Trigger Warning for anti-trans violence, ungendering, victim-blaming, and police and media transphobia/transmisogyny.
Yesterday a man badly beat a woman who was riding in his car and then dumped her in front of an apartment complex before driving away, seemingly for no reason other than that she was trans. Though this is awful enough on its own, police and local media decided to add insult to that injury by fitting as many transphobic tropes as they possibly could into barely one hundred words. The KENS5 news story starts as follows:
A man was in for quite a surprise after learning the woman in his car was a transgender person.
Police say the suspect apparently snapped and beat the woman in the face repeatedly before dumping her off at an apartment complex in the 3200 block of Hillcrest.
The first sentence here is utterly despicable. Rather than identifying with the woman who was assaulted — who I imagine was in for quite a surprise when the man who she was in the car with started beating her in the face — the phrasing immediately and intentionally identifies with the man who assaulted her. Stating that he “was in for quite a surprise” suggests that any normal person — presumed to be cis, of course — would be “surprised” to learn that they were spending their time with a trans* person. And more than surprised, any such person would be rightly appalled. To say that trans* people are inherently “surprising” is to register them as inherently strange and abnormal, their very existence and identities as shocking and upsetting.
This sets the stage to suggest that the assailant had a good reason to assault his victim, just by virtue of who she was. And that’s exactly what the next paragraph goes on to do, even more explicitly.
KENS5 states that according to police, the unnamed assailant didn’t decide to beat his victim. He didn’t make a choice to enact transphobic violence, let alone a hate crime (more on that later). He just “snapped.” Snapping is something that anybody can do. Snapping is something over which we have limited control, which suggests that we are not acting like our usual selves. Snapping is something that is done under extreme stress, something that just sometimes happens, that may even be justified.
And what either police or KENS5 are suggesting here in this choice of words is that the mere presence of a trans* person is enough to make a cis person snap. That beating someone after learning they’re trans* isn’t desirable, but is understandable. That it’s an instinct. An impulsive reaction. Not something done out of hatred, or the desire to reinforce lines of privilege and oppression or to eliminate another human being. Just a natural response to exposure to too much transness.
Things stay just as bad in the next couple paragraphs:
Police are not sue (sic) where the victim was picked up, but they believe the victim had an arrangement with the male suspect.
Preliminarily, investigators think the man responsible for the beating thought he was about to have a good time with a biological woman. But, then he found things were not what they seemed. That discovery may have lead to the brutal beating.
The implication here is clearly not that the victim and assailant were two non-sex working people mutually looking for a casual sexual encounter, but rather a sex worker and a client.
It’s certainly possible that the victim is a sex worker — in which case her additional marginalization as such likely played into the perception by her assailant that she was less than human and deserved to be subjected to violence.
It’s also a simple fact that, due to false stereotypes about trans women and sex workers somehow both being inherently highly sexual, trans women are routinely portrayed as sex workers or automatically assumed to be sex workers even when they’re not. A result of misogynistic, racist, classist, etc. anti-sex worker stigma is that falsely calling someone a sex worker has become a means of attempting to insult and degrade them, and trans women are one of the groups that anti-sex worker slurs and bigotry have been most particularly weaponized against.
The implication, as with all of the “surprise”-related language above, also plays into the old, tired, hateful “trans panic” defense. The “trans panic” defense involves a scenario in which a trans woman “tricks” a cis man into a sexual encounter by not disclosing her trans status, and the man then “snaps” (seeing a trend here?) and assaults or kills her. The defense ignores that failing to disclose one’s trans* status is not in any way a “trick.” It ignores the false premise of the scenario, which is that most trans* folks do disclose their trans status out of concerns regarding potential attacks just like this. It ignores that in a vast majority of such cases, the assailant/murderer had an ongoing relationship with his victim, and knew that she was trans* all along. And it ignores that even if he did not, he still has absolutely no justification for assaulting her.
Which is all to say that even if all of the events occurred exactly as stated here, the framing is atrocious, irresponsible, needlessly salacious, victim-blaming, and transphobic. The tone of article has carried over into the comments — which I do not recommend, though it’s worth noting that clairelouise and zoebrain have started an attempt to educate the ignorant — where transphobia, transmisogyny, and victim-blaming abound. And if the events did not happen as stated, but were rather invented out of transphobic stereotypes, I would not be even remotely surprised.
One last issue I want to address is the police statement that, in spite their own claim that the assailant acted violently because of the woman’s gender identity, they will not be pursuing a hate crime charge. As John Wright states over at Dallas Voice:
Texas’ hate crimes law includes “sexual preference” but NOT gender identity. However, the new federal hate crimes law passed last year does protect transgender people and presumably could be used in this case. If the man beat the victim because she is transgender and not cisgender, then yeah, we’d say that’s a hate crime. Let’s get with it, San Antonio police.
The decision is appalling. Based on the police’s own description, this was absolutely a hate crime. The only possible way I see to interpret it as anything else is to come from the perspective that some hate-motivated crimes are justified, and don’t deserve to be punished — to believe that anti-trans hatred is just so natural that it doesn’t even really count as hate or a bias.
And that right there is fucked up. A woman was attacked. Police believe that she was attacked because she is trans. Hate crimes laws now protect on the basis of gender identity. It’s a hate crime. And calling it anything else is downright hateful in itself.