On the Science of Changing Sex

One in Twelve

Posted in Editorial, Transsexual Field Studies by Kay Brown on August 27, 2013

Kay BrownOne in twelve transsexuals is murdered.  That was the ‘back of the envelope’ estimate that I made back about 15 years ago for my transhistory class that I taught at the Harvey Milk Institute.  As I had posted some of my notes and power point slides on a website for that purpose, it was picked up by many in the LGBT community, much to my amazement, to become one of those unquestioned internet memes, but it had morphed to one in twelve “transgendered”.  One in twelve “profoundly transsexual” MTF (NOT “transgendered” people) was my estimate of how many of us were murdered in our (shortened) lifetimes.  That math was based on two numbers available to me at that time.  First that the estimate of how many “profoundly transsexual” transwomen there were was one in 11,200 male births, from a study in the Netherlands; second that at the time I made the estimate, that approximately one “early / transitioning” transwoman was murdered a month in the United States.  Either number may have been wrong, or subject to change over time.  However, with those numbers I estimated that of the 260 million US residents in the late ‘90s, 11,600 would be such “profoundly transsexual”.  I defined “profoundly transsexual” as those born males living full time, or nearly so, as women socially since an early age.  This by definition excluded private cross-dressers and part-time transfolk, who would not be exposed to transphobic violence in their daily activities, and those who transitioned later in life, that is to say, that it excluded the majority of so called “transgendered” people.  If one “young transitioner” is murdered per month, and one can normally expect to have had a life-expectancy of 80 years, then the lifetime risk of being murdered is approximately one in twelve.  An actuarian may take issue with my simplistic treatment, but the math is basically sound.

But, as I have been at pains to explain here on this blog, there are two types of transwomen, Autogynephilic (AGP / “non-homosexual”) and transkids (exclusively androphilic transsexuals), which do not have the same risk profile.  As I shall explain further, it is transkids, (i.e. exclusively androphilic) transsexual women who bear the significantly greater risk.

(If you are not familiar with the two types, please read this FAQ and this essay describing the two very different populations:  A Clinical View)

Further, this issue is not an academic one for me.  In keeping with the feminist credo that “the personal is political”, I share with my reader that my own life has been touched with transphobic violence.  When I was a teenager, I suffered a number of attacks and beatings, directly due to my gender atypicality, perceived (correctly) sexual orientation toward men, and my transgender status.  One of the worse beatings I suffered was when I was 14 years old, when two older boys, who layed in wait along my path through a dark orchard just a block from my home, first taunted me, then beat, knocked me to the ground, and proceeded to kick me viciously, all the while yelling homophobic slurs.  Their exact words included,

“FAGGOT!” “PANSY!” “PANTYWAIST!” “YOU THINK YOU’RE A GIRL?” “YOU MAKE ME SICK!”.

Candice_Caltech

Kay Brown in college

Fast forward about five years, when I was 19, a good friend of mine, Tere, invited me to go with her to a beach party her crowd was throwing.  Tere was also my brother’s girlfriend, someone I had known for a number of years from high school.  Mind you, I had been out as both trans and into guys in high school, so a number of the kids at this party knew who and what I was.  Somehow, I stupidly didn’t think this might be a problem.  A couple hours into the party, after having had a good time talking with, and gently flirting with a number of cute young men, I was lured some distance from the party, where perhaps seven or eight young men surrounded me and started taunting me and laughing among themselves, “Are you a boy or a girl?”  “Hey, let’s pants it and see”…  At that point, I was terrified, knowing full well that after they had torn off my clothes to reveal my pre-op body, that I would be beaten and kicked by four times as many, older and stronger, young men than when I was 14.  To my everlasting relief Tere jumped into the middle of the boys at that point and yelled, “You leave her alone!”  In the sudden confusion of her interruption, Tere grabbed my arm and escorted me at a very fast walk to my car.  I have no doubt that had Tere not intervened, I would have been hospitalized, at best, or killed at worst.

In the news, only this past month, was the beating death of 21 year old Islan Nettles on a street of New York City, the beating death of 16 year old Duane Johnson and the severe beating and attempted rape of her roommate, Kiki, in a slum of Jamaica, and the video recorded beating of a young transwoman in a park in Russia.  The “one in twelve” number may not be exactly correct… but it certainly seems to me to be close.  The website, “Remembering our Dead” has long memorialized these murders, but it fails to note that most of these deaths are of transkids, not their older and far more numerous AGP “sisters”.  Note that most of these murders are perpetrated by younger men… and their victims are mostly young transwomen.

Perhaps a couple more random examples that have stuck in my mind, to illustrate my point? In 1978, the transkid community in Los Angeles was saddened and horrified to learn of the death and mutilation of a young transwoman whose body was found in a dumpster with her (silicone enhanced) breasts slashed.  It was understood that she was to be seeing a new beau that evening.  About a decade ago, a young transwomen was murdered at a party in the San Francisco East Bay Area by a group of young men, several of whom it was later learned, had had erotic encounters with her before they had learned of her pre-op status.

I used to be confused by the motives of the young men who perpetrated these horrible crimes.  But one late night drive in my car, I chanced to tune in a talk radio show in which the topic was transsexuals. Led by a ‘phobic shock jock, his callers revealed their anger and hatred of young transwomen, especially pre-op transkids, who had “fooled” them into dating them.  Listening carefully, I learned that their reactions were driven by a very special form of “homosexual panic”.  The classic “homosexual panic” is created in insecure straight men when a gay man shows romantic or erotic interest in them.  The thought that then goes through their mind is, “oh my god… a gay man thought I might be gay too!”  But, though the anger and hatred may be great, it isn’t nearly the threat to an insecure man that the certain knowledge that, in the case of a cute transwomen, they had without any doubt been romantically and erotically attracted to a male bodied person, “oh my god, I’m turned on by a guy!”  The violence that that realization evokes is explosive and unreasoning.  Add to it young men in groups, men who need to prove to themselves and their buddies that they aren’t “fags”… perhaps add some alcohol or other mild intoxicant, the result is one or more beaten and dead young transwoman.

Of course, none of the above has been corroborated by careful study.  So, to any researchers who may find my blog, I suggest the following protocol to test my hypothesis.  Present to two groups of young heterosexual men a photo of a very attractive young woman.  Ask them to write an essay on what a perfect first date with this woman might entail.  Half of the men you then inform that that the woman was “actually a boy who is hoping to “get a sex change” but is still pre-op”, the other half do nothing.  Then test both groups for implicit anger and animosity to transwomen and gay men, as well as their feelings about their own sexuality.  I’m betting that the group who is told that their “dream date” woman is a transsexual will exhibit a great deal more anger, transphobia, homophobia, and sexual orientation anxiety.

If I’m right, we can contrast this experience with transphobic discrimination experienced by older AGP transwomen.  Not to put too much of a fine point on it… ummm… lets be honest, fewer of them inspire as much erotic interest in younger men, the men most likely to perpetrate these crimes.  Fewer of them will date any man without that man knowing their full medical history, given the statistically known fact that few of them live “deep stealth” or successfully pass well enough.  All of this on top of the fact that most AGP transsexual women will have no interest in flirting with and dating any men.

Thus, although it is still a ‘back of the envelope’ calculation, when we subtract the number of older AGP transwomen, we can infer that one in twelve MTF transkids really is murdered, and their greatest risk exposure is when they are fairly young.  Given that more transkids are people of color than AGP, this risk is also falling disproportionately upon transwomen of color, as noted by Shelby Chestnut in Matthew Fleischer’s story on Islan Nettles,

“If nothing else, Chestnut hopes Nettles’ death will bring to light the tremendous violence faced by transgender women—particularly transgender women of color.  Seventy-two percent of anti-LGBT murders in America affected people of color and 53 percent of those were transgender women”, Chestnut said.  “The only way to end anti-LGBT violence is to keep talking about it and let the public know that incidents like the one that left Nettles dead are hardly uncommon, Chestnut said. Victims of hate violence also need to have the courage to come forward and tell their stories.  Reporting violence helps end violence,” says Chestnut. “Unless we know where violence is occurring, we can’t do outreach in the area. We can’t reach out to the general public know that anti-LGBT violence shouldn’t be tolerated.”

I would add that it’s time that the larger LGBT community recognize that there are two types of transwomen, and that our lives, as transkids, including our risks of transphobic violence, are quite different from the far larger autogynephilic “transgender” community.

(Addendum 10/4/2015:  In the past year, the number of MTF transkids being murdered reported in the media has increased.  But a disturbing new meme has also been circulating to the effect that these transkids are all “just prostitutes” and it has nothing to do with being “transgendered”.  This is disturbing on two fronts:  First is the obvious dehumanization and victim blaming; the second is the failure to understand that though some, but not all, of these victims had resorted to ‘survival sex’, the need to exchange sex for food and shelter is a direct consequence of being a transkid, disowned by one’s family at a young age, forced to live on the street with no skills or social capital.  Transkids are by no means the only young people to be so disadvantaged in this manner, but the percentage of transkids that find themselves is this situation is very high.)

Further Reading:

Demographic data on the number of transgendered people in the United States.  You may have read that there are almost one and a half million “transgender” people in the U.S.  This is only the number who “want to be” or “identify” with transgender people, the vast majority being private autogynephilic cross-dressers.  The actual number who have transitioned is only 90,000, and even then, most are “late transitioning” / autogynephiles.

Clinical differences between MTF transkids and AGP MTF transgendered.

References:

http://news.yahoo.com/transgender-woman-dies-beating-front-nypd-precinct-201642369.html

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/08/11/jamaica-transgender-teen-murdered-by-mob/2639995/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/20/russian-transgender-woman-beaten_n_3779723.html

http://www.buzzfeed.com/dominicholden/evidence-contradicts-police-account-of-possible-anti-transge#.odGmvNbPp6

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