Remembering Jorge while Forgetting what Binds Us

Cross post from Pam’s House Blend

A funny thing happened on the way to the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) this year, funny as in odd, as in wrong. While the LGBTQ community & allies gathered to remember the over 160 people worldwide who died as a result of transphobic attacks this past year (most of whom were female identified people of color), other vigils popped up for a gay-identified young man from Puerto Rico, Jorge Steven López, who was violently killed and dismembered. Jorge’s death will likely be investigated and prosecuted as a hate crime under the newly passedfederal Hate Crimes Legislation. Vigil organizers, like Malcolm Lazin of Equality Forum, identified Jorge as one of us–a gay (non-transgender) man–and as such determined that his death had nothing to do with that other vigil going on down the street. As a gay cisgender (and sissy) man, this struck me as odd.

Questions and controversy have abounded as to what Jorge was wearing the night of his murder. Some reports claim the suspected murderer told authorities that Jorge was dressed as a woman. These questions will hopefully be answered during the investigation and trial where we hope Jorge, his family and the queer community in Puerto Rico will see justice done. Respected activists like Pedro Julio Serrano, who has spoken out passionately in the past about transgender inclusion, have gone out of their way to spell out that Jorge was not transgender.  I understand that Jorge did not self-identify as transgender, so it would be inappropriate to assign that identity to him, but I believe that his murder, in part, was the result of transphobia. If at the time of his murder he presented in a gender non-conforming manner (dressed in drag, wearing a wig, etc), than this may well be both yet another horrific transphobic crime and a gay bashing.

International Transgender Day Of Remembrance 2009 EventsEquality Forum (EF), a GLB(t) organization based in Philadelphia, sent out passionate e-mails about Jorge’s death. In fact, it was from EF that I first heard of this murder, a crime so violent in its nature that it reminded me of the punitive-type violence often used against transgender people and their bodies worldwide. EF also announced that they would hold a vigil for Jorge on Nov 20 in a venue that turned out to be only a few doors down from TDOR held at the William Way LGBT Community Center the same night. EF’s announcement made no mention of TDOR.Equality Forum: VIGIL to Remember Gay Teen Jorge Lopez Mercado; Stop the Slaughter!

Along with other concerned folks, transgender and cisgender, I tried to point out to Equality Forum the insensitivity and inappropriateness of holding another vigil the very same night as TDOR that was bound to draw off participants from the TDOR event. We tried to come up with solutions to bind the communities together including the proposal of a procession from EF’s vigil to TDOR. Such a procession would have served as a bridge between the non-trans queer folks and the transgender community, a way to unite the LGB with the T (although bisexuals are often marginalized too–subject for another blog entry). Malcolm Lazin and Equality Forum refused to help build that bridge, a lost opportunity and another failure in LGBT community building. In responding to our oppressors it would be great if our rallies were as unified as their hatred.

In the following episode of Trans-Ponder Podcast Ethan St. Pierre, PHB’s very own Autumn Sandeen, and I discuss what happened (and didn’t happen) in Philadelphia as an object lesson of sorts when organizations and individuals do not recognize the intersection of issues, and when they claim to be transgender inclusive but remain oblivious to some of the core issues thus making the “T” a mere accessory. Episode 146 The Philadelphia Experiment.

Jorge may have lived openly as a gay man, but from the evidence we have seen in the press so far, he died like many transgender women in Latin America. His death can serve to help us better understand the intersection of orientation and gender and the role that misogyny has in Queer oppression and the role of trans-misogyny within our own LGBTQ communities.

Many of us gay guys can attest that growing up, bullies beat the shit out of us because we were sissies before they knew we were “fags. Some of us even beat up on our own sissy-selves and had tried to butch it up to avoid such treatment. In my case I even submitted to ex-gay madness designed to de-gay me and transform me into a “proper man.” Our oppressors don’t distinguish much between sissy and trans. It’s hurtful… and self-defeating… for us to build those walls along quite arbitrary lines of dress-wearing gay man or trans woman. I do not identify as transgender, but I know that transphobia hurts me. It not only affects people I love who are transgender, but it also makes me a target as femme gay man. We are all in this together.

We see in the tragic death of Jorge Steven López the opportunity to come together in shared sorrow and outrage, to mourn the loss of a queer young person who may very well have been a target of hatred because he was gay and because he was gender-non-conforming. It doesn’t have to be either/or and it doesn’t change his identity.

{In writing all of this I also think of a different life and death–Jason (Jaysen) Mattison, a young Black gay teen in Baltimore who according to one news report “hated conformity.” 15 year old Jason/Jaysen was found raped and murdered on November 10th. We don’t yet know enough about the details surrounding his murder or its motives, but in Jason/Jaysen we see the intersection of race and orientation and sexual violence–and if reports are accurate of how he dressed at school–gender-non-conformity. As diverse members of oppressed populations we are again united in our grief and rage at having lost “one of our own.”}

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This post has 7 Comments

  1. ShipofFools on January 10, 2010 at 9:16 am Reply

    Hey Peter,

    excellent analysis of the situation.

    I grew up in a gay male community with lots of drag queens. Using female pronouns was de rigeur, even for younger guys, as a form of reclaiming the past. Most guys wore dresses for partys and had a female name of honour, and not just the drag queens.
    Most guys also didn’t identify as female, or even transgender (that word wasn’t around yet).
    But it seemed as if these rituals had many positive effects:
    1. it allowed everybody who wished so to express their personality.
    2. it had a cathartic effect in that it relieved gay men from the fear of being effeminate. It was in your face and empowering. These guys faced the fear that was beaten into them on the playground (you’re a sissy, a girl etc).
    3. it made the gay community a much better place to be a man that the straight world. I have known several straight guys who came there just to be able to be more relaxed about masculinity.

    While I get why gay people today are afraid to be associated with trans people, now that they are beginning to get equal human rights, I am also disappointaed by their cowardly behaviour.

    E.K. Sedgwick wrote that *all* men are terrorized by homophobia and that only out gay men are free from it.
    I’d add that all men are terrorized by sissyphobia, and only out sissies are free from it–

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