The New York Times begins its article Woman Dies in a Brooklyn Fire That Is Deemed Suspicious with this paragraph:
She was 25 and curvaceous, and she often drew admiring glances in the gritty Brooklyn neighborhood where she was known to invite men for visits to her apartment, her neighbors and the authorities said.
In between telling how she — Lorena Escalera — died in a suspicious fire, the article included these details:
- Called Lorena, she brought two men to her apartment, at 43 Furman Avenue in Bushwick, either late Friday night or in the early hours of Saturday, the police said. About 4 a.m., a fire broke out in the apartment. A passer-by ran into the four-story building and began banging on doors, according to Meta Green, a neighbor. In the ensuing chaos, everyone seemed to emerge from the building — except Lorena.
- The police said Saturday night that the victim’s name was Lorena Escalera. According to neighbors, she was born male.
- On the streets, many recalled a young and friendly woman; now, investigators were trying to reconstruct her life. One investigator said the police had learned that Ms. Escalera was well known as a member of a celebrated group of transgender performers called House of Xtravaganza.
- Oscar Hernandez, 30, a mechanic, said she had had some of her ribs removed in an effort to slim her waist.
“For a man, he was gorgeous,” Mr. Hernandez said, noting Ms. Escalera’s flowing hair and “hourglass figure.”
- Gary Hernandez, 25, a neighbor, said that Ms. Escalera had worked as an escort and that he regularly saw her advertising her service on an adult Web site.
Many of these may be true — or should I say are considered true by the people making the statements or the article’s authors — but are they necessary to the narrative that explains a possible crime victim to the public? The details, and the way the narrative was laid out, told Escalera’s story of violent death in a sexualizing, salacious, and dehumanizing manner.
Miranda Stevens-Miller, then of Illinois First! and Illinois Gender Advocates, wrote a December 2000 article for the Windy City Times entitled A Day of Remembrance. Her article spoke in part to how media often treats those trans women who as crime victims die violent deaths:
[T]he press tends to shy away from such humanizing facts about the victims’ lives. The victim is almost always dismissed as just a prostitute, a pervert, a transvestite, a man dressed as a woman, a woman posing as a man, whatever. It seems to be all part of the way our society dehumanizes transgender people, so that even in death our identity and dignity is stolen from us.
Stevens-Miller made that conclusion in her commentary about a dozen years ago, and that conclusion seems just as true today as it was in 2000.
GLAAD has already tweeted about the article on Lorena Escalera’s death:
We are aware of the @nytimes article http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/nyregion/woman-in-group-of-transgender-performers-dies-in-brooklyn-fire.html, and we are reaching out.
It’s not just that trans people, at a rate of about one a month, are violently killed; but it’s also about how trans people are often revictimized in death by how media covers their deaths. Lorena Escalera deserved better — trans people deserved better — than what the New York Times published in their article Woman Dies in a Brooklyn Fire That Is Deemed Suspicious. The New York Times needs to again work on getting the narratives of trans people better — and even first ask themselves whether an article about a trans crime victim needs to mention that the victim was trans if that fact isn’t with certainty germane as to why the crime victim was targeted.
* GLAAD: NY Times Trans Exploitation Completely Unacceptable
* Feministing: Take Action: Anti-trans victim blaming in the New York Times
* Janet Mock: New York Times took Lorena’s neighbors as valuable sources, gawking at her body in life & death