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On Sunday, Nov. 4, someone walking through the forest of Roumare (outside the French city of Rouen) discovered the body of Cassandra, a trans woman who was apparently burned to death in a fire. Cassandra immigrated to France at some point from Peru and may have been a sex worker.
The essential background for this story is that around 2003 a “battle against prostitution” was declared by French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The goal was apparently to push sex workers off the streets, which resulted in forcing the sex trade underground, hence sex workers being forced to trade under riskier conditions. The Forests of Boulogne in particular are well known for being extremely dangerous for the sex workers who have been denied any better or safer place to work.
Recently, there is talk in France of changing from a legal model that criminalizes both sex workers and clients to one that exclusively targets clients, which would be based on the so-called “Sweden model.” However, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law recently released a report that makes clear that the Sweden model does little or nothing to improve the lives of sex workers, as criminalizing clients still results in the trade being driven underground where women are more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
All these problems tend to be greatly exacerbated for trans women sex workers and sex workers of color who already inhabit the intersections of social oppression, as sadly illustrated in the case of Cassandra.
As an American, I can’t help but feel anguished that in an election where progressive issues otherwise triumphed, California over-whelmingly passed Prop. 35, which is almost certain to result in greater criminalization and social stigmatization for sex workers, and probably little else.
Rest In Peace, Cassandra.
Update April 7: I didn’t get a chance to add this until now, but a couple of days ago I was glad to see that Laverne Cox wrote a piece on Huffington Post that included a call-out on the disrespectful reporting on Coko William’s death by Detroit’s local Fox News.
Update April 4, 4:00 AM: I propose we start a twitter campaign criticizing the Fox affiliate station for putting together this disrespectful and transphobic report on Coko’s murder.
Please be polite but firm in your critique. One suggested tweet:
Your report on trans woman Coko William’s murder was transphobic and extremely offensive. @FOX2News apologize now! #RespectCoko
(Pointer: with kind of campaign, it’s better to use the ‘manual’ RT (copy and paste someone’s tweet into your own) rather than the ‘automatic’ RT. The first will show up in the twitter feed of Fox news while the second won’t necessarily.)
Update April 4, 3:30 AM: The trans woman who was murdered yesterday in East Detroit was Coko Williams. A friend described her thusly:
“She was really a sweet, quiet girl,” said Dada, who had known Williams for the past 15 years and told BTL that she sometimes worked as a hair stylist. “She was never shady or nasty. She wasn’t that type of girl at all. She was always respectful of herself and to other people. It’s sad for her to go out the way she did.”
Her death has also been reported on tumblr.
Last night a trans woman,
likely possibly a sex worker [let me emphasize whether she was engaged in sex work or not is not clear], was murdered in a Detroit east side neighborhood. However, instead of presenting her death as a loss, local Detroit’s Fox affiliate news station chose the path of blatant disrespect and transmisogyny.
The report begins with a comment from the studio, “one person is dead after a shooting on Detroit’s East side.” They then turn to Al Allen reporting from the neighborhood where the murder took place. Strangely though, we don’t hear anything further about the murder until the last minute of the report. Instead, Allen reports,
Here along Woodward Avenue on Parkhurst … neighbors are telling Fox News crime is killing their neighborhood. They say they’ve asked for help from the city and the police countless times, but they say no one will listen.
That’s right: in a report about a human being who has recently died, the Fox local station appropriately begins the story by expressing empathy with the setting in which the person’s body was discovered.
They proceed by interviewing an anonymous 25-year neighborhood resident who holds up a picture of some garbage he once found on the ground as evidence that, as Allen says, “the neighborhood is choking on prostitution, drugs and violent crime.” The picture displayed features some “liquor, condoms, drugs and spent bullet casings.”
They proceed to interview a couple more residents who say similar things, then, applying the delicate human touch, Allen comments that at night the neighborhood, “transforms to a haven for prostitution like bees around honey.”
At about the 1:30 mark of a 2:30 minute report, they find a moment to comment on the woman who has just died, of course, misgendering her for good measure:
Neighbors say a male prostitute, killed over night, throat slashed, then shot to death. The second homicide in less than six months.
Then they drop the bombshell, interviewing neighborhood resident Durrail Sanders, who comments,
They’re dealing with another guy and the guy just happens to figure out that’s a man, and, you know, of course, something’s gonna happen.
Wow. So trans women sex workers get shot, cause that’s just what happens to trans women sex workers, huh?
By including this sensationalistic, extremely transmisogynistic comment in their report, Fox is promoting the idea that the woman was killed in response to the revelation of her trans status. However, considering that the woman was shot with a gun (by someone who bothers to carry around a gun in the first place) kind of suggests otherwise. That’s not exactly a conclusion that requires heavy sleuthing.
Then, perhaps attempting to display some last minute shed of integrity, Al Allen makes a final comment suggesting that it might have been robbery after all.
It’s really unfortunate that so many news outlets across the United States still don’t take the half-hour’s worth of work that is required to figure out how to report on trans people in a responsible manner. The Associated Press has adopted clear guidelines for dealing with these issues, which are presented on GLAAD’s website.
I would encourage people to contact the Detroit Fox affiliate and politely but firmly describe why this media report is so offensive, and encourage them to adopt the standards set out by the Associated Press. Alternately, Facebook users may leave comments directly on the story itself.
Finally, at the very end, Fox bothers to mention the one clue they have regarding the identity of the murderer: witnesses say the suspect escaped in a gold-colored car.
For my first entry, I would like to describe the orientation that I foresee for this blog. I envision the focus of my writings here will be left-leaning social critique and analysis from a trans perspective, and more specifically from a trans woman perspective (hence the handle ‘leftytgirl’).
Trans issues will be one focus of my writings, but not the only focus. My view is that all oppressions (racism, patriarchy, heterosexism, transphobia, imperialism, etc.) are interconnected, woven together in the larger fabric of our (self-created) human social structure. Hence from my perspective intersectionality is the rule rather than the exception, and I will aim to reflect that in my blog posts.
As an example, sex work and related issues occupy a particularly complex corner in the struggle against patriarchy as well as transphobia. When I say that the issue is ‘complex,’ I refer more so to the social associations that many people have made (i.e. created) with the issue, rather than the issue itself.
I hold that every woman (cis or trans) has absolute authority when it comes to her own body and that sex work is a valid occupation like any other. It should of course be understood that some women choose sex work as an occupation, while some women have few other choices whether due to poverty, family situation, or any complex interconnection of the oppressions that I have mentioned above. For example, many young trans women have little choice but to turn to sex work if they are pushed out of their home. Criminalization of sex work, however, only serves to reinforce social exclusion and further stigmatize trans identity.
Most importantly, all women deserve love and respect.
As an American, I also have an interest in U.S. foreign policy and will provide analysis from time to time on this and related issues. For example, I consider myself a supporter of the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond. I was bitterly disappointed with Barack Obama’s administration in its decision to back Hosni Mubarak’s rule over Egypt until almost the very end.
Further, I have seen little in Obama’s foreign policy decisions to give much hope of a significantly new direction after the Bush years. The recent killing of an American citizen in Yemen— without the slightest pretense of due process— represents an outrageous extension of executive power and is obviously an affront to the fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Perhaps most important of all are the impending economic issues that we are all facing, whether as citizens of the U.S. or as citizens of the world. The economic crisis of the latter half of this decade has pushed middle class families into poverty and has intensified the already tremendous burdens of those just struggling to get by. Further, and this must never be forgotten, the crisis has propelled some of the rich into the stratosphere of the super-rich. It is with these developments in mind that we must challenge the extremist free-market ideologies that are presently proliferating around the globe under the guise of ‘neoliberalism.’
Under the guidelines for ‘writing a good blog’ I’ve come across online, one of the typical recommendations is to stick to a certain topic or narrative and not veer too much into other territory (or else risk losing readers). Nevertheless, I do hope to escape politics a bit at some point, and just write about some of the things I love in life. So for example eventually I’ll probably give an album or a concert review (most typically I listen to post-rock, avant-garde metal and metalcore, though lots of other things as well). Or who knows, maybe I’ll even discuss physics at some point… hopefully I won’t lose too many readers for that one lol!
So of course feel free to comment or respond to anything I write here, or offer suggestions if you think there is a topic I should look into. Although I probably can’t predict exactly where this blog will lead in the end, I do look forward to working on it and hopefully bringing a few of you along for the ride