Criminals make up excuses for their crimes. We’ve heard so many bad excuses for crime, that many such stories have become the things of legend, like the infamous “Twinkie defense” of Dan White for the brutal slaying of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. That is, that his consumption of sugary snacks was somehow proof of the depression White was suffering and that that depression caused him to kill two men.
Or consider Josh Duggar, now pinning the assaults he performed on his sisters on the devil literally tempting him, or Keith Griffin who claimed that it was his cat, not him, who downloaded over 1,000 sexually explicit photos of children to his hard drive.
Now enter Joseph Roman, a 38-year-old man in Chicago. He assaulted three girls, who were between the age of 6 and 8. Like most sexual assault victims, Roman was a friend of their families, which allowed him to gain access to these kids.
What makes Roman’s sexual abuse germane to this column is his defense. He has admitted to some of the attacks, but he has a novel excuse. He told Chicago police he is “a 9-year-old trapped in an adult’s body.”
His excuse is not novel. Indeed, the denizens of 4chan, a website known for — amongst other things — hardcore trolling, began to push a faux identity last year called “clovergender.” The identity is named for the clover shape that 4chan uses as its logo. “Clovergender” is a trolling campaign that purports to foster positive awareness of, “Children trapped in men’s bodies who are attracted to other children.” The whole point of this is to delegitimize transgender and related identities.
I’m not sure if Roman knew of the 4chan trolling campaign, or if he came up with this excuse all on his own. Either way, the hard right latched onto him, with several websites such as Infowars branding Roman as “trans age” and using him as a cheap jab at transgender people.
The thing that both 4chan and these other right-wing websites have attempted to do is conflate Roman’s crimes with transgender people, and, most specifically, transgender people using restrooms or other facilities consistent with their gender identity. This plays directly into the “transgender bathroom panic” that has fueled calls for anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ legislation in places like North Carolina and Texas.
I should also note that this reminds me of Rachel Dolezal’s “trans black” shenanigans, but with an obviously darker — no pun intended — side. While Dolezal may well have been attempting to defraud people with her actions, we should not forget that Roman assaulted three children.
That said, let’s get one thing straight: Roman’s excuse, taken at face value, doesn’t excuse his crimes. He can passionately identify as anything he wishes, but this doesn’t change the fact that he sexually assaulted three children. The same is true of any transgender person who commits a crime: our identity is not in and of itself a “get out of jail free” card. If anything, it is more likely to cause us to get a harsher sentence purely out of anti-transgender animus.
This is the frustrating thing with the bathroom bills, let alone the stories about Roman or the “clovergender” nonsense. Being transgender in and of itself does not equal with sexual desire any more than anything else does, and there is no great transgender conspiracy that exists to get transgender people into sex-segregated spaces to commit sexual assault.
I will tell you this: transgender people are a wide and varied bunch, and under that umbrella are people who may fetishize attire coded for people opposite their birth gender. There may be some who even have a sexual desire for altering their own body to that of the opposite sex. If this world has taught us anything, it is that people can become aroused off of any number of things, real and imagined.
Likewise, there are people out there who do play at being “little girls,” and other forms of “age play.” This, however, is more concerned with playing at such a role, and not at assaulting actual children. Worth noting, too, that not all who do such are transgender, either.
Let’s not get lost in the weeds here: none of the above falls within the dodge that Roman is trying here. Even if there was validity to his claim, his actions don’t square with his supposed identity, nor are those actions a natural outgrowth of such an identity.
For those of us in the transgender rights movement, we have to continually rehash that our identities are not something we adopt rashly. For many of us, we may spend years, even decades, trying to fight against our transgender nature. Then, even more time again to learn both self-acceptance as well as finding a place in this world to be ourselves.
Those who argue against our very identities would tell you that this is nothing more than a lark at best. That one can so easily change from one gender to another in order to commit any number of crimes, like some character in a cheesy comedy from the 1980s. Indeed, our hard-won identities are treated as something we would cast off whenever we may need to, while so many of us are facing hardships and remaining true to our gender identities or expressions.
I expect, and hope, that Roman will be spending a long time in a jail cell, but his dodgy excuse will likely be with us for some time, reinforcing bigotry and hatred aimed at the transgender community. We must, and will, push back.
Gwen Smith isn’t kidding around. You’ll find her on the web at www.gwensmith.com.