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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