31 March 2010

Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar: A Transgender Woman Murdered In Queens

Yesterday afternoon Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar, a transgender woman whose given name is Edelbuerto, was found naked and strangled in her ransacked apartment.

It's hard not to think it's a murder, although (at the time I'm writing this) the police and city officials can't yet label it as such, for legal reasons.  It's equally difficult not to think that her death had something to do with her gender identity and expression.  I mean, why else would her Marilyn Monroe photos have been destroyed? And why would she have been stabbed in the neck and chest several times in addition to having been strangled?

She lived and died in Ridgewood, a section of the New York City borough of Queens that's only a couple of neighborhoods away from mine.  For two years, I wrote for the Times Newsweekly, the community's local newspaper. I felt as safe in Ridgewood as I have felt in any urban neighborhood in the United States.  I had no fear of walking even the more remote streets of the industrial areas of the neighborhood's periphery after dark.  I even left my bicycle--admittedly, my "beater"--unlocked while I covered school board meetings and other events.  My wheels were as untouched as they would have been had I parked in Bhutan.  I brought Tammy there once; after that, we talked about buying one of the stone or brick houses that line the neighborhood streets.  I really thought I'd introduced her to an urban oasis, if not a paradise.

Then again, I was living as a man in those days, and my waist was sculpted by thirty to fifty miles of daily cycling and my shoulders from the weights I lifted every day.  And my clothes, hairstyle and other markers of gender identity were completely congruent with those of other  men of that neighborhood, and American culture generally.  Plus--I never thought of this until now, at least not in reference to the time I spent in Ridgewood--I'm about as white as one can be.

Also, at that time, I didn't know Martin.  He has lived in the neighborhood all of his life.  (Technically, his place is in neighboring Glendale, which is a very similar kind of neighborhood.)  And he's gay.  While he seems never to have worried about meeting a fate like Amanda's, he has recounted incidents of harassment that stopped just short of physical violence.  Among those with and around whom he's spent his life, he seems to have lived, and to be living, by a variation of "don't ask, don't tell."  It seems that everyone knows about his sexual orientation, but he cannot talk to anyone about, say, his boyfriend(s), the way straight people can talk about their dates, lovers or spouses.  He seems to find the arrangement no more bizarre than his neighbors and friends think it is.

In an environment like that, you get along by going along.  The highest compliment someone can pay a neighbor is that he or she "doesn't bother anybody."  And that is what someone said about Amanda yesterday.

It's not a hard sentiment to understand, especially once you've cycled the neighborhood streets and talked to local residents, most of whom are blue-collar workers and their families.  People move to the fortress-like (though still very atttractive) stone and brick houses that line many of the neighborhood streets after working for years to save for the down payment.  Those houses look almost exactly as they did when they were first built between 100 and 80 years ago by German immigrants.  They are investments, shrines, heirlooms and fortresses, all at once, and their owners don't want them defaced.  (Nowhere is graffiti more detested than it is in that part of Queens.)  They help to make the neighborhood all but irresistible to those who want peace, stability and security above all else.

Those qualities make such a neighborhood attractive to transgenders, too.  After Tammy and I split up and I started to live as Justine, I nearly moved there myself.  It's never been known as an LGBT enclave, as parts of Jackson Heights and Astoria (where I now live) are.  However, in addition to Martin, I know of a few other gays and transgenders who live there.  I won't tell you who they are, as the only person I'll ever "out" is myself!  Any LGBT person I mention on this blog has made his or her identity public or has been cloaked with a pseudonym.

Anyway...I never knew Amanda, so whatever I say of her thoughts or motivations is speculation on my part.  Still, I am confident in saying that she probably felt some level of safety and security in living there.  I'm guessing that she also lived "under cover":  From the photos I saw of her, I'd say that she "passed" well enough to go "stealth."  And, because most people in the neighborhood don't want to upset its serenity, they probably left her alone, even if they knew her identity.

Of course, the scenario I've just described has its own perils.  One is isolation.  Most people in the neighborhood are polite; some are cordial.  But the extent of people's interaction with their neighbors is dictated by the amount of time they spend outside those stone and brick walls.  This may have been one of the reasons why it took several days for anyone to realize that Amanda had gone missing, or that some other terrible fate had befallen her.

Now they are mourning her.  So, in my own way, am I.  If we--that is to say, our souls--go anywhere after this life, I hope Amanda finds love and acceptance there.


Sarcastic Bastard said...

I hope Amanda finds love, peace, and acceptance too.

You are clearly very kind.

Blessings to you,


Angelique said...

My aunt Sunshines best friend for over 20 years was killed. Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar a transgender brutally murdered at only 29 years old. Hate crimes against our LGBT community must stop!! this could have been a hate crime to a stud, femme, your best friend. I want to put an orginization together in Tamp...a to raise awarness in our community and around the world. Amanda's story will be heard and her death will not be in vain. Im callin out to all my friends family, fellow poets, lyricists EVERYONE to help me put together an event in memory of a beautiful person! msg me if ur interested in writing a poetry peice about it helpin to get a place to host candle light viduals ur presence alone, anything will help! It will be very much appreciated. Msg me if yopur interested in any way- thank you for taking your time out to read dis....

Anonymous said...

hi, Amanda was my friend...actually my best friend's sister...I thank you very much for ur post...it's really comforting knowing that there are people out there who have a heart..in cases like Amanda, all you see are horrible posts...it hurts especially since Amanda was such a beautiful person who would help any and everyone she could...it kills me to read things like "she got what she deserved"...no matter if she was a woman, man, transgender or what have you, SHE WAS A HUMAN BEING and no one has deserves what happened to her. I am very much interested in helping to put something together in memory of my friend....i don't have a google account...actually in class right now writing this from my cell phone so i'm kind of limited...please write back

Justine Valinotti said...

Sarcastic Bastard: Thank you for your kind comments. I hope that you can find love, peace and acceptance in this life.

Angelique and Anonymous: I would be interested in a vigil or some other event in Amanda's honor. Please contact me via my profile. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I am a old friend of Amanda's family.I am writing this because it has come to my attention that the district attorney Richard Brown after stating to the press in April that he was going to charge Rahseen Everett with second degree murder(which carries a sentence of 25 years to life) and tapering with evidence.Now he has changed his mind and is talking about giving him a plea deal for a lesser charge of manslaughter(which means he will be out in less then 8 years).They have all the evidence they need to convict him.There isn't need for a plea I cant help put wonder if it was a woman, a mother, and wife the district attorney would be going for 1st degree murder which carries the death penalty,no less then life in prison.This isn't justice.When the press was watching Richard Brown to see how he'll deal with the case he said he will charge him with 2nd degree murder.But now that Amanda is not in the news no more he no longer cares about getting justice for Amanda and her family

If you would like to help get justice for Amanda please email me at delights1@msn.com and put (I want justice for Amanda) as the subtitle.Or email Richard Brown at www.queensda.org and let Richard Brown no that this is unbelievably wrong.That Rasheen Everett should be held to the fullest extent of the law.There is power in number . And one person can make a difference.Amanda made a difference in my life, the life of here friend, and especially in the life of her family.She was accepted and adored by her friends, her community,and especially here family .She was just as beautiful and amazing as other have said but even more so.Please demand justice for Amanda.Her life meant SO SO SO MUCH MORE then 8 years.Nothing will ever full the empty place in our heart now that Amanda's gone.But you can help us give her family a peace of mind that justice is being served and the person that took Amanda's life be paying for his crime appropriately. If you want to help email me at delights1@msn.com