From the corners of hip-hop to the nation’s capital, trans lives are on display in a violent intersection of politics and pop culture.
During the same week that President Trump announced a military ban on transgender service men and women, popular radio show “The Breakfast Club” has yet again found itself in hot-water after guest, Lil Duval, a low-budget comedian, joked about trans advocate and trailblazer, Janet Mock, and killing trans women. His statements—which are just as laughable as his failed career—led to a #BoycottBreakfastClub, fueled by the Black trans community, which also had Duval as one of the trending hashtags throughout the weekend.
Trans violence is no laughing matter.
A mere few days after Mock appeared on “The Breakfast Club” to answer obtrusive questions from cisgender hosts about being trans, navigating womanhood, and her new book “Surpassing Certainty,” Duval appeared on the show.
Co-host DJ Envy asked Duval what he would do if he found out that a woman he was dating was trans, and his response was gut-wrenching:
“This might sound messed up and I don’t care — but she’s dying. I don’t care,” he said, going on to add, “If one did that to me and didn’t tell me, I’d probably be so mad I’d kill them.”
DJ Envy then held up Mock’s recent book, as Duval continued his jokes about the trans community: “That nigga is doing his thing, he’s doing his thing.” Although both Angela Yee and Charlemagne Tha God insisted that Mock was pretty—a compliment seemingly given out of shock for her being trans—they assisted in laughing at Duval’s violent jokes about killing trans women.
Advocates and activists took their frustrations to the Internet to voice their frustrations—among them, trans actress Laverne Cox and trans activist, Raquel Willis.
“Some folks think it’s ok to joke about wanting to kill us,” Cox wrote from her Twitter account Sunday. “We have free speech but that speech has consequences and trans folks are experiencing the negative consequences with our lives. It hurts my spirit cause this isn’t funny. Our lives matter. Trans murder isn’t a joke.”
Willis added: “Y’all really using Janet as comedic fodder on your show right after she shared her brilliance? The ‘Breakfast Club’ hosts need to grow up.
“Black trans women being murdered isn’t a joke,” Willis continued. “Black trans women who are changing the game aren’t punchlines.”
“The Breakfast Club” had a chance to do right and, per usual, failed. In a piece for Allure, Mock responded, “The hosts laugh after using my image as a literal prop – just days after I was a guest on the same show – for laughs, vitriol, and a deeper call and justification for violence. Just so we’re clear: On a black program that often advocates for the safety and lives of black people, its hosts laughed as their guest advocated for the murder of black trans women who are black people, too!”
To be sure, last year, at least 22 deaths of trans people was reported in the United States due to violence, the most reported to date. This year, there has already been at least 15 trans murders, one recently involving a 17-year-old Ava Le’Ray Barrin in Athens, Georgia.
That’s not all.
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey [pdf], 40 percent of respondents have attempted suicide in their lifetime—nine times the attempted suicide rate of the U.S. population. And when compounded with racism, sexism, poverty, unemployment, and other factors, the consequences become deadly.
Last week, Dwayna Hickerson was sentenced to 40 years for murdering Dee Whigham, a Mississippi transgender woman. She was stabbed over 100 times. Trans violence is a reality and joking about killing someone who allegedly “tricked” a man into having sex is repulsive.
What’s more, Duval’s jokes come at a time where this country’s incompetent president is tweeting about U.S. military decisions without consulting any high-ranking military officials. On June 26, President Trump tweeted that trans people were prohibited from serving the United States in any capacity. Since then, many have slammed his decision as short-sighted and without any real vision. Trans people have honorably served this country for years and last year, the Pentagon lifted a ban on non-service. But, like Trump, Duval doesn’t care about a reality outside of their own.
Let’s be clear: when a bigoted president and narrow-minded comedian share the same viewpoint about trans people, we have a problem.
There is a bigger picture here. Systems of failed policies are being used to determine what is best with trans people and bodies, and grants little access to personal decision-making. It’s also about transgender people being treated as second-class citizens when they are deserving of equitable access, not violence. These systems are being upheld by white and Black cis people alike – the Duval’s and Trump’s of the world – and that is a problem that must be called out.
Duval’s statements are also dangerous because it implies that trans women are tricking cis men into having sex with them. Not only does this blame the victim of cis men’s violent and fragile masculinity, it also assumes that these men didn’t know about a trans woman’s identity beforehand. We know much of cis men who enact violence on trans women are not being tricked into engaging in sexual intercourse. On the contrary, many of those cis men specifically seek out trans women and only run away out of fear of being “outed” for finding trans women attractive.
Perhaps we will reach the day when people like Duval and the hosts of “The Breakfast Club” will just admit that they hate trans people, instead of being intellectually dishonest about a curiosity never given to our counterparts. It has consistently brought on guests who use marginalized communities as fodder for sick jokes, then be defensive about it online. The Marsha P. Johnson Institute is already leading the way of ensuring they will be held responsible for what the recent jokes can add to the already increasing death rates of trans people.
If not held accountable, they will continue with transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic jokes clouded in “but we had no clue” language. Shock jokes are useful to no one other than those happy to keep the status quo alive—and the ‘Breakfast Club’ is yet again doing so.
Preston Mitchum is a Washington, DC-based writer, activist, and policy nerd. He is a regular contributor with theGrio and The Root and has written for the Atlantic, Slate, Think Progress, OUT Magazine, Ebony.com, and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter here to see just how much he appreciates intersectionality.