CommunityPam's House Blend

Transwoman + Police = Scary

Crossposted from The View From (Ab)Normal Heights
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I pray that I’m never arrested in San Diego County.

Vanessa Facen’s November 2005 death — while in the custody of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department — sends chills down my spine. After following this story’s coverage closely, I can’t help but feel that significant bias may have been involved in the arrest.

If there was bias, was it because she was transgender? Was it because she was black? Was it because they thought she was a thieving meth user? Was it because they thought she was mentally ill? Was it some combination of these? Was it none of these?

I don’t know.

I do know that I’m transgender; I do know I’m type two bipolar; I do know I don’t want to be arrested and find out how the police may treat me if they suspect I’m a transgender person and/or suspect I have a mental health condition. What Vanessa Facen’s death tells me that getting arrested as a transwoman with a mental health condition may mean I may die in police custody. That’s a scary thought.

I pray also that I’m not the victim of a serious crime in San Diego County.

A transwoman was stabbed on University and Eighth on the Transgender Day of Remembrance — November 20th, 2006. The victim was hospitalized with a collapsed lung.

Online, the San Diego Union-Tribune referred to the crime victim as a “man dressed as a woman.” The North County Times referred to the victim as a “transvestite,” outing her by her male name in their piece. Apparently, a police spokesperson described the victim to the press as a “man dressed as a woman.”

The victim wasn’t a man dressed as a woman or a transvestite; the victim was a transgender person.

I don’t ever want to be called “man dressed as a woman” by a police spokesperson describing me as a crime victim to the press . Knowing that all it takes is one officer using inappropriate terminology to the mainstream press is all it takes for the mainstream press to get it wrong scares me too.

When dealing with the police officers or sheriff’s deputies in San Diego County, transpeople have been given a lot to think about recently. I know I have discussed transgender issues with one police agency police and one mainstream press organization recently, and know I would prefer to work with both press and police to solve issues. I’m volunteering as a member of the recently constituted Citizen’s Patrol just because I do want to be one of the people who work to solve problems instead of just complaining about issues.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m not a little afraid of dealing with the police officers or sheriff’s deputies. And it definitely doesn’t mean that I, as a transwoman, ever want to be arrested, or ever become a victim of a major crime in San Diego. Being transgender and dealing with police is just a little bit scary.


Autumn Sandeen is on the steering committee of the Transgender Advocacy And Services Center (TASC) of San Diego, is the secretary for the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA), and is a contributing author for the Ex-Gay Watch.

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Autumn Sandeen

Autumn Sandeen

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