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.

8 thoughts on “Tricked

  1. Excellent post, B. I’m interested in how you intersect two major issues here: one, the tendency of our larger culture (and most of our smaller ones) to try and pigeonhole and streamline gender identity into narrow categories; and two, the varying levels of difficulty we as individuals and groups have in respecting the value and uniqueness of other individual human beings.

    I guess each of us has her or his own way of looking at gender identity, and much of that is formed by our respective environments. I don’t know how I got to this, but in theory I believe that we’ve generally got it all wrong. Gender-related sexuality (or whatever one should call it) is not binary, nor is it easily divided into neat categories. I think it’s more like a continuum. But to the point of your post, the really tragic thing is that so much harm (some of it self-inflicted) is done in the name of denying the complexities of gender; and on top of that, thanks in part to dogmatic and reactionary interpretations of religion, much of that harm is treated as beneficial (or at least condoned as acceptably not-so-beneficial).

  2. I’ve been thinking lately about the whole “gay panic defense” since a kid out here in California used it recently to defend shooting and killing his gay classmate whom he claimed flirted with him (and got a hung jury out of it, no less). If that really were a defense to murder–that someone made inappropriate advances toward you and it made you feel icky–do you realize how many heterosexual men would be dead today?

  3. If that really were a defense to murder–that someone made inappropriate advances toward you and it made you feel icky–do you realize how many heterosexual men would be dead today?

    OMG. That. Yes.

  4. I don’t think most guys know how much time women spend saying ‘no’ to icky guys. Especially drunk icky guys at a bar where all you want to do is see the band.

    Sometimes a “3 Noes, then I shoot” rule would be tempting.

  5. Sam, I think what you’re saying is true, absolutely. We do have these binaries that we use in a cookie cutter way over a dough-like continuum.

    But I think–and I could be wrong, lord knows I’m not interviewing these assholes–that these guys who are violent towards transgender prostitutes aren’t thinking about this in terms of “I have a desire for a type of woman outside of the norms of my society and I don’t know how to reconcile my desire with my own prejudices” or at least they aren’t thinking primarily about this, though I’m sure these women do see johns like that.

    I suspect that these violent men are men who believe that real men are not degraded, but instead do things to other people that are degrading. And so, to assert and prove your manhood, you must constantly be signalling that you are not degradable, which you do by degrading others, usually through sex acts.

    In this regard, I don’t think it matters at all who their victim is. I’d be unsurprised to learn that these men sexually assault other cisgender men as well when given the opportunity. What matters is whether they think they can get the support of their community if caught doing it, if their non-degradable status is upheld.

    I could be wrong. But I don’t think these guys, in general, are on a continuum with the “I’m uncomfortable with my desires” guys. I think they’re incredibly comfortable with their desires. Their desires are just completely fucked and unsafe for the desired person, since they’re so wrapped up in the desire to degrade.

    But again, just to remake my point, since most people’s sexual fantasies don’t actually involve the degradation of the person they’re with (aside from some kinds of consensual play, which I’m not talking about), it’s hard for us to not move immediately to “how could this person, who must be like me, of course, have done this awful thing?”

    Well, because he’s not like you and he doesn’t think it’s awful. It’s not a mistake. He’s done what he intended to do–to degrade the person he fucked, just this time into the hospital or unto death.

    When we give him cover, under the false assumption that this is some kind of mistake or that he’s been tricked, we’re actually confirming to him that his fucked-up worldview is correct.

  6. Spot on. I’ve known a few women in the biz over the years, and never known anyone who would *ever* be so stupid as to try and “trick” a john. The men who get involved with transgender prostitutes know EXACTLY what they are getting.

    On whether the ones who turn violent are acting out of internalized transphobia or out of a sick need to degrade anyone weaker than themselves, I think it could be either depending on the particular case. I imagine the worst cases involve both at the same time.

    As bad as that article is, as usual with most of the local media sites, the comments section has me just about ready to give up on humanity.

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