You may have already heard about the senseless murder of Sanesha Stewart. Stewart was a trans woman of color who was stabbed to death, apparently by a male sex partner.
In the wake of this tragedy, the media has not only failed to show respect for a fellow human being whose life was cut short, they’ve been downright, outlandishly offensive. Stewart has been called a “hooker,” despite any actual evidence that she was a sex worker and claims from her neighbors that she was not. Her appearance has been commented on repeatedly. She has been referred to by masculine pronouns and her masculine birth name, with her legal feminine name referred to as a “nickname.” Here is one infamous article from the NY Daily News. It was originally called “Fooled john stabbed Bronx tranny,” though after GLAAD made some noise, they changed it to the oh-so-improved “Cops: Ex-con slays Bronx transsexual ‘hooker’.” A warning: the language below is extremely disrespectful and upsetting.
A transgendered prostitute was stabbed to death in the Bronx Saturday by a customer who was apparently surprised by the hooker’s true sex, police sources said Saturday.
The victim – a 25-year-old man who dressed like a woman – was identified by sources as Talib Stewart, who often went by the feminine nicknames of Nesha or Sanesha.
Stewart was stabbed multiple times inside a Belmont apartment building about 6 a.m. Saturday, police said.
A 37-year-old man was later arrested inside the second-floor apartment, police said.
Though the suspect’s identity was not immediately released, the sources said he was the prostitute’s john who became enraged when he learned his partner was not a woman.
Stewart, more than 6 feet tall, was known to wear stylish, provocative outfits with towering high heels, neighbors said.
Stewart also apparently had undergone surgery to give him larger breasts and other female characteristics, neighbors said.
“She looked like a girl but when she turned around, you knew it was a man,” a 17-year-old neighbor said. “She had a big jaw and an Adam’s apple.”
Neighbors said Stewart was a friendly and flirty presence on the block and was rarely hassled for his appearance.
“She’s always been Nesha to me,” said a friend who just gave her first name, Janelle. “She’s funny and outgoing.”
“It’s a shock – nobody should do something like that,” said another neighbor who asked not to be identified. “She never had any problems here.”
Stewart’s relatives visited the crime scene Saturday afternoon and angrily declined comment. Neighbors said they didn’t know if Stewart was turning tricks but they had noticed frequent male visitors to her home.
The suspect remained in police custody last night as the Bronx district attorney was determining which charges to file, officials said.
Must we list off the problems here? I hope not, but here goes, anyway.
Again, the masculine pronouns. Stewart is referred to as “a man who dressed like a woman.” Her appearance is repeatedly remarked upon as a means to discredit her gender identity and to further portray her as a “man.” She is called “flirty,” as though this should be some indication as to whether or not she deserved the violence. Though no one other than the police who never met her referred to Stewart as a sex worker, the male visitors to her home are taken as an unmistakable indication that she was having sex with these men for money.
Because women of color who have male visitors must be be sleeping with them. Because women of color who sleep with men her neighbors don’t know must be prostitutes. Particularly if they’re trans women of color. Clearly, a man having sex with her couldn’t be doing so because he actually liked her. And in the insistence that the man stabbed Stewart because of her gender (and no, not just the fact that she was a woman and it’s easy to get away with killing women) clearly implies that no man would willingly and knowingly sleep with a trans woman. It is also implied here, and has been explicitly said elsewhere, including the article’s comments, that a woman who fails to disclose her trans identity is not only being deceitful but also deserves a violent response, up to and including murder. And oh, look — the suspect’s friend uses it as a justification for the brutal, repeated, deadly stabbing, too.
Gee, I wonder why Stewart’s family “angrily declined comment.” Maybe that’s a fucking hint, assholes.
As I’ve argued elsewhere, there’s probably an additional reason besides your traditional run of the mill transphobia for the claims that Stewart was a prostitute. Simply, it lowers her social status. She is already seen as socially unacceptable and intolerable as a trans woman. Murders of trans individuals are regularly ignored, justified and sensationalized. But so are those of sex workers. The point here is to clearly to maximize the scorn that your average person would hold towards Stewart. The more socially unacceptable you make her, the less queasy your average person gets to feel about the media coverage and the fact that we either explicitly or implicitly condone her murder.
It should go without saying that this is not okay, but apparently it doesn’t. So allow me to clarify: this is not okay.
It is not okay to murder any woman. It is not okay to murder a woman of color. It is not okay to murder a trans woman. It is not okay to murder a sex worker. It is not okay to murder a trans woman of color who is a sex worker. It is not okay to say that someone is a sex worker without evidence. It is not okay to devalue a person if she is a sex worker. It is not okay to murder someone because you made an assumption about their gender and feel that they “tricked” you. It is not okay to justify this kind of response. It is not okay that this scorn and disrespect is so widespread. It is not okay that some self-professed feminists also engage in this kind of hate speech — and yes, they do.
I wish that I had more to say that is original. I don’t. And a lot has been said already by other bloggers.
Megan Julca has extensive links to other media coverage. Lisa Harney discusses how cissexual women would rarely receive this kind of treatment. Belledame writes angrily about transphobia and justifications for the murder of trans women. GallingGalla discusses the difficulty of living as a trans woman in a dangerously and deeply transphobic society. Holly at Feministe explains why it is a problem to assume that a person is not trans. GLAAD is still asking people to write to the Daily News about their insistence in referring to Stewart as a man.
And right now, I have nothing but disgust and contempt for humanity.