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This Sunday, Erica and I posted our joint response to some unfortunate comments made by trans man porn star Buck Angel during an interview with Salon, in which he publicly bought into society’s trans-misogynistic victim-blaming narrative that trans women are being “disrespectful” if they do not disclose trans status in romantic/sexual relations with their partner. The following would be the most pertinent quote:

I’m a huge advocate for disclosure, because I believe a lot of people get themselves in bad situations because they do not disclose. For example, trans women who might hook up with a cis-gendered guy and then he goes home with her and finds out she has a penis and flips out and beats her up or kills her. That’s horrible, and I really believe by not disclosing it’s very disrespectful to the other person because they might not be into it and it makes them feel very freaked out about themselves.

Here I would like to elaborate on our previous response, more narrowly focusing on the issue of disclosure and drawing out more fully the implications of the above line of thinking.

In the initial posting, we touched on the case of Gwen Araujo, a trans woman of color who was tortured and then murdered by strangulation in Newark, California in October 2002 by four men, at least two of whom she had previously engaged in sexual relations.

According to the standard narrative of how events unfolded, it was during a party held at a private residence that these men began asking questions about Gwen’s status. One of them then went into the bathroom with Gwen and forced her to reveal her genitals against her will, confirming her trans status. It was this confirmation that preceded brutal violence in which Gwen was beaten on the head with a soup can and had a skillet smashed across her face. The setting only becomes more gruesome when we consider that much of the violence apparently occurred in front of party attendees.

However, there are in fact several conflicting accounts of what actually happened, including some key gaps in this standard narrative.

One of Gwen’s murderers, Jason Chase Nabors, has acknowledged that he suspected her trans status all along. And while he further claims that the others did not realize that she was trans, oddly, in a letter to his girlfriend he acknowledged that he and one of the other attackers had discussed killing her days before the party at which her trans status was purportedly revealed (San Jose Mercury News, February 25, 2003, archived here).

Now, this is odd, because if the sole motivation for the murder is supposedly “panic” in response to Gwen’s status, why was Nabors discussing the murder with his friend days before it occurred? It seems clear that we have either a lie about the motive for the murder (i.e. did one of them desire to kill her before he even realized she was trans?) or we have a lie about the moment when a second attacker realized that Gwen was trans. I quite strongly suspect that the latter is the case, and that in fact at least two of Gwen’s attackers realized, on some level, that she was trans all along.

Now, given that the courts were apparently fully aware of this information, what are we to make of the “trans panic” defense that was used to obtain reduced sentences for those who murdered Gwen Araujo? Let me emphasize that it was not only the legal defense team for the murderers that bought into this line of thinking. In fact, it was the prosecutor Chris Lamiero in the case who is on record as stating:

Gwen being transgender was not a provocative act. She’s who she was. However, I would not further ignore the reality that Gwen made some decisions in her relation with these defendants that were impossible to defend. I don’t think most jurors are going to think it’s OK to engage someone in sexual activity knowing they assume you have one sexual anatomy when you don’t.

In other words, the defense, the prosecution, the public-at-large, and just about everyone down the line bought into the idea of this idea of “panic” regarding Gwen’s status, despite the available evidence to the contrary. What are we to make of this?

The underlying reason for this of course is cissexism, because society wishes to imagine that cis identities represent “true,” normative genders, while trans identities represent purely artificial or “deceptive” genders, and that no heterosexual cis man would ever, under ordinary circumstances, be attracted to a trans woman (i.e. he could only be attracted to her by “deception”). Society wishes to imagine these things, despite the fact that they are not true by objective terms.

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