Laverne Cox tells the story of how she was cat called on the street by two men and more importantly, the fear she felt as a transgendered women being hit on. Laverne states that these two men were involved in an argument over whether she was a “b word” (female) or an “n word” (male). This argument reveals the focus society places on transgendered bodies, and the violence transgendered people face when it is realized that they had male or female genitalia before. Laverne Cox’s story illustrates the intersections of transphobia and racialization of bodies.
In media transgendered people are depicted in a negative manner the majority of the time (GLAAD). Transphobia is the hate of transgendered people, and it is taught to society through media depictions. Julia Serano identifies two archetypes typically assigned to transsexuals: the deceptive transsexual and the pathetic transsexual (Serano, 2005). While pathetic transsexual depictions hurts the image of transsexuals in mainstream culture, the deceptive transsexuals incites violence against transgendered bodies. Deceptive transsexuals trick men into a sexual relationship before revealing that they have, or had, male genitalia. Men in these movies often retaliate by raping or physically assaulting the transsexual (Serano, 2005). Therefore, one notices a socialization of violence against transgendered bodies. Media socialization of violence against transgendered bodies has been successful, albeit accidentally. In the LGBTQ community, transgendered people account for fifty-four percent of all homicides (Cox, 2014).
Media depictions further transphobia with their emphasis on transgendered bodies. Transgendered bodies are typically feminized, showing the feminine aspects of Male-to-Female (MTF) transitions. For example, an Oprah special Normal sought to improve on transgendered depictions in the media; however, the show had a femme fascination (Serano, 2005). Instead of showing transgendered bodies as “normal,” the show mainly focused on the feminization of trans-women showing their underwear, makeup, and fashion (Serano, 2005). The femme fascination the media holds demonstrates male privilege. Male sexuality is not explored to the same extent as female sexuality. Moreover, in Cox’s story she mentions how she was never hit on before her surgery (Cox, 2014). Therefore, being a male does hold the same importance on being sexual as a female body.
Transphobia and the racialization of bodies intersect in Cox’s piece, illustrating the ingrained racism in society. Firstly, racialization is the process of sexualizing racial bodies and objectifying persons of colours’ bodies. In Gendered Worlds, authors Aulette and Wittner provide examples of black women being sexualized as: “…selfish or that of foolish victims” (108). In Cox’s own tale, she was made out to be the “foolish victim,” as both men cat called and degraded her.
Secondly, Aulette and Wittner mention that black men in the media are also hypersexualized and are portrayed as “…brutish and aggressive…” (107). One can see this image being perpetuated in Cox’s piece. The men believe that in order to sleep with a black woman, they must be aggressive and brutish. Instead of simply approaching Cox, they felt they had to degrade her and behave aggressively, to the point where Cox feared for her life. This ideal is further perpetuated by the media assigning the behaviour of womanizers (Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson etc.) to black people as a whole. Therefore, these young men felt they had to aspire to the image set out by the media and, in order to achieve this, they must be aggressive towards Cox.
Finally, the racialization of transphobia intersects with white privilege. As Cox states, “…I’ve talked to a lot of white trans women who haven’t experienced quite the level of street harassment that I have” (Cox, 2014). White privilege is experienced among transgendered bodies. Cox explains that by being white one will experience less racialization of their body, and illustrates Peggy McIntosh’s piece on the invisibility of whiteness. One would assume that becoming transsexual would result in discrimination, but that is clearly not the case. White privilege is present even with transgendered bodies, and white privilege still works to their benefit.
Just as white privilege, racialization, and transphobia are invisibly socialized in Western society, so is violence against transgendered people. Cornel West states that justice is what love looks like in public; therefore, there can be no such thing as justice if transgendered people live in fear of violence. Laverne Cox shares her experience as a transgendered woman in New York City, and while her experience is not unique, her fear of being murdered because of her body is unique to the trans community. If transgendered people live in fear of being murdered for having genitalia which differs from what society deems appropriate, there is no such thing as justice. Just as transphobia and racialization intersect, so do justice and public opinion, to obtain justice one must be widely accepted by the public.
Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. “Chapter 4: Sexualities.” Gendered Worlds. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. Print.
“Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” everydayfeminism. Cox, Laverne, 7 Dec. 2014. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.
“Victims or Villains: Examining Ten Years of Transgender Images on Television.” GLAAD. GLAAD, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.
Serano, Julia. “Skirt Chasers: Why the Media Depicts the Trans Revolution in Lipstick and Heels.” On the Outside Looking In. Oakland: Hot Tranny Action Press, 2005. Web. .