By Jasmine Banks
Imagine someone who has dedicated their life work to calling out the violence of corporal punishment in the Black community. Imagine that they, as a former foster youth, redeems their experiences with child abuse into award-winning writing and journalism. They are hailed as a child advocate whose clarion call has been sorely missing in the discourse around violence and Black childhood. Now imagine that despite all of this work, they still repeatedly reinforce violence against the children who are the most harmed by interpersonal violence.
Dr. Stacey Patton is that award-winning journalist and former foster youth turned child advocate. She is the author of Spare the Kids, an important book full of insights about how the Black community must recognize the conditions we create (and those we embrace as a product of internalized white supremacy) that lead us to choose violence against our children in the name of discipline. After Dr. Stacey Patton’s very public internet display of cisgender violence under the guise of intellectual debate around trans womanhood, one must ask: When we talk about protecting Black children, what about Black transgender children? You cannot be a child advocate and be anti-trans. Trans women were once trans girls, children, who find themselves at a much greater risk of violence and harm than cis children.
If we are talking about children and the physical violence against them, we are being irresponsible if we do not also address the beliefs and conditions we create that contribute to pathways of violence and the justification of physical harm against children.
Professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw’s pioneering work establishing the often co-opted term “intersectionality” and the analysis therein applies here. If we think about a Black trans girl in an anti-Black white supremacist heteropatriarchal society, her multiple and interacting vulnerabilities make her a unique target for the systemic transmisogynistic violence inherent in our society. Imagine still if she were disabled, a Muslim, or an immigrant, and the many hurdles she would have to overcome just to make it to womanhood. So when talk about transgender women, we cannot do so without talking about the violence against trans girls.
Transgender children are at much higher risk for mental illness, risk of suicide, homelessness, and all the other harm that goes along with trying to survive a world bent on their destruction. The trauma symptoms of children exposed to domestic violence and corporal punishment are amplified in trans children who are already grappling with concepts of gender, identity, and personhood without the same social resources available to their cishet peers.
Their suffering is magnified and public health and the educational system do very little to prioritize their needs. Nearly 46 percent of transgender youth attempt suicide. At school and at home, transphobia and discrimination are mounted against the dignity and well-being of trans children, resulting in a lack of safe spaces. These realities make our conversations around trans identity all the more pressing and in need of deep accountability.
Conversations like those Dr. Stacey Patton claimed to “start” about trans women contribute to conditions where one may feel justified in physical harm toward a trans child. By putting trans women’s personhood up for debate, Patton contributes to transphobia and that leads to violence against Black trans people and, without a doubt, Black trans children.
Often we are building pathways to violence toward children without recognizing that we are doing so. If we are truly heeding Patton’s call to Spare the Kids, we must include transgender children and do better to navigate conversations where the difference between life and death for trans folks is in the worlds that we build with our words.
Jasmine Banks is a Black queer feminist living in Arkansas. She is a licensed mental health professional, maternal mental health activist, and national digital campaigner for NARAL Pro-Choice America. Twitter: @djazzo