gwen smith

It’s the worst nightmare of any transgender person.

You and a friend spend the evening in a local bar. Just as you are getting your coat to leave, another bar patron gropes you. Then you are asked, “What the f*** are you? Are you a girl or a boy?”

Eventually, three people start in, shouting insults, making comments about your appearance, and again groping you. The reason for the latter is to find out your physical sex.

You and your friend make to leave the club as quick as possible, but are stopped 20 feet from the door when one of your attackers gets you in a headlock and again questions your gender. Another begins to pummel you, causing a concussion. Your friend pulls out his cell phone, stating that he is calling the police—only to have his phone pulled away and beaten as well.

Eventually, cops do arrive after you place your own call, but they arrive long after your assailants flee. To add insult to injury, the police do not classify what happened to you as a hate crime.

Like I said, this is a nightmare. This is the sort of thing that young transfolks fear. It is what keeps people in closets. For some, the farthest they might venture is to a local gay or lesbian club once in a while.

But this nightmare took place in just such an establishment. The location was the Fab Lounge in Washington, D.C. The date was February 20th. The attackers were a pair of lesbian-identified females. The victims? S pair of female-to-male transmen.

This is not the sort of behavior any of us should condone, perhaps even more so in a supposedly GLBT-friendly location. The very notion that this would happen within our own community spaces, where we should feel free to be whoever and whatever we wish, should be appalling to all of us. We should be ashamed to call these attackers our own.

Nearly all of us—and I am speaking about more than simply transgender, but including gay, lesbian, bisexual and other members of our community—have faced this sort of hatred in one form or another. We’ve all had people questioning our gender identity, threatening us with violence, and doing their level best to make life a living hell for anyone who does not fit into some false construction of “normal.”

With that in mind, who the hell are we to threaten one of our own?

I don’t care about the lines we divide ourselves with. This is not a transgender issue, a butch issue, a lesbian issue, a feminist issue or whatever. All these labels are so totally irrelevant when we see our people attacking one of our own. I would feel the same way if it were transgender people attacking lesbian-identified females, or gay men attacking transwomen, or bisexuals attacking genderqueers. This behavior is simply wrong.

If this had happened at a straight bar, anyone in our community would be outraged. There would be marches and vigils, our newspapers would feature this across its front pages, and there would be no end of work done by our local and national organizations to seek justice for these victims.

Yet it did not.

The people at the Fab Lounge have not issued any statement condemning this attack on their property, leading one to conclude that they don’t feel it is a big enough deal to warrant such. According to Mitch Graffeo, one of those attacked, an employee of the Fab Lounge watched the assault. Neither that employee, nor a security guard at the Royal Palace nearby, nor any of the other bar patrons attempted to stop this attack. No one but the victims called the police—and the police were not sure if this was indeed a hate crime given that it happened between two factions of the LGBT community.

Are you outraged enough yet?

Many years ago now, I reported an attack on transgender people in the queer media to GLAAD. I was told that while it was clearly hate speech directed at transgender people, GLAAD would not handle it. GLAAD simply did not handle situations where one portion of the community defames another.

I’ve watched HRC and others pull the rug out from under transgender people over and over, declaring that our rights are—at best—secondary to the rights of others in the community.

I’ve had to listen to people excuse the actions of a certain music festival in Michigan playing the victim while displaying its own brand of intolerance.

This incident should be the wake up call. This should be the moment that all right-thinking people say “no more.” This is that time when we realize that the actions of these people have no place in our community, and no matter how you might feel about transgender people personally, there is never an acceptable time to grope others without consent, verbally abuse them, and assault them based on their gender identity or expression.

The two assailants and a third accomplice of theirs fled the scene and are still “at large.” Someone out there knows who they are. If it’s you, speak up. If you have an opinion about what happened, make your voice known. If you are unwilling to see this crime go unnoticed within our own community, pass the word. We simply need to not let this go because it was between our own. Indeed, we need to be more vigilant about our own supposedly safe places.

This is a nightmare—but it is all of us who seem to be asleep. It’s time to fight back.

Gwen Smith makes no apology for using sleep analogies at Daylight Saving Time. You can find her on the web at


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