman, only to then discover she was trans. "This might sound messed up and I don't care, but she dying." Duval insisted to go on about the situation and how he'd be "tricked" into being gay. "I said if one did that to me and they didn't tell me, I'm going to be so mad I'm probably going to want to kill them."
Envy then held a copy of Mock's latest book and asked if he found Mock "pretty." "That nigga doing his thing," Duval replied, misgendering Mock. More laughter was heard throughout the room as Charlamagne moved about in his seat.
In 2016, 27 transgender people were killed in the United States, the deadliest year for transgender people, according to GLAAD. In 2017, 15 transgender people have been killed so far, most of color. This does not include the fact that trans people are misgendered in death, thus their killings and the numbers are misreported and distorted.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, most transwomen are targeted and killed by acquaintances, partners and strangers. They face 4.3 times the risk of being murdered than cis women.
While much of the focus has been on Charlamagne and Duval's exchanges on the show, and rightfully so, we cannot ignore the voice in the room that chose to be mute. Angela Yee was the one that had invited Mock on the show just weeks before. She had chosen Mock’s book as part of her book club. Yee was also in the room when threats of murder echoed throughout the interview. She is a part of the problem; there is blood on her hands too.
As cisgender women, we benefit from gender privilege and the ability to navigate our femininity without suspicion. While we are hyper-sexualized and hyper-masculinized under the veil of white supremacist beauty standards, we are not hyper-visible. We maintain a gender construct that limits changeability and upholds oppressive ideas of gender expectations.
In our society, if your gender conformity is found disruptive, the violence and discrimination can be severe. Black women as a whole are unable to achieve the gender conformity under white supremacist gender norms because the culture created preserves a standard of beauty Black women are unattainable of reaching. (See, anything ever said about Serena Williams, her beauty, athleticism, body, etc.)
After the episode aired, the hashtag #BoycottBreakfastClub quickly began trending on Twitter. At this weekend’s Politicon, trans editor-in-chief of Wear Your Voice magazine Ashlee Marie Preston and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, interrupted Charlagmane to tell him that murdering transwomen is not a joke.
In response to the violent comments made by Lil Duval on Friday, Janet Mock wrote a hard-hitting piece on Allure.com. “This was not the first time that I’ve been misgendered, dismissed, told that I am an abomination, that I need medical help and God, et cetera, et cetera,” Mock wrote. “Boo boo: You are not original. Everything you’ve spewed has been said to me and my sisters before — hundreds of times. But there are deeper consequences to this casual ignorance.”
Mock then referenced the source of this violent mentality and its foundation in toxic masculinity.
“Until cis people — especially heteronormative men — are able to interrogate their own toxic masculinity and realize their own gender performance is literally killing transwomen, cis men will continue to persecute transwomen and blame them for their own deaths,” Mock continued. “If you think transwomen should disclose and ‘be honest,’ then why don’t you work on making the damn world safe for us to exist in the first place? The ‘I’d kill a woman if I found out’ rhetoric is precisely why so many women hold themselves so tight — the stigma and shame attached to our desires need to be abolished.”
Desmond Tutu once said, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." When you are silent, you are condoning the behavior.
Yee's near reduction to silence was partly responsible for the violent remarks made against transwomen. Her inability to steer the conversation, to actively stop Duval is example of her allyship. The normalization of violence is real and often dangerous. Her complicity was a privilege, a celebration of her freedom to perform her womanhood and interpret her femininity without fear or suspicion or prioritization of the safety of Mock and other Black trans sisters.
In order to address the role we play in violence against Black trans women, we cannot be silent or idle. We have to accept our privilege and disassemble society’s gender expectations to ensure their safety and humanity. We have to understand that as Black ciswomen, we are closer to the gender conformity spectrum than our Black trans sisters. We are at a far higher advantage because of our accessibility to womanhood. When we stay silent, we are seemingly accepting that the navigation of our gender comes at the expense of our Black trans sisters. Our complicity becomes violence in itself.
If we continue to sustain society’s harsh standards of beauty, we, too, are responsible. We wear the same blood on our hands as our cisgender male counterparts. It is on us and our allyship to end violence against Black women. We cannot fight for some Black women, if we do not mean all. To know freedom, to live free of transmisogynistic violence means challenging our ideas of beauty and gender to save all of us.
If we do not save ourselves, then who will?