The role of non-trans women in transphobia and homophobic violence in the Caribbean

A 17 year-old trans woman was killed at a street dance in Jamaica.  Allegedly after being outted as trans by another (non-trans) woman.

LGBT rights activist, Maurice Tomlinson, draws attention to the role women play in homophobic and transphobic violence in the Caribbean:

What is particularly troubling is that there appears to be a pattern of these anti-gay attacks being instigated by women. In yesterday’s incident, the news report indicates that the cross-dressing teen was outed when “a woman at the party recognised him and told persons at the party that he was not a female.” Jamaican women have also been documented as inciting homophobic mob attacks in Kingston and other parishes. These mobs have inflicted grievous bodily harm on numerous gay and cross-dressing men across the island.

He attributes women’s role in this violence to their competition with each other for the sexual attention of men:

There is a view within Jamaica and the Caribbean that some biological females feel threatened by trans females who are deemed to be competing for the already limited supply of suitable and available male partners. This leads some women to initiate an incident that a man must act upon, as his masculinity is threatened if he does not respond to the female’s cry to “do something.”

I’m not sure that I agree that the root of women’s transphobic and homophobic violence is competition for a scarcity of eligible men. I think that quite simply, women too are part of very homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic societies.    Just being assigned female at birth does not grant you the kind of consciousness which respects everyone’s the right to be. It does not make you more aware of your own privilege.  Neither does it mean that you question the taken-for-grantedness of normative gender relations, expectations and identities.  We need to do more consciousness-raising work so that we stop oppressing and killing each other.

Maurice argues that women’s groups and LGBT rights groups need to collaborate more.  I agree 100%.

What do you think?  What accounts for non-trans women’s transphobic and homophobic violence?

What has been your experience with women’s organisations in the Caribbean? Have you found them to be largely trans and homophobic? Willfully ignorant of LGBT issues?

Edited to add: the term non-trans is used instead of cis or cisgender since neither of the latter two terms are used widely or understood in the Caribbean. In addition, people who are assigned female at birth may be sexed as female but not gendered as women due to (usually) racist understandings of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be human.

See also: We all failed Dwayne Jones (Gully Queen) by Marcus Williams,  LGBT Citizens are Comrades, Not Enemies by Groundation Grenada, A Hate Story: Reflections on the Death of Dwayne Jones by Annie Paul, Dressed for Murder by Carolyn Cooper and the CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network’s Call to Action.

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10 thoughts on “The role of non-trans women in transphobia and homophobic violence in the Caribbean

  1. I think it’s well known how older women in the Caribbean in particular police and punish younger women using the same frameworks of gender shaming that were used against them, thereby becoming moral gatekeepers and gaining status. Jamaica Kincaid writes bitterly about this. A colleague of mine is exploring how this applies to teenage girls and pregnancy. And not just here. I’ve seen the role older women in my family played in ridiculing queens on the street, a bullying that used humour but stopped short of violence. I imagine something similar is at work with women protecting femininity from men’s transgressions. But it’s also about “women’s violence”, the gendered forms that violence takes on among women, given their structural position, that non-feminist heterosexual men talk about endlessly now. The way incitement and instigation are used to shame men into being men. That’s all I can manage before coffee, but Maurice (I also heard Marcus Day offer the same analysis on the CariFLAGS list) is right about women’s policing. But like you I’m not sure it’s actual sexual competition.

    Wasn’t the iconic 2007 Falmouth lynching in Water Square the same dynamic of trans passing unmasked?

    Colin

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  2. Oops: you asked about women’s organizations. In T&T at least they’ve often been in the vanguard of fighting homophobia, in advance of the formation of LGBT specific groups. And very generous partners to CAISO (though I use the f word all the time to describe what CAISO does, but I don’t think it’s at all hinged on that). I’m not sure LGBT groups have been nearly as principled. And I think there’s still a bit of mistrust on both sides as gay men and feminist women show up pretty gendered when we work together. Few MSM groups work on gender when there isn’t some immediate interest in doing so. And one of the folk narratives that gets retold from our local WSW group is about the straight guest speaker who asked for a show of hands as to who thought herself a feminist, and only a handful went up.

    Colin

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  3. I don’t have much experience with women’s organization , but in my field , nursing which is majority female-gendered in Jamaica , there is a lot homophobia and transphobia occurring , where there is serious aversion to anything deviating from hetero-normality.
    I don’t agree that the women’s transphobic and homophobic behaviour stems from competition , I don’t think so.

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  4. Thanks for your comments Diana, Colin and Nastassia. I am grateful for Maurice’s intervention which I see as a call to action. I am interested in what we can collectively and collaboratively DO to address violence against transgender women in the region. What should the next step be? Quality of citizenship Jamaica has issued a press release calling on the Government of Jamaica, churches and other stakeholders to engage in dialogue with the local LGBTI organisations. There are many women’s, feminist and LGBT orgs across the region, how are we collectively going to respond to these acts of transphobic violence? http://qcjm.org/press-release-murder-of-17yr-old-irwin-st-james/

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  5. M-A says:

    I love how whenever women come into conflict for any reason it is invariably said to be rooted in a struggle for the attention of men. How disgracefully typical.

    Women were born into the same sexist, heterosexist, homophobic, transphobic world as men. Why should we expect women to be automatically different and accepting? Being a member of an oppressed group yourself does not automatically make you sensitive to the plight of others. Look at how many misogynistic Black males there are. Simply because they are discriminated against on the basis of race does not make them sensitive to gender-based discrimination. Discrimination and biases permeate the air around us and we have ALL inhaled them to some degree.

    I also think that, when one group is systematically oppressed by another, there is a desire of the oppressed group to align itself with the dominant group and highlight another group to be the target of hatred. By women showing outrage when men are “duped” by a transwoman, they are aligning themselves with men and essentially shouting, “Hey men, look and us! We’re not the enemy. We’re good and worthy women. Those dirty transpeople over there are the enemy. We are acceptable and well-behaved. We can all hate the transpeople together!”

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