Earlier this week, yet another trans woman was assaulted in a transphobic hate crime. Carmella Etienne was attacked on Wednesday night while walking home from the store. Two men started yelling slurs at her, threatened to kill her and rape her with a baseball bat, and then threw rocks and a beer bottle at her. Carmella sustained a deep cut on her leg, and says that she is now afraid to leave her house.
The men have been arrested and charged with a hate crime. I want to say first of all that I’m glad and relieved that the police department in this case has had a proper and respectful response to Ms. Etienne’s allegations. Far too often, indeed I’m willing to go out on a limb and say a majority of the time, it’s just not the case, and police will dismiss assaults against transgender individuals, and often ridicule and/or assault the victim themselves. This is especially the case when the victim is also a woman of color. And that’s not even to mention all of the cases — also a majority, I’m sure — which are never reported for fear of that kind of response. When Carmella announced that she was calling the police, her attackers responded that “the police don’t care about you, they won’t do anything to us.” The sad fact is that in most circumstances they would have been correct. So good for the police for proving them wrong for once by seemingly doing their jobs.
It’s unsurprising that a friend of the alleged assailants not only claims that her friends did not commit the hateful acts of violence, but chooses to additionally engage in transphobia and victim-blaming as a part of the defense. The woman misgenders Carmella by using masculine pronouns, stereotypes her behavior based on her gender identity, and claims that the victim’s behavior is also responsible for the attack.
It’s particularly interesting and noteworthy to compare the friend’s statement to those found in the comments at Gothamist, where I originally found this story. Though not engaging in overt victim-blaming, about half of the commenters feel the need and right to make transphobic remarks about Carmella’s gender by portraying it as illegitimate, to engage in trans misogynistic slurs and judgments about her appearance, and to refer to her as a “thing.” Not only do they feel the need and right to do these things, they feel the need and right immediately after a violent attack on the woman they’re disparaging. They feel that attacks on her gender identity and appearance are indeed an appropriate response to an article about that violent assault.
It’s worth noting that the physical attack on Carmella began with a verbal attack based in the exact same prejudices found in the comment thread. Both aim to ridicule and thereby devalue the victim based on her identity as a person. And we really shouldn’t be surprised when these kinds of attempts to devalue a person’s worth and right to be treated with basic dignity also lead to and end in violence.