This story could not be more bullshitty, at every level, from calling a transgender woman a “cross-dresser” to misrepresenting her gender and so on. But I’ve been thinking about this story since I read it this morning. Often, when transgender women who are working as prostitutes are killed, there’s a kind of “gay panic” defense–”I didn’t know ‘he’ was really a dude and when I find out I freaked out and shot ‘him.’” And it works, because the “gay panic” defense still works.
But I’ve been thinking instead about the “accidental rapist,” the guy who didn’t realize the woman he was raping felt he was raping her. As you’ll recall, they’ve now done a bunch of studies that show that the accidental rapists does indeed know that what he’s doing is rape, because he has a string of victims he uses the same m.o. on and will continue to use that same m.o. to get the type of sex he desires, which is sex in which the person he is with’s opinions about whether she wants to have sex don’t count, unless he’s stopped. The whole “I didn’t know” ploy is about making non-rapist men sympathetic and defensive of the rapist by making it seem like there are circumstances in which the non-rapist man could be mistakenly having non-consensual sex. It plays on men’s empathy.
I’m starting to think this “I had to shoot the cross-dressing prostitute” argument is actually more similar to the accidental rapist. It’s easy for men who don’t frequent prostitutes to imagine a scenario in which they might be “tricked” into picking up the “wrong” kind of woman. But let’s think about how likely this actually is. Transgender women working as prostitutes know that they are at an increased risk of violence from johns (to put it mildly), especially transgender women who’ve not fully physically transitioned. Are they regularly getting into cars or going to houses of johns or hotel rooms without everyone knowing what the situation is? Just from a safety perspective, it seems unlikely. Plus, men who buy sex, you know, buy sex. There’s a reason they’re said to “frequent” prostitutes. I’m sure there are occasionally miscommunications, but not as frequently as transgender prostitutes get assaulted or killed.
I think the truth of the matter is that a small population of men like to have sex with transgender prostitutes in part because they know they can do whatever they want to those women and most people will sympathize. Beat her up? Not pay? Do things to which she hasn’t consented? Shoot her? Kill her? They have the easy “She tricked me” defense. And, in the case of the dead women, who’s around to dispute?
So, while I think it’s important to keep saying that, even if these men were “tricked,” it doesn’t justify violence. I think it’s also time to take a step back and ask ourselves if any trickery has actually happened or if this is in fact the kind of sex these men like–sex with someone who society sees as having so little value that you can do whatever you want to and with her and get away with it–and societal reinforcement of the lack of value of these women, in fact, a part of the thrill.
I think the whole “I was tricked” thing is not about the truth, but about making non-assaulting/non-killers sympathetic to the criminal instead of his victim.