More Then Just a Story

Laverne Cox is a transgendered women of colour.  She tells us of her experience as a trans women of colour and how this identity can sometimes put herself in extremely severe conditions in terms of bullying and harassment.  Laverne has had to deal with intersectionality of being a trans women and a women of colour.  She mentions in her talk, that she finds that women in her unique situation are subject to more severe harassment than white trans women.  In Laverne’s story she is harassed by two men of colour, whom of which do not have any regard for her transgender identity.  She is first harassed about her identity as a women of colour being incredibly rudely name; called a b word or an n word.  Once they figured out that she was a trans women she describes how the tormenting “turned into something else”.  Statistics have been shown that “trans women make up 72% of anti-LGBTQIA+ homicide victims, and 89% of these victims were people of colour”.

Within North America there are large amounts of cultural hegemony, for those of you who do not know what this means, cultural hegemony is the overriding and dominant ideas that a culture forces onto minority cultures.  As much as ideas are changing there is still a large portion of the population that feels that gender expression is not something that can be changed from when you are born.  People with these ideas also feel that being heterosexual is the only “normal” or “appropriate” way to express your sexual identity.  This very idea is one that has caused so much harassment towards the LGBTQIA+ community.  As explained by Laverne Cox, the reasons why rates of harassment for trans women of colour are so much higher goes back to the 1860‘s slavery laws and Jim Crow.  In this time there was large racial segregation and during the days of slavery men of colour were often subject to lynching.  In extreme cases male genitals would be cut off.  Laverne brings the point that this may be why it so difficult for people of colour to understand trans people.  She describes that people of colour see her as “the embodiment of [the] historic emasculation come to life”.  Although Laverne is embodying her true identity it can be difficult for people to see past the historic events that have shaped black history.  This is sad truth is why the rates of harassment are so much higher for trans women of colour

Another story Laverne tells is of a girl named Islan Nettles who was in the same situation as Laverne, being hit on her and made to feel uncomfortable, but in her case after finding out she is a trans women they proceeded to beat her to death.  This brings into play power structures between people with different sexual identities.  When men hit on women they feel a sense of control in the situation, they feel as if they are the person of power.  I believe that in some extreme when men feel this is threatened they act out, and feel they need to do something bigger to assert authority.  In Islan Nettles case I think that the men felt that had authority over her by catcalling.  When they found out she was a trans women they may have felt that their sexuality was then put into question and felt threatened by this, which brought them to the idea to assert their authority through beating.  Here there is an intersection between a power structure and being confident in your sexuality.  As a society we need break the power structures that have been built up by cultural hegemony and encourage the acceptance of different sexualities.

Instead of looking at these stories as individual cases we need to be focusing on the overall 89% of trans women of colour.  Understanding the bigger picture will help to bring more long-term solutions, such as equality and freedom of gender and sexual expression.  For this to happen there needs to be more awareness of inequalities; people need to be able to discuss these topics in a open environment. We need to break the social rules that people continue to follow from times of segregation and severe power structures.

Works Cited

“Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. N.p., 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2015

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3 thoughts on “More Then Just a Story

  1. Your blog definitely brought up some interesting concepts!

    I think that cultural hegemony certainly contributes to the oppression of minorities. It is also interesting to note that Laverne Cox mentions that her harassers were both men of colour. Although you describe cultural hegemony as “dominant ideas that a culture forces onto minority cultures”, it also may be interesting to examine how minority groups sometimes self-enforce these societal norms. If we examine this situation through the lens of ‘respectability politics’, we could see that perhaps the Cox’s harassers felt more entitled to police her behaviour, sexuality and gender identity because they were also people of colour. It is interesting to think about how this situation may have been different if Cox was white. Would the men still feel as entitled to harass her? What about if the men were white?

    I also like how you mentioned that the violence against trans women could be attributed to men feeling powerless. Laverne Cox mentioned that at first the men on the street found her attractive, and then when they realized that she was trans the harassment became more aggressive. We see this pattern repeated time after time. Unfortunately, it often results in violence against trans women. Could the aggressive behaviour be a result of trans women causing men to question their sexual orientation? Could these examples of street harassment not just be caused by transphobia, but also homophobia and self hatred? Moreover, why do trans women cause men to question their sexual orientation? Is it because they don’t see them as ‘real women’? And why is that the case?

    I had the opportunity to see Laverne Cox at WorldPride in Toronto this past summer. It was very apparent that she was comfortable in her own skin and was filled with love for herself and others. I completely agree with you that inequality needs to be more openly discussed in order for changes to be made. I believe that there needs to be more advocates and allies for trans women of colour in order for more significant progress to be made.

    ~Emily

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  2. Great job pointing out the power structures operating in the interaction Lavern had with the men she spoke about at the start of her talk. I’m wondering if you’ve considered some of the other power dynamics operating in this scene, perhaps on an even broader scale. For example, the men were also members of racialized groups, so it would be interesting to consider how eurocentric cultural hegemony places these men in a marginalized position. Then, how this position may have led them to take out their own oppression by harrassing Lavern. This totally relates to notions of respectability politics as is noted in the comment above. I’m also wondering about what you and anyone else have to say about how considering historic oppression and the discourse of black respectability politics make Lavern’s harassers more or less responsible for their actions. Does being black, and having your actions be influenced by a legacy of slavery and oppression make it ok to harass others? I don’ think so.

    This issue relates to my next point about the nature of cultural hegemony. You do a good job explaining how cultural hegemony refers to the imposition of cultural dominance from one group onto another marginalized group. However, an important aspect of hegemony (which we haven’t discussed in this class) is that hegemony refers to power that is so deeply embedded in societal institutions that individuals hardly notice their compliance with it. Thus, the actions of Lavern’s harassers, which are considered a reflection of black respectability politics, might be understood more broadly as tacit support for Eurocentric cultural hegemony.

    Also, I think you do a great job deconstructing Lavern’s intersectional positionally as a trans woman of colour. You explain how the history of lynching and mutilating the genitals of black males enforces negative attitudes and discomfort towards trans women of colour. It would be interesting to also consider how socio-economic status plays a role in the disproportionate victimization of black trans women. Knowing that black people in the United States are more likely to be living in poverty, and that trans people often face economic adversity this is an important angle to consider. In lecture for example, we discussed that more than a quarter of trans people have been fired from a job for being trans. Did you get a chance to think about how SES could play a role in the experiences of black trans women?

    Overall, good work! I look forward to reading your next post.

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  3. I’m glad that you discussed the intersectional oppression that trans women of colour face. I think that Laverne’s personal experiences and the experiences of others that she shares are great examples of the way that intersectional oppression materializes. Your next paragraph really expands on this by addressing the concept of heteronormativity. It’s interesting to discuss this concept in relation to transgender individuals. The umbrella term of transgender does not necessarily reflect someones sexual orientation, but rather their gender identification. In this case, they would not necessarily identify as being gay. However, because they identify as a gender that does not correspond to their birth assigned sex, and are sexually attracted to people that have the same birth assigned sex (even though they have a different gender identification), other people may label them as gay. For this reason, many transgender people probably do feel the effects of homophobic oppression. This draws on the question of who gets to decide an individuals identity? Should people be able to decide whether their drivers license has an ‘M’ or a ‘F’? Dan Vena, who did the lecture on transphobia, mentioned that only in Ontario are people legally allowed to change they gender identity on official documents without having surgery. Is this just?

    I also liked the point you make about how historical events have made black men feel emasculated, which might encourage them to harass trans women of colour because they feel that they are an embodiment of this historical emasculation. I think that this also totally relates to ‘respectability politics’, as Emily pointed out. However, if the men were white, do you think that a similar type of harassment might have been used as a defence mechanism for their masculinity? Consider societal stereotypes of gay men, who may make straight men feel as though they have to be overly masculine, in terms of hegemonic masculinities, to protect their sexuality. Considering situations like these allows us to understand the complexity of intersectional oppression.

    In response to Meera’s question, I definitely agree with you that even though the actions of black people may be influenced by a legacy of slavery and oppression, this does not make it okay to oppress others. Laverne touches on this kind of idea at the end of her speech, when she says that she has a lot of love for the people who oppress her, because she understands that they also face oppression. I don’t think that by saying this she is providing and excuse for their actions or saying that they are acceptable. But rather, that if everyone could develop an empathetic attitude towards their neighbours we could end the cycle of oppression. She then relates this idea to Cornell West’s words “justice is what love looks like in public”, which I think accurately captures the idea that Cox is trying to convey.

    Overall, this was a great post. Well done!

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