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VIEWS Miranda Stevens-Miller

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Killing us softly

A recent story reported on illegal silicone injections that killed three Houston-area transgender women within recent months. A person jailed for at least one of the Houston deaths was a transgender woman. And earlier this year in Florida, another transgender woman was sentenced for her role in the death of a transgender woman who died after being 'pumped' with silicone.

We can track the hate -crime murders. They get reported and recorded as hate crimes. It has been fairly consistent over the past few years. There have been one or two hate-related murders of transgender people per month for the past decade or more. These are deaths at the hands of our enemies. But the deaths that are at the hands of our friends are harder to track.

The number of deaths at the hands of kind strangers who promise to add a few feminine curves may be as many as the number of hate murders. We are killing ourselves, and we are killing ourselves softly with kindness.

There has long been an underground network of 'pump doctors' who traffic in 'get curves quick' schemes. In the past, medical-grade silicone was used for pumping. This is the kind of silicone that had been used for breast implants. But as the supply of high-purity sterile silicone has become scarcer, the underground has turned to industrial grades . These less expensive materials are used primarily as fluids for machinery, such as brake fluids in autos. They are crude and far from sterile. I have heard of individuals who have had five or more liters of this stuff pumped into their bodies over a period of time.

What drives someone to pump brake fluid into her body? Lois Bates, who runs the Transgender Woman Support and Treatment Group, explained it very simply at a workshop on trans youth earlier this year. 'In the trans community, appearance and passing are very important. It is very important to maintain body image, and it is valued above other important aspects of life.'

You may have a hard time understanding this obsession with body image among some of transgenders. But realize that life is hard in a world where your gender identity is constantly denied and ridiculed. Unless you look like the gender you identify as, you are constantly being 'clocked,' harassed and often assaulted. It is like you have a target painted on your back. The most violent hate crimes are always visited upon those who are most visibly different. If you can 'pass' in your gender, you can avoid all this.

But more than avoidance of violence, passing is an affirmation of one's identity. And for someone who has been denied that affirmation their whole lives by their family and by their community, desperation can often override judgment. Pumping silicone is an easy solution. It costs only a small fraction of the cost of plastic surgery, and it has immediate rewards. Hormones take years to have their effect ... silicone takes no time at all. And in a world where affirmation and acceptance of your gender identity can mean the difference between having a family and a home, or being out on the streets in constant fear of being bashed, the immediate fix is the more attractive alternative.

But before you make that choice, please look at the risks. Besides the rash of deaths that have been reported recently, injected silicone has been implicated in all sorts of medical problems that lead to a shorter life expectancy. It migrates into the soft tissues where it causes chronic inflammation. It has been linked with respiratory diseases, toxic shock syndrome, cancer, and severe autoimmune and connective tissue disorders. And it eventually migrates, changes shape and hardens. It can be dislodged by trauma and by gravity.

How many deaths does it take before we come to our senses and realize the price of those curves is substantially more than the few hundred dollars that it costs for the silicone injections?


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