“Trans Panic” Defense Devalues Another Woman’s Life

by Cara on August 26, 2008

in assholes, bigotry, courts, LGBTQ, misogyny, patriarchy, sex work, stereotypes, trans, transphobia and trans misogyny, violence against women and girls

Alexis King was murdered — yes, murdered — only to have her killer Terron Oates be convicted of “voluntary manslaughter,” which leaves open the possibility of a sentence that could let him out of jail in as little as 30 months.

Alexis King was murdered. And why did Terron Oates get convicted merely of manslaughter? It’s called the “trans panic” defense.

Of course such a sentencing would be absolute bullshit regardless of whether or not it was true, because finding out that a person has a sex organ you don’t like is never an excuse for murder, and murder it still is.  But the fact is that Oates’ defense doesn’t wash at all.  It’s simply not true.  This was not a case of him panicking.  As Lisa Harney says:

  • He was out at 5 am on a school night
  • He went to a strip club
  • He had an illegal gun in his car
  • He had the presence of mind to dispose of the firearm
  • When he called 911, he told a story about a robbery and an unknown gunman
  • Paramedics say that Alexis’ penis was tucked firmly away
  • Sgt Daniel Dutch, an undercover john, says he’s never heard of or experienced such behavior from a trans woman sex worker – trans women tend to not draw attention to their genitalia
  • Alexis was shot from the side and from behind, not from the front as you’d expect from Oates’ story.
  • This wasn’t manslaughter. This was a man trolling for trans women sex workers to murder. He was prepared to kill, his story doesn’t match the facts. Why did the jury let him off with a mild sentence for his crime? Because they sympathized with the trans panic defense.

Because Alexis King was a transwoman and sex worker, her murder is not as important as any other. The judge didn’t even feel the need to explain his reasoning for the ruling, but even the AP had a pretty fucking good guess. It’s because people assume that transwomen are running around trying to “fool” cis men. It’s because they assume that if she did “fool” him, it would be a reasonable cause for murder — since many people seem to be unable to imagine anything more horrifying than finding out that they were attracted to a person with the “wrong” sex organ.  (I’d think murder would be 10 million times more horrifying, but apparently not.) It’s because sex workers’ lives are not valued.  It’s because the lives of transgender people are not valued.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (h/t also to Lisa), transgender individuals in America have up to a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered.* One in twelve.  Let that sink in.

And why is it so?  Because some people are seen as worthy and some people are seen as worthless.  Because mainstream society, and particularly our justice system, gets to determine who falls into which category.  Because of rulings like this.

Bookmark and Share

{ 14 comments }

1 Kristen August 26, 2008 at 6:41 pm

1 in 12. That just makes me cry. 1 in 12 human beings murdered.

2 Lisa Harney August 26, 2008 at 7:09 pm

Daran at Feminist Critics disputed that number and came up with 8.something per 1000 people, or approximately 10x the murder rate for everyone else. Still egregiously high.

Also in Philadelphia, Nizah Morris and Erica Keel.

And stepping away from trans women, there was this appalling moment.

3 Cara August 26, 2008 at 7:22 pm

I thought the number was possibly exaggerated, which is why I made sure to say “up to.” But yes, whatever the actual statistic is, we know it’s much, much higher than the general public statistic.

And yeah, I blogged about Judge Deni and “theft of services” too . . . still appalling.

4 Lisa Harney August 26, 2008 at 9:19 pm

Oh, I know. I was just placing that here just in case. Plus to comment how human rights abuses in one area means they probably exist in multiple areas.

I wrote the post about an hour before going to bed…and that was a few hours later than I really wanted to go to bed, so I grabbed the first stats I could google and went to bed.

5 akeeyu August 27, 2008 at 5:14 am

Okay, I’m just going to go ahead and look like a dumbass, here. I’m sure this is going to be one of those headslappy “Ohhhhhh” moments.

“It’s because people assume that transwomen are running around trying to “fool” cis men.”

And ‘cis’ is/means…?

6 Cara August 27, 2008 at 7:00 am

Short for cisgender or cissexual. The most simplistic definition is “non-transgender.” Here are a couple better ones:

Cisgender: A gender identity formed by a match between your biological sex and your subconscious sex. May also be used as a synonym for non-transgender (‘trans’ means across; ‘cis’ means on the same side).

Cissexual: “[…] people who are not transsexual and who have only ever experienced their subconscious and physical sexes as being aligned” (Julia Serano)

7 Renee August 27, 2008 at 7:53 pm

transgender individuals in America have up to a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered.* One in twelve. Let that sink in.

Oh my God. That hit me like a ton of bricks. I know that there is some debate as how accurate that particular statistic is however with the violence that is directed at transwomen I believe it may possibly be not that far from accurate. It is simply heartbreaking. I wonder how many murders, rapes and assaults go unreported and uninvestigated. I know that I say this all of the time but when are we going to come to a time when we can collectively decide that all bodies matter?

8 Lisa Harney August 28, 2008 at 1:43 am

Elizabeth Mcclung has described several incidents that have occurred in Vancouver and Victoria Island in British Columbia that haven’t made the news, including a serial killer a few years ago who killed several trans women sex workers.

I think there’s a lot of murders that don’t get reported for whatever reason. Some get into the news, some don’t. I’d love to have access to the statistics for actual murders, the arrest rate, the conviction rate, and how many of those murderers who go free kill again.

9 Lisa Harney August 28, 2008 at 1:59 am

I know that I say this all of the time but when are we going to come to a time when we can collectively decide that all bodies matter?

Not soon enough. :(

10 Shannon August 28, 2008 at 8:37 pm

Oh dear lord – this is disgusting. The fact that anyone can compare the “horror” of a man discovering a prostitute has a penis to the true horror of being murdered is just…I can’t think of a word other than disgusting that describes it as well. Bleh.

11 Megan September 16, 2008 at 5:10 am

Does anyone know of any good sex worker blogs? I’m sure they are out there, I just don’t know how to search efficiently without wading through whatever crap comes up with google.

I am looking for blogs written by sex workers of all backgrounds about their experiences because I feel like what little I read about sex workers is either calling out media’s gross dismissals of “slain hookers” or other bloggers waxing on about sex work without actually having experienced it.

12 SunlessNick September 16, 2008 at 10:31 am

The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Renegade Evolution, who among other things blogs about perceptions of sex workers from inside and outside the wider feminist community.

13 Cara September 16, 2008 at 10:35 am

Bound Not Gagged.

14 Simple_Bliss December 19, 2008 at 10:38 pm

I have a friend who’s transgendered (there’s some ambiguity, since he refers to himself as a ‘he’ but IDs a female) and that statistic? That scares me.
This needs to be rectified. Now.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: