October 8, 2018 | Katherine Adams
One of William T. Hoston’s areas of research as an author and associate professor of political science at University of Houston-Clear Lake is the social construction of black masculinity. While writing and speaking extensively about police involvement in fatal shootings of unarmed black men, he discovered another rampant, often underreported problem in our community: violence against black transgender women. His newly released book, “Toxic Silence: Race, Black Gender Identity and Addressing the Violence against Black Transgender Women in Houston,” explores this issue and shines a spotlight on transphobic violence and murders in Houston.
“This book studies the reasons why black transgender women are being murdered and who is responsible,” Hoston said. “There has been a recent resurgence of these crimes. After conducting many interviews with black transgender women, I found that the majority of men who are committing these murders are black cisgender (a person whose personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex) men.”
In 2015, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported a record total of 22 transgender women murdered in the U.S., of which 17 were black—the highest number of black transgender women murdered within a single year to date. As of September 2018, there have already been 19 transgender murders reported.
After connecting with Mia Ryan, a high profile black transgender woman known for participating in a reality TV series on OWN entitled “Houston Beauty,” Hoston said he was able to speak to 23 more women, of whom nine agreed to share their experiences. Ryan, who is also an author and motivational speaker, wrote the book’s foreword.
“I found out a great deal of information about these women and their relationships with cisgender men,” he said. “’Toxic masculinity,’ which is defined in the book as a rebellious form of manhood that utilizes violence, is exercised by cisgender men who are attracted to transgender women but do not want their masculinity questioned. This is a root cause of the problem. These men are dating transgender women in secret and do not want anyone to know about these relationships. Then, when the men think it’s possible it might become known, or if disclosure is threatened, they can become violent and kill the trans woman.”
His research showed that both white and black cisgender men solicit the services of black transgender prostitutes. However, black cisgender men are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the transphobic violence and murders. “After having sex, the men will question their masculinity, become violent and then kill the women,” he said.
In essence, Hoston said the men were engaging in sexual activity against their taught black gender and cultural norms and values and simply could not cope with the idea that they were attracted to the same medically assigned sex. “I found that white cisgender men in relationships with black transgender women do not feel their masculinity is questioned as much as black cisgender men,” Hoston said. “For black cisgender men, challenging their masculinity could result in violence.”
This aggressive behavior, explained Hoston, is a part of the “toxic masculinity” that is prevalent among black men in the community who act out violently because they can’t come to terms with the fact that they have been intimate with a person who is anatomically male. “Homosexuality is more accepted in the white community than in the black community,” he said.
Hoston said two of the nine women in the book played a key role in guiding him through the process of collecting information. “They told their stories in their purest form,” he said. “The language is pretty direct. I wanted to produce something the transgender women would be proud of—it’s not in my voice, it’s in theirs. There are not very many black transgender academic voices out there. I’m just trying to narrate their stories.”
There are many takeaway lessons to be learned from these women’s experiences, Hoston said. “The social institution of the black church could be more involved in addressing the issues of black transgender women in a more positive way. In many respects, it is anti-LGBTQ and I view this as an epidemic. I believe the careless murder of human beings and the lack of ability to appreciate fellow human beings is an epidemic and it’s the root of the problem.”
He said that black churches viewed this problem as a moral failing under God. “I dedicate a whole chapter in the book to this issue,” Hoston said. “When an unarmed black man is killed, the church will talk about it. But when a black transgender woman is killed, there’s nothing from the church. To address it would open a Pandora’s box of religious ideologies and the church is not prepared to do that.”
He wrote the book to help black transgender women tell their cultural truth. “Black men have bought into gender norms and I believe that is what’s given rise to this toxic masculinity,” he said. “Black cisgender men need to be true to their own sexual orientation, respect the humanity of these women and end this toxic silence.”
Hoston’s book is available on Amazon. For more information about UH-Clear Lake’s political science program, visit www.uhcl.edu/human-sciences-humanities/departments/social-cultural-sciences/.