An Example of the Constant Threat of Violence Against Trans Women
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:
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 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.