She’s a man-Violence against transgender women, who’s to blame?

27 Aug 2018

It is a story slowly but surely growing more and more common. A guy goes out with friends for some good time out. A bit of gallivanting, if I may call it that. They get to a club. Gets a drink. Spots a beautiful young lady at the other end of the counter. She makes eye contact, and the usual ‘bring your sexy ass over here’ kind of smile that follows. He walks over. Introduces himself. They hit it off immediately. Drinks start flowing. One thing leads to another. They dance and frolic the night away. The club is closed. They hop into the car and drive home together. It’s time to get down to business and BOOM! ‘She’ is a man. Or a transwoman. Born into a male body although identifying as a woman. But our heterosexual guy is pissed. ‘This is not what I signed up for,’ he thinks to himself. And he acts in a manner he sees fit for the discovery. Where do we put the blame? 

“Under normal circumstances, we are all expected to get to know each other before we jump into bed with one another,” saysLesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo)’s Advocacy and Awareness officer,  Caine Youngman.  

“In this instance, when do we get to know each other when you are in a noisy bar, drinking yourselves to a stupor? When in bars, unfortunately we operate with a lot of assumptions.” Youngman’s sentiment is that under such circumstances no one ever comes to someone and says, ‘I am going to buy you drinks so that afterwards we go and have sex’, or ‘I am going to drink all the drinks you buy me and then afterwards I will let you have sex with me’ but there is always an assumption that you are both on the same page.

“Assumptions are dangerous. The question is always, when is it the right time to disclose to the stranger either that I am HIV positive  or I am a transgender individual. Remember we are both throwing hints at each other that we want to hook up but we are not bold enough to say it out loud. If out of nowhere I just say to a guy who comes and sits next to me and offers to get me a drink, I am a transwoman, he might ask, who asked you or …jaanong nna o mpolelela gore ke reng?”

He says violent attacks on anyone because they are not who one thought they would turn out to be, are a big problem.

“Did the attacker ascertain that the attackee is the kind of person they wanted? And did the attackee also ascertain with the other person that they were the person they wanted to hook up with? The answer is no.”

Youngman says both parties would have been too hung up on impressing each other, drinking and in such in a hurry to leave together with the other person that it does not leave room for clarifications.

Youngman identifies three problems with the scenario. First one, assumptions. A heterosexual guy having assumptions about the transwoman and the transwoman also assuming that the bloke will be okay with ‘her’ gender identity. “You can’t then be violent to someone you barely talked to,” he says. “For me it’s very simple, if I don't like you or I find out that you aren’t what I wanted, either I tell you to leave or if it’s your place, I leave. Beating up someone for things that were never explicitly said out loud bothers me.”

The second problem, Youngman says, is alcohol. “It reduces reasoning capabilities. Therefore, when it is time to talk in in-depth, you cannot because you are both drunk or one is drunk. Buying me drinks is also not a passport into my pants.”

He says only reasonable consent is the passport into one’s pants. “Now, where is reasonable consent when you are both drunk or when one is drunk and the other is half sober? When are you both going to have a frank conversation about who you are and what exactly you want?” The third problem, Youngman says, is location.

“A bar is not a place to pick up a partner. It breeds a lot of misunderstandings. Loud music and lots of people around. Some are in a hurry to leave with someone before that someone leaves with someone else.”

A US study found that transgender and gender non-conforming people may have higher levels of interaction with police because they are more likely to be victims of violent crime. A Philippines appeals court last year (2017) upheld a verdict in which a US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton was convicted of the 2014 killing of a transwoman, Jennifer Laude, in a hotel room. Pemberton was jailed for between six and 10 years on a Philippine military base. The marine was reported to have admitted to choking but not killing Laude after he discovered that a ‘man’ was giving him oral sex, and not a woman as he had thought.

Another US national Dwanya Hickerson pleaded guilty to killing a transwoman stabbing her at least 119 times. Joshua Vallum, another US national, was convicted of killing a transgender teenage girl who had kept her gender identity secret when they began dating. Transgender is an umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity or expression does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. A transgender person may identify as a woman despite having been born with male genitalia.