02 April 2010

Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar: More Thoughts About About A Transgender Woman's Murder

It was utterly gorgeous yesterday: the sort of fine early spring day one envisions during the dreariest winter hours.  So, of course, I went for a bike ride in the afternoon.  Almost all I could think about was Amanda, a.k.a. Edelbuerto, Gonzalez-Andujar.

It turns out that she lived and died only two blocks from the office of the Times-Newsweekly, the local newspaper for which I wrote.   Her apartment is also only two blocks, in another direction, from where Martin lives.  So, of course, I was thinking about him when I wasn't thinking about Amanda.

Perhaps the fact that it's Passover is influencing the way I'm seeing them.  As I pedalled the serpentine roads of Randall's Island, I saw a group of men whose long black coats covered all except the collars and top buttons of their white shirts.  Their wives--at least,that is what the women in wigs and long, loose-fitting dresses seemed to be--were serving various kinds of food and selling handicrafts that, I guess, they made.  I was tempted to stop and check it out, but even if I weren't unwelcome, I would certainly garner more attention than I would've wanted.

In other words, I couldn't have "gone stealth."  They can't do that, either, in any place save perhaps their own communities.  (Even in some of those places, such as Crown Heights, they stand out among their neighbors.)  That is why Jews are always under surveillance and suspicion and, as Jacobo Timerman and Primo Levi have written, they can't help but to think that any crime or misdemeanor committed against them is motivated by their identities.

And, of course, such is the case for any transgender who's the victim of any sort of violence, or who receives any kind of negative treatment other people aren't getting.  As an example, when I had a false accusation made against me at work, I couldn't help but to think that it had something to do with my gender identity--and, specifically, that I recently had my surgery.  

When you raise the probability of such motivations as a possibility, you're accused of being paranoid, if you're lucky, and psychotic if you aren't.  Some will even tell you that the fact that you entertain such thoughts--or that you are what you are and express it as you do--brings the ill treatment upon you. The latter, in other words, is a way of "blaming the victim" and of excusing the perpetrators of any responsibility for their own behavior.

I was reminded of what I've just described when I saw and heard some of the comments and reactions to the news accounts of Amanda's murder.  To be fair, there were a number of commenters who pointed out that no one deserves to die the way she did, or by the motivations of her killer.  A few said that the killing shouldn't be treated as a hate crime or even that hate crime laws are unnecessary because the authorities should treat the case as the brutal killing that it is.  My inner libertarian agrees with that position, but as a transgender woman, I cannot support it wholeheartedly.  Still, it is better than some of the other comments I read.  The more polite ones said that she "deceived" some man or, as one put it, "He was expecting a taco and found a sausage instead."  (Aside from the imagery, it is somewhat amusing in that it may be the first time I've read a bigoted comment that was pro-Mexican, however obliquely.)

Worse still were the ones who referred to Amanda as male, but worst of all were the ones were the ones that would have made "Dude looks like a lady" seem enlightened.  Such remarks reek of the sort of violence that was committed against Amanda, and too many other trans women.  They sound like they came from the sorts of guys who show what a dangerous combination alcohol and testosterone can be. (I'm not man-bashing:  My body has been filled with that caustic concoction, and under its influence, I did things I'm not proud of!)  Plus, they reveal the insecurities such people have about their own sexuality, if not their gender identity.

And that is what I and every other transgender woman fear.  In addition to the ostracism and suspicion we incur and the prospect of violence that underlies so much in our lives, we know that we are prone to some of the most particularly gruesome sorts of attacks.  It seems that every murdered transgender woman of whom I am aware was killed in a way that left grizzled police officers, detectives and coroners saying that it was the most grisly, or one of the most grisly, crimes they'd ever seen. Amanda was strangled and stabbed.  Gwen Araujo was strangled, beaten, hog-tied and buried in a shallow grave.  (I still can't read about it without crying.) Eda Yildirm's head and sexual organs were chopped off and thrown in a dumpster.  I could go on--but you get the picture.  All you have to do is type "transgender murder" in Google, click on to just about any link you find, and you will see some of the most horrendous kinds of killing you've ever heard of.

The standard explanation for such brutality is that nothing makes people more insecure than having their notions about their sexuality challenged--or, at least, to feel that their notions about their identities and proclivities have been questioned.  It makes sense:  After all, the most phobic people are the ones who know, deep down, that they are what they hate.  Are we shocked when we learn that some homophobic preacher was patronizing teenaged boys or when some segregationist reveals, on his deathbed, that he was the "love child" of his father and housemaid? How surprised would you be to know that, as a teenager, I committed a gay-bashing?

But I think that the challenge to one's notions of one's identity and sexuality are the nucleus, so to speak.  The atom is one's place in the social and economic hierarchies.  Why is it that gay-bashings and murders of trans people are so often committed by young men who seem to have few prospect in life?  They are the ones who have no chance of going to college or getting the kinds of jobs their fathers (if, indeed, their fathers are in the picture) have or had.  They feel that others--immigrants, queers or others whom they might see only at a distance--are getting all the breaks and resentment.  If alcohol and testosterone is a combustible mixture, almost nothing will ignite it more quickly or reliably than the resentment and rage such young men feel. 

That spark can also come from the friction between the pressure a young man feels to fit into one role or another and his feelings of inadequacy or unsuitability for that role. That is how I would explain the way I was as a teenager, anyway.

And, when rage and insecurities seek a target, what's better than someone who "won't be missed?"  That is to say:  who would make a better punching bag than someone who's despised more than anyone else--by society at large as well as by the ones who actually deliver the blows, the shots, the slashes?

While every human being is responsible for his or her actions, the terrible thing  is that most of those young men don't realize just how duped, how "had," they are.  The fact that they are committing such terrible violence shows that they have never had the opportunity to think through their own assumptions, most of which were passed on to them.  The night I kicked a gay man in the stomach while he was writhing on the ground, I was trying to redeem myself as a "real man" in the eyes of my co-conspirators.  And we were all, wittingly or not, acting out of assumptions about ourselves and our genders that were so inculcated within us that we didn't even know that it was possible, much less permissible or sustainable, to question such notions.

All of those notions govern what we, as transgenders, fear--and what we all have to live with.  Some of the people who knew Amanda are, I'm sure, saying that she's "in a better place now."  I hope that's true.