Jane Doe, Trans Women, and the Myth of the Perfect Victim

From RH Reality Check:  http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/06/23/jane-doe-trans-women-myth-perfect-victim/

by Katherine Cross
June 23, 2014

To write about trans women is to come to grips with a painful fact: Very few of us are “perfect victims.”

I was reminded of this in the midst of the activism surrounding Jane Doe—a 16-year-old trans girl who was transferred from child protective services to solitary confinement in a Connecticut state prison. Those most detached from her situation piously observe that she is in solitary confinement because she allegedly brutalized Department of Children and Families (DCF) staff when she was under their care.

On the Feministing Facebook page, one woman lengthily excerpted the litany of accusations against Doe from a New Haven Register article—breaking a woman’s jaw and temporarily blinding her in one eye—as if this were an adequate response to an article I wrote defending Doe’s right to human dignity.

This, of course, left out the parts of the Register report that detailed Doe’s abuse at length, including accusations that she had been raped and otherwise sexually exploited while under DCF care, but we’ll return to that later.

Jane Doe’s situation reminds me of the circumstances surrounding Essay Anne Vanderbilt, better known as Dr. V, who committed suicide after a Grantland writer dug relentlessly into her past and sought to prove that she had lied about having a PhD—outing her publicly as a trans woman in the process, against her clearly expressed wishes to the journalist in question.

Always, there would be a tide of commenters to break against any article that I or others had written in defense of these women’s right to draw breath.

This familiar pattern traces its well-worn grooves during most public mentions of trans women’s distress.

There are women I could mention here who have been so pilloried, but who I must refrain from naming because, ironically, they survived. I would not wish to reopen old wounds for that sisterhood of silent survivors trying to get on with the very lives nearly stolen from them.

There are those who are not so silent, however, like CeCe McDonald; recently released from prison after serving a sentence for killing a would-be hate criminal in self-defense, she is now an advocate for transgender justice. But to this day she is still pilloried as an imperfect victim for the fact that she took a life. For failing to meekly accept the oblivion her swastika-tattooed assailant was thrusting upon her, many seem to suggest that she deserved either death, or a considerably longer prison term among men.

Now, as if in an echo chamber of those commenters, on Feministing’s own page I find myself reading missives from cisgender women who call Jane Doe’s solitary confinement without charge or trial “justice” for unproven and context-less crimes against DCF staff.

The unspoken implication was always that the real or perceived imperfections of these trans women meant that they should be left like so much carrion on the field, to be picked apart by whosoever should chance by—unto death, if need be. And it seems death is just what the doctor ordered; time and again one encounters a startling lack of consideration for the consequences these women suffered. CeCe McDonald nearly died, Dr. V did die, and Jane Doe’s solitary confinement is a waking death for any sentient being.

But this is just fine, so far as some are concerned. A woman’s life is the pound of flesh demanded by her perceived sins.

As feminists, we should notice a pattern here.

Women are so often expected to be perfect victims. If we are raped, we must be upper middle class, or honors students, or devoutly religious, preferably white, caught unawarein the midst of innocent activities by a perfectly rapacious and evil attacker. All other circumstances are unforgivably complicated, and we throw our hands up as if to say that the rape is an acceptable consequence of the victim’s imperfection. She drank, she was out late, she went somewhere strange, she was partying, she was a sex worker, she did not out herself as trans, she liked revealing clothes—whatever excuse or perceived imperfection we can grab a fistful of, all in the hopes of confirming our shared just-world hypothesis, that collective pseudo-ideological disease of uncounted millions.

We do this with other maladies suffered by women, of course, including suicide or incarceration. We want to believe that they somehow deserve it, even as we are too cowardly to openly say, “She deserves to die for what she did.” That uncouth bluntness is instead masked by equivocal dissembling about her faults and failings: Dr. V lied about her degree to help sell a golf putter that actually did what it claimed, therefore she deserves to die; Jane Doe was accused of hitting DCF staff and being violent, therefore we can eschew a trial and send her to solitary even while she’s still a minor (and she probably deserves to die too).

Continue reading at:  http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/06/23/jane-doe-trans-women-myth-perfect-victim/

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US police departments are increasingly militarised, finds report

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/jun/24/military-us-police-swat-teams-raids-aclu

• ACLU cites soaring use of war zone equipment and tactics
• Swat teams increasingly deployed in local police raids
• Seven civilians killed and 46 injured in incidents since 2010

in New York
theguardian.com, Tuesday 24 June 2014

At 3am on 28 May, Alecia Phonesavanh was asleep in the room she was temporarily occupying together with her husband and four children in the small town of Cornelia, Georgia. Her baby, 18-month-old Bou Bou, was sleeping peacefully in his cot.

Suddenly there was a loud bang and several strangers dressed in black burst into the room. A blinding flash burst out with a deafening roar from the direction of the cot. Amid the confusion, Phonesavanh could see her husband pinned down and handcuffed under one of the men in black, and while her son was being held by another. Everyone was yelling, screaming, crying. “I kept asking the officers to let me have my baby, but they said shut up and sit down,” she said.

As the pandemonium died down, it became clear that the strangers in black were a Swat team of police officers from the local Habersham County force – they had raided the house on the incorrect assumption that occupants were involved in drugs. It also became clear to Phonesavanh that something had happened to Bou Bou and that the officers had taken him away.

“They told me that they had taken my baby to the hospital. They said he was fine he had only lost a tooth, but they wanted him in for observation,” Phonesavanh said.

When she got to the hospital she was horrified by what she saw. Bou Bou was in a medically-induced coma in the intensive care unit of Brady Memorial hospital. “His face was blown open. He had a hole in his chest that left his rib-cage visible.”

The Swat team that burst into the Phonesavanh’s room looking for a drug dealer had deployed a tactic commonly used by the US military in warzones, and increasingly by domestic police forces across the US. They threw an explosive device called a flashbang that is designed to distract and temporarily blind suspects to allow officers to overpower and detain them. The device had landed in Bou Bou’s cot and detonated in the baby’s face.

“My son is clinging to life. He’s hurting and there’s nothing I can do to help him,” Phonesavanh said. “It breaks you, it breaks your spirit.”

Bou Bou is not alone. A growing number of innocent people, many of them children and a high proportion African American, are becoming caught up in violent law enforcement raids that are part of an ongoing trend in America towards paramilitary policing.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/jun/24/military-us-police-swat-teams-raids-aclu

Piketty mania: how an economics lecture became the hottest gig in town

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/17/thomas-piketty-lse-capitalism-talk

The ‘rock star’ economist sold out his London talk at the LSE – but his doomy prognosis isn’t music to everyone’s ears

Thomas Piketty’s Capital: everything you need to know about the surprise bestseller

The Guardian, Tuesday 17 June 2014

With all due respect to the “dismal science”, this doesn’t happen often: hundreds of people are queueing round the block for an economics lecture on a lovely summer’s evening in London. And those are the people who have successfully booked seats. There’s another queue of shifty-looking people hoping for return tickets and steeling themselves for disappointment. This, one might well think, is a microcosm of the dysfunctionally inegalitarian society under late capitalism that the speaker indicts in his book: a society cruelly divided between the haves and the have-nots.

And there are other divisions: black and white, young and old, City suits and flip-flop-sporting slackers, women and men, venerable baldies and twentysomething asymmetric fringes, post-endogenous growth theorists and their bitter foes, pre-post-endogenous growth theorists (sometimes known as endogenous growth theorists). But the most emblematic social division for our purposes is that between those in the queues who moan loudly about being gouged by the merchandising (“£30 for a book? They’ve got to be kidding. Who can afford that?”) and those who’ve come clutching one, sometimes two copies of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, in the dewy-eyed hope that its author, Professor Thomas Piketty, will deign to sign it. Piketty later apologises for not putting the book online, saying it was because his publisher wouldn’t like it: if he was really serious about reducing inequality, though, you’d think he’d ignore his publisher’s compunctions.

Outside the Peacock Theatre, round the corner from the London School for Economics, the mood resembles an oversubscribed first night: it’s ostensibly genteel and polite, but hides simmering resentments that could switch rapidly from sarcastic exchanges to elbow-shovings to full-on riot followed by zombie apocalypse if we don’t all get in.

Don’t these people know that they’re queueing to hear about the historic shifts in the capital-income ratio, modifications to the Kuznets curve and the elasticity of substitution of labour? The counterintuitive answer is that quite a lot of them do. For those who have lived through austerity years that have made the rich richer and the poor more desperate, for those who read Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better and wondered how we could become more Nordically egalitarian, Piketty has a message they want to hear: economics should be used for good rather than evil, to effectively redistribute wealth. Pikettians don’t chant, but if they did it would go: “What do we want? An egalitarian shift in the ratio between g and r, where r is growth and g the return on capital. When do we want it? As soon as feasible, thanks.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/17/thomas-piketty-lse-capitalism-talk

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