State-level Structural Violence against Transgender People | Transgender | LGBTQ Rights

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Apparati of Power: Concerning the Social Manufacture, Application, and Effects of Structural and Cultural Violence against Transgender People

Logan A. Kirkland Anthropology of Violence Emanuela Guano, PhD

December 2, 2010 Georgia State University

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The term "structural violence" was originally coined by Johan Galtung. It is violence committed not by an individual, but by structuralized social systems. For example, a social system can manufacture harm against certain groups of people by making it difficult or impossible to meet their needs (1969: 170) . Descriminatory social constructs like class-ism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism and ableism can all be examples of this type of structural violence. Cultural violence, on the other hand, is the method in which parts of a culture can be used to justify, legitimize, or otherwise make structural violence seem not wrong. Art, religion, political ideology, science and language are examples of commonly used cultural systems from which cultural violence is manufactured (Galtung 1990: 291-292). These engrained forms of discrimination and violence hurt people by making their very survival and inclusion in day-to-day life and the 'accepted' culture a difficult struggle-- they may not have access to basic services, may not be able to get jobs, and may be routinely abused in any other number of ways. One man can't get a job because of the colour of his skin; another because he is gay. Another person might be fired for being too old, or may lack mobility because they are dependent on a wheelchair in a universe of stairs. This paper in particular, however, shall focus on cultural and structural violence against transgendered people in the modern urban setting.

To begin with, let first us define 'transgender' as someone who in one way or another doesn't identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. This can thus include a wide variety of gendernonconforming people, and is used because of this inclusive nature-- it includes not only transsexual people (a more contested term, referring alternatively to people who have completed gender reassignment surgery of some kind, or at least live full time as their identified gender), but also can include drag queens and kings, genderqueer people, and other forms of transmasculine and

Kirkland: 3 transfeminine people. (Doan 2009: 22). In addition, it must be stated that all of these lables focus on gender and not sexuality; a transgendered man (transman) might be gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, pansexual or have any number of other sexual labels and characteristics, as can a transgendered women (transwomen)-- and anybody else, for that matter.

Transgender people are common targets of the social phenomena of 'othering'. Othering, for the sake of this paper, shall be defined as the social process through which a group constructs an 'us' and a 'them' for the purpose of seperation, stigmatization and opression of the 'them' and/or the advancement of the 'us' over the 'them'. The experiences of many transgender people is ripe with othering-- in many places they don't even have the right to work or marry. Using a public (gendered) restroom—either of them-- can be a frightening experience, plagued with harassment. They often must live in constant fear of violence and discrimination, even in places and situations in which the majority of people would feel perfectly safe. One informant, a young transwomen whom I've known for some time, told me her rather poignant story: she was denied employeement purely based on her gender-status. It follows: ...Okay, okay, so I had been applying to a bunch of places nearby after I moved in with partner and of course they make you use your legal name and so I had to apply with my birth name. And a couple days later I get a call-back from smoothie establishment and they want to interview me. So I'm excited, you know, and go in a couple days later for the interview, and the guy takes one look at me when I tell him who I am and I can, you know, see how he changes immediately. But we go ahead through the short interview, and he warmed up some so I thought it was going to be cool. We get to the end and he looks over everything and tells me I can start monday-- but only on the condition that I act in a male gendered way. I couldn't handle that, it would be too difficult, I was depressed enough as it is... Another collaborator, a 23-year-old transman, had a similer tale: he was forced to continue using his birth-name at the pizza delivery place at which he worked, despite operating in an obvious malegendered identity. Realities such as these are both constant and common among transgender people working in all but the most liberal of fields in the American workforce.

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This sort of reality can be very difficult for an individual to live with. Daily experiences of many transgender people include being treated as a non-person or a 'thing'. They may be harassed, belittled, treated like a gender to which they don't identify, or called all sorts of profane names. These things are all common at the social level, but all sorts of traps and trickery also lie at the supposedly holy level of civil rights as well, as these narratives point out.

These sorts of themes and narratives are common among transgendered people. Basic services and needs can be very difficult to meet because of the systems of heteronormative thought and action which discriminates against them. Rights that are taken for granted by many people simply don't exist for transgender people-- the State often doesn't even recognize them as the gender they self-identify without all sorts of mad hoop-jumping. In Georgia, for example, in order for a transgender person to change their gender marker on their drivers license and thus be able to, at least from a legal standpoint, be treated as a member of their gender, they must first have the gender marker on their original birth certificate changed—which requires them to have sexualreassignment surgery (SRS). SRS is prohibitively expensive and difficult (and even undesired) by many transgendered people. Factors like these contribute to making the lives of transgendered people difficult even in the at the most basic civil and legal levels.

Without this basic right to the legal protection of their gender expression and identity, trans people face any number of battles in the public sphere. They don't have any protection against discrimination in the workplace, at school, or in any number of other areas of public life. They, as was mentioned before, often can't even use public restrooms without fear of harassment, and on top of these things, they are often treated as nonhuman by the legal authorities—the great gunwielding defenders of social order and American mainstream ideology. Indeed, people will often snicker or

Kirkland: 5 harass them after looking at their ID, making every purchase or offical encounter a potential mindfield of mistreatment. Each and every one of these things stemming, at least partly, from the unfair difficulty involved in getting their gender legally recognized on a tiny piece of paper that is supposed to reflect the fact that they exist and who they are. Yet, structural and cultural violence constantly robs them of the right to even act as who they are in this variety of sociocultural spheres.

These difficulties in being allowed to function fairly and on common ground in the predominately heteronormative society-system manufactures a reality in which transgender people are unfairly disadvantaged-- not being able to receive equal employment, many find themselves in poverty and lacking healthcare. Many become depressed, often dropping out of school at an early age. Homelessness, prositution, irresponsible drug-use, illness and even suicide are common among those who become most marginalized. These power-systems of cultural and structural violence construct a reality that regularly engages in attempts to drain transgender people of their very personhood and basic rights; working to erode each free agent's ability to excersize their own humanity from the bottom up and the inside out.

According to the Washington Transgender Needs Assessment Study, conducted from September 1998 to May 2000, one third of transgender people in America earn less than 10,000 dollars a year, and 29 percent are unemployed. Only one forth of those assessed were comfortable with their current living situations, and only 58 percent had paid employment. In addition to this, a study by the Transgender Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights showed more reflective examples of structural violence: 64 percent of those assessed made less than 25,000 dollars a year; over 40 did not have health insurance; finally, one in five did not have a stable living arrangement (National Center for Transgender Equality: 2010).

Kirkland: 6 Even homeless, they face disproportionate discrimination—many shelters don't accept transgender people, and the ones that do often require proof of genital SRS or they will house the person with the wrong gender, where they will almost-always be harassed and treated as a nonperson, even becoming the target of physical or sexual violence (National Center for Transgender Equality: 2010). Barriers to stability, much less advancement, exist everywhere. One young transgendered man, Matt, whom I worked with in 2009 on an ethnographic paper involving 'TrainHoppers' or 'Travelers' had experienced this phenomena several times from, one again, the guardians of the judiciary-- being forced into solitary confinement and treated as a nonhuman by police, stripped naked, gentiles examined, and basically sexually brutalized, because of some perception of 'gender dysphoria' by the authorities-- because of his claim that he was, indeed, a boy.

Structural violence legitimizes the mistreatment and othering of transgendered people ever day-- here, in America, in Georgia, in Atlanta; and beyond. Without easy access to the basic right of even being able to be legally treated as their expressed gender-identity, they face an enormous web of social and cultural mistreatment. This is how structural violence works; it creates a system where the victim has their legitimacy challenged constantly at every avenue. They can't function because, often enough, they have had their very most basic rights and identities as a human being and a citizen stripped away by the very institutions that are supposedly the guardians, legitimizers, and enforcers of these rights and identities—and from their on out, they face constant discrimination and violence. Structural violence is an enormous mechanism of othering, abuse, and power— through the manipulation of it, people can be robbed of rights so basic that they don't realize they are even factors until they are gone. As we have identified and explored, structural violence presents a cornicopia of avenues for annihilating a transgender person's very right and ability to function as a human being and an independent legal-civil agent.

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Of course, to many people who aren't emotionally invested in someone who is transgender or transgendered themselves, this is a simple topic to ignore-- othering of this particular variety is easy and almost natural. Yet one has to remember from the beginning that this has only been an example, a case-study into a particular variety of structural violence, if you will. But structural violence is a power-apparatus that can be applied to a variety of different individuals and groups within a number of different social and cultural systems. Indeed, it is used with every rotation of the celestiral sphere to rob countless victims of power; to regulate and opress them. One might even argue that in one form or another, most all of us are the victims to a certain variable amount of structural violence. But on the other side of the coin, one might also argue that each day, the great majority of individuals are also actors on the strings manipulated by the all-to-often visible hand of structural violence. But once one has acknowledged this fact, one can then begin to actively work at freeing oneself from this social economy of power and oppression and thus not being a producer and agent of structural violence. The more members of humanity that work to turn this tide, then the fewer shall be on the consuming-and-oppressed end of the power apparatus that is structural violence-- and thus this world might be made a place of less oppression, abuse, and exploitation; and become one filled with people working to manufacture a reality of peace, respect and tolerance for every individual.

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Works Cited:

Doan, Petra 2009 Safety and Urban Environments: Transgendered Experiences in the City. WE Research: 22—25. Transequality.org 2009 Homelessness and the Trans Community. http://transequality.org/Issues/homelessness.html (accessed November 10, 2010). Galtung, Johan 1990 Cultural Violence. Journal of Peace Research 27(3): 291—305. Galtung, Johan 1969 Violence, Peace, and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research 6(3):167—191.

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