The case of Dana McCallum, a transgender- and women’s-rights advocate who is accused of raping her estranged wife, is unique when it comes to sexual violence and transgender people.
“Trans people face sexual assault as victims more often than [as] perpetrators by large, large percentages,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “It is a horrible, horrible epidemic.”
But McCallum, a 31-year-old transgender woman who’s a senior engineer at Twitter and speaks and writes about women’s and transgender rights and technology issues, might end up being the face of that exception. She was charged with five felonies, including spousal rape, after her Jan. 26 arrest.
Keisling, who would not comment on the McCallum case, which she contends is not about trans issues but is simply a tragic rape case, said that unfortunately transgender people are easier targets for violence of all kinds, especially sexual violence, because they are a marginalized group and therefore easier to prey on.
“Some time in the 1960s or 1970s, people were taught that trans people were erotic creatures of some sort and we’re not; most of us are pretty darn boring,” Keisling said. “Society and media has exoticized and eroticized trans people and portrayed trans people as sex workers … and that makes us more likely to be targets.”
Such stereotypes are akin to characterizing gay men as child molesters, which was often how they were portrayed by the media in the past, Keisling said.
The McCallum case, while different in tone from such stereotypes, is still shot through with cultural biases against trans people, said a former board member of Keisling’s group.
Dana Cartwright, one of the founding board members of the National Center for Transgender Equality and a former editor at The New York Times, thinks the McCallum case has little to do with her being transgender.
“Unless her transgender had to do clearly with the crime, I don’t see it as a trans story,” said Cartwright, pointing out that a lesbian couple involved in domestic violence does not amount to “lesbian violence.”
Keisling agrees, saying, “This seems to be a novelty to people that a trans person committed a crime,” adding that like anyone, transgender people commit crimes, but that doesn’t make it newsworthy.
“They don’t say a black person robbed a bank or a black person was accused of raping his wife,” Keisling said.
McCallum, born a male, is legally named Dana Contreras. She was charged Jan. 29 with five felonies, including three counts of spousal rape, one count of false imprisonment and one count of domestic violence. She has since pleaded not guilty.
In a 2012 online collection edited by McCallum called “Queer Life,” she wrote a piece about the word “tranny” and the violence connected with such slurs.
“Please don’t say ‘tranny.’ It hurts. It’s a word people use to make trans people feel like s—, to reject our humanity, and to isolate us from the rest of the world. It’s a word people scream when they are beating us, strangling us, shooting us, setting us on fire, and dumping our bodies in ditches,” McCallum wrote.
In another undated online collection she edited titled “Lady Business,” one story addresses rape and its coverage in the media.
“If our main goal is to protect women from getting raped, then not only should we be educating young men on what constitutes rape but we also should be educating young women on the type of behaviors that make them blinking lights that scream Victimize Me,” the story reads.
Toll of violence
Transgender and gender-nonconforming people “face unrelenting discrimination in virtually all aspects of their lives,” according to the 2012 National Transgender Discrimination Survey encompassing 6,456 respondents.
For those who attended K-12 school and were out as transgender:
65 percent: Faced physical assault
39 percent: Were sexually assaulted
19 percent: Were harassed
In the workplace:
49 percent: Were harassed
10 percent: Were sexually assaulted
8 percent: Were physically assaulted