Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Stranger's Death, Too Close to Home

I couldn't sleep this morning, because of Carl Acoff, Jr.  Actually, I don't really know the name of the victim, but I bet it wasn't Carl, because Carl was a male to female transgender, and I'm sure was going by a name that fit her gender identity more closely than Carl.

First off, let me take a minute to explain what I mean by transgender, because it means different things to different people.  I am using Merriam-Webster's definition:

Transgender does not mean someone has or has not had surgery, and the word does not speak to how they present themselves in day to day life.  It just means that the person inside the body does not match the genitals they were born with.

Acoff was stabbed to death, them tied to a concrete block and submerged in a pond in Olmsted Township, Ohio, which is a suburb of Cleveland that I used to live in.  The news coverage can be found here.

I don't know much about her, I don't even know what name she had chosen.  

I know she was sentenced to 100 days in jail after pleading no contest to possession of hormone boosting drugs.

I know she was 20 years old, and at least her cousin cared about her. (Her cousin said she didn't deserve to die like this in an article you can read here.)

The police were quick to report her misdemeanors but that doesn't make the crime less horrific.  I imagine, though this is purely conjecture, that it was not her misconduct on public transportation that got her killed.  I imagine it was the fact that she presented as a woman while having the genitals of a man.  She was found wearing a bra and a betty boop tank top but naked from the waist down. And she was tied to a concrete block. 

I have never understood why the existence of  gay/bisexual/lesbian/transgender/gender-queer people enrages a large segment of the population.  I can't imagine seeing someone in a group I don't belong to - say republican men - and wanting to wipe them off the face of the earth.  

This is why people like Jason Collins - people men look up to and respect before they know they are gay- who come out are important.  We need to see that GLBTQ people are not freaks, but are normal people, who have friends and families that love them.

I was raised in the gay community, but I was not exposed to transgender people until I was an adult.  I thought transgender people were strange and probably needed counseling.  I didn't think they needed to be eradicated from the earth, I just didn't get the concept.

It wasn't until I went to a church training that I got the concept.  In a discussion of cis- versus trans- gender (cis-gendered means you are the gender you present) a man I respected and who I had been interacting with for several days - I had even checked out his ass - came out to the group as transgendered.  He had been born a woman. He had a beautiful baritone singing voice and looked to be as normal and non-threateningly weird as every other person there.  I had liked him before he came out, and I liked him after.  

We are all weird in our own ways.  We all have parts of us that were made fun of in childhood and that we have been ashamed of at some point in our lives, but most of us aren't threatened with violence if we embrace those parts of us.  I can be as strange and different in my personal life as I want, but I can "pass" for normal in polite company.  Not everyone has that option. 

Coming out is a step that helps society understand, but coming out when you aren't safe can be suicidal.  Perhaps Edmund Burke said it best: When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

If you don't know Burke, he also said," All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."  It was true when he died in 1797, and it is still true now.  What can we do? We can't all become body guards for the oppressed, but we can open our minds and our hearts to the different, and we can say openly to anyone who will listen that we will not stand for it, that these people, all people, deserve respect, dignity and safety.  It starts by not standing quietly by when your friends call something "gay" or "queer" or refer to someone as a "fag," "dyke," or "homo." 


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