CeCe McDonald is free. Finally, Cece McDonald is free.
If you haven’t heard of CeCe, here’s the deal: She’s been in prison since 2011 for killing a man in self-defence. And not the kind of self-defence where you think someone’s looking at you funny or walking around the place carrying suspicious Skittles so you shoot them point-blank and get away scot-free. This is the other kind of self-defence, where you’re walking down the street and a group of people attack you because they don’t like people of your race and gender walking down the street. Where when you attempt to walk away they smash bottles against your face, leaving you permanently scarred and with a severed saliva gland. And when you defend yourself with a scissors from your bag, you kill your attacker. Where, when the case goes to court, neither your attacker’s three previous convictions for violent assault nor his swastika tattoo are considered admissible evidence of his violent, racist disposition, but a motion to impeach your evidence because you once wrote a bad check is admitted.
That’s the kind of self defence where, if you’re a black trans woman, you are sentenced to 41 months in a men’s prison and, as a bonus, are forced to pay for your attacker’s funeral.
I’ve been thinking about womanhood. How my cis white womanhood protects me, while CeCe’s black trans womanhood made her a target.
My cis white womanhood grants me invisibility and the presumption of a kind of vulnerability deserving of protection. If I had been in that courtroom, there would have been no question that I acted in self-defence. A white, cis woman with a scissors in her bag? Sure, don’t women carry everything around with them? Insert handbags joke here, before carrying on. But black trans womanhood gets no such leeway, instead pointed out at every moment as other, as deviant, as a wild card and a threat.
If I had been in that courtroom, there would have been no question but that I acted in self defence. But with my cis white womanhood, I would never have been in that courtroom. I would never have been in that courtroom to defend my defence of my own life because with my cis white womanhood me and my friends would have walked past that bar and arrived home entirely, or at least relatively, unmolested. We might have rolled our eyes about the loudmouth asshats in the bar we passed, and then someone would have passed me a beer and we would’ve forgotten all about it. White cis women are no strangers to violence, but there are kinds of violence, kinds of punishment for existing, that cisness and whiteness protect us from.
Because womanhood when mitigated by whiteness and cisness translates into our world as small, unthreatening, mostly harmless, and a person who (publicly) attacked me would be seen as a monster. White cis women’s anger is called whininess, nagginess, bitchiness because it is seen as an annoyance, not a threat. But womanhood, when compounded by transness and blackness translates into our world as perverse, deviant, a simultaneous weakness and threat to everything heteronormativity holds dear. A person who attacks a black trans woman- provoked or not- is not seen as a monster. They are seen as defending themselves from monsters.
Every part of CeCe’s experience- from her initial unprovoked attack, to her unjust trial, to the further humiliation of being incarcerated in a men’s prison- played out the way it did because of this culture-wide dehumanisation and monstering of black trans women. She was punished, punished again, and punished a third time for this crime. And make no mistake- it was all of these things, the combination of these things, the way that each one twists our perception of the others to push a person further and further into something other, that led to her punishments.
CeCe McDonald spent two and a half years in jail for having the unmitigated gall to defend herself from an unprovoked attack. CeCe McDonald spent two and a half years in jail for surviving. CeCe McDonald is free.