Content warning: Discussions of violence, murder, and sexual abuse.
Black transgender women in America face violence a disproportionate rate. They are an often-overlooked facet of American society, being that they exist at the cornerstone of three marginalized identities: they are Black, they are transgender, and they are women. For many, this leads to violence, attacks, and murder. Last year, six black transgender women were murdered within the span of nine days.
But what happens when, during the process of a violent attack, a trans woman manages to defend herself against her attacker? What happens when she wins in a her-against-them scenario? What if her attacker dies because of her self-defense? What happens if she doesn’t die?
“What happens” is what happened to Davia Spain, Ms. Campbell, and Cece McDonald. All three are Black transgender women who managed to defend themselves when faced with sudden assault. Davia Spain, an activist and performance artist, defended herself against her abuser after confronting them about an instance of sexual assault. As a result of her defense, she was held inside of San Francisco County Jail, released only once enough people had petitioned for her release.
Ms. Campbell denied a man’s sexual advances. He hit her with a wooden board, and she defended herself. As a result of her defense, Ms. Campbell was incarcerated, awaiting trial. This trial was illegally stalled, leaving her in jail for longer than six months. In jail, she faced three separate attacks based on her transgender identity.
Cece McDonald was going out with her friends. Before they could make it to their destination, a group of drunk transphobic people began hurling slurs at them. A woman smashed her glass into the side of Cece’s face. As Cece tried to escape the situation, running as far as to the end of the street, a man caught up to her and grabbed her arm. She defended herself. As a result of her defense, Cece McDonald was sentenced to 41 months in prison and was released after serving 19 months in a men’s prison.
Transgender women are seen as intimidating. But it’s not just being a transgender woman. “…A lot of trans people have certain privileges that trans women of color don’t have,” Cece McDonald remarked during an interview with the Chicago Maroon. “trans women of color are targeted in ways that more involve hyper-sexualization, transmisogyny, violence, whether it be from our partners or from just people in our communities. It has a lot to do with the detachment of our humanity, which causes people to see us less than, and causes them to treat us less than,” she continues.
Black women are often enough denied access to their own femininity. Tropes of the “strong Black woman” pressure black women to act strong, which to the mainstream world denies them femininity; femininity and “strong” are seen as opposing terms when in reality they are not. This reality is intensified for the Black trans woman. Society denies her femininity and emphasizes her seemingly inherent strength on two separate aspects of her identity.
Speak with the Black women in your life, all of them. Do not deny them femininity or strength.