op-ed: reflections about trans deaths, white privilege

September 7, 2015

On the 21st of August, The New York Times published an op-ed, ‘Trans Deaths, White Privilege‘, written by Jennifer Finney Boylan. It was a strategically precise, cold and calculated exposé highlighting the cruel essence of white privilege in a day and age where select trans women find a more welcoming environment in celebrity America. Contrarily, trans women of color in everyday America, people whom, in bygone days, were given high order names indicating their two-spirit or third-gender status, are now the victims of what’s being described in, so-called, alternative media as a growing epidemic of murders— seventeen this year alone according to a recent report on Democracy Now. While Boylan, Caitlyn Jenner, Lana Wachowski, and other noteworthy personalities are totted as indicators of trans progress in America, the record number of untimely and brutal deaths of trans women of color have largely been ignored by the mainstream corporate media.

By Jun Cola, AFROPUNK Contributor


Naysayers who are known to professionally hustle the post-racial card, point out that some of the assailants were also people of color. The graveness of this surface truth should not be dispelled. It’s like an enormous iceberg floating above water. But let us not forget, nor underestimate, while grappling with heavy surface crimes, that a much larger portion of the iceberg lays subsurface. This gargantuan piece of the puzzle is frequently ignored because it conceals the history of systematic destruction and modification of societies and cultures that preceded white pilgrims setting foot on these shores and, soon thereafter, blood-drenching it in the name of God. Ask yourself—how would most people react to seeing or engaging with a trans woman, or two-spirit, if their only point of reference, dating back centuries, has been a discourse of rigid, binary gender and sex norms conceived by the dominant white society? How difficult would it be for such an indoctrinated society to recognize the humanity in such a person? Also, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that media pundits and celebrity-makers, trailing not too far behind the overly Eurocentric field of psychology, have arbitrarily branded people as being transvestites, transexuals, and trans women. The never took into consideration high order, indigenous names that were used to describe these people prior to the invasion of a land that would come to be known as America. Whereas significant numbers of Native American and African cultures recognized the interconnectedness of humanity, nature and cosmos, and how two-spirits and third-genders were sensitive and insightful enough to navigate these realms, including the realm of deceased ancestors, the mainstream American media, leaders in the propagation of anthropocentric white privilege, is just starting to come to terms with the idea of addressing select trans women as equal human beings.

Trans Deaths, White Privilege ventures to the murky, unburdened soul of white privilege. In it, Boylan writes about some of her daily activities; speaking with her mother; visiting an astrophysicists friend, also a trans woman, at Columbia University; speaking with Caitlyn Jenner for the first time; feeling the power of God while at Riverside Church; appearing as a guest on MSNBC and speaking about progress on transgender issues and how it hasn’t been equal for all; dinning at the Village Inn in Belgrade Lakes, Me; and a few other events. While nonchalantly recounting these incidents, none of which warranted deviation from her overriding narrative of a famous white author and professor simply living her life, brute and brief descriptions of the recent murders of trans women of color abruptly interrupt her whitewashed flow. In other words, her rather insipid theme professed no solidarity towards the victims. Boylan tactfully produced no common trans-bond. Her article, in all intents and purposes, was stratified along lines of race, a true American master class, where numerous murders of trans women of color had to be literally mashed into her writing.
Boylan’s dichotomous op-ed cleverly demonstrates one of the strategic geniuses of white privilege—omission. Progress in America comes with a caveat. And history is best qualified to inform us about which communities thrive and which communities are subject to racial profiling, inadequate housing and schools, epidemic numbers of murders, and so forth. Trans women of color find themselves in the latter community. Even the modern concept of transgenderism is a product of white privilege. It’s a monolithic concept that lacks the spirit of diversity. Ultimately, the dominant white society has popularized the use of trans woman while ignoring the many names and titles that have been preserved by the waning two-spirit and third-gender class who, despite centuries of genocide, colonialism, revisionism and omission, still respect and honor their millennial heritage? Jaiyah Saelua, a fa’afafine from Samoa, recently wrote an open letter that has been dubbed, An Open Letter from a Samoan ‘Caitlyn’ – Jaiyah Saelua. In it she writes: “For the first time, I will address the problems many Pacific island cultures have with their perception of their respective 3rd gender. Familial support and respect are key to maintaining a healthy and balanced relationship between a fa’afafine & their community. As do most things, a child’s perspectives on life begin within the family. Caitlyn Jenner might give a young fa’afafine hope to become her true self one day, but when that truth isn’t being supported at home, their paths become wavering and almost immediately comes trouble.”
Yes, the annals of non-white history has much to teach us. The memory, and in some cases continued presence, of the Winkte (Lakota), Nádleehí (Navajo), Jinbandaa (in regions comprising the Congo and Angola), Mahu (in native Hawaiian culture), Hijra (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) Fa’afafine (Samoa), Fakaleiti (Tonga), and so many others have much to instill upon our aching and shattered souls and minds. They are two-spirits and third genders, renowned in their societies as seers, mediums, healers, storytellers, chief consultants and advisers, and so much more.

Photo credit: Democracy Now