Why Racialized Trans Women Deserve Their Own Discourse

Laverne Cox is a racialized trans woman best known for her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix television series Orange Is the New Black. She holds a strong presence in LGBTQ advocacy, and this clip captures her explaining her unique positionality as not only a trans woman but, what that means for her as a Black woman. She begins the speech with a personal anecdote, in which two males harass her for being Black, for being female, and for being trans. She then goes on to describe the intersecting avenues of oppression that work in unison with each other to silence, marginalize, and undervalue her.

We must first understand transmisogyny in terms of how it differs from cismisogyny, and the role it plays in modern day feminism. In a society that views all non-male bodies through the lens of the male gaze, trans women are often viewed as “traps” (Devereaux 2015). The media actively leaves out anecdotes of trans women being in relationships, and those experiencing intimate partner violence have new narratives slapped on them that claim, “he didn’t know” or that “he was tricked, of course he reacted that way” (Devereaux 2015). Transphobia, the discrimination of and negative attitudes toward transgender people based on their gender expression, is ever present and permeates the lived realities for every trans identity in some way or another (Kacere 2014). Transmisogyny then, describes the unique lived experience of misogyny (the hatred and devaluing of females and characteristics deemed feminine) that trans women face, where the oppression takes the form of negative attitudes, cultural hate, overt or covert individual and state violence, targeted toward gender non-conforming people that err on the feminine end of the gender spectrum.

We cannot understand the true motivation behind transmisogyny without considering the socio-historical context in which this oppression exists. The European colonization of the lands we now know as North America brought industrial capitalism to the previously naturalist land, which not only exploited the land and resources of pre-modern naturalists, but also introduced a division of labour and market between men and women (Aulette and Wittner 2012). In this capitalist society that profits by subscribing to a clear-cut gender binary system and marginalizing those who pose a threat to the validity of this otherwise arbitrary system, there is little room to tolerate those who deviate from this falsified standard of “normative” gender identities.

Laverne Cox emphasizes that most of the harassment she experiences comes from other “black folks”. This phenomenon, as Cox explains, does not imply that Black bodies are inherently more violent or intolerant. Rather, it is indicative of the trauma that Black males are inclined to feel, due to the historic emasculation of Black male bodies in a society driven by white supremacy. As a result, Black trans women are seen as an embodiment of a disgraceful past (Cox 2014). There is merit to her emphasis on this observation. In my personal life I often encounter people who advocate for the cessation of anti-racism discourse, insisting that racism no longer exists, or that it is a “thing of the past”. The millenials have re-invented history and distanced themselves from the happenings of history so much so that we disregard the fact that Jim Crow laws were enforced until the 1960’s, and the Civil Rights Movement was really only 50 years ago (Deutsch 2014). The “trauma” that Cox speaks of is not individual trauma, but a systemic trauma that Black identities in the United States continue to experience as a result of living in a society still peppered with the remnants of such discrimination that happened only a generation ago.

Though Cox does not engage in discussion about the different lived experiences between trans men and trans women, it is an analysis worth exploring. In the last decade, trans activism has made undeniable progress in Western societies. However, those who spearhead and take the visible roles in this activism are almost always white trans men. Ultimately, this activism contributes in part to the silencing of trans women of colour. Trans women, especially those of colour, are denied the agency to advocate for their own realities and challenges while white trans men continue to use their anecdotes to promote the “need for trans visibility” (Leftytgirl 2012).

Additionally, Cox fails to explore systems of oppression that span on greater magnitudes than individual encounters. The oppression of trans women occurs at all levels of societal functions, including state violence. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), transgender women report disproportionately higher rates of incarceration and victimization while incarcerated, with Black, Latina, and mixed race transgender women experiencing an even higher rate of victimization (Reisner et al 2014). These statistics are indicative of the blatant gender and racial policing that incarcerates women into institutions unwilling to recognize minority gender identities by housing trans women in male correctional institutions, thereby creating the breeding grounds for the in-house violence that targets trans women.

In collaboration with white supremacy and patriarchal ideals working in unison with a dichotomous system of gender, we are left with racialized trans women like Laverne Cox experiencing multiple avenues of oppression. Many that identify as a Black trans woman are forced into unemployment, poverty, sex work and higher rates of poor health. The statistics are undeniable, and yet the voices are unheard. Why? Because, as Cox reminds us, we have not yet learned to love each other… “Justice is what love looks like in public” (Cox, 2014).

Works Cited

“A Concise History of Black-White Relations in the United States” Everyday Feminism. 8 Oct, 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2015. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/10/history-of-black-white-relations/

“Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It)” Everyday Feminism. 7 Dec, 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2015. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/

“On Transmisogyny, Racism: Trans Women of Colour Speak for Themselves” Leftytgirl. 27 May, 2012. Web. 16 Mar 2015. Retrieved from https://leftytgirl.wordpress.com/2012/05/27/on-trans-misogyny-racism-trans-women-of-color-speak-for-themselves/

“Prison Detention and Reform” Transequality.org. Web. 17 Mar 2015. Retrieved from http://transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/resources/NCTE_Blueprint_for_Equality2012_Prison_Reform.pdf

“Transmisogyny 101: What It Is and What Can We Do About It” Everyday Feminism. 27 Jan, 2014. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/01/transmisogyny/

“When Every Summer Is Your Own Personal ‘Summer of Sam’: On the Taking of Black Trans Women’s Lives and How To Stop it Now” Black Girl Dangerous. 12 March, 2015. Web. 16 Mar 2015. Retrieved from http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2015/03/personal-summer-of-sam-black-lives/

Root Aulette, Judy and Wittner, Judith. Gendered Words, Third Edition. New York: Oxford, 2015.

Walker, Julia K. “Investigating Trans People’s Vulnerabilities to Intimate Partner Violence/Abuse.” Partner Abuse 6.1(2015): 107-125

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Why Racialized Trans Women Deserve Their Own Discourse

4 thoughts on “Why Racialized Trans Women Deserve Their Own Discourse

  1. pennatucky says:

    Your blog post was very interesting and informative. I liked that you discussed how industrial capitalism and the division of labor has enabled the creation of the gender and sex binary concept, that in the end creates the transmisogyny, through the disavowal of a gender and sex spectrum. What is interesting is how Cox looks at hegemonic masculinities and the white supremacist society that we live in. However I would be interested on a clearer link between neoliberal capitalism, which is the defining paradigm of our time, created through advanced capitalism and the colour blindness that comes with it. As I feel neoliberal capitalism enables the maltreatment of people of colour and anyone that does not fit into what is perceived to be the ‘norm’, throughout bureaucratic institutions and other areas of the social, political and cultural. Thus keeping the elite as the elite. I feel a good way to describe what Cox is fighting against is the kyriarchy, which can be described “ [or] theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression”(Schussler).

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  2. You did an excellent job in summarizing the key aspects of Laverne Cox’s speech and touching on the intersecting avenues. I like that you explored the socio-historical context to help better understand the reason for the development of transmisogyny. You connected everything together well especially when you explained the reason for why black folks harass Cox more is due to the historic emasculation of black male bodies in a society driven by white supremacy. You can clearly see that you understand colonization and capitalism and how these concepts are still affecting society today. You explain that the trauma Cox is speaking of is a systemic trauma that still affects society. Do you think that the discrimination that black people are experience will decrease within the coming years or will it always be a problem? Do you think we will learn to love each other? Overall, it was a really interesting blog post. I enjoyed learning and reading it.

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  3. redjr21 says:

    This is a great blog, as it acknowledges so many important discourses, and even recognizes where Laverne’s speech fell short. The distinction between misogyny and transmisogyny enables one to understand the importance of intersectionality in one’s positionality, as ones intersections inherently shape their circumstances. I also appreciate your providing historical context, covering both Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Movement. One might argue that the systemic trauma experienced by African Americans is obviously shaped by historical factors, but is also sustained by current racist systems. As you stated, it has been fifty years since the Civil Rights Movement, but legal changes do not always entail societal ones – the establishment of the fourteenth amendment did not stop southern states from establishing the Jim Crow laws.

    I also like your discussion of some challenges that transgender women face in a society and culture which so adamantly emphasis patriarchy and masculinity. The notion of “giving up” one’s manliness seems odd to some, as you outlined in your blog, but I had not considered the idea of transgendered women being “traps” (this is likely because I would never subscribe to such a horrible construct). This highlights one of the challenges that the transgender community faces, as well as the vicious cycle that hegemonic masculinity perpetuates, as the idea of abandoning the men’s gender seems ludicrous to some.

    In keeping with the theme of prison, I appreciate your mentioning the incarceration statistics. Not only are these important in understanding transphobia, but also happens to align with Laverne Cox’s role on Orange is the New Black, which arguably engages in some meaningful discourses of its own.

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  4. This is an excellent blog post! It is well structured and informative at the same time. You did a great job dissecting the issue being presented here and that is the oppression of Laverne being a trans woman with the addition of her being Black. Then you went on to explain what might have helped the society in shaping transmysogyny using socio-historical context. You did an excellent job in making a clear relations between what had happened historically and what is still existing in present days due to those historical events. And what I particularly like about this post is that you challenged some of the points that Laverne did not address. Overall, it’s a great post, and I definitely enjoy reading it!

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