65.4 F
Milpitas
Monday, September 27, 2021
-Adverstisement-spot_img
OpinionA summer remembrance: Natalia Smut

A summer remembrance: Natalia Smut

She died on a Friday, early in the morning.

Natalia Smut (24), a Bay Area performer of widely acknowledged talent and charisma, was stabbed to death by her boyfriend, Elijah Cruz Segura (22). The date was April 23.

Four months have gone by. Summer’s nearer to its end than it is to its beginning. When Natalia died, many in our city expressed grief and mourning. But a broader conversation never emerged. For Milpitas, the loss of Natalia posed something of a spiritual test, or perhaps a test of our collective consciousness. 

The test involved where the woman’s murder took place, which was at the Hillview Court Apartments, a residence for the unhoused which had the city embroiled in controversy before its opening. Some residents feared an increase in crime, and our city council at one point (thankfully short-lived) planned to sue Santa Clara County over the project. 

When Natalia was murdered, some faint echoes of “We told you so” rippled quietly among the residence’s onetime objectors. But these ripples didn’t make it very far. Milpitas is a city of good people. We didn’t bear the collective energy for more complaints or grievances. But at the same time, we couldn’t harness the energy to take the conversation farther or deeper. And this had to be, at least in part, because the victim was transgender.

More than once, Mayor Rich Tran acknowledged Natalia’s murder on his Facebook page. And Councilmember Karina Dominguez was present, also: she attended the San Jose vigil held in honor of Natalia’s memory, and soon introduced a measure to help curb violence in hotels. Other voices were quieter, perhaps because Natalia was from San Jose, but perhaps also because discussions around gender are so charged.

Transgender rights are the human rights issue of the age. With gay people having at last been granted the dignity of widespread legal equality (it being understood that the LGBTQ community still faces constant legal discrimination across the U.S.), the horizon has shifted, and our transgender friends and neighbors have become a central focus. Never before have the masses held them under collective consideration. The results, as expected, have been messy. On the right, in an ongoing show of ugliness, transphobic jokes, particularly ones poking fun at their gender pronouns, are permissible and mainstream. On the left, we highlight the dangers posed to transgender people, both in the form of violence (particularly to trans women of color like Natalia) and their high rate of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation

Transgender people are not new. They make up roughly 0.6% of the U.S. population, which translates to some 1.3 million Americans (although some measures put the number as high as 2 million). They have existed around the world at varying levels of prominence throughout human history. And yet for many they represent not just newness, but strangeness, and thus carry the imaginary threat often thought to be posed by “outsiders.”

In Milpitas and elsewhere, people know not how to speak beyond the gender binary. People fear explaining Natalia to their children. Maybe she was too new, too wild, too punk, too bold, too informal, too impassioned, too “outside.”

I explained her to my children, though. I did so in a state of rage. A local man on the phone had just misgendered her. He called her “he.” I called her “she.” It went on that way, each of us not honoring the other’s word, until we both hung up.

I went downstairs and told my children not to do that. I told them Natalia was a woman. I told them she wanted to be a woman, and she was a woman, and to call her a man, especially after her murder, is therefore very cruel. 

The road is long. People will get tongue-tied and hostile over gender pronouns. People will argue about gendered sports. People will harm, judge, and mock their transgender neighbors. 

But amid all the noise and all the pain, there’s one silver lining catching a bit of light:

People can no longer ignore the transgender. That day is over. They’re here. They’re us.

And Natalia was here once, though far too quickly. But she sang and she danced beneath the sun. 

 

spot_img
spot_img
Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer and filmmaker. He has won awards for journalism (CA Journalism Award) and screenwriting (Fade In Award), and has served as a ghostwriter, speechwriter, or script doctor for over 3,000 clients. His first novel is a dark political thriller called "Red Dennis" (2020). His first nonfiction book is a guide for helping writers be more productive called "Ass Plus Seat" (2020). He co-hosts the "House of Mystery Radio Show" on NBC News Radio. Eric's books can be purchased here.

1 COMMENT

Leave a Reply

- Advertisement -spot_img
spot_img
-Adverstisement-spot_img
-Adverstisement-spot_img
-Adverstisement-spot_img
-Adverstisement-spot_img
-Adverstisement-spot_img