Gay Satan: Queer Russia and the Erosion of Democracy Part II

By Evan Brechtel

Originally published to Chosen Magazine on October 9, 2018.

The above image is illegal, banned by a Russian court in 2017. Its creator, A. V. Tsvetkov, was subsequently sentenced to compulsory psychiatric care after uploading the image to Vkontakte, a Russian social media site.

This image isn’t feared by Putin’s government and justice system due to homophobia alone, but further because it flies in the face of a Russia concocted by members of its government for generations; a virginal Russia in need of a rugged, traditional protector from the sexual perversion of the decadent West.

As covered in last month’s column, this idea of Russia comes from early 20th century Russian philosopher and Christian fascist Ivan Ilyin, whose views got him exiled from Russia shortly after the revolution. The resurgence of his writings in the late 90’s inspired the team of Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, to search for a successor they could groom to become the redeemer of a recently post-soviet Russia that Ilyin described decades earlier. As historian Timothy Snyder put it in his book The Road to Unfreedom:

“The myth of a redeemer would have to be founded on lies so enormous that they could not be doubted, because doubting them would mean doubting everything.”

Yeltsin’s team polled citizens to find Russia’s most popular fictional television character, who would inform their eventual decision. Putin fit this mold, was appointed prime minister, and would take the presidency in 2000.

Putin began glorifying Ilyin during his term, even having his body exhumed and reburied in his native Russia. He began redeeming Ilyin as he pretended to redeem Russia.

The narrative of this redemption relied on Putin’s masculinity in order for Russia’s citizens to buy that Putin’s regime was protecting them from the perverted Western values. In 2014, Putin’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov took to Russian newspaper Kommersant to criticize LGBT friendly countries in the European Union for allegedly promoting queerness “with the insistence of a messiah both inside countries and in relations with neighbours.”

This should all sound familiar to Americans: The rise to power of a mythical redeemer inspired by a television show, famous for being irreverent and foaming at the mouth to protect the country from mythical outside influences.

But the Russian government’s mischaracterization of the West wasn’t only used to fend off so-called Western influence, but to silence Russian dissidents as well. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister, retweeted a message calling protesters “stupid, cocksucking sheep.” When it came to the legitimacy of the Russian election, dissidents were again characterized as queer, according to Snyder:

“Those who wished to have votes counted in 2011 and 2012 were not Russian citizens who wanted to see the law followed, their wishes respected, their state endured. They were mindless agents of global sexual decadence whose actions threatened the innocent national organism.”

With slightly more palatable but no less shocking rhetoric, Donald Trump used similar tactics throughout his 2016 campaign, frequently encouraging violence against his protesters and even encouraging the “Second Amendment people” to do something about his opponent Hillary Clinton. Since the announcement of his candidacy, those calling for accountability of the current White House and the actions it condones are frequently dismissed as hypersensitive “snowflakes” and “social justice warriors.”

Putin also relied on vigilante supporters to wreak violence and intimidation against any possible dissidents, often using homophobia to do so. The most famous of these groups was The Night Wolves. They were an exclusively male, virulently pro-Putin group who adored motorcycles and black leather. As gay as that may sound, their leader, Alexander Zoldostanov, floated “Death to Faggots” as another possible name for the organization. Funded by the Kremlin, they have a paramilitary base in Crimea.

Trump, like Putin, frequently clings to nationalism. Like Putin, he has frequently decried the European Union and portrayed America as a virginal organism to be protected against outside forces he deems unworthy or even evil.

There is no situation in which the subversion of Democracy doesn’t subvert queer people or any other marginalized group for that matter. Trump’s subservience to Putin should scare and mobilize queer people across America.

Gay Satan: Queer Russia and the Erosion of Democracy (Part I)

Originally Published to Chosen Magazine on August 7, 2018.

By Evan Brechtel

He had recently alienated our NATO allies at the G7 Summit. After that, in the UK, he’d refused to hear a question from a journalist whose network he didn’t approve of and his presence in the country brought millions to the streets in opposition. Donald Trump’s European tour had already been a disaster. And then, following a pattern that’s still so maddeningly shocking, the president somehow made things worse. Even more shocking: It was the most comfortable he’d seemed the entire trip, with the possible exception of a pit stop for golf in Scotland.

While the entire world watched, the president of the United States sided with a foreign aggressor proven to have sicced his forces upon the validity of our democracy.

In that moment, Vladimir Putin must have been elated. Destabilizing democracy is his specialty. He’d done it to his own country to regain the presidency in 2012. He’d done it with the election of Viktor Yanukovych in the Ukraine in 2010. He’d do it with Brexit, attempt it in France and enjoy possibly his wildest success in the United States. One of his foremost mechanisms to erode democracy, primarily within Russia itself, would be to characterize queerness as a product of the West determined to corrupt Russia. Inspired by the work of Russian Philosopher Ivan Ilyin, Putin would characterize queerness as a Western invention meant to corrupt Russia, therefore making violence against his own queer citizens forgivable, for they’d succumbed to the parasitic West.

This was despite the fact that Russia, in 1923, was the first to decriminalize homosexuality in the West.

According to Sherry Wolf, author of Sexuality and Socialism, the Bolsheviks of that era were not exactly “deeply enlightened about gender or sexuality issues… They were interrogating and investigating the idea of human liberation and they stood in opposition to oppression.”  Wolf also describes same-sex weddings during Russia at the time.

And the Bolshevik freedoms didn’t stop at sexuality. Wolf states:

“What is striking to me is that the earliest known sex change operations were happening in the Soviet Union—although I shudder to think about what those were like, given the realities of surgery and of medicine in that era. Women served in the Red Army, serving openly as women. Trans men served in the Red Army as men because they were men, not because they had to hide.”

Around the same time, Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin would be exiled. Ilyin was initially a staunch supporter of the revolution, however as it developed, he grew more supportive of a regime rooted in Christian fascism. Ilyin described Russia as a virginal organism, susceptible to what he described as Western decadence: a contagion of Western greed, one of whose various spores was sexual immorality.

While Ilyin immortalized his thoughts about the country from which he’d been exiled, Russia would eventually fall to Stalin. During his reign, the freedoms of its queer people would be gradually rescinded, beginning with Article 121:

“Sexual relations of a man with a man (pederasty), shall be punished by deprivation of freedom for a term of up to five years.”

The history of the progressive Bolshevik policies would be censored and, with each generation, fade out of the national memory. In the late Soviet era, officials would claim that AIDS was a disease brought from the West.

A century and numerous leaders later, during his first term as president, Putin would work to revive Ilyin’s influence in Russia. He would be instrumental in returning Ilyin’s body to the country for reburial. As Prime Minister, he would lay flowers on the philosopher’s grave.

Historian and author of The Road to Unfreedom Timothy Snyder describes the symmetry of Ilyin’s and Putin’s ideologies:

“Ilyin’s scholarly effort followed his personal projection of sexual anxiety to others. First, Ilyin called Russia homosexual, then underwent therapy with his girlfriend, then blamed God. Putin first submitted to years of shirtless fur-and-feather photoshoots, then divorced his wife, then blamed the European Union for Russian homosexuality.”

Putin would eventually tell Angela Merkel of “sexually deformed” forces opposing Russia. His government would dissolve foreign democracies by characterizing protestors as sexual deviants, whose queerness was considered surrender to the West. The fear of what would be described by Putin devotees as “global Satanism…all this homosexual talk, this American democracy” would pervade throughout the country, Eastern Europe, and the world.

PRIDE: Party, Promotion, or Protest?

Originally published to Chosen Magazine on June 23, 2018.

By Evan Brechtel

June in New York City. Sweat trickles down backs and necks a little faster. Most of the flowers have bloomed—even the ones between cracks on the sidewalk. Rainbows ride on a merciful breeze.

There’s a percussive energy surrounding Pride month. It thrums far beyond New York, through both coasts and every state and region in between from Alabama to Appalachia. Across oceans from Calgary to Cape Town.

But Pride, like the queer people who celebrate it, rightfully defies simple definitions. There are more ideas of what Pride is and what it should be than there are typos in a presidential tweet.

To many, Pride is a party; a celebration earned through generations of anger and centuries of fear. Strangers kiss each other in the street because they can. Queer anthems blare from every block. A zoetic joy transforms stone cement streets into rivers of vibrance and rhythm. The party aspect has played a part in Pride since its inception. In a 1970 issue of Get Out! Magazine, the Gay Liberation Front covered a commemoration of the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. A parade called Christopher Street Liberation Day:

“These days mean something special for every lesbian and homosexual. They mark the first time that gays took to the streets angry, proud, joyous—tearing down the prisons in which this sexist society has chained us. They are days to march, to chant, to dance, to love, to rap, to study—with brothers and sisters coming together to openly affirm the beauty of our lives and throw wide open the closet doors which will no longer be nailed shut.”

One difference between the celebrations of the 70’s and our current times is meant to catch your eye: Logos. Each June, graphic designers everywhere churn out rainbow remixes of ubiquitous insignias. Corporations sell special Pride edition lines of shoes, headphones, wrist watches, sunglasses, and virtually anything big enough to fit a logo. Pride parades in cities like London and New York have come to rely on corporate sponsorship for the festivities to continue on their current scale. Corporate sponsors in New York alone contribute around $30,000, with larger companies spending millions for sponsorship in multiple Pride events around the world. Some of these companies use their floats as an opportunity to give their queer employees a space to own their queerness. Some use the floats to elevate non-profit organizations that benefit queer people. Others consider the sponsorship the same way they’d consider paying for a billboard.

Though I may sound a tad resentful, I swear I don’t deem this all bad. In a country where it’s still legal to fire someone for their sexual preference or gender identity in twenty-nine states, I’m all for recognizable brands and businesses standing with us. But that’s what they actually have to do: Stand with us. Not with sentiments, but with actions and contributions deeper than a symbol and longer than the month of June.

It’s a common marketing tool to paste a logo over a rainbow, buttoned with a platitude about equality (a practice known as “pinkwashing”). Unfortunately, genuine corporate allyship is much rarer. The hollow support isn’t just limited to corporations, but expands to politicians and public institutions. In 1998, a New York based activist group called Take Back The March handcuffed themselves together to block then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani from marching in the parade, citing his poor stance on queer issues, especially his inaction on the uptick of violence in queer communities. All twenty of the activists were arrested. Considering those Giuliani fights for these days, it’s easy to see who really belonged in the ‘98 parade.

A similar act of civil disobedience occurred last year, this time in D.C. by the group No Justice No Pride, who blocked the parade procession at three different points, protesting the participation of defense company Lockheed Martin, Dakota Pipeline sponsor Wells Fargo, and police officers featured in the march. A small consolation: D.C. authorities made the smart decision not to arrest activists for the very acts of protest that make Pride worth celebrating. War profiteering and displacement have no place at our parade. And until police forces marching at Pride parades confront systemic police brutality with actions like implicit bias training and judicial accountability, their recognition in an event born from resistance to police violence is questionable at best. And though police presence is necessary for such widely attended and targeted events, only a few groups in the queer community get to feel safer with their presence for these same reasons.

Pride and Protest are inseparable. Unabashed queer joy is still a radical act, especially when swathes of people relish it together as we do this time of year. That’s why the term “Pride” is so apt and so immensely necessary: We will no longer be made to collectively accept the closet. We will parade through the streets and make them see us in all our infinite facets: our love, our kinks, our drag, our jocks, our genderfuckery, our flamboyance, and our overall right to be complex human beings deserving of respect. However, metropolises like New York, London, and Los Angeles enjoy a level of public acceptance that we all too often forget remains rare. Other parts of America and the world don’t have the same benefit.

Earlier this year, Bailey McDaniel sought a permit to hold the first Pride parade for the town of Starkville, Mississippi. Despite the motion being supported by most Starkvillians in the room, the Board of Aldermen voted it down. The decision received national attention and the community of Starkville banded together to oppose it, placing rainbow flags in their storefronts and outside their homes. Soon, the Board of Aldermen voted on the issue again and one of the men had a change of heart after witnessing the outrage. The permit was granted and, that March, Starkville had its first Pride. McDaniel had hoped for 150 people to show up. 2,500 did. Protest breeds Pride and Pride breeds protest.

Needless to say, social and systemic animus toward Pride isn’t confined to the States. Five years after Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov called Pride parades “Satanic” in 2006, the Russian police detained several queer activists for staging an unauthorized queer pride rally. In 2013, a Haitian queer rights organization was forced to cancel its Afro-Caribbean LGBTQ Festival due to vilification by the country’s politicians and threats of violence from its citizens. In Ukraine and Argentina, activists have had to convince the government to provide protection for those marchings. And these are only the Pride-related instances, not accounting the routine human rights abuses and State sanctioned violence against queer people in these and other countries. No matter celebratory or how distant our march, we still march for them.

So is Pride a party or a promotional event or is it still a protest? The answer is yes.

Queer people fought hard to get here, in both our personal navigation of our own identities and collective efforts as a movement. We’ve earned the right to party, to celebrate. When the result of our efforts is world-changing enough that businesses and institutions and public figures leap to endorse us, we must be held accountable with whose endorsements we accept. Who do we want marching with us? And, despite our valiant efforts, there’s so much work to do. Where there exists systemic marginalization of any kind, there exists queer marginalization, for we exist in every group. Pride will and must always be a protest. Anything less would be an insult to the outrage that conceived it. The first advertisement for the first Pride knew this in 1970 when it was still Christopher Street Liberation Day:

“What it will all come to, no one can tell. It is our hope that the day will come when homosexuals will be an integral part of society—being treated as human beings. But this will not come overnight. It can only be the result of a long, hard struggle against bigotry, prejudice, persecution, exploitation—even genocide. The homosexual who wants to live a life of self-fulfillment in our current society has all the cards stacked against them. Gay Liberation is for the homosexual who refuses to accept such a condition. Gay liberation is for the homosexual who stands up and fights back.”

This is not RuPaul’s Best Femme Race.

Originally published to Chosen Magazine on March 10, 2018.

By Evan Brechtel

“Gender is a construct. Tear it apart!” bellowed a wigless Sasha Velour, the eventual season nine winner of Rupaul’s Drag Race, in a performance on one of the season’s climactic episodes. It’s a mantra that many can learn from, including the show’s own host. In a recent interview with The Guardian, RuPaul doubled down on his chronic bulwark against the validity of trans existences. “You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body,” he responded when asked if he’d allow a physically transitioning queen to compete on his show. “It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing.”

I found that last sentence particularly troubling. “It changes the whole concept of what we’re doing.”

Most likely, RuPaul meant the concept of the show that he created, not the concept of drag as a whole. Despite this concession, RuPaul’s Drag Race, often called the Olympics of drag, prides itself on taking an art once confined to certain spaces and ushering it into the living rooms of eager eyes across the planet. It’s become the most widely-publicized representation of drag in the world and, to many without immediate access to drag shows, the standard-bearer of the art form as a whole. As Ru says before every All-Stars elimination: With great power comes great responsibility. In a national climate that routinely fosters trans exclusion from every arena—be it feminism or public bathrooms—shutting trans people out of an art form they were instrumental in creating is not only irresponsible, but reckless and antithetical to the very nature of drag.

But trans women are women. How can they do drag when drag is female impersonation?

Trans women are women, but drag is not female impersonation. Female impersonation is Mrs. Doubtfire or Tootsie. Drag is a radical act of queer anarchy. Deeper than makeup and wigs and stockings and pads, drag is about liberation. You can thank trans people for that.

Until around the mid-1900’s, female impersonation had little to no public associations with queerness. While it was considered a crime against nature for any male-assigned person to live their lives presenting as women, it was relatively permissible, even welcomed (when done by cisgender heterosexuals) in performance. For trans people in the late 1800’s, before the word transgender existed, these fleeting moments of performance made the closet slightly less suffocating. In her 1922 memoir The Female-Impersonators, nineteenth century transgender nightlife personality Jennie June discussed the liberation these moments allowed:

“The ‘French doll-baby’ spirit had dwelt in my brain since birth. Throughout my life down to nineteen, it had manifested itself strongly, although after fourteen I had struggled to crucify it. At nineteen, it refused longer to be suppressed. I (the puritan, bookworm spirit in me) had to arrange a compromise. I promised to yield my physical and mental powers to it only one evening each week. And the doll-baby spirit was satisfied. Previously I had been the most melancholy person in the university. But dating from the compromise, my life flowed on peacefully and blissfully.”

And in search of this bliss, Jennie June and others would head to the same places drag queens work today: the bars. In the 1890’s, this meant Little Bucks, The Sharon Hotel (widely known as Cocksucker’s Hall), Paresis Hall, and others.

“They have a piano there, and these fairies or male degenerates, as you call them, they sing some songs,” one undercover vice officer reported at the time.

By 1899, many of the resorts in the Bowery had become infamous for the “fairies” and “inverts” that patronized them. In the safety of the saloons, they would do live shows and perform sex work, often receiving commission on the drinks sold. Yet, in exchange for this liberation, they lived triple, even quadruple, lives. Nearly every “fairie” had at least three names: their given names which were almost always concealed from those in the bars, their “underworld” names (fake male names, often used with their sisters while getting into drag or when leaving the bars together presenting as men), and, of course, their feminine names. One person recalled how frequently she’d forget which name went with which. Another mentions once signing seven different names in one day.

Jennie and her fellow trans sisters would go on to form the Cercle Hermaphroditos “to unite against the world’s bitter persecution of bisexuals” (the word bisexual, at this time, meant being of two sexes). They rented out the second floor of Columbia Hall, nicknamed Paresis Hall because “Paresis” was the medical term for insanity, named for patrons of the hall who were deemed mentally ill. One of the first instances of trans activism in America, although covert, was conceived during what would today be considered a drag show.

By the 1960’s, female impersonation had become synonymous with the queer community; female impersonation had finally become drag. Drag, as a political act, is embodied in Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman and self-identified drag queen. Marsha never sought to embody high glamour, largely due to her means but also out of a laissez-faire approach to her gender and its performance. She often said the “P” in her name stood for “Pay it no mind,” which also happened to be her answer when anyone would ask if she was a man or a woman. Famously, Marsha P. would be instrumental in the impact of the Stonewall riots, even climbing atop a lamppost on the second night of the uprising and dropping a heavy object onto the window of a police car, most likely with flowers she collected from the tables she slept under at florist shops in the West Village christening her head.

Marsha is one of countless queens who relied on their resourcefulness to assemble looks. This same resourcefulness is seen in the seminal documentary Paris is Burning. The film illuminated to mainstream audiences the idea of drag as an imaginative escape. One of the film’s primary subjects, Dorian Corey, talks about this in the film at length. “In a ballroom you can be anything you want. You’re not really an executive but you’re looking like an executive. You’re showing the straight world that I can be an executive if I had the opportunity because I can look like one, and that is like a fulfillment.” This delves so much deeper than mere impersonation.

Nearly all of the queens in Paris is Burning are trans or gender-nonconforming. The film has gone on to be a canonical piece of drag history, and references to it are rampant in RuPaul’s Drag Race. Its legendary quotes have become maxims in the drag community worldwide. No one questions the validity of these trans women’s drags, not even RuPaul. Yet while he quotes the documentary at least once in almost every single episode, his sentiments regarding gender would remove the majority of its subjects from consideration as contestants.

The idea that physical characteristics widely regarded as feminine—implants, facial feminization, etc—are the drag equivalent to performance-enhancing drugs hinges on the idea that the ultimate goal of drag is to achieve femininity. Ru characterizing conventionally feminine features as an unfair advantage is contradictory to what drag is, and he, as a former Club Kid is fully aware of this.

In the early 1990’s, the Club Kids embodied fluidity. Their intent was never high glamour—though they often achieved it. The group of dance club socialites celebrated the abstract, the creative, and often, the ugly. RuPaul knows this. In fact, he dedicated an entire episode of season six to its aesthetics, in which the queens served a buffet of Club Kid looks—many of which were androgynous.

Though Club Kids rarely occupied themselves with so-called realistic female impersonation, few would dispute that these looks in their flouting of definitions were absolutely drag.

I don’t believe the contradictory standard Ru expressed in his interview with The Guardian was made out of hate. Possibly worse, I believe he expressed it for the sake of convenience. Rather than acknowledging the complexities of gender and its expression, we too often recede to a limited perception of it, seeking refuge in the comfort of obsolete definitions.

Drag is not, nor should it ever be, about comfort. Ask any queen on her way to a gig—traversing cobblestone streets and sewer grates in five inch heels, the sweat building under her wig threatening to destroy in seconds a face that took hours to paint, wheeling a bloated suitcase of looks behind her—if she’s comfortable. Or if comfort ever even entered her mind when she embarked on a career in drag.

Exclusion for the solace of superficial convenience can cut deeper than exclusion based in outright hatred. It tells trans people that their identities don’t matter enough for us to examine our wording and attitudes or to make room for them in the very spaces they fostered. If we dismiss drag’s roots in rebellion, drag’s unwavering asking of answerless questions, drag’s clarion call of immaculate confusion, then it is not anything more than mere impersonation.

Panic! as a Defense: Our Murderers are not Our Victims

Originally published to Chosen Magazine on May 16, 2018.

By Evan Brechtel

In the first days of May, James Miller, the 69-year-old defendant who stabbed 32-year-old Daniel Spencer to death when Spencer allegedly made advances toward him, was found guilty of manslaughter instead of murder. A Texas jury bought the argument that a same-sex advance was enough to induce a temporary insanity which drove Miller to kill Spencer.  As a result, he’ll serve only six months of jail time (the maximum for this particular charge) followed by ten years of probation. The sentence indicates that despite decades of waning legitimacy, gay and trans panic defenses still maintain a level of jurisprudence in a court of law.

The phrase “homosexual panic” was coined by Edward J. Kempf in 1920. Framed not as a legal defense, but as a mental health disorder brought on by the suppression of latent same-sex attraction, Kempf described the condition as “panic due to the pressure of uncontrollable perverse sexual cravings.” Needless to say, this was when same-sex attraction was still thought to be a mental illness. When the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973, it was no longer considered a mental disorder and defense attorneys couldn’t viably argue insanity due to latent same-sex attraction. As a result, they stopped citing the defendant’s latent homosexuality and began characterizing the nonviolent, unwanted advances of the victim as an external factor triggering the defendant’s revulsion of homosexuality and leading them to temporary insanity.

It’s thankfully rare (moreso for gay men than trans women) that this defense holds water in court. A judge barred use of it in the 1995 Matthew Shepard trial and the American Bar Association passed a resolution against it in 2013. California and Illinois have barred the defense all together. It says something ominous about the current climate of this country that the defense would suddenly gain ground despite decades of momentum against it. But as the Miller case has shown, queer people’s lives still aren’t consistently considered equally valuable by a jury of their peers. As a result, gay and trans panic defenses take advantage of the implicit biases of a jury, stoking fires of attitudes which will pervade long after a verdict is issued.

In the UCLA Law Review, David Alan Perkiss addressed the implicit bias on which panic defenses depend following the trial of Brandon McInerney, 14, for the 2008 murder of his classmate Lawrence King. McInerney, reportedly intimidated by King’s sexuality and gender expression, shot King twice in the back of the head after school. Despite the violence of the act and ample evidence that the murder was premeditated, McInerney’s lawyers were able to argue that King, 15, displayed a sexual aggression which drove McInerney into a dissociative state. The defense worked, and as a result, the jury couldn’t reach a verdict. Before a second trial could commence, McInerney reached a plea deal with prosecutors in which he pled guilty for manslaughter.

“Social science research on implicit bias illuminates a likely explanation for the jurors’ belief that King was sexually aggressive,” Perkiss explains. “Although the jurors were not openly homophobic, it is likely that they harbored at least subconscious antigay bias. Specifically, the bias would have included the common homophobic stereotype that gay males are promiscuous and sexually aggressive. Even if the stereotype were true for all gay males, a homosexual advance fails to explain a homicidal reaction by the target of that advance.” As Prentiss states, there was little evidence that King was sexually aggressive, especially contextualized by his fledgling sexual identity and gender expression, as well as being a constant target of bullying. Nevertheless, prosecutors could not be certain a jury would consider it murder.

Trans people, despite being more vulnerable to hate crimes than gay men and despite enormously higher murder rates than others in the queer community, have been met with little vindication as well. When trans woman Gwen Araujo was brutally beaten to death by Mike Magidson, Jason Cavarez, and Jose Merél in 2005, the first trial resulted in a hung jury and, though Magidson and Merél were later convicted of second degree murder in a subsequent trial, the jury still returned unable to reach a verdict in regards to Cavarez, who later pled no contest to, you guessed it: manslaughter. Merél was granted parole in 2016.

Unlike gay men, trans women are routinely accused of somehow deceiving or “trapping” their partners with what is falsely perceived to be an imitation of womanhood. As is typical with panic defenses, the idea of “trapping” blames the victims for their murders and hinges on the lie that trans women aren’t real women. Islan Nettles was beaten to death in 2013 by James Dixon, who said:  “I just don’t wanna be fooled. My pride is at stake.” He had flirted with her, then beat her to death upon discovery that she was trans, testifying that he’d gone into a “blind fury” because Dixon felt his “manhood was in question.” Despite turning himself in three times, he wasn’t indicted for two more years, and although he’s currently serving a twelve year prison sentence, the charge was still only for manslaughter in the second degree. Many, including the mother of Islan Nettles, feel the sentence was too lenient.

Why are juries of our peers so eager to rationalize the actions of our murderers; to legitimize the irrational fear of our existence? Why are queer advances seen as more traumatic than the unwanted advances cis straight men routinely impose on women everywhere from the train to the street to the workplace? As long as gay/trans panic defenses maintain jurisprudence, queer people are potentially disposable under the law. As long as murderers can take refuge under the shelter of a manslaughter charge, our lives are not of equal value. From rapists to murderers, it’s time the courts stop kowtowing to the fragile masculinity and erratic violence of belligerent straight cis men.