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An Example of the Constant Threat of Violence Against Trans Women

April 24, 2011

On April 18th, a transgender woman, Chrissy Lee Polis, was beaten at a McDonald’s near Baltimore, MD. Trans women experience violence and the threat of violence constantly, but what made this case rise to public notice was that a McDonald’s employee stood by and videotaped the assault, and then posted it to the internet.

The video was not made to document the assault for the victim, it was made for “entertainment” value. People can be heard laughing. Almost nobody actually tries to help the victim. As the Baltimore Sun reports, “Throughout the attack, a man is filming and does not intervene. But when the victim appears to have a seizure, he yells, “She having a seizure, yo. … Police on their way. Y’all better get out of here.” The McDonald’s has fired this video maker.

The video is up at Bilerico, but please be aware that this is a real video of a real assault – it’s cruel, and brutal, and damn hard to watch. And it’s part of a larger experience of violence faced by transgender women, which should give everyone pause.

A couple of items the Baltimore Sun reporter (Jill Rosen) and her editor should/could have done better with:

  • The article notes that the victim “acknowledged that she was intoxicated at the time of the assault.”
    This is egregious because it can suggest that Polis was somehow asking for it because she was “intoxicated.” Unless there is specific information about some way in which this fact had a specific role in the assault (and there doesn’t appear to be), it does not need to be in the story, and it only serves to suggest to the reader that Polis was somehow at fault for her own assault, not unlike rape apology narratives we often hear.

  • “Polis, who said she had a sex-change operation to become a woman, said this isn’t the first time that she’s been picked on physically because of her sexual identity.”
    Polis was likely a woman before she had a “sex-change operation” – it is my understanding that trans women almost never go directly from presenting in stereotypically male ways to surgery – some time transitioning to stereotypically women’s clothes, names, etc. is often required before someone is “approved” for surgery. Additionally, since “sexual identity” is not given as a quote, it should have been changed to “gender identity.”

    I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege lately, and the ability to choose the women’s bathroom without fear of brutal assault is one privilege that women like Polis don’t have, and it’s hard to imagine the daily threat such a simple act involves. There have been bills (esp. in Maryland) recently that play on bigoted people’s fears that allowing people to choose the bathroom appropriate to them will cause problems (such as assault) for non-trans (cis) people – the evidence supports exactly the opposite, that cis people are a much bigger threat to trans people as they try to complete the simple act of going to the restroom.

    While I’m at it, the ability to choose to accept a courtesy ride to work in the back of a police car (as I did after a car accident this week) is also a privilege – many people, including trans women – would have had much greater legitimate fears that they would not make it to work unharmed. Amnesty International has some rudimentary info on the abuse of transgender people by police.

    [hat tip to @metalmujer for bringing this to my attention, via a link to the Bilerico piece]

  • 12 Comments leave one →
    1. jilla permalink
      April 26, 2011 11:52 am

      Hello Rachel

      This was not an attack against a trans(woman). They didn’t know who she was, but white. Egregious as it is, deserving of censure, it was not an attack against “trans” nation.

    2. Jilla permalink
      April 26, 2011 12:07 pm

      This was an attack against WOMEN, which happens in multitudes EVERY day, is usually unreported and almost always dismissed, trivialized and the victim blamed. They had no idea this person was not a woman, plain old born woman variety. They called the victim “she”.

      YOUTUBE is replete with videos of women being beaten and raped, raped, beaten and with watchers and multiply abusers taking part, usually with a real-time laugh track. Sometimes, it’s called SEX and not only does no-one respond to help the girls and women who are thus harmed, many say it was her “choice” or call it “agency” and claim it’s “empowering”.

      This is life for women. We are always at risk of this happening. Daily. No matter what we look like, what the colour of our skin, our age. Just because we are women.

    3. April 26, 2011 7:22 pm

      Please note: comments here are moderated for first-time commenters pending an approved comment. This was implemented after I got some really vile and threatening comments. There have been a couple of comments on this post that haven’t been approved because they misgender the victim, just link to someone else’s blog where the victim is repeatedly misgendered, talk about whole groups of people as predators or potential predators, etc.

      One of these had a nugget of a relevant discussion point, as to whether the attack occurred because the victim is a trans woman or because she was perceived to be talking to an attacker’s boyfriend or whatever. The initial news items referred to a statement by the victim that the attackers had a problem with her using the women’s bathroom, while other accounts have focused more on the “messing with my man” angle. Regardless of which played a more prominent role, the fact of the matter is that trans women face a much higher rate of assault than the general population, simply because they are trans. In a video interview, the victim herself talks about how being a trans woman attracts unwanted attention and violence.

    4. jilla permalink
      April 26, 2011 8:09 pm

      They simply do not face a higher level of violence then FAABs (females assigned at birth) and what violence they do suffer, is delivered to them by people who think they are females. Chrissy herself said that in the video. Chrissy is not playing this game. Chrissy said she was beaten because she talked to another women’s man. This reaction by that woman was wrong.

      I did not misgender this person. I referred to her as a trans(woman).

      I think the sources you have used to come to your decision are yellow and transphobic. I think you have not listened to what Chrissy herself has said.

      Have you had a look around at that “news” source which you trust without doing other research? Do you usually just trust one source, and FB gossip?

      I think your work on this story dishonours your degree and Our Bodies Ourselves, the latter whom you are linked to both in your work for the Our Bodies Our Blog and in reader’s minds.

      Furthermore it is cowardly and very poor reporting to appear to be rejecting comments that are NOT in my posts. I have kept my posts, and they will be on the internet.

      In no way do I disagree with a mod policy and your right to implement it. I disagree with the dishonesty with which you have represented me, my post, and in fact, Chrissy.

      I am absolutely disgusted that someone who purports to be a women’s rights advocate can make such a statement as your first regarding the level of abuse these trans(women) experience, compared to “people”. In this context, who are the people you are comparing them to?

      Show me the stats Rachel.

      • April 26, 2011 8:24 pm

        Jilla, note that I was referring to a batch of comments, not just yours – you seem to have taken my statement above as only about you, which is factually incorrect. One of yours was a link to a post that very explicitly and repeatedly misgendered the victim, which I did not let through. I did, however, go back and check for other older ones of yours and have just approved those for the purpose of discussion.

        I think it is pretty clear that some and early reports on this focused on her trans woman status, and those have nothing to do with “facebook gossip” – not where I get my info, which is why other sources were specifically linked in the post.

        No clue why you insist on writing it as “trans(woman).”

        “What violence they suffer is delivered by people who think they are females.” – they are females, and what other people think about their gender is never a valid excuse for violence.

    5. jilla permalink
      April 26, 2011 8:46 pm

      Thank you for putting my posts in. I know there are others which are not “vile”. I have read them.

      Neither I nor anyone else can begin to know what the posts you reference as vile say unless we have seen them, or if they say what you say, or if you are being disingenuous or outright lying, or just careless as you are with the original story. I frankly think you are being careless.

      “…they are females, amd what other people think about their gender is never a valid excuse for violence.”

      Absolutely. Never a valid excuse.

      She was not beaten because of what they thought of her gender.

      But you are conflating these terms Rachel. Are you talking about gender or sex. They are not interchangeable. Female is SEX. Male is SEX. All mammals come in two sexes, female and male. It’s all about reproduction.

      Sex is not Gender.

      Gender is how we behave and dress. It’s not chromosome decided, and it varies with time, and culture.

      • April 26, 2011 9:00 pm

        The reference to vile and threatening comments is not regarding comments on this post; is in regards to past comments from other people on other posts which led me to implement this policy. I think it’s pretty reasonable for me, in my own space, to say that there are some comments i’m not letting through – no, you can’t check that for yourself, b/c I’m obviously not giving random commenters the keys to the back end to check what gets through. Other people don’t get to make the rules for my space, and it would defeat the purpose of not making space for hatefulness to post that hatefulness so other people can be sure of it.

        You seemed to imply that when trans women are assaulted, it is because other people “thought” they were female. I contend that they *are* female, by gender, by self-identification. While I agree that sex is not gender, the male vs. female dichotomy is not nearly as absolute as you suggest, as intersex people woukd tell you.

    6. jilla permalink
      April 26, 2011 10:58 pm

      Intersex people are exceptionally rare. The most common sources say 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 50,000. It’s an actual biological condition, not something created with drugs and surgeries. It’s not a feeling. It’s bio-logical. Their chromosomes prove it out.

      Please do some reading, or research about what actually happened in this case, and what intersex is and isn’t, as your MLS surely prepared you to do. Facts, not “feelings”.

      • April 26, 2011 11:27 pm

        I think we’re talking past each other – I was not equating transgender and intersex, or making a comment about the rate of occurrence of either, merely responding to your “all mammals come in two sexes” comment.

    7. April 27, 2011 8:20 am

      Jilla, good job making a story about a woman getting the crap beat out of her all about you. Do you feel better now that, even though we were all concerned about Chrissy Lee Polis, we can’t have that discussion because now we all have to tend to your feelings? Your poor feelings. It must suck that for one post on one blog on the whole internet someone was not thinking about how you would feel if your transphobia was no reflected back to you as normal.

      If a person combed through your comments with the same level of bad faith and ill will that you’ve read through Rachel’s post, she might make hay for days about your casual use of the term “yellow” to describe Rachel and her behavior.

      Is that really how you want to go through life? Or shoot, even this morning? Having someone nitpick you and deliberately miss your point?

      That seems sad.

      • April 27, 2011 9:22 am

        Thank you, B. Jilla, you’re done -you are deliberately misunderstanding me, and attributing motives to me that I don’t have, including in your comments in moderation that accuse me of having something against lesbians and being allied with anti-black racists.

    8. April 29, 2011 6:12 pm


      Thanks so much for this post!

      In reply to Jilla’s comment: “They simply do not face a higher level of violence then FAABs (females assigned at birth) and what violence they do suffer, is delivered to them by people who think they are females.”

      Not to in any way diminish the very real violence and discrimination that women who were born with a physiology that that matches their gender identity face every day, but I would refer you to these resources which indicate that trans people face a far higher risk of being a victim of violence (and of committing suicide because of the massive amounts of discrimination we face) than practically any other minority in this country:


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