Transmisogyny is fueling an epidemic of violence against trans women
Dejanay Stanton | Human Rights Campaign

A Chicago high school student is being tried as an adult for the murder of Dejanay Stanton, a 24-year-old transgender woman from Chicago’s South Side. Stanton’s body was first discovered in late August with a bullet hole in her head. It was recently uncovered that Stanton had a sexual relationship with Tremon T. Hill, the 17-year-old now on trial. Hill exchanged text messages with Stanton over several months and asked her to meet him in a secluded lot near the 4000 block of South Calumet Avenue in Bronzeville on the day she was shot.

The dynamics of Stanton’s relationship with Hill are being scrutinized by the media. Though the legal age of consent in Illinois is 17—text messages between the two show that Hill lied about his age, claiming he was 18—a number of press reports have highlighted the age discrepancy and the fact that Stanton may have been a sex worker. This claim is being denied by her family and friends.

“The noticeable thing is that they are stating the facts, they’re not lying, but it is also in the omission that lets you know where the media stands,” says non-binary trans femme activist Karari Orozco. “Dejanay is often described as an escort—but it mentions [Hill] is a young father, who once played for the basketball team. It makes him look like a victim; it makes him look like someone who was lured when it was likely he was the one looking for her.”

Desirability politics—those cultural paradigms that determine “socially acceptable” notions of what is attractive and desirable—play a critical role in the way trans violence is willingly enacted in society. Often, the framing of trans women as “escorts” and “prostitutes” makes them out to be predatory—when they are actually more likely to be victims of physical and sexual violence themselves. Orozco says transmisogynistic sentiments—which combine transphobia and misogyny—are presented in a way that justifies violent behaviors towards trans women. “The media will say she was a sex worker, a predator; she was lying, therefore she deserved to die.”

Legislation like SESTA/FOSTA (the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) has further enabled these sorts of stigmas around sex work. Efforts that actually target sex workers often masquerade as administrative remedies to sex trafficking. Trans and Jewish community organizer and public policy researcher Stephanie Skora says these types of policies often end up targeting poor people and people of color with increased sentences for perceived hate crimes, with an accusatory vigor fueled by institutional racial bias. They do nothing to provide a remedy or address the root cause of the violence against trans individuals. “Our bodies, marked with deviance, otherness, and myriad social unacceptability, are thrust into spaces of criminalized survival work, extreme poverty, homelessness, physical violence, and death,” Skora says.

In Stanton’s case, reports indicate that Hill was attempting to get her to delete photos of him that she had on her phone—a request she abided by. Nevertheless, the fear of being exposed may have led Hill to shoot her. “The reality was he felt he wasn’t able to express his desire [for a trans person] in a way that was healthy and socially viable,” says Orozco. “It hurts me to know that a young black boy thought [killing Stanton] was the only way to preserve his masculinity and his value in his community. We need to address this.”

Stanton’s murder is just one example of what results from the culture we’ve created that shames men for being ‘trans attracted’ and furthers the stigma around desire for trans bodies. Desirability politics are rooted in racist, patriarchal, cisnormative social constructions, and the internalized shame of deviating outside of those “standards” directly contribute to the ongoing epidemic of trans death. As trans communities become more visible, it becomes critical to change the culture of transmisogyny that puts women at risk—and to normalize attraction to trans individuals.

In the meantime, Stanton’s family is seeking justice through a court of law. Judge Mary C. Marubio denied Hill bail after reviewing electronic evidence. He is being charged as an adult and faces a life sentence if convicted.


CONTRIBUTOR

Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias is a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias has invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. She has written and conducted research in several parts of the world; most recently Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where she presented on disability awareness at the U.S. Consulate. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities. She considers her experiences a privilege, one that she hopes to use as a platform for spreading socio-political consciousness. In her spare time Michelle enjoys drinking pricey wines and watching old school zombie flicks.  

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