Intersectionality is a concept often used to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, class oppression, sexism etc. are inextricably bound together. It provides a space for marginalized people to share how these institutions have shaped their lives and encourages us to think critically about how very unique their experiences are. It is critical that we account for the ways in which racism, sexism, and classism influence transphobia and even racialize the extreme violence so frequently perpetrated against gender variant persons.
In Sarah Lamble’s article, Retelling Racialized Violence, Remaking White Innocence, she discusses oppressions found even in Transgender Day Of Remembrance (TDOR), a day observed on November 21 each year to commemorate those who have been killed in the last year (Lamble, 30). While TDOR has raised public awareness about the violence experienced by transgender individuals, Lamble critiques their limited scope in analyzing the factors, which cause these violent acts. This limited scope is also reflected in the two sister websites, The Remembering Our Dead project, which records transgender deaths, and the official TDOR website, which provides educational resources and publicizes transgender vigils occurring around the world (Lamble, 30). Her argument coincides with the concept of intersectionality because it acknowledges that there are additional factors, besides transphobia, which influence incidents of violence against transgender individuals. If we label transphobia as the single cause of this violence, these websites cannot fully contextualize them within their specific time and place, thus “obscuring the ways in which hierarchies of race, class, and sexuality situate and constitute such acts,” Lamble argues (Lamble, 31). If we refrain from looking at violence through an intersectional lens we also limit the possibilities of resisting racialized gender violence in effective ways. In the case of TDOR, people can more effectively denounce these violent acts by looking at who and how they choose to remember. We live in a society that categorizes victims into being “good” or “bad”. The good are usually perceived as pure, and innocent-typically fitting the characteristics of a young, white, middle class female. This has a direct influence on which cases of violence against transgender bodies are shared and protested. This type of victim becomes “less ideal” and their story more frequently shared by media, and politicians. The “bad”, or “ideal”, victim, usually of color, and of lower class, becomes less visible and their victimization tolerable.
Another article which places into perspective the importance of intersectionality when approaching transgender issues is, Trans Necropolitics, by C. Rile Snorton and Jin Haritaworn. Snorton and Haritaworn not only look at the life experiences of trans people of color but also the relationships that develop after their deaths. The two writers share the story of Tyra Hunter, an African-American pre-operative transgender woman who died after being injured as a passenger in a car accident being refused emergency medical care. Emergency Medical Technicians at the scene of the accident uttered derogatory epithets and withdrew medical care after discovering that she had male genitalia, and Emergency Room staff at DC General Hospital provided inadequate care (Snorton, 69). The remembrance of Tyra Hunter after death has promoted a larger project, which the writers describe as being the reincorporating of transgender bodies of color under a more legible sign; in this case, the representation of Tyra as “spectacularized gay male body” (Snorton, 69). We talked a little in class about what it means to be “legible” and we defined it as being how we are, if at all, read and seen and understood. The “good” that came out of Tyra’s death is that the intersections of sexism, transphobia, and racism, became the context of an abundance of political activity, her name living on as T.Y.R.A. (Transgender Youth Resources and Advocacy), a Chicago based program which supports transgender youth of color (Snorton, 70). Even in death Tyra’s life is a strong source which reaches out to various LGBTQ institutions, much like TDOR, compelling them to look at the ways in which racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of oppressions are connected and influence the violence perpetrated against transgender people of color.
Overall, it is important that we acknowledge the different levels of oppression experienced by transgender individuals of different backgrounds. If we are to engage in an effective struggle against violence, we must resist reductionist identity politics, and instead pay attention to the specific relations of power that give rise to acts of violence. Transgender bodies of color are marginalized within the margins through sexism, racism, and other means. They have experienced discrimination from multiple ends and these institutions of oppression must be core factors in the fight against transphobia and violence against transgender people.