As long as trans women of colour suffer exclusion, we will remain victims of mass murder
Shocking statistics show that the overwhelming majority of trans people who were murdered last year were trans women of colour and sex workers. To mark Transgender Day of Remembrance, board members of the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, Dinah de Riquet Bons and Sabrina Sanchez (pictured right) ask why 50 years on from Stonewall and the activism of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, so many trans women of colour live in danger of being violently killed by men.
Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) was founded in 1999 to remember all the people who have been taken away from us through transphobic violence. People like Sarah Fernández, Alana Ferreira, Dulce, Yaritza Angélica, Muhlaysia Booker and the other 226 trans people murdered around the world between 1 October 2018 and 30 September 2019.
Each year, research published in the annual Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) report clearly shows that trans women, femmes, and women of colour doing sex work are the most impacted by the cruelties of discrimination and misogyny. 288 of the 331 reported murders of trans people in the past year were of trans women of colour. At least 116 of those were sex workers. Many were murdered in unimaginably violent ways; often they are tortured and mutilated. The hatred and disgust of their killers is tangible.
Communities of trans women, trans sex workers and BPoC trans women across the world are mourning for lost friends, sisters and colleagues while living every day with the fear of becoming victims of murder too.
Trans women often feel the disgust and misogyny of society, especially when we first transition. Our bodies and behaviour dismantle binarism, rejecting the patriarchal privilege given to those bodies born with a penis. Embracing femininity makes us disposable; it sends us to the lowest rung on the societal ladder. We lose status, family, friends, communities, work, and possibilities to study. The most affected are those of us who have to struggle with intersectional racist discrimination because of our ethnic diversity.
Many of us flee our countries to free ourselves from systemic domestic violence, finding shelter with migrant trans communities. Trans women suffer an 80% unemployment rate. Many of us have professional and academic backgrounds and could have easy access to the labour market as men, but as trans women, we find it almost impossible to secure any job whatsoever. The diversity of being trans, together with many of us suffering traumatic experiences, makes trans women more vulnerable to mental health issues which might hinder our ability to work at cis and/or male-structured working spaces. Because ‘exotic’ trans women are often sexually desired by men from all kinds of backgrounds, we find our main option for survival is through sex work.
Not only is sex work a source for survival for many trans women, but it is also a way in which we can provide resources to our families living in economic disadvantage. Being able to give our parents money is sometimes a way to prove we exist and live successful trans lives. It is a way in which we can seek positive affirmation from parents and families.
When going through the list of names of our deceased trans sisters, it’s common to find that their listed occupations usually read as “unknown” or “sex worker”. This lack of vital career options for trans females around the world makes us vulnerable and is the biggest source of violence against us.
Basic human rights, 50 years on from Stonewall
This year the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, an event that triggered the LGBTQI+ movement and the formation of thousands of NGOs globally in the ensuing years, many of whom have worked for and brought about great, positive change. Nevertheless, the daughters and granddaughters of the trans women of colour who started that movement still face the exact same problems that activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were trying to tackle in the 1970s, particularly with their work at S.T.A.R. house, which provided housing and support to homeless queer youth and sex workers in New York.
"We didn't have nothing to lose," Sylvia Rivera said in a 1989 interview.
Photo: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera / Credits: Netflix.
50 years on from Stonewall, transphobia still keeps us from accessing our basic human rights. This fact should be shameful for the whole LGB and white trans community, but transphobia is also still very much a part of the LGBT world, including its organisations.
Sex work can be dangerous when it is stigmatised and surrounded by moral, patriarchal and abolitionist policies. Trans sex workers are usually on the lowest rung of the social ladder and are largely overlooked by policymakers, service providers and police forces, the LGBTQI community and even the sex workers movement.
Within the LGBTQI community, migrant trans women and BPoC trans women are isolated. We are often seen as loud and angry troublemakers. The systematic use of mansplaining and gas-lighting are used as a tool to silence our voices.
Being trans women of colour with migrant experiences, we are victims of the many mechanisms of oppression that make us vulnerable to murder. Our families, sexual partners, clients, religious and economic systems are all parts of a thriving patriarchal structure that is driven by misogyny and hatred for people who step out of male-dominated mechanisms.
Men often feel sexually attracted by trans female energies, but become aggressors when they feel societal shame or fear exposure. Many of the men who kill us also deal with systemic intersectional injustice. They also suffer racism, discrimination and exclusion due to their ethnic backgrounds.
It seems unlikely that the global mass killings of BPoC trans women will stop as long as trans people remain excluded from policy-shaping and from working with institutions that are striving for social justice in civil society.
This Transgender Day of Remembrance, we remember all trans people who have had their lives cut short through violence and hatred, and especially those who have been at the most vulnerable intersection of our community, BPoC trans women and trans sex workers. We celebrate their lives and their courage to be wholly themselves, and we continue to fight for a world where the hatred and murder of trans people no longer exists.
Visit transrespect.org to find out more about the Trans Murder Monitoring Report, published by Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide (TvT), a project by Transgender Europe (TGEU)