Saturday, 23 January 2010

Some People Died. You Didn't Hear.

Via Helen at Bird of Paradox, disturbing news of the death of Myra Ical in Houston, Texas. Disturbing not just because she had to 'go down fighting for her life' but because every news report has (a) characterised her as a cross-dressing man and (b) they've pointed out the area where she died was 'known for drugs and prostitution'. This despite the fact that the detective in charge of the case (and the US police aren't known for being friends of trans people) said there is no evidence that drugs or prostitution had anything to do with her death.

Not that that's news, of course. As Anton Vowl at Enemies of Reason has pointed out, the media have form for distorting reality to fit an agenda. So reports of aid distribution in Haiti talk about machete-wielding mobs even if no-one on the ground has seen a machete. Similarly, a trans woman has been murdered? Has to be about drugs or prostitution. Because, y'know, trans people, they're all druggies and perverts. Sure.

This thought process has a long history though. It's called dehumanisation. It invariably lets the worst kind of privileged people, who only see themselves as fully human, off the hook. So vulnerable people in Haiti become machete-wielding savages and suddenly we don't have to care if they're dying of hunger and lack of proper medical treatment. Marginalised trans women become drug-crazed cross-dressing perverts, and suddenly we don't have to care that they spent their last few minutes on earth kicking and scratching to try and fight off some sick, evil piece of shit that wanted to kill them just because of who they were.

More than that, though, it enables a climate where those killings can flourish. In Honduras, a year ago this month, trans human rights activist Cynthia Nicole was murdered. Disturbingly, she seems to be one of many. There are reports that there has been an ongoing trend of violent harassment of trans people in Honduras of late. Why is this?

Undoubtedly it's because some people lack a properly-nuanced understanding of gender issues. Undoubtedly it's because some guys don't like to find out that the hot chick they've been making eyes at all night was born with, and may still have, a set of genitalia different from what they were expecting. But it's more than that.

People kill women like Cynthia Nicole and Myra Ical because the media dehumanises those women. Because it encourages the view that they're 'not real', that they're 'deceptive', that they're 'perverts', that they're not like us. They kill them because the culture tells them it's okay.

This is why, when I get angry at pricks like Letterman or even generally stand-up guys like Stephen Fry repackaging transphobic bullshit for an audience of millions, it matters. It matters because that sort of attitude fosters a climate in which some people feel it's alright to kill trans women. And that, it shouldn't need saying, is wrong. And, as Recursive Paradox points out at Genderbitch, it doesn't matter if that wasn't intended.   It still causes harm. It still kills people.

A woman died this week. Her death wasn't widely reported, because it didn't fit a pre-existing mainstream media narrative, and because the media knew a lot of people wouldn't care that she had died. But her death matters. Her life matters. And we cannot, and should not, connive with a culture that says that that isn't the case.

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