Content warning: references to sexual assault; graphic transphobic violence
With very few exceptions, almost every woman and non-binary person closest to me has been a survivor of sexual violence, often committed by people in their own families. The perpetrators of these crimes have overwhelmingly been cisgender men, correlating with national data demonstrating that (cisgender) men are, by far, the gender group most likely to commit sexual violence.
#MeToo and Trans Women Lives
Fueled by the #MeToo movement, we are, as a society, finally starting to talk about our appalling rape culture and the pervasiveness of men’s sexual entitlement, harassment, and assault against women, non-binary people, and some men, from our everyday lives to Hollywood bigwigs and even extending to Congress. And we scored a tangible victory when Black women saved Alabama from electing a suspected pedophile to the Senate. (Of course, the GOP elephant in the room remains: that the president himself has yet to be held accountable despite bragging about his own sexual predation.)
In the midst of this national debate, we have yet to address the hypocrisy of how transgender women and girls continue to be attacked—rhetorically, legislatively, and physically—as potential or actual sexual predators. These attacks fly in the face of reality, which is that trans people are statistically likely to fall victim to acts of violence, especially sexual violence. And yet right-wing claims that we must “protect” (cisgender) girls and women from trans girls and women in bathrooms and locker rooms continues, hijacking the language of women’s rights while leaving everyday rape culture intact.
Transgender and gender-expansive people, especially trans women, have been demonized as violent predators and deviants for decades in popular culture. Just look to Buffalo Bill in “The Silence of the Lambs,” which many have argued cemented the public image of transfeminine people as dangerous. Scapegoating transfeminine people as scary criminals, as well as refusing to view trans women and girls as female, have arguably set the stage for the epidemic of violence and murder enacted against young transgender women and girls. What’s more, those most impacted by this violence are disproportionately Black, indigenous, and Latina, and often from poor and working-class backgrounds.
In fact, Southern Poverty Law Center found that transgender women of color, especially Black and Latina women, face the highest rates of hate crimes out of any other marginalized group.
“‘We’ve had people burned in their homes,’” said policy advisor Raffi Freedman-Gurspan to Southern Poverty Law Center. “‘We’ve had people’s genitals mutilated after they’re dead. It’s absolutely rooted in transphobia and hatred and it’s absolutely a national crisis. And that’s just confirmed murders. It’s probably more.’”
Hypocritically “Protecting” Cis Women’s Bodies
Meanwhile, GOP attacks on transgender people’s ability to live their daily lives have been mounting, with 61 bills and counting filed across the country in the past year seeking to limit transgender Americans’ access to health care, identity documents, public restrooms, educational equity, and protection under existing non-discrimination laws. The Trump administration has greatly facilitated these attacks through a string of policy-based assaults, including the Justice Department’s memo declaring that anti-discrimination law shouldn’t apply to trans workers.
These transphobic attacks are often couched in the language of “protecting” (cisgender) women and girls from hypothetical situations, such as the idea that male sexual predators will “pretend” to be women to invade girls’ and women’s spaces. Thus, according to this logic, granting trans people basic human rights will allegedly result in harm.
“Would you remain passive after knowing that a strange-looking man, dressed as a woman, has been peering over toilet cubicles to watch your wife in a private moment?” wrote prominent Christian Right leader James Dobson in 2016, using the common tactic of directly or indirectly associating transgender women with cisgender male sexual predators. “What should be done to the pervert who was using mirrors to watch women and girls in their stalls?”
While sexual violence against all women and girls, both cis and trans, is atrocious and must be stopped, this type of rhetoric is disingenuous, fear-mongering, and just plain false. Media Matters for America has compiled a report debunking the myth that passing protections for trans people in public accommodations will result in skyrocketing reports of sexual violence against cisgender women and girls in restrooms.
And according to RAINN, seven in 10 acts of rape are committed by someone already known to the person being victimized, and when it comes to youth, 93 percent of juvenile survivors of sexual violence know the perpetrator. In other words, perpetrators of sexual violence are far more likely to be found within our own families and extended social networks (34 percent and 59 percent, respectively, for youth survivors) than they are likely to be encountered by chance in a public restroom.
“What Should be Done to the Pervert?”
Instead of passing laws against vulnerable populations, we should be asking the GOP, to use Dobson’s panicked phrasing, “What should be done to the pervert” who was identified by at least five former Miss Teen USA pageant contests in October 2016 as having inappropriately entered their dressing rooms in 1997? I’m of course not talking here about the transgender women the GOP consistently demonizes, but the man who owned the Miss Teen USA pageant in 1997: Donald J. Trump.
Consider these words: “I’ll go backstage and everyone’s getting dressed, and everything else, and you know, no men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it … ‘Is everyone okay?’ You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. ‘Is everybody okay?’ And you see these incredible looking women, and so, I sort of get away with things like that.”
These are not the words of a transgender woman, nor even the words of a cisgender man pretending to be a transgender woman. These are the words of a cisgender man who is now President of the United States.
Ironically, Dobson’s piece was titled “Protect Your Kids from Tyrant Obama.” His silence on protecting our kids from the sexual predation of Trump—a man who agreed with Howard Stern that his own daughter is “a piece of ass”—is deafening.
Can you imagine what the response from Christian Right and GOP political leaders would be if these highly-publicized incidents had involved transgender women instead of the man they rallied around and bestowed upon frightening amounts of federal and international power? What does it say when there are numerous fact-based accounts of Trump’s sexual predation, ranging from leering at his own daughter to peeking in on young women undressing and beyond, and not one substantiated account of a trans woman’s public bathroom sex crime?
Where is the GOP’s concern for women and girls after electing the “pussy”-grabbing President, a man who has been accused of sexual harassment and violence against multiple women and teen girls dating back to the 1970s, including, at one point, rape allegations by his first wife?
To be frank: cisgender male sexual predators are already everywhere, are largely not held accountable, and they don’t need to pretend to be women to commit their crimes. And since when is the GOP authentically concerned with women and girls’ bodily autonomy and sexual freedom, when the rest of the time they’re doing all they can to undermine it?
More Radical Reads: Speaking of Every Woman: Why Transgender Voices Matter In Women’s History Month
Demonizing Trans Women Needs to End
The defamation of transgender women as sexual predators in wait must be over. This demonization is dangerously irresponsible given the staggering denial of access to basic safety and legal protections trans women are afforded in this country and around the world. In fact, this inflammatory rhetoric just fuels many of the hate crimes and murders taking place every day against trans people.
It’s obvious that the GOP is projecting their own unresolved issues about gender and sexuality onto transgender people as a way to score cheap political points with their base. In turn, this enables them to avoid having a substantive tackling of the very real crisis of sexual predation going on in households across the nation, from Main Street to their leader at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The party who monopolized terms like “family values” for decades, all while demonizing poor, Black and brown, and LGBTQ households, is in fact the morally bankrupt party of Trump and Roy Moore. If GOP voters are truly worried about the locker room violation of women and girls, they should stop terrorizing trans women and girls, grow a conscience, and dump the man in the White House.
Transgender women, girls, and other transfeminine people are being terrorized through relentlessly transphobic tactics of dehumanization. It’s time that we interrogate and dismantle rape culture, not trans people’s identities.
[Featured Image: A person with long light curly hair is wearing a red tank top. They are holding a bouquet of roses in front of the right-side of their face. Behind them is a wine-colored wall. Source: pexels]