Queer Issue 2014
CeCe McDonald was sentenced to 41 months in prison for fatally stabbing a man in an altercation with McDonald and her friends in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2011. McDonald said the assailants yelled racist and transphobic slurs and attacked her. She is currently making a documentary called FREE CeCe with Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black. McDonald will be one of the speakers at Trans* Pride in Seattle on Friday, June 27.
You were released in January after being incarcerated for 19 months. Are you angry about what happened to you?
I wouldn't say so much angry, because a part of me knows, given how the prison industrial complex works, that there was a high chance I wasn't going to win my case. It was more depressing than it was angering, because you want to believe in this society that there is equality for all, but that is not the case most of the time.
What do you think people should know about the prison experience for trans people?
There is some discrimination against trans people in prison, but we have to realize that all people in prison deal with the same shit. I could sensationalize my situation, but there were people who were never going to get out for lesser crimes than mine.
You had a lot of support from people on the outside, including Laverne Cox. Did that help?
Definitely. A lot of queer and trans people were involved, including Katie Burgess. Laverne Cox, being in the spot that she is in now, definitely put the issues of trans women and violence on a different level.
There has been a lot of attention paid to this case. When you talk about it, you don't sound like a victim. What gives you the courage to be so outspoken?
No matter how brave I may seem, I still deal with issues around feeling safe. As a trans woman, and a black trans woman, no one is going to look out for me other than the people in my community and myself. If I get on a bus, I know there are people who will question me, snicker, or be judgmental. But I am going to live my life regardless. I can't let someone make me feel like I have to hide in the shadows. I don't let it deter me from challenging the transphobia, misogyny, and racism in this country.
What is the most concerning anti-trans discrimination in this country?
There is definitely a lot of discrimination in health care. If it is possible for a man to get a penis pump through his medical care, a trans woman should be able to get gender reassignment surgery and hormones without any issues. A penis pump is majorly cosmetic, but things related to a trans male are more medical than cosmetic. Also, the media portrays trans people using stereotypes.
What can the media do better?
We have to be seen as humans. See us for more than our bodies. I know there has been a lot of controversy around RuPaul and the comments he made [about the words "tranny" and "shemale"]. Those types of things, especially when they come from people within our own community, give the hetero community leeway to treat us the way that they do.
How should the T-word be used, if at all? Is it like the N-word?
There are so many words that people find offensive, and some words we use within our own cultural groups. If a group of trans women are together and they think that word is okay, then that's one thing. The way RuPaul was using it was more negative. "Shemale" and things like that perpetuate these ideas that trans women aren't women. We have to respect people on a level that is more enduring and understanding, because if people just see us as a joke, or use words to treat people like props or jokes, then that is how society will take us.
I think some gay guys intend it to be humorous when they use those words. What would you say to them?
It is just like a hetero guy who wants to call a gay guy the F-word. It's offensive. Words like "shemale" add to the problem of people not seeing us as what we are—as women. A lot of gay people see trans women as men in drag. We are women, and we need to be respected as such. Even if the term is taken as a joke or used as a joke, then that means you view me as a joke. And I don't want to be viewed as a joke. I need you to take me 100 percent seriously.