Two weeks ago, 11 men – armed with pepper spray and an electric prod, some wearing masks – attacked a transgender woman next to a club in south Tel Aviv. Last weekend, five gay men were attacked by another group of 11 men, in a different part of south Tel Aviv.
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If the first incident displayed violent transphobia, the second demonstrated homophobic hooliganism. And all this in a city considered the most open and tolerant in Israel.
In the strict hierarchy that reigns in the jungle known as human society, there is a group that it would be hard to find more denounced and discriminated against than the transgender community. These are people whose gender identities do not coincide with society’s expectations that one’s sexual organs will determine their gender.
Transgender people are estimated to comprise between 0.1% and 0.3% of the population. The attack on the woman was a poignant and painful reminder of the depths to which the transgendered are pushed. It even turned out that the 11 suspects in the attack were members of the Border Police.
Women in general are a target for assault, and transgendered men and women even more so. Society’s treatment of the transgendered can be seen not just in the attack itself, but in how it was reported in the media – full of either ignorance, insensitivity or both simultaneously.
Among other things, it was reported that “a man dressed in women’s clothes” was attacked. Another article said a male transgender person was attacked. In the police statement following the attack, the masculine form of the derogatory Hebrew word for transgender, “coccinelle,” was used.
In all cases, the female identity of the victim was not acknowledged. Not just this, but the police even told the media it believed the attack was “a prank” stemming from boredom and not an act of transphobia. In other words, both the victim’s identity and the motive for the attack were denied.
According to figures from the Nir Katz Center for Violence, Discrimination and Homophobia, 238 transgendered individuals worldwide were murdered last year due to their gender identity. And even after their death, they suffer from transphobic treatment: many of them are buried under their previous names and genders.
In their lives, they pay a high price – not infrequently a price greater than just physical violence. They experience exclusion, stigma, denial of the legitimacy of their identity, social rejection, discrimination, hostility, humiliation, persecution and negation of their humanity.
The labor market is just one sphere of life where they experience this. The health-care system also places obstacles on their path to realizing their aspiration to fulfill their gender identity – a basic human right.
It is doubtful that there is another group of humans that everyone feels free to determine what lies exactly under their clothes, including their most intimate parts. Is the possibility that they embody the blurring of binary-gender identity really so threatening to society, its structure and the individuals within it?
The attack on the woman combines, it appears, two of the harshest illnesses in Israel society: male violence that conjoins militarism with hatred of the other, in general, and transphobia in particular. The border policemen suspected of the assault were even released to their homes just hours afterward.
This attack seemingly highlighted that the treatment of transgendered individuals today is similar to the treatment of gays 100 years ago, but then along came the other attack, showing that the situation is much more severe. In our sexist and racist Israeli society, not only Arabs, refugees, women, the poor and the disabled are second-class human beings, but also those who do not conform to heterosexual norms.