Monica Loera was a 43 year-old Latina trans woman from Austin, Texas who loved Madonna and cooking. She was shot and murdered on January 22 at 3 AM in front of her home. According to Austin Police Department reports, neighbors overheard Loera and the suspect, JonCasey Rowell, arguing at the door when they heard a gunshot. Loera was a sex worker and Rowell was likely her customer. She’s the first reported trans person murdered in the United States this year.
To add to the tragedy, when Loera was murdered, she was misgendered by the Austin Police and local media. Trans women of color like Loera face enough disrespect and dehumanization in life, and they hardly need more in death. Because of this misgendering, her murder wasn’t reported as a murder of a trans woman until a week after her death. That’s seven whole days where she was being misgendered and disrespected over and over again without her community standing up for her and respecting her memory.
I’ve been crying for Loera all night. When a murdered trans woman is misgendered by the media and police, like what happened to her, it feels like the police and media are spitting on her grave. Monica Loera was a woman, and to treat her like she wasn’t is to insult her memory and all that she did in her life.
When a murdered trans woman is treated like a man in death, it fuels the kinds of attitudes that cause every real life trans woman to face a higher risk of physical violence. It treats trans women like they’re “men in dresses” who are lying about who they are and maybe even deserved the horrible violence that caused their death. All of us mourn when another one of our sisters is murdered, and all of us become afraid when we see her misgendered in death.
It’s one thing when random, individual people misgender a trans woman, but it’s a different thing when those in power do it. Police and the news media have power and influence over the public. When they misuse that power and influence by doing things like misgendering murdered trans women, they’re letting people know that it’s okay to treat trans women like garbage. They’re encouraging transmisogyny. This changes the misgendering from an individual act of violence to structural oppression that effects trans women everywhere.
Even when a woman fills her social media with pictures of herself, the police and media will still dig up pictures of her presenting as a man for their reports and articles. This is what happened to Loera. The police and news reports respected her alleged murderer, JonCasey Rowell, by printing his correct name and picture, but refused to allow Loera the same thing.
Being misgendered after I die is something I’m constantly afraid of, and something that keeps me up at night. As trans women, we have to work so hard to get people to respect our womanhood, and often, even our personhood, and to think that all of that effort will be wasted once I’m dead makes me feel hopeless. In America, trans women don’t get the last word on our womanhood. Why should I even try to convince people I’m a woman when my death certificate will list me as male?
I’m even more afraid for my trans sisters. Trans women of color, and especially Black trans women, and especially those who sleep with men, face a horrifyingly high risk of violence and being murdered, and the laws in America make it likely that they’ll be misgendered after death. I’ve been lucky in that I have a family who accepts me and I’ve been able to legally change my name. Those are things that many trans people don’t ever have, meaning that they don’t have those protections from being misgendered. It’s ridiculous that it costs so much and takes so long to get a legal name change. It’s ridiculous that in many states you need to medically transition, which is too expensive for some and not desired by some, in order to change your gender marker. It’s ridiculous that in Idaho and Tennessee, nothing you do will let you change the gender marker on your birth certificate.
Last year, there was a record number of reported murders of trans women, with at least 23 murders being reported. Nearly all of them were trans women of color and most were Black trans women. In addition to being women of color, many trans women who are murdered are the victims of intimate partner violence, whether by a boyfriend, someone they recently met or a client in the case of a sex worker. Heteronormativity and fragile, toxic masculinity combine to create an atmosphere where men feel that there is shame in sleeping with trans women, and that they have the right to attack a trans woman if they feel like they were being deceived or they might be found out.
I shouldn’t need to say this, but trans women are absolutely not being deceptive by being themselves. Trans women are women, and we’re not trying to trick anyone. There’s no shame at all in being attracted to or sleeping with trans women, and the sooner this becomes widely accepted the sooner trans women will stop being murdered by the dozens.
Monica Loera deserved to live a long and happy life. She deserved to be respected and treated like the woman she was. She deserves to be respected now in death.