Last Wednesday, Memphis resident Kelvin Denton was shot in the nose and throat. According to police documents, the alleged shooter Terron Taylor says that he committed the assault because Denton misrepresented hir gender.
Kelvin Denton is currently still in critical condition. Details are short at the moment, and so how Denton self-identifies with regards to gender is currently unclear; The Memphis Flyer and Helen G report that Denton is a trans woman, while the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition says that the details of Denton’s life are still unknown and declines to speculate on hir gender identity. (For that reason, I will be using gender neutral pronouns in this post, and update later if/when Denton’s gender identity becomes known.)
No matter how Denton identifies, though, it seems clear that Taylor committed his assault based on transphobic rationale. The logic used implies that any person living under the broad umbrella term trans is misrepresenting hir gender, which buys into an exceedingly rigid gender binary system and further presents cis gender identities as more “real” and/or legitimate. Even worse, it says that a person who lives as trans is asking for violence simply by existing.
There is no excuse for this shooting. None. But it’s not a stretch to say that many will likely attempt to argue that there is. Such an argument is the basis of the trans panic defense.
Helen G notes that the shooting of Denton is at least the fifth violent attack on a trans person in Memphis since 2006. Looking at the dates of the attacks, it’s also the fourth within the past year. The other known victims — Leeneshia Edwards (December 2008), Duanna Johnson (November 2008), Ebony Whitaker (July 2008), and Tiffany Berry (February 2006) — were all women, showing that, as seems to also be the case in the attack on Denton, the violence is also heavily rooted in trans misogyny.
Monica also notes that the news of the shooting came less than a day after debates in Memphis’ Shelby County over an anti-discrimination resolution that would have protected on the basis of gender identity. The resolution was passed, but only in a watered down form. And several county commissioners stood up to argue that the resolution was unneeded, and sexual orientation and gender identity should not be protected classes. This, of course, despite all the violence. As is no big secret, bigotry holds no bounds.
There are sadly few corners on this globe where transphobia and targeted violence against transgender people are not a problem. But it also seems pretty damn clear that, for whatever reason, there is some kind of particular problem in Memphis. Time and time again organizations like the Tennessee Transgender Political Coaltion have stood up and demanded action; and time and time again, the cries have largely been ignored. As far as I can tell, most if not all of the previous violent crimes listed above remain unsolved. Political leaders have failed to enact the needed legislation that would protect transgender people in the state. And most of those outside the transgender community have remained silent.
When will the violence end? When will we demand that it ends? When will we as a society decide that the lives of transgender people matter?
My thoughts are with Kelvin Denton. I hope that sie is able to make a full recovery. And I hope that somehow people will wake up before another similarly horrific act is committed.