To mark International Anti-Street Harassment Week, we are writing about our experiences of street harassment. For posts by Anouchka, Lola, rashné, Simi, Steph and Charmaine please see NYE, 'Are you even black?', Refusal(S): Street Harassment in Bombay... Under 'Western' Eyes, Something Happened, 'You make me happy' and Once bitten; twice, and you're nicked.
I met Zaria “Cinderella” Harris at the queer youth center I used to attend in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. She like many other youth activists at JASMYN was truly committed to extending the safe space that was so persistently advocated for beyond the walls of the JASMYN house and into the larger Jacksonville community. Usually, there was an unspoken rule that if anyone left the JASMYN house to run an errand, one should bring a buddy along to make the journey safer. During my buddy walks with Zaria and several other trans women, it would never fail that someone in need of filling their transphobic transgressions for the day would have something offensive to say. I witnessed all too often the way that my friend was the subject of chilling stares, grade school-esque whispers, the target of transmysogynistic retorts, or worst of all, threatened with violence.
Unfortunately, these types of offences are something that trans women encounter on a daily basis in the U.S. According to a 2011 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender people are the most vulnerable targets of violence and discrimination. There is a direct relationship of transphobia to the violence that is happening in our communities. There are countless incidents of trans women being misgendered, brutally attacked, and even murdered in the U.S. because of their gender identity or gender presentations. These types of egregious acts are happening in the streets of major cities like NY, Baltimore, D.C., and Chicago. An equally disturbing reality is that more often than not, there is an overwhelming amount of invisibility to these occurrences. There are usually no vigils held in remembrance to the loss of a life, no floods of new stories, or public outcry. It is a sad and heartbreaking reality. Just this month, 18-year-old Bianca Feliciano of Cicero, Illinois was profiled as a prostitute, physically threatened, verbally assaulted, and subsequently arrested by two police officers because of her gender identity. Chrissy Polis of Baltimore, Maryland was physically attacked by two McDonald’s employees while attempting to use the restaurant restroom. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the attack was recorded and posted on Youtube. On Feb. 2, a trans woman was stabbed to death while waiting at a bus stop in D.C. Yes, the incident was covered in the news; however, several media outlets used transphobic language when referring to Deoni Jones.
When incidents such as the above cases happen and nothing is done about, it sends a message that this type of violence is acceptable. It sends a message that trans women are not worthy of having basic human rights protections. No trans woman should ever be gawked at, misgendered, threatened with violence, or brutally murdered because of her gender presentation or gender identity. Any inkling of this type of invasive, oppressive, and violent behavior must be checked. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want in any way to paint a picture of trans women as helpless victims incapable of holding their own. I simply want to call out to the need for solidarity in truly having our trans sister’s backs with greater hopes that it will counter the needless violence which is connected to the pervasive transphobia in our communities. It’s time for the silence and violence to end. No trans woman should have to walk down the streets with fear, terror, and anxiety in her heart that she will be a target or nameless victim.
In the spirit of sisterhood, I would like to dedicate this post to my dear friend Zaria “Cinderella” Harris, a fierce and beautiful soul who was tragically killed in Miami in 2011 at the age of 25. I mention this incident not only because I want the name and memory of Zaria to live on, but also because all too often, the violent and hateful verbal and physical attacks of trans women go unnoticed.
- Jardyn Lake