The Pseudoephedrine-Method of Gun Control

Pseudoephedrine Limits in the USA

The USA has laws limiting how much “over-the-counter” pseudoephedrine-containing decongestant people can buy. There are all sorts of problems with this law – non-drug-dealer grandmas being treated like drug dealers, limits that prevent families with children or disabled family members from buying enough pseudoephedrine for the whole family (in many states, you have to be 18 to purchase pseudoephedrine – and you can buy slightly more than the maximum allowable single-adult dose), and privacy concerns as people are put on national databases (run by commercial companies to exempt them from many of the privacy laws that apply to government search) to track their purchases.

The FDA hastily approved a substitute that simply doesn’t work.  While pseudoephedrine shows a clear difference from a placebo, the drug we’re supposed to be using instead of pseudoephedrine – phenylephrine – is basically indistinguishable from a sugar pill for treating congestion. That said, it’s a sugar pill with a ton of side-effects, including increasing blood pressure. As you may know, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the USA, so a non-effective pill that causes increased blood pressure simply shouldn’t be on the market.

In most places in the USA, the following laws apply (some states are stricter):

  • No more than 9.0g of pseudoephedrine (PSE) may be contained in products purchased by a single person in a 30 day period
  • No more than 3.6g of PSE contained in products may be purchased by a single person in a 24 hour period
  • Must present government-issued picture ID
  • Must consent to have information recorded and available to government and other third parties
  • Must be 18 or older

This is done for one reason: To make illegal methamphetime less available.

What does this have to do with gun control?

On Sunday, one of the worst mass shootings in recent history occurred in Florida, when a person decided to target members of the LGBT community.  At least 49 people died, and we may hear more died soon.  At least another 50 people was wounded physically in the shooting.  The psychological toll is surely much higher than that.

Of course one thing that is off-the-table to our authoritarian-minded government officials: gun control.  We can regulate the bedroom – Michigan lawmakers proposed a change to their sodomy law that would modify much of the language but keep oral and anal sex illegal – a felony offense. Yes, Michigan lawmakers don’t want to remove a law that allows for life in prison for a consensual blow job from the books (fortunately the law is considered unconstitutional by the courts, and, thus, can’t be used for much beyond harassment of consensual adults).

There is no place we see the authoritarian beliefs of our leaders more clearly than in combatting drug abuse. To protect people from themselves, we have gone to extraordinary measures and imposing restrictions on lawful users of legal products for the war on drugs. In fact, there is just one thing we’re unwilling to do: address the role of the gun in drug crime.

While we might have authoritarian leanings with drugs, guns are off-limits.  With guns, we’re told that guns are important – “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” – according to the Second Amendment.  If we limit handguns, semi-automatics, assault rifles, large capacity magazines, certain types of bullets, or even advocate for technology that prevents a gun-owner’s gun from being used against him by someone else, we’re told that’s a slippery slope towards taking everyone’s guns away.

Well, I have a solution.  The pseudoephedrine regulations definitely impact people’s health – something arguably more important than, say, shooting beer bottles with your new gun.

Only Criminals will have Guns

One of the most common arguments against gun control is that criminals would own guns while law-abiding folk wouldn’t.  That’s one reason I don’t advocate gun control, but bullet control.  That aside, the meth problem that continues in our country shows that making something less available doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be less available.

While the number of meth users seems to have declined since these laws have been passed (in 2012, the levels were estimated to be about 2/3rds what they were in 2006), the number of drug-related deaths continues to rise.  Not only did we not eliminate 2/3rds of the drug deaths, but we may have shifted drug users to other drugs (such as opioids).  Using the National Survey on Drug Use and Abuse, and ignoring the strange statistical spike in 2006 (roughly 350,000 estimated users in 2006 compared to 140,000 in 2005 and 160,000 in 2007 – the 2006 year’s numbers are thus highly suspect and are probably closer to 150,000 in reality), we see that heroin use was somewhat flat through 2007, when it suddenly took off.  That’s roughly the time the pseudoephedrine laws took effect.  Unfortunately, opioids appear even more deadly than meth.

So, what is different about guns?  Why won’t criminals just find another source?  There are two reasons for this:

  1. Unlike drugs, guns are not able to be manufactured and distributed in quantity from Latin America into the USA. Much of the meth now in use in the USA is from south of the border.  However, we’re the supplier of arms to Latin America.  Guns pose a much more significant challenge due to their bulk, complex and difficult manufacturing process, and the relative ease at which they can be detected, unlike highly concentrated drugs.  In fact, one of the reasons drug cartels send their drugs to the USA is to get guns in return – we likely would make a bigger dent in the drug war by dealing with guns than with drugs.
  2. There’s not a viable substitute weapon to a gun.  While a meth user might take up opioids if meth becomes hard to find, a criminal that turns to swords is a lot less of a threat to people than a criminal with a gun.

 

Guns Don’t Kill, People Do

Likewise, pseudoephedrine doesn’t kill, people who take too much meth are the ones that are dying.

Yet, because someone else might take meth, and we’ve decided that is a bad thing, worth protecting the person against, we make the precursor chemicals – which have legal and non-drug-abuse uses – difficult to procure.  We do this even when it has public health impact.

It is pretty much impossible to determine how many people in the USA die of meth overdoses – that data simply doesn’t appear to be collected or computed.  But we do know that approximately 47,000 people died in 2013 through all uses of drugs, both legal and illegal.  Many of these were surely suicide, accidental overdose, or unexpected drug interaction by non-recreational users.  When we look at drug use rates, what we can find for death rates, etc, we can expect that, at the upper end, several thousand people die from meth overdose per year in the USA.  It may be significantly less than that.

Yet we know approximately 20,000 people kill themselves with a gun and 10,000 people (same source) are victims of homicide via a gun.  Even if all 20,000 of the suicide victims would have found other mechanisms, many of the 10,000 homicide victims would be with us if guns were not available to the shooter.  Either way, that’s significantly more lives saved than we can hope to save through any war on meth, even if somehow we managed to eliminate all meth and all meth users simply gave up meth and all other illegal drugs.

If it’s important to stop drug deaths, why is it unimportant to stop gun deaths?

A Potential Solution

It’s simple: regulate bullets like decongestant.

  • 9.0 grams of gunpowder-type propellent per 30 days per adult.  Assuming a 5 grain load for a typical 9mm round, that’s 324mg of propellent per round.  Thus, an average gun owner could purchase 27 rounds per month.
  • Because buying large quantities at once is associated with danger of illicit use, no more than 3.6 grams in a 24 hour period. That is roughly 11 rounds. Of course you still can’t exceed the 27 rounds per month.
  • Purchasers must be 18
  • Purchasers must present government-issued ID
  • Purchasers must sign a statement that they will not use the rounds for undesirable purposes
  • Purchase history is stored in a private national database accessible to the federal and state government

It’s simple. I suspect this would, at the least, make mass shootings much more difficult, and impose on many legitimate gun owners the same type of one-size-fits-all approach that decongestants have now.

Or, perhaps, you could look at Australia’s model.

Disclaimer: I own guns. My first gun was given to me by my parent’s when I was in elementary school after I proved I could pass a gun safety course.  It was a Marlin Model 60 semi-automatic .22LR – one of the 18 round capacity models that is hard to find these days (due to capacity restrictions).  I’ve probably shot 50,000 rounds through that barrel, and who knows how many through the barrel of other guns. So please don’t pretend that I’m someone who has never fired a gun.

In Remembrance…September 2013

In September, we lost at least 5 people through murder.

I hate writing about this.

I’m not going to editorialize this time, although I could talk about how people are referred to (again) after their death, and how even LGB news services don’t always respect names and genders of dead trans people.

Instead I’m going to ask that you take a minute and reflect that the following people had their lives taken. Reflect on what we need to do to make change and to stop the violence.

The links below will go to third party news sites that don’t always respect the identity of the victim.

Sometime before September 1, 2013, in Savannah, TX, USA, Konyale Williams was killed. No additional details are known.

On September 9, 2013, in Baldwin Park, CA, USA, Melony Smith was murdered. Melony was forced to leave home at age 16 because her parents did not accept her gender identity. While living in hotels, she completed her high school education and was working to save up for further education at the time of her death.

On September 12, 2013, in Baton Rouge, LA, USA, Shaun Hartley was murdered. Hartley was to be the key witness in a murder trial.

On September 19, 2013, in Sakaew, Thailand, Kornsirinya was brutally murdered.

On September 24, 2013, in New Brunswick, NJ, USA, Eyricka Morgan was murdered in her home.

I apologize and will make corrections if I misgendered or misnamed any of the people above.  I did my best to find their preferred names and pronouns, but I can make mistakes. I do not desire to dishonor the dead.

Think on the names above, the locations where these crimes occurred, and realize that trans people are sadly not safe anywhere. Also think on those I didn’t name, but lost their lives just as tragically – those who were victims of suicide, having left the world to escape the pain. Think about what we can do to change that.

Reflections on My Hate…and that of Ole Miss

 

In 1998, when I was a student at the University of Wyoming, a gay college student – Matthew Shepard – was brutally murdered in an anti-gay hate crime.

candleMatthew did nothing to provoke the attack, as police reports and trial evidence makes clear.

At the time, I was opposed to “legalizing the gay lifestyle” and believed I was right – because “God” told me so.

I am ashamed of that part of my life.

So I’ve thought a lot about Matthew Shepard’s death. Even when I was an anti-gay college student, I could recognize that Matthew shouldn’t have died. I had a lot of things wrong in my belief, but I understood that he was human and should have lived.

Matthew was killed as a result of people who couldn’t accept a world with a gay person in it. They took matters into their own hands, causing an unimaginable amount of pain – and the death – of someone just trying to live an authentic life.

That brings me to the present: on Tuesday, the theater department at University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) put on a production of The Laramie Project, a play about the community and the response to Matthew Shepard’s death. It is very well written and accurate.

Now, this play has been performed thousands of times in many different venues. What happened at Ole Miss was different.

Students not only disrespected the performance, but actually shouted anti-gay slurs at the performers (among other things), apparently encouraged by some football players.

The next few days will tell us not only about the football players and other students, but about whether or not the administration will accept this behavior or use this as a teaching moment. I thought we learned something from the Matthew Shepard murder as a society. Apparently not everyone has learned it. And for that reason, I am glad that The Laramie Project is playing at Ole Miss. It’s message clearly needs to be heard on that campus.

I will say that people can change their views. I did. I’m ashamed of what my views were when Matthew died. But people can grow and learn – if they listen. And, right now, a few Ole Miss students need to listen.

Another Bad Month

candleAugust was another bad month for trans people.

When I recount the violence I know about, remember that many crimes against trans people go unreported, don’t get media attention, or are treated as ordinary violence in media reports.  Sadly, the majority of crime against trans people falls into this unreported and ignored category.

Even so, what is reported is horrifying and shows us, again, that we need to continue to fight for trans people.  Not for marriage.  Not for employment.  Not for bathroom access.  Just for the right for trans people to exist.  Just to exist.

As always, I strive to respect who people are.  Unfortunately, the preferred gender identities, names, and pronouns of victims are not always evident from reports.  In addition, some cultures have different views among trans people of who they are – all the world doesn’t view gender as western society does.  I’ve tried to be respectful of people, and am sorry that not everything linked here goes to that same trouble.  I also know I may get it wrong, as I am forced in most cases to rely on media reports.  I welcome correction and will update this post accordingly.  I’ve also tried to be respectful in what I link, but at the same time, some of the only reporting is often horrifying or degrading.  Please keep this in mind when clicking links.

During the beginning of the month, a trans woman was brutally attacked by a group of thugs in Russia.  The attackers even video taped themselves brutally attacking the woman.  Unfortunately, we don’t know if the woman’s physical wounds have healed or not, but it is clear that the attack will have lifelong consequences.  It’s hard to imagine that not only could someone do this to someone else, but they could actually make a graphic video about it.

On Aug 18, 2013, in Ankara, Turkey, a crowd violently attacked a group of trans people, beating them with bats, gassing them, and destroying their automobiles.  When the crime was reported to police, with license plate information, the police claimed that the license plates were false.  However, the victims report that they are concerned that the apathy of police will cause these attacks to continue.

In Dhobi Ghat, India, on Aug 19, a trans person was raped.  The rapist went on to rape severely ill person (who died, in large part due to the attack according to relatives) only a few hours later, followed by participating in a gang rape against a photojournalist two days later.

One day later, on Aug 20, in Fontana, CA, USA, Dominique Newburn was murdered in a violent struggle with her attacker.  Some of her belongings were stolen, and a manhunt continues for the suspected killer.

On August 22, in New York City, a Islan Nettles was brutally attacked, dying several days later having never regained consciousness from her injuries.  The murderer was a student at a local university who was apparently so enraged upon finding out that the woman he was hitting on (and who turned him down) and her friends were trans brutally attacked Islan in front of a New York City police station, leaving her unconscious.  Islan’s friends were also attacked, although with less significant injuries.  Meanwhile, the suspected killer’s mother, seems to have found another man to try to take the blame for the murder, to spare her son jail time.  Fortunately, police are still investigating Paris Wilson, the originally suspected killer.  It should be noted that others were also likely involved in attacking the trans women.

Of course, even in all of this, several of the victims of the crimes described above faced additional injustice when they reported the crimes to apathetic police, endured misgendering, were referred to as “drunk” or “prostitutes” by police and/or media, and even when their families used the wrong pronouns or names in talking about the victims.  The attack rarely stops when the physical violence ends.

This article puts it in perspective, speaking about July:

These findings were based on statistics released by the Organization of American States and included incidents from Canada, the United States, Central America and South America. The report found that in the month of July alone, 39 people were murdered: 23 transgender people and 16 gays and lesbians.

The article goes on to talk about that, while gays face more risk of violence than straight people, trans people, particularly trans women and non-white trans people, face violence at an incredibly increased rate compared to even gay people.

This has to stop.  When you see people devaluing the humanity of another, whether it’s a crass joke, intentional misgendering, laughing at someone’s gender presentation, or gossiping behind their back, you need to speak up.  These things are not violent attacks, but they lower the social status of trans people and make them less than fully human in some people’s eyes.  And they’re asshole things to do besides.

On Pronouns

The actress Laverne Cox said, in response to misgendering of a trans murder victim during a vigil remembering her life, “I know as a trans woman, and I think so many trans women in the audience understand, that when we’re misgendered, that is an act of violence for us,” she said. “It’s a part of the violence that lead to Islan’s death.”

It’s a part of the violence that lead to Islan’s death.

Exactly.

It’s a part of the violence that lead to Islan’s death.

This is not rocket science.  It’s not hard to refer to a woman as a woman.  And before you object that “well, you can’t always tell,” (hint: that’s a pretty horrible thing to say to a trans person) or “it takes me a while to get used to someone’s new gender” (another hint: it’s not their new gender, it’s their gender period), let me say I’m not talking about a one-time slip that you learn about.  And before you say that was the problem at Islan Nettle’s vigil, let me mention that someone speaking at the funeral of a trans person, particularly someone representing an LGBT group, is expected to at least read some random Trans 101 – I even have one targeted towards people who want to be allies on this site.

Islan NettlesToo often, it’s that people simply can’t be bothered (or don’t want) to recognize someone’s gender.  I’ve seen parents 15 years after their child disclosed their gender who still use the wrong pronouns and names for their child.  Are you really telling me that you can’t love someone enough to change after 15 years?  Now, I’m talking about supposedly supportive parents – that is, people who consider themselves supportive of their child’s identity.  I’m not talking about the other group of parents, the group that refuses to recognize their child’s gender out of some sort of misguided idea that this was a bad ethical choice.

I’ve seen other people who don’t change and say, “I’ve known him for a long time, so it’s hard to see him as a girl” or similar nonsense.  No, it’s not.  It might be some work on your part, but if you truly care you’ll do it.  If you say a person is your friend, that you would go out of your way for this person, then fricking go out of your way and respect them.  It’s a lot easier than helping them move to a new apartment, after all (something you probably wouldn’t hesitate to do for a friend).

I truly think part of this is how wonderfully willing most trans people are to give people who seem even slightly supportive some space and time when they first come out.  They know there are patterns of speech that might take a bit.  But sometimes people take advantage of this, and just use it as an excuse not to change.  And it’s hard to tighten the reigns.  That’s why so many parents of trans people refer to their son or daughter with the wrong pronouns, while their child is right next to them!  The (likely adult) child doesn’t want to lose the relationship completely over this, but at the same time, the parents are doing this incredibly hurtful – even violent – thing.

I’ll tell you a secret about most of the trans people I know: most don’t want to live their whole life as a “trans” person.  They want to be respected and accepted in their gender.  They don’t want to be different.  They want to be the same as all of us.

So it is an act of violence.  It reinforces the idea that trans people aren’t really the gender they say they are, that there is something weird going on, that the person isn’t quite who they identify as.  And that’s the excuse people who use physical violence do.

Now, I can hear the objection: using the wrong pronoun isn’t like a physical attack.  No, it’s different.  That doesn’t mean it’s more or less violent though.  You can be emotionally or psychologically violent – not just physically violent.

And for the next objection, heard from the person using the wrong pronouns: “I wasn’t intending to hurt.”  Maybe, maybe not (someone who was trying to reinforce the idea that someone’s gender wasn’t as they said would likely say this very same thing).  But even if you weren’t, you did.  And if you did so after correction (yes, a mistake here or there is okay), and it’s not intentional, it’s just not caring.  There’s this thing that is really, deeply important: who the person is, and the wrong pronouns deny that person’s existence, erase it, trample on it.  You don’t need to mean to do it – you can do great harm by just not caring.

And, finally, the last objection: you might have a friend/brother/sister/parent/etc that doesn’t mind when you use pronouns that don’t match their identity.  Let me let you in on a secret: most trans people who identify as a man want to be identified as a man.  And most trans people who identify as a woman want to be identified as a man.  A failure to lash out at someone who is inconsiderate and hurtful is not the same as being happy about it – nor is it proof it isn’t hurtful.  Too many trans people have few relationships with others, so the ones they have, even if they are hurtful, may be better than absolute loneliness.  It’s better than the alternative.  That said, it’s a sick person who doesn’t care enough about their friend to worry about whether “well, this relationship is better than suicide or loneliness.”  We should be better than that.  We should be someone who affirms our friends and family members, who affirm the core of their being.  So even if your friend/brother/sister/parent/etc doesn’t seem to mind when you use the wrong pronouns, you’re an ass if you don’t find a way to use the right ones.

And you know what?  You already know this.  Want me to prove it?  Quick: What do you think the reaction would be if you told the jock in High School that he “looked like a girl out there on the athletic field?”  Depending on how much the jock liked peace, you might end up with a black eye or bloody nose.  So you already know this.  What is the insult hurled after women who succeed in their career?  “She’s more of a man than most men!”  So you already know this.  Yes, these examples are also very misogynistic (and I’m certainly not defending them), which is equally bad, but it is clear that most people want to be referred to as they are.  You know that.

In summary, what pronouns should you use?  The non-violent ones.  That is, the ones that the person themself would have you use of them, whether that’s pronouns like “he” or pronouns like “she” or pronouns like “ze.”  Once you know, you have a choice to make: take the little bit of effort to use the right words *or* be an ass.  The choice is yours.

When is a Rape not a Rape? Or Hate not Hate?

This comes up way too frequently – for instance, we all heard about “legitimate rape” (Todd Akin, a US politician, implied that women who were “legitimately” raped would, somehow, only rarely get pregnant due to some sort of ovarian rape-detector or something) in the last election cycle.

Up until 1993, spousal rape (a person raping their spouse) was not illegal everywhere in the USA.  North Carolina was the last state to change their law which, prior to the change, included this in the rape statute: “a person may not be prosecuted under this article if the victim is the person’s legal spouse at the time of the commission of the alleged rape or sexual offense, unless the parties are living separate and apart.”  Before the 1970s, spousal rape was not a crime anywhere in the USA.

In a particularly horrifying example, in 2007, a Philadelphia judge, Teresa Carr Deni, decided that it wasn’t possible to rape a prostitute, even if you held a gun to her head to force her to have sex, if she had previously agreed to have sex.  In this case, the rape victim previously agreed to have sex with the rapist for an agreed sum of money.  Now you might have moral disagreements with that, but that wasn’t what was supposed to be on trial here.  What was on trial was whether or not she was raped.  When she met the rapist to receive money and perform the sex act (protected sex), the rapist decided he wasn’t going to pay her (no sex had occurred yet) and that he would use a gun to force her to perform unprotected sex with at least 3 other people.  Clearly, this was not consensual.

The judge, Teresa Carr Deni, a Philadelphia municipal judge, decided that it wasn’t possible to rape a prostitute, essentially, since she was offering services for a fee, and that this was just a case of robbery and theft of services.  Not rape.

Despite the Pennsylvania Bar publicly condemning her, she won re-election in Philadelphia shortly after the case for another 6 years in 2007.  Fortunately she’s on her last year as a judge and will not be back in 2014.

On July 14, 2013, Diamond Williams was brutally murdered with her body dismembered and dumped in a vacant lot.  The primary suspect – with significant evidence against him – is Charles Sargent.

Diamond, sadly, even after death, has three things going against her: she was trans, may have been a sex worker, and the judge who will be presiding over Charles Sargent’s murder case.  The judge is Teresa Carr Deni.

That Diamond was reported to be a sex worker should have nothing to do with this case.  She’s not supposed to be tried as a victim in her own murder case.  It’s not less wrong to kill a sex worker, and hopefully Judge Deni has learned that.  But we’ll have to wait and see.  Diamond’s human value and worth was the same as any of ours, and the law should reflect that all of us are created equal, that we all are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.  Such as the right not to be murdered.

That she was trans may be relevant, as a hate crime.  Some media have reported that Charles Sargent killed Diamond when he found out she was trans.  If this is the case, it would seem to be clearly a crime motivated by bias against gender, which is against the law (I’ve written about hate crimes elsewhere and why treating people in this way is not an injustice but actual justice).  But of course it’s not going to be prosecuted that way.  No, it’s going to be prosecuted as random violence that could have happened to any of us.  Except, it seems, it wouldn’t have happened to any of us.

I pray and hope that justice will be served and that Diamond’s murderer will never see freedom again.  He took a person’s life, so it is reasonable that he should spend the rest of his behind bars.  I also want to say that while I never knew Diamond, I do share the grief of her family and friends and their loss.  I don’t have to have known her to know that she was special to many people and that someone was unjustly taken from all of the world.

A bad month. Again.

Trans people – particularly transwomen who are disabled and non-white – are at high risk of attack and death – despite being a fraction of the LGBT population, they are by far the most likely to be attacked or killed.

In fact, most murders of LGBT people are murders of T people.  In Hate Violence in 2012, the NCAVP found that, in the USA:

  • 73% of murder victims were people of color.  Of these, most were black.
  • 50% of murder victims were transwomen
  • 60% of victims (not of homocide but other violence) reported having a disability
  • Trans people experienced police violence at 3.3 times the rate of non-trans people

Other findings are equally sobering.  We are not a country that treats trans people decently.  Or people of color.  Or disabled people.  And we’re really awful to people that are in more than one category.  If you add HIV status to the mix, those with HIV are even more likely to be victims.  So we’re not even through treating people with HIV like shit in this country.

Then, survivors of violence face violence from those we pay to protect us.  They face violence at a substantially higher rate from police.

That is the context of every month.

(note that for the below, I attempted to get names and genders correct – unfortunately much reporting relies on birth names and incorrect genders, so please let me know if you have information about someone’s gender or name that is incorrect below – I do not intend to insult violence survivors or the deceased)

This month, like other months, saw reports of violence against trans people.  I’m sure I’m missing tons of reports.  What I know about:

  • On July 9, Dora Özer, a transwoman who lived in Turkey, was murdered.  She was stabbed to death.
  • On July 14, Diamond Williams, a black transwoman living in Philadelphia, PA, USA was murdered.  She was stabbed, dismembered with an axe, and dumped in a vacant lot.
  • On July 21, a disabled transman living in Knoxville, TN, USA, was physically assaulted while his house was vandalized.  His front door was spray painted with the words “Tranny Fucker.”   While being attacked, he was threatened with death if he did not move away.  He reported being laughed at by police when they arrived on scene.  This was the second time he was attacked.
  • On July 21, in St. James, Jamaica, a transgender 17 year old was stabbed, chopped up, and dumped in bushes along the side of a road.
  • On July 21, Amanda Blanchard in Spokane, WA, USA was murdered by her fiance, who set fire to her home and then killed himself.
  • On July 25, in Thailand, Jatupon Ratworabood was murdered by being shot in the head.  Her body was dumped on the side of a road.
  • On July 25, in Limoges, France, Myléne, a transwoman, was beaten to death with a hammer.
  • Sometime this week, Gaye, a transwoman from Istanbul, Turkey, was murdered.
  • On July 30, in Philadelphia, PA, USA, a transwoman was shot in the head in her apartment by an unknown man.  The last reports I’ve seen indicate that she is expected to survive.

This is just a sampling, based on what I’ve seen this month, of violence and murder of trans people.

I wish for and pray for justice for the families (whether biological or chosen) and survivors of these acts.

Respect for the Dead

“Kelly Young” was born “(masculine name here)”.  That’s how ABC in Baltimore began to describe a murder victim in a story earlier this year.  Except they printed a name that wasn’t her’s.  I won’t dignify that by repeating that name.

Kelly clearly wanted to be known as Kelly.  The general rule of thumb is you respect that.  In some cases, it may be relevant to a news story, but this wasn’t one of them.  This isn’t unique to transgender people.  News stories routinely refer to celebrities by names other than “birth names” (and, indeed, other than their legal name).  Women who take the last name of a husband usually don’t have their maiden name printed if they are killed.

I’m amazed at the obsession to know two things about trans people: what their genitals look like and what their birth name was.  Let me make this simple: that’s rude, objectifying, and humiliating.

But this is routine when trans people are killed.  Their genital status often comes up when a victim is trans.  It comes up in several ways, as does their trans history – “The male victim was dressed in women’s clothes” may be in a story.  Is that relevant?  Maybe it’s relevant that the person is trans, if you are reporting on a suspected hate crime.  Or if the person was well known as a public activist or figure.  But other than that, no, it’s generally not relevant and serves no purpose other than to give people a chance to snicker at someone dead.  That’s not classy.  Certainly what their genitals look like is almost never relevant.  And, equally so with their “birth name”.

Brandon Teena's inaccurate grave marker

Brandon Teena’s inaccurate grave marker

It’s not just reporting.  I know trans people that are scared their families will put a name other than their name on their tombstone.  Imagine living your life, only to be insulted when you die.  Brandon Teena, the subject of Boys Don’t Cry, a transman was brutally raped and murdered in Nebraska.  He’s now buried in Nebraska.

His grave marker – something that should tell the world who he was – instead uses the wrong name and refers to him as “daughter, sister & friend.”

Imagine that.  You’re brutally murdered.  And even when you are dead, your family buries you under a different name and gender.  It’s hard to explain how humiliating that is.

Why do people do that (Brandon Teena is not the only one that had this done to him)?  I don’t know why Brandon’s family did this.  I do know why others do it, though.  Some families find it really hard to acknowledge that their child is trans.  So hard, in fact, that they would rather loose their relationship with their child than to have to explain to their friends, family, and church why their son is now their daughter – or visa-versa.  This acknowledgement of someone else’s life is so horrifying to people that they would rather bury their child under the wrong name and gender.  Imagine what it is like for that child to be alive, to live a life unacknowledged and unaccepted by family.

More than that, thanks to the right wing, and the common confusion between sexual orientation and gender identity, and a general anti-gay sentiment in the right wing, the mere act of calling someone by the name and pronouns they ask to be used is now sin.  You see, in the eyes of these people (Note that I believe most are, sadly, not acting out of heartfelt analysis of scripture, but rather out of blind faith in their religious leaders and personalities), if you see someone who is gay (and, thus, by extension, someone who is trans), you have to say something to show you don’t agree.  Otherwise, apparently, God will send you to hell or something.  There’s also a really twisted idea of gender roles here – women subservient and all that (I’ll write about that some other time).  Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I was a member of such a group so I do have some idea how they think.

The idea is that if you “accept” it (that is, keep your mouth shut when you object – which is obviously a far cry from true acceptance), then you’re encouraging and in a way a codependent.  If you make life suck for the trans (or gay) person, then maybe they’ll stop sinning.  There is a problem here, though: some do – they kill themselves.  And even then they get stuck in graves which further the very abuse that made them hate life.

But apparently it’s not sin to spit on a grave or worse.  Even after the person is dead, they are fair game for abuse.

What do we do about this?

Simple.  We demand accountability.  Newspapers and TV should be called out when they refer to people with the wrong gender, out a victim as trans when it’s not truly relevant to the story, and we should make sure people we know are remembered for who they were, not who someone else wanted them to be.  And we should treat people properly when they are alive, too – if someone tells you their name and gender, it’s not your job to enforce the right-wing will.  They aren’t doing this because you didn’t insult and abuse them enough.  It’s time to stop the abuse, particularly in the name of God.

RIP Kelly and Brandon.  I will acknowledge who you were.

Another Murder & Gay Panic

On Sunday, July 14, news reports indicate that a transwoman was killed in Philadelphia.  She was killed with a hatchet and screwdriver, then dumped in a vacant lot.  The woman has not yet been identified.  I’ll warn you that this post may be triggering.

This is not the first murder of a trans person in Philadelphia, nor, sadly, do I expect it to be the last.

In this murder, the accused (who has confessed) claims to have been intimate with the victim.  Charles Sargent is accused of committing the murder upon discovery that the victim was trans.

I expect over the next few weeks to hear opinions about whether or not the woman was a prostitute.  Trans murder victims commonly experience this – and the reporting rarely does much more than scratch the surface beyond placing blame on the victim.  For instance, it’s rare indeed that the reason too many trans people turn to prostitution is discussed.  It’s rare that the conversation is framed in the larger context of continual and persistant discrimination in employment, housing and health care that trans people face.  It’s rare that the reality of too many trans people – that their families disown them – is discussed.  Nor is it discussed that in a struggle to just survive, many trans people have no choice but to live a life – one often without legal employment, good housing, and family support – as who they are.

But we need to step back – we don’t know this woman, and don’t know the circumstances of her death.  And that’s the point.  Too often the conversation jumps ahead to assumptions based on bias.  She’s trans, so she’s …

I also expect to hear about gay panic.  There is a couple of common reasons given for murders of trans people.  The first is just plain hatred of trans people – a guy (it’s almost always a guy or guys) or a group of guys sees or knows of a trans person.  The person might be a transman or a transwoman, but regardless the murder(s) feels they need to “do something” about the person.  That translates into brutal attacks.

The other common reason given is gay panic.  Essentially it comes down to “I can’t be gay.”  Somehow, that translates into killing the person you were intimate with to somehow prove you aren’t gay.  Being gay is worse than being a murderer in the eyes of some.  Often, the murder doesn’t occur unless the person is either surprised, or, more commonly, they are in danger of being found, or just found out by others, to have had intimate relations with someone (or knowledge of that person’s trans status becomes known or is in danger of becoming known to others).  It’s not so much the fear of being gay in many cases as the fear of being found out to be gay.

Of course intimacy with a woman doesn’t make a man gay, whether she is a trans or non-trans woman.  But too often trans and gay get confused.  Even so, bigotry is bigotry, whether it is sexual orientation or gender identity.  And it all comes down to how strongly people feel they need to comply to expectations for their gender and sex – who that gender or sex should sleep with or what identity people with a given sex are supposed to have (see this blog’s terminology page for how I am using the words sex and gender).

Gay panic becomes a legal defense to some.  The so-called “gay panic” defense in law is an attempt to say that the person was nearly out of their minds with rage, and didn’t plan the violent attack.  Fortunately, the American Bar Association may be recognizing the danger of blaming the victim’s orientation for an attack.  It’s a reprehensible defense that attempts to blame the victim.

So all members of the LGBT community and it’s allies need to keep the media accountable.  Murder is not justified by fear of being gay.  Even the most homophobic person is responsible for their violent actions.  The name and pronouns the victim used of herself (I’m assuming she identified as a woman, but if not, then once we know we need to use proper pronouns) should be used in reporting – anything else is an attack on a dead victim.

That said, this is not entirely the main story.  The main story is simple:

Someone has lost a daughter.  Someone has lost a friend.  Someone’s life was taken, and she’s no longer with us.  We need to remember that.  We need to remember her.

Some Real Crime

This is why I started tis blog.  I’m sick of my brothers and sisters being killed, raped, and otherwise harmed.  And, yes, they are my brothers and sisters.  And like it or not, they are your brothers and sisters, too.  I might not be LGB or T, but that doesn’t mean I’m not human.  Or they aren’t.

I want to talk about Washington DC, the seat of my country’s government.  What place represents the USA more than DC?  Well, that representation has been shameful.

Every two days since the 21st there has been at least one attack in DC on a trans* person.

Another shooting, on June 22, involving a lesbian victim, also affected the LGBT community.

DC has a shameful history with regards to being a safe place for trans* people – there have been many, many murders over the last decade, making it an incredibly dangerous place for a trans person to live (particularly for black transwomen).

The solution isn’t just more police or enforcement of hate crime statutes (in fact, more police may be part of the problem in other ways). The solution consists of things like not writing off every transwoman victim as a prostitute (or implying that somehow prostitutes deserve or encouraged attacks) in reporting. Or because someone took $40 from the victim, saying it’s a robbery when the victim was stabbed nearly a dozen times after the criminal was called a fag by his buddies. And recognizing in law that a transwoman is a woman, not a man. And vise-versa, that a transman is a man, not a woman. Not half of the gender, not “well, except for A, B, or C they can be treated like a woman” as these things only reinforce “this person isn’t really a…” It’s when reporting on the controversy of trans kids transitioning including the research on adults (97% of people who have sexual reassignment surgery are glad they did it, which is higher than for instance operations to replace a lens in a nearly blind person’s eye) and statistics about what we know happens to trans kids when they *don’t* transition (at least 50% attempt or succeed at suicide).

A lot of it starts where we live. Could a transwoman teach your kids without problems? Could she work at your business, in the job you hold, without problems? Could she share a room in your community as a boarder without a problem? Could she use the women’s room in public without problem? Would a trans candidate’s trans status be a non-issue in a local election? If not, what are you doing to fix it?