by Grace Raih
2 min read
Image by Sam Elwood
Modern classifications of sexuality and gender began as justification for slavery and colonialism. These Western frameworks are not universal, ahistorical truths but rather social constructs rooted in the racist personage of Black and Indigenous people as “savage” and “sexually ambiguous,” necessitating their domination in the minds of “civilized” white colonizers. Gender non-conforming writer ALOK penned that colonialism “shaped what we have come to understand as natural & unnatural.” Heteronormativity was central to the dehumanization of Indigenous and African people, as their fluid expressions of gender, sex, and sexuality were used as reasons for their genocide and enslavement by imperial powers.
The intentional othering of homosexuality and gender variance is rooted in white supremacy, and this continues to impact the lives of queer people as tenets of modern policing. The modern gay rights movement itself began as opposition to the enforcers of the white, patriarchal status quo—the police. The LGBTQ population is not homogenous, and therefore its members experience different levels of marginalization and violence at the hands of both the police and civilians. The intersection of anti-black racism, transphobia, and misogyny leave Black transgender women extremely vulnerable to hate-fueled violence. The Human Rights Campaign tracked a record of forty-four murders of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2020, the majority of whom were Black. This number is likely higher due to underreporting and misgendering of victims.
Merely existing openly as a genderqueer person of color is grounds for suspicion through the patriarchal and xenophobic lens of the police. “Walking While Trans” is a phrase used to describe the regularity in which cops profile transgender women of color as sex workers. Police frequently stop, harass and demand identification from trans people out in public. Carrying condoms or dressing “provocatively” can lead to an arrest on prostitution-related charges. Manifesting prostitution is a crime in which evidence is gathered in the biased mind of a cop. According to a 2014 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, Black transgender women are incarcerated at a rate ten times that of the general population.
Akin to identity-based policing efforts like “Stop and Frisk” where police operate on assumptions of race and class, gender expression is a factor in manifest laws. Constant police targeting discourages trans women from being present in public spaces, like city neighborhoods that have a high LGBTQ population. This leaves trans women more vulnerable to violence in their private lives, as fear of the police alienates them further from their own communities. A 2013 report by the Anti-Violence Project found that trans people of color are six times more likely to experience physical violence from law enforcement than white cisgender victims.
Racist, heteronormative views are not an exception, but integral values of policing. Those who exist outside white Western, restrictive ideals surrounding gender and sexuality are a threat to these power structures. “We ambition beyond the manipulation of our bodies in the service of a security that is so tenuous & brittle it breaks with the slightest view of our artful becoming,” writes ALOK. The police sustain the legacy of colonialism through their violent, anti-black, enforcement of the status quo, and their transphobia masked under manifest laws directly harms and devalues trans women of color.
*Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #140 November 2021