Race’s Role in Transphobia

For a transgendered woman, Cornell West’s idea that “justice is what love look’s like in public” is not to their favour in this society. The safety and wellbeing of transgendered women in public spaces is often overlooked. A transgendered woman is as much or more of a woman than I am myself. Yet, a vast proportion of society believes that these individual’s are tricking them, as they ‘pass’ for the woman they are inside. These issues are even further exaggerated for women of racial diversity. 0.3% of the population identifies as transgender (Aulette & Wittner, 111), yet 72% anti-LGBTQIA+ homicides are against transgendered women and, of this 72%, 89% of those brutalized are black (Cox). Should these women, from any race, automatically address their gender in public?


Laverne Cox is a pioneer for transgendered women globally, as the first openly transgendered person to be nominated for an acting Primetime Emmy and the first transgendered women to grace the cover of Time magazine. Cox grants a voice to a sexual minority that is too often kept silent. In her speech she addresses an instance that many women like her face, and she unlike many of them escaped with her life. Islan Nettles was beaten to death in Harlem in 2013 over her gender and Amanda Milan faced a similar fate as she was savagely stabbed in Times Square in 2001 (Cox). Though Cox identifies as a woman, she was harshly questioned after two men on the street realized that she is transgendered. The Latino and black man asked her if she was an “n word” or a “bitch” (Cox). Misogyny, transphobia and race intersected here. Cox strays from the sexual script in our society and is consequently questioned. Her gender expression matches that of a ‘typical’ woman, yet this is not enough. Cox claims that most of these types of advances are from other ‘black folks’, and this is not to say that every African American person is transphobic. She believes that the collective trauma from the Jim Crow South, where black male bodies were lynched, has sparked a fear and fascination with black male sexuality. She is optimistic in her outlook, and believes that her oppressors are simply in pain and are insecure that she does not conform to her original gender role. This lead’s me to ask, should Cox have communicated that she was a transgendered woman right away? Is this a safe option? And, did this all just boil down to race?

In reality, the issues that Cox faced on the street are not entirely revolved around the race of the confused gentlemen she encountered. For a popular Asian YouTube star, Julie Vu, an extremely similar instance happened in a pho restaurant. Vu is a Vietnamese transgendered woman, who has had major success on YouTube where she video blog to give makeup tips while helping other transgendered women in their transition. In the video above Julie retells a story of when she was in a Vietnamese pho restaurant and she heard a group of older cisgendered men making crude remarks about her and her friend. Julie was scared of being ‘caught’ for being transgendered woman. She claim’s that most Vietnamese individuals would not accept her gender, and is basically ashamed of her own race. In the video Julie goes into a rather racist portrayal of a Vietnamese man realizing her gender, which I do not agree with, yet the overarching theme that she would get killed with a chopstick if she were to reveal her gender is particularly eerie. This proves that many other races feel the transphobia felt that was felt by Cox.

Even for a blonde, wealthy, blue-eyed transgendered woman who experiences white privilege, the deep seeded negativity in our society against transgendered individuals is felt. Gigi Gorgeous is another extremely successful YouTube star. She began her journey on the website as a gay male, and revealed her gender identity in front of 1.3 million subscriber’s and allowed the public to follow her through her transition. She experienced large-scale backlash from the online community, along with a number of death threats. In a question’s and answer’s video Gigi answers the question (6:01-7:11), “when you go out do you trick boy’s into thinking you’re a girl?” She respond’s with saying she is one to keep it honest, as she has heard horrible stories of girl’s just life her being brutally murdered over “lying” about their gender. This in theory confuses me, Gigi identifies in a sexual, mental and physical sense as a female, yet she feel’s she must constantly remind prospective male lover’s that she is transgendered in fear of getting attacked. As Gigi says, she has always known she was a woman in her heart, and her transition was not necessarily a choice. Honesty may be the best policy, but how far does this standard actually stretch? When I meet a male I do not feel the need to walk up to them and tell them immediately about my gender and sexual identity, so why should beautiful transgendered women such as Laverne, Julie and Gigi have to do this?

Cox closes her speech with “Cornell West reminds us that justice is what love looks like in public. I love that, because I feel that love, if we can love transgender people, that will be a revolutionary act.” And I for one could not agree more.

Works Cited:

TRANSGENDER Q&A – Part 2 | Gigi. Gigi Gorgeous. 2014. YouTube Video.

Story Time: Pho Restaurant. Julie Vu. 2014. YouTube Video.

Everyday Feminism. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And How To Deal With It).” Laverne Cox, 2014. Web. 10 March 2015 http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/.

Aulette, Judy Root, and Judith G. Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Tolmie, Jane. “GNDS 125, Trans Slides.” Queen’s University. Biology-Sciences Auditorium, Kingston, ON. 9 March 2015.

Gender Spectrum. “Understanding Gender.” Gender Spectrum 2015. Web. 15 March 2015 https://www.genderspectrum.org/quick-links/understanding-gender/.



Add yours →

  1. I enjoy how in your blog you should the issues of transphobia through three different situations one of a minority, one from overseas and one of white priveledge. This worked well since it allows anyone reading to see the danger and persecution is a very real threat for everyone in the transgendered community not just the racial minorities in the community, every transgendered person has faced some danger or persecution in their life. It was big that you brought up the criticism of Transgendered women in the fact that many think they are trying to trick men/women that they are dating, this really shows the misplaced fear that is rampant in our society.


  2. I thought it was important that you incorporated stories of people of different races and backgrounds who have been affected by transphobia because this displays how wide spread the issue is. It was interesting how you mentioned that Laverne Cox felt her oppressors are in pain because I would imagine it is a difficult thing to come to terms with and one really must see the bigger picture and rise above. I think the question you posed about should Cox have communicated she was trans right away, should not have to be a question. Society should be the ones to change and make it safe, trans people should not have to adjust or hide their identities.


  3. Learning about the experiences and lack of acceptance that is shown to trans women of various races was an interesting comparison to what Cox had witnessed herself. The fact remains that black trans women face the most violence, however they are not the only ones who struggle to be accepted for how they choose to identify. The videos were a nice touch to include in your analysis of Cox’s dialogue and your thoughts on the issues she spoke on.


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