Communication scholar at USC Annenberg

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Lil Duval’s “Joke” Isn’t Funny — It’s a Symptom of a Bigger Problem

This post was originally published on the National Center for Transgender Equality Medium page here.

Last Friday, comedian Lil Duval appeared on “The Breakfast Club,” a radio program on New York’s Power 105.1, during which he “joked” that if he began dating a woman and she later shared with him that she was transgender, he would murder her. Mere days later, in the early hours of Monday morning, 32 year old TeeTee Dangerfield was fatally shot multiple times outside her apartment in College Park, Georgia, becoming the 15th transgender woman of color (of 16 transgender people overall) to be murdered thus far in 2017.

Though we don’t yet know the circumstances surrounding Dangerfield’s death, we do know the circumstances that surround many deaths like hers: men who, like Lil Duval, believe that trans women are not women, that trans women’s gender identities are acts of deception, and that their own desire for trans women makes them “gay,” react with extreme violence after becoming intimate.

Therein lies the incomprehensible horror of Lil Duval’s flippant remarks. While he jokes, “I don’t care, she dying,” trans women are actually dyingTwenty-one transgender women in 201519 transgender women in 2016, and already 15 transgender women in 2017 have been murdered by men who think they are “jokes.”

According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, transgender women were the victims of two-thirds of all anti-LGBTQ hate violence murders in the US in 2015, and nearly all were transgender women of color. And as NCTE found in the U.S. Transgender Survey, over half of all transgender people in the United States have experienced intimate partner violence.

As if Lil Duval’s “joke” were not bad enough in and of itself, he doubled down when the hosts of the show presented him with the cover of the book Surpassing Certainty, which presents a photo of its author, Janet Mock, a prominent transgender woman of color who herself was a guest just the week before. After the hosts agreed (with audible laughter) that she was pretty, Lil Duval responded by misgendering her, saying, “Nope. That n**** doing his thing…ain’t finna get me.”

Responding to these comments, Janet Mock wrote in an essay published by Allure:

The hosts laugh after using my image as a literal prop — just days after I was a guest on the same show — for laughs, vitriol, and a deeper call and justification for violence. Just so we are all clear: On a black program that often advocates for the safety and lives of black people, its hosts laughed as their guest advocated for the murder of black trans women who are black people, too!

Moreover, in speaking of Mock “getting” him — to which, Mock points out, the hosts cosigned by laughing — Lil Duval reinforced the fundamentally wrong notion that trans women live out their gender identity for the purpose of “tricking” straight men into sexual encounters.

In fact, the men who kill trans women are almost never caught unaware of their gender identity. As Mychal Denzel Smith noted in his essay at GQ, Joshua Vallum, who murdered Mercedes Williamson by stabbing her with a pocket knife and bludgeoning her with a hammer, had dated Mercedes a year before, but killed her out of fear his peers might discover he had dated her. Likewise, Rico LeBlond murdered Zella Ziona, who he had known for a number of years, “because he was ‘embarrassed’ that she had flirted with him in front of his friends.”

As such, the murder of trans women often comes down to straight men protecting their supposedly “tainted” heterosexuality. Lil Duval even said as much in his comments, exclaiming, “My mind, I’m gay now.” The presumed homosexuality of these encounters — which of course ignores the true genders of the trans women in question — becomes the stigma which straight men try to erase by erasing their partners from existence. As Smith so eloquently put it, “Trans women are not dying because they are trans women, they are dying because we [straight men] make it known that we value our own place in this social hierarchy more than their lives.”

So when Lil Duval “jokes” about killing a trans woman because he’s dated her, he’s not just making an offensive remark. He’s echoing a sadly common sentiment in our society — one that puts trans women’s lives at risk. And his comments, combined with the hosts’ tacit agreement, legitimize that sentiment. In Mock’s words, “It’s this deplorable rhetoric that leads many cis men, desperately clutching their heterosexuality, to yell at, kick, spit on, shoot, burn, stone, and kill trans women of color.”

It has led to 16 murders already this year, and it needs to stop.

Thomas J BillardComment