Reading the News While Trans

So, this happened:

[Islan] Nettles was out with several other transgender women at 11 p.m. Friday when she ran across a group of men near West 148th Street and Eighth Avenue — directly across from the housing bureau’s Police Service Area 6 precinct, according to the criminal complaint.

When the man realized that Nettles and her friends were transgender, they began throwing punches and yelling homophobic slurs, cops said.

Nettles … was taken to Harlem Hospital, but could not be revived, cops said.

And from another source:

Police allege that the suspect yelled anti-gay remarks, and then punches were thrown, according to police.

Nettles’ friend allegedly told investigators that when she ran away to get help, the suspect was on top of Nettles, punching her in the face.

Of course, though I say “this happened”, it didn’t just happen. One person beat another person dead. I don’t know the fine details of the assault, and it’s likely that I, we, never will. From the initial police report, it seems that the murderer chose to start beating another human being with his fists, knocking her to the ground, and then chose to continue to beat her as she lay there under him, until she lost consciousness from the repeated shocks to her brain … because she was trans.

And you know, when I see a news item like this, sometimes I just say “yup”, and move on, because after following trans news for a few years, now, this is a familiar pattern, trans women, mainly trans women of color, beaten and sometimes dying at the hands of people for whom their simple existence was so offensive that it had to be hit, struck, slammed, punched, punched, punched, right out of their world, because that woman’s existence was a flaw in the world that it was apparently up to that man to correct, and I just don’t have the resources or the attention to spare for the sorrow and the outrage and the fear, because these assaults and these murders, I’m just used to them … until it turns out, suddenly, that I’m not used to them.

Sometimes, for no reason I can discern, it stops my day in its tracks and I have no choice but to sit and think about it.

Like this case. And my reaction has little to do with the facts of the case. It has little to do with Islan Nettles herself, though surely her death and how it affects the living people who did know her, and did love her, is the most important thing here. No, my reaction has to do with me. It’s just been a long week, with a lot of hours on the job, and a certain amount of stress, and so I’m just not quite nimble enough to clear the edge of one more pothole, and I catch my toe and stumble, and then just sit down and weep while I wait for something to heal, or the personal reservoirs to re-fill, or whatever it is that happens that enables me, in a little while, to stand up and move on.

And so while I’m waiting, maybe to help shape it in my mind, to help figure out how to grapple with it, I write about it here. Because I don’t want to burden my friends. Because I don’t want to have to engage with them in realtime as they struggle to react appropriately, as they ask if I knew her, a question with another implied question, “Why do you care particularly about this case?”, and I don’t want to explain that it’s not this case particularly, it’s just that this case got us to critical mass in the place in my heart where I hold victims of senseless violence, and the place in the selfish part of my brain which tracks things like this in order to warn me of danger, to warn the coldly rational risk-assessment part of my brain of the danger of being trans in public, so that it can decide on some future occasion whether it seems safe enough at this public bathroom or that public bathroom to take the risk of peeing.

Sometimes I can’t bear to interact with friends as they do what good, decent human beings do when a friend is hurting and there’s just not much you can do about it. Because it’s about resources, and if I didn’t have the resources to shrug it off, I probably also don’t have the resources to process it with someone who doesn’t immediately Get It.

From my writings here, it may sometimes seem like I think and live and obsess about little more than The Oppression of teh Trans ™. I don’t. I have a rich life, for which I’m thankful. But I don’t tend to share the many happy bits, here, because the details would identify me publicly. I talk about the happy bits mainly with those who love me, because that makes our connections deeper, and richer, and happier.

So I’m putting this out into the world instead of burdening my friends.

This happened. Islan Nettles is dead, for no good reason, and the cause wasn’t a car accident or a fatal mosquito-borne infection or a meteorite — it was one human being erasing another human being because she had a characteristic which I share.

And I’m off the rails for a little while. And in a little while, I’ll have this train moving again. And I’ll blow past the next few, busy with life, until one catches me tired again.

Feh. Time to do chores. Might as well get up on my feet. See ya.


This entry posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Men and masculinity, Transsexual and Transgender related issues, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 

5 Responses to Reading the News While Trans

  1. 1
    Elusis says:

    Thinking about you, Grace. I’m out there battling over people’s use of the wrong name and pronouns for Chelsea Manning because I know my trans friends get sick and tired of being exposed to transphobia just because they want to read the damn news, and I think deliberate mis-gendering is just the thin end of the wedge that enables anti-trans violence like this.

  2. Sometimes the response I want from people when I am feeling as you describe, Grace, is just a companionable–by which I mean committed, shared, generous, space-giving, and a witnessing–silence (If that makes sense). Not to have them speak, or to try to make me feel better, or to explain anything to me, or to help me process, but just to be there in such a way that I know that even if they don’t get it–because you can’t always choose the person who’s around–they care about me, are willing to sit there with me because they care about me. And of course this comment is not a companionable “silence,” since that’s not really possible on the web, but I am writing this to say that I just sat here after reading this post, in silent for a few minutes, in appreciation, commiseration (if that’s the appropriate word), and respect, in the Museum of Modern Art’s sculpture garden. And now I too need to get up and go since the museum is closing.

  3. Pingback: Islan, & Harlem, & Me – en|Gender

  4. 3
    Grace Annam says:

    Thank you, Elusis. I agree with you.

    Thank you, Richard. I agree that a companionable silence can be a tremendous gift and a balm, not least because people who do it are so rare. I imagined you sitting near me, in a pleasant garden, and it did help. So, go you!

    Also, your last line reminded me of a passage from Mort, by Terry Pratchett, and since laughter is also a balm on the soul, here it is:

    The only thing known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Weedle. He reasoned like this: you can’t have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles — kingons, or possibly queons — that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expanded because, at that point, the bar closed.



  5. Grace,

    That is a great quote!