Are Trans People Like Angie And Me Deceptive?

Are Trans People Like Angie And Me Deceptive?
by: Autumn Sandeen Sun Apr 19, 2009 at 04:22:30 AM EDT Reposted with full permission. Thank you Autumn.

Sharon Dunn of the Greeley Tribune began her Saturday piece Angie Zapata's friends, family take the stand this way:

The first few times, it almost seemed like the public defenders were misspeaking.

But then, those watching the murder trial of Allen Andrade started muttering under their breaths. Witnesses on the stand continued to correct the attorneys questioning them.

Family members and friends echoed repeatedly, "my sister," "Angie," one by one on the stand Friday as public defenders Annette Kundelius and Brad Martin questioned them about "Justin."

Summarizing the two things that will effect me for quite awhile that I saw in the courtroom Friday are 1.) seeing the crime scene photos and video of Angie, lying dead on the floor, a pool of dried blood around her head, and 2.) watching and hearing a classic trans panic strategy being used by the defense during the prosecution presentation portion of the trial.

Frankly, I'm in reporter mode, so I'm a bit detached from the trial right now. But, in the back of my mind I can "feel" the images of the crime scene photos and video burned in my mind -- forever burned into my memory. I will never forget those images. I know I'll have my reaction to these "burned in" images later, when I'm back home in San Diego.

What had me irritated in the courtroom Friday, and still finds me irritated about now, is the trans panic (or gay panic) strategy -- a "crime of passion," "blame the victim" strategy -- being used in the court. It's apparent to me that the defense attorneys have schooled themselves on the "proper" way to run a trans panic strategy, as they used the word "duped" in the pretrial hearing, and now in the trial are using the more classic trans panic strategy term "deception." The defense attorney's are also following the trans panic strategy of never conceding that Angie was known as Angie, and never conceding that she was a young, teenage female. The defense attorneys instead always refer to her by her male name, and always refer to her by male pronouns.

I noticed something too that a trans woman like me would notice, but reporters like Sharon Dunn and Beth Karas hadn't noticed, but I pointed out to them why something from Angie's autopsy was highlighted. During cross examination of the Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) who attended the autopsy, the defense attorney questioning the CSI highlighted clothing that had been removed from Angie's body. These included a camisole, a bra, and "breast gels." The "breast gels" would be silicone breast forms. The reason the defense attorney's highlighted these are to use this information later to "prove" Angie "_____" (male name) wasn't a real woman -- they will no doubt argue "he" had to wear breast forms to create the "deception" that "he" had breasts.

This intentional trans panic/blame-the-victim strategy of always referring to Angie by her male name and by male pronouns was never more clear when Stephanie Zapata, Angie's sister, took the stand. Every time the defense attorney referred to Angie by male pronouns or by Angie's male name, Stephanie corrected her by saying "You mean my sister,..." or "You mean my sister Angie,..." -- Stephanie never gave an inch. I don't know how many times she forcefully corrected the defense attorney, but it was definitely significantly over a dozen times. And when Monica Zapata (also known as Monica Murguia) took the stand, she wasn't as forceful, but she consistently referred to Angie as Angie, and always referred to her as her sister, and by female pronouns.

All in all, five of Angie's relatives took the stand and only using the name Angie, and always referring to her by female pronouns. And, every time the defense attorney's questioned these five family members, they always referred to her by her male name, and always used male pronouns. Everyone was in the gallery that I talked to after the trial was done for the day Friday noticed it, and one even commented that the defense strategy of consistently referring to Angie by her male name and male pronouns when every family member, many visibly hurting at the loss of their sister/sister-in-law/offspring, were referring to Angie as Angie, and calling her by female pronouns. On person told me that it seemed "rude," and wondered if the strategy of antagonizing at least Stephanie Zapata, would backfire because it looked like such rude behavior. Gawds, I hope so.

Autumn Sandeen :: Are Trans People Like Angie And Me Deceptive?

Frankly though, I'm a lot like Angie. While I have changed my male name legally to Autumn back in 2003, I, like Angie, am a pre-operative transsexual. And, as Angie's sister Monica said she saw Angie always do to people to strangers she met who she realized she may see again -- especially men who appeared attracted to her and engaged her -- I out myself often and frequently to strangers I meet. And much like Angie, I have "passing privilege," and just as Angie had many young men interested in her, and flirting with her, since I lost that 135 pounds I have many 35-and-older men interested in me, and flirting with me. And, just as Angie was rarely read as trans, so too am I rarely read as trans. And just like Angie, I'm the number 4 child of 5 children.

If I were to be killed in Colorado -- or most other states in the United States, for that matter -- would my killer use a trans panic defense against me, saying, like Allen Ray Andrade's defense attorney's are saying about Angie, that I'm "deceptive"? When am I not "deceptive" in my life -- when I use women's restrooms? When my driver's license has an F as my gender marker? When I don't out myself to the grocery clerk or the coffee house barista? When I breathe?
The stunning reality is that my life, and the lives of my transgender peers, are worth less than the lives of those who fit into the gender binary. And, that's because if someone killed one of my peers or me, they can use a trans or gay panic, blame-the-victim strategy to say my peers or I have been "deceptive," and were killed because my peers or I were born with genitalia that didn't match our gender identity and/or gender expression.

It's a sobering thought.

And, what's so bizarre about this is that transgender status is a protected class under Colorado's Bias Motivated Crimes statute under the term sexual orientation. Specifically, sexual orientation is defined as follows:

"Sexual orientation" means a person's actual or perceived orientation toward heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgender status.

The defense in the Angie Zapata Hate Crime Murder Trial is in effect using Angie's membership in a protected class to justify her killing. Think of it this way: If a white supremacist in Colorado dated a Jewish woman who hadn't disclosed this before the two had kissed intimately, and the white supremacist, in an alleged heat of passion moment, killed the Jewish woman because of her faith or her ethnicity. If the white supremacist's defense attorney argued before the jury that the Jewish woman was "deceptive" for not disclosing she was Jewish before the two kissed, do you believe that this defense would persuade a jury? Of course not -- being Jewish by faith or ethnicity would be protected classes under the Colorado. You can't successfully on one hand say that that faith and ethnicity are protected classes against bias motivated crimes, and then use the Jewish woman membership in a protected class as a defense.

And yet, with the gay panic and trans panic strategies of blaming the victim for being "deceptive," that's exactly what the defense is doing in the Angie Zapata Hate Crime Murder Trial; the defense is using Angie's transgender status to say she was being "deceptive" -- they are using Angie's membership in a protected class to blame her -- the victim -- for her own death.

What is the point of having a hate crime statute that includes transgender status in it's language if defendants and defense attorneys can use that membership in the transgender community as a reason to blame a victim for his or her own death? The same arguments that public defenders Annette Kundelius and Brad Martin are arguing before the jury to blame Angie for her own death apply to me too.

If someone were to kill me in Colorado (or most other states in the United States) this week, how much less would the sentence of my killer be if he or she said they killed me because I was being "deceptive" when I drank coffee at Café Woody's this morning? Or "deceptive" bought cheese sticks at the King Scoopers grocery store this afternoon? Or "deceptive" when I used the sink in an Olive Garden restaurant's women's restroom to clean my prescription rose colored glasses this evening?

Are trans people like Angie and me always to be considered "deceptive" wherever we go, and whatever we do?

I know the answers to all these questions. I'm not being deceptive. I am who I present myself to people I meet, even when I don't make it a point to out myself.

Angie wasn't deceptive either. Angie lived who she was. Justice for Angie should include the recognition she was a human being -- a human being who was loved, and is sorely missed by her family and friends. I just can't imagine that giving any credence to the idea that Angie's transgender status is in any way a justification for her killing would be justice for Angie.

Cross posted from 'Pam's House Blend' Autumn Sandeen :: Are Trans People Like Angie And Me Deceptive? in our effort to make public the Allen Ray Andrade murder trial of Angie Zapata.

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