I have been half following the Angie Zapata murder case, reading the posts on TransGriot about it, but not reading the links because I am a conscientious objector to the mainstream media (and have been having enough trouble keeping up with my feed reader as it is). I was, well, not pleased exactly (it’s hard to be happy about the pitiful “justice” our punitive system offers) to hear that a fully guilty verdict was rendered, including the hate crime charge; I was overjoyed that for once, a “trans panic” defense had so thoroughly failed.
Then I read about Angie’s family’s reaction, and was struck dumb by the simultaneous realization and the refutation of my own assumptions.
I had thought, here was this little Latina trans girl, murdered by her maybe-boyfriend. I thought I knew her; she’d be kicked out by her transphobic Hispanic family, trying to make it on her own, possibly turning tricks to survive. Good little White Liberal Ally was I, so cynical about her chances for justice, so certain of her alienation.
But then I read her brother’s words:
Angie was my sister.
She was a member of our family. We loved her very much, and we will miss her every day. Every day and every night our mom has to deal with great pain of … one of her babies being buried. Every day our siblings and I reach for the phone and realize we’ll never hear her voice. There’s no answer anymore.
A part of our family is missing, stolen from us. Angie was 18, her life was just beginning. She was brave, she had guts, she had courage, and she was beautiful, fun and loving. She was our little sister.
And I had to confront my own heart, who thought that by knowing the plight of the plot of too many trans women of color’s lives that I knew the circumstances of her life; who thought that since I knew the color of her family’s skin that I knew the contents of their hearts. I made so many assumptions about her, not bothering to read further, not even realizing I had made them; as much as I thought about it, which was hardly at all, I thought I knew what I needed to know about her.
I was wrong. I was guilty of racism, of the most pervasive sort of cisgenderism: the ignore-ance of a trans person’s own existence. I committed a hate crime in the whitewashed confines of my own head.
White privilege doesn’t go away. Cisgender privilege doesn’t go away. We can’t do our course in Racism 101 and Transphobia 101 and then wash our hands of the blood of those whiteness has killed, of those cisgender bias has killed.
This doesn’t give me much hope for the Boychick. Bashes the rose-colored glasses right off my “raise a post-racist generation” face, in fact. Which is probably a good thing; helps me see how the world actually is, how hard a journey is ahead. Best hope I have is to ground him in a childhood of racism- and cisgenderism-awareness, and show him that it never stops; privilege never goes away, no matter how much we want it to, so our obligation as possessors of privilege to learn, to listen, to humble ourselves, and to root out the prejudices hidden in the darkest corners of our own heads — which will always be there, more persistent than cockroaches and uglier still — never goes away.
I am so sorry for what I did to you, how I erased you in my own mind, Angie. Your memory deserves so much more than that. Angie’s family: I can only beg forgiveness. Even if you never learn of my assumptions about you, even if you never learn I exist, I have wronged you, and I owe you. I am sorry.