Who the hell are you?

Transphobia during the lockdown

In our latest blog article, we have discussed the hot topic of gender-based violence that has monopolized the world’s attention over the last years from the perspective of who is usually excluded from the explosion of discourses it has generated, that is from the perspective of the LGBTIQA+ survivors. Taking as our point of departure a series of images circulating online for the purposes of educating and raising awareness on the matter, we have come to ask the following question: How has the matter of gender-based violence come to matter? The main argument we put forward there was twofold: not only is the paradigmatic image -the generic face- of the survivor of gender-based violence a cis-gender heterosexual woman, but also the exclusion of LGBTIQA+ persons from the public discussion around gender-based violence and the invisibilization of their testimonies is the price mainstream feminism had to pay for raising the issue in the first place. In what follows, in order to counter this tendency and pluralize the many faces of gender-based violence, we are going to offer examples of gender-based violence against LGBTIQA+ individuals with a particular reference to the challenges trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming persons faced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But before we begin, it should be reminded at this point that gender-based violence refers to any form of sexual, emotional, psychological, physical, social, or economic violence targeted against persons solely on the basis of their gender identity, expression, or characteristics or/and of their sexual orientation. Among the examples of gender-based violence against LGBTIQA+ persons, one can mention the following that cover a wide range of forms and intensities of GBV, from the structural, systemic, and institutionalized level all the way to the level of the everyday, insidious, and interpersonal: bullying within the school environment by classmates and educators, hate speech, physical assaults, incidents of emotional and psychological abuse by partners or family members, legal texts that exclude LGBTIQA+ persons or pose disproportionate conditions for a right to be exercised by LGBTIQA+ persons, conversion therapies or even forms of ‘therapeutic’ rape as ‘straightening’ devices, problems with the identification of a trans or gender-nonconforming person whey they use public services, cases of overmedication or misdiagnosis at hospitals when the patient is a femininity or an LGBTIQA+ one, the housing at the wrong hospital or prison ward for trans persons, and others. 

Even though every LGBTIQ+ person is constitutionally vulnerable to gender-based violence given their identity and expression of their gender and sexuality which usually amount to a visual performance of their selfhood in the public space, GBV is not equally distributed across all the identities -either sexual or gender ones- that the acronym LGBTIQA+ denotes. Here, one can picture in their mind effeminate men, masculine women, nonbinary individuals that are perceived as uncategorizable, or trans persons who do not ‘pass’ enough as men or women. The ‘failure’ of these persons to perform bodily and aesthetically the phenomenological scripts of dominant masculinity or ‘everyday’ femininity are considered to be the reasons behind otherwise unprovoked incidents of gender-based violence. Acts of violence aim either at erasing the nonnormative gender performances or at ‘straightening out’ the individual. In other cases, it is the nonalignment of gender with a desire that has as its object a person of the opposite sex that is at issue. In these cases, it is the public demonstrations of affection or desire that ‘provoke’ the aggressor. This precarity is also distributed spatially, that is the vulnerability of LGBTIQA+ persons at risk of GBS is increased in spaces such as hospitals, refugee camps, and public services. This spatialized vulnerability is an index of identities that carry multiple vulnerabilities working both in parallel and intersectionally, like in the case of a lesbian refugee or an intersex patient.     

Finally, one should pay attention to a series of behaviors or actions whose intensity or frequency let the latter slip under our radar, and as such, they remain under- or un- reported or they are not even named as incident of gender-based violence per se. Here, they usually include cases of microaggression, tensions and rude responses, attitudes or dispositions, indiscreet questions, or repetitive jokes, and ‘vibes’ that a person gets when they enter a room or a conversation, all of which are subtle and undecidable in reference to their status as incidents of gender-based violence, even when the affective force these exert on the person is deeply felt. One should not dismiss these cases of ‘casual’ gender-based violence because it affects on a daily basis the lives of the majority of LGBTIQA+ persons no matter how normalized or routinized it has been in a heteropatriarchal society and notwithstanding the lack of intention in some of these cases on the part of the perpetrator. In other words, the insidious ‘ordinary’ trauma of the ‘casual’ gender-based violence should be taken seriously into consideration next to cases of ‘exceptional’ gender-based violence that affect relatively fewer individuals.

Let’s take a quite telling example of gender-based violence against LGBTIQA+ persons, and more specifically against trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries, among them Greece, put in place mobility restrictions on their citizens in the context of social distancing measures in a desperate attempt to contain the spread of the viral transmission. One of the most severe mobility restrictions was the nationwide or local lockdowns that were put in effect, sometimes for several months in a row. During these time periods, Greek citizens could only ‘exist’ in the public space for a limited set of reasons and regular controls by the police forces patrolling the streets on a daily basis were taking place. In the context of their responsibility for enforcing and overseeing regulations as they apply to individuals, many cases of trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming persons who haven’t gotten their gender legally recognized and who were subjected to excessive police controls because of this were reported. 

On top of that, these individuals were disproportionately affected by the pandemic on many levels making this way an already bad situation even worse. Among the problems they faced were the following: the heightened risk of exposure to the virus, severe delays in access to gender-affirming services, economic instability and unemployment, social isolation, lack of access to community spaces and social services, etc. In this regard, the role played by Ecce Homo’s community partner, the Greek Transgender Association, was indispensable in safeguarding the rights of these persons against the police’s indifference and harassment. Thanks to their tireless efforts, the Ministerial Decision issued by the state to regulate these controls and identification procedures took into serious consideration the multiple complaints raised during the lockdown. According to the press release by the Association, these new guidelines make sure that personal and sensitive data would be protected and the respective police controls would be held with respect and sensitivity. 

One aspect of this multifaceted problem is deeply rooted in the problematic laws that regulate legal gender recognition in Greece. The legal fees for legal gender recognition are quite high given the chronic financial crisis in Greece that affects disproportionately trans and gender-nonconforming individuals who are discouraged even further by the transphobic attitudes of the judicial staff. This very reason is an obstacle even for those citizens to whom the right to free legal aid is granted by the state because one has to prove in a court of law that they fulfill the financial criteria. One could even argue that not only is the right to free legal gender recognition itself a defense against future exposure to GBV, but also the current time- and money-consuming legal procedure is itself a form of GBV against gender-nonconforming individuals, a case to ‘state transphobia’ if you like, an institutionalized ‘legal’ discrimination that hinders the exercise of the fundamental right to self-determination.