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Murder, She Wrote

Bottom Feeder Rosie DiManno Sneers at Prostitutes

Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. This column originally appeared in Xtra magazine. Published by Pink Triangle Press, 491 Church Street, 2nd Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4Y 2C6.

The recent murders of three prostitutes, two of them transgendered, have had a variety of different effects on different sectors of the population.

For people in or close to the communities the victims came from -- sex trade workers, transsexuals, and anyone who knows or cares about them -- the impact has been devastating. For the media, it's been a field day, an excuse to put the freaks on parade and revel in every sordid detail that distinguished them from Mr and Mrs Suburban Het. And for politicians, it's been an opportunity to get lots of press by wringing their hands over the horrors of the sex trade and promising to redouble their efforts to "clean up the streets."

As of this writing, there's barely been a day that the Toronto Star didn't have at least one article on the topic. As if prostitutes being killed wasn't exciting enough, there's the added gender angle: while one victim was a genetic woman, the others were a pre-op transsexual, and a cross-dresser who lived as a man but worked as a woman.

The Star's resident bottom feeder Rosie DiManno has devoted two columns to the topic thus far. The first, on May 24, was actually relatively sympathetic, with DiManno's usual sneering tone and sarcastic little digs taking a back seat to some semblance of concern. However, this is the same woman who attacked the mother of a murdered child for wearing insufficiently expensive clothes to the funeral and being, of all things, overly emotional; and dismissed the concerns of the First Nations protesters at "Revenue Rez" as being less important than the baseball strike, so I suppose we shouldn't have expected much. By the end of the first column, she was attacking gays and lesbians for daring to think that the murders might have had something to do with institutionalized homophobia or transphobia and society's contempt for sex trade workers.

By the second (May 27), she was in full flower, sneering at transsexual prostitutes' "exaggeration of femininity," "too-narrow hips", pre-operative status ("rare is the creature that has actually had the sex change") -- and efforts to protect themselves.

However, she is also the one Star writer who at least has the decency to refer to male-to-female transsexuals as "she", rather than the ubiquitous male pronouns that dot stories about Deanna Wilkinson, who is continuously referred to by her previous male name. Isn't it tragic enough that Wilkinson lost her life -- do they have to steal her identity from her as well?

A good friend of mine who has occasionally worked the same area remembers Deanna Wilkinson as being one of the nicest, most supportive people she encountered while working, who gave her condoms, advice and encouragement, and comforted her after a bad trick. She's still numbed by the news of Wilkinson's death, but says she's not surprised by the tone of the media coverage. "That's how they think of us," she says, shrugging her shoulders. "If it had been me, they'd be calling me by my male name too." And it easily could have been her -- she almost went out to work the night of the killings, but changed her mind and stayed home.

Inevitably, anti-prostitution crusaders will be making a lot of political hay from these events. Expect renewed calls for sweeps, "John schools," and the like -- all for the girls' own good, of course. But I wonder if the politicos ever stop to think about the possibility that, DiManno's objections notwithstanding, maybe their anti-whore rhetoric did have something to do with the killings.

You see, the trouble with the "love the sinner, hate the sin" approach that is currently trendy in a variety of areas is that the average person isn't capable of the kind of advanced doublethink required to separate someone from their identity. When fundamentalist preachers talk about "the problem of homosexuality", Mr Joe Average Gaybasher hears "the problem of homosexuals." When right wing politicians talk about "the problem of immigration", teenage skinheads hear "the problem of immigrants." And when local city councillors talk about "the problem of street prostitution", obviously someone out there heard "the problem of street prostitutes." And we know the kind of action you take to deal with a problem -- you try to eliminate it.

My friend is currently trying to decide whether to go back to work in the wake of the killings, and in the meantime is trying to find a way to think about what happened that will somehow make it more bearable. "Sometimes I look at it as a war," she says. "Because in a war people do get hurt, and they do get killed, and there's nothing you can really do about it. You just have to kind of accept it and deal with it and go on fighting. You have to think of that way. Otherwise, you'll go crazy."

May all the gods preserve us from the madness of war -- and from the blindness of leaders who blithely fire off volleys without ever pausing to see whether some of them hit targets they claim they didn't intend.


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