“Trained in the ways of men

Dylan Reed-Maxfield

The Gender Studies Department, the Office of the Provost and the Office of Multicultural Affairs co-sponsored a screening of the documentary “Trained in the Ways of Men” last Friday evening. The film covers the trials that followed the murder of Gwen Araujo, a transgender teenager from the San Francisco Bay area. Araujo’s mother, Sylvia Guerrero, was present to discuss her experience and answer questions after the screening.
Gwen, who was born as Eddie Araujo and was anatomically male, had already been identifying and living as a woman for a couple of years before she was brutally slain.
Oct. 3, 2002 Gwen was at a party among male friends she had recently met, all several years older than she, when one man’s girlfriend forcibly examined her and discovered her male genitalia. The men — at least two of whom had been sexually intimate with Gwen — had believed her to be a biological female, and were enraged by what they saw as Gwen’s “deception.”
Over the course of several hours, some of them beat and choked her to death. Then they disposed of her body in the woods.
Although it contains a short segment using photos and narrative to portray Gwen’s childhood and gender transition, “Trained in the Ways of Men” mostly focuses on the murder trials of the four men directly involved in her death.
After the first attempt to prosecute Gwen’s killers ended in a deadlocked jury, two of the men were eventually convicted of second-degree murder. The other two, through plea agreements with the district attorney, were convicted of voluntary manslaughter.
A combination of actual trial footage and interviews with Guerrero and the attorneys involved in the case exposed the way cultural struggles over transgender rights were played out in the courtroom.
In particular, the film examines the “gay panic, or “trans panic,” defense employed by the attorneys in the Araujo murder trials. Under this strategy, the defendants claimed to have been so distraught by the discovery that they had been intimate with a biological male that they did not act rationally, but in a “heat of passion” when they killed the victim.
This argument has been strongly condemned by the GLBT activists as an instance of “blaming the victim,” which gay rights supporters say happens all too frequently in cases similar to Gwen’s.
While proponents of the “trans panic” defense argue that Gwen’s failure to disclose to her sexual partners that she was biologically male was enough to provoke the heat of passion that led to her killing, Guerrero and others respond that it is unjustifiable to consider someone’s sexual identity an act of provocation.
The “Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act” aimed at preventing the use of panic defenses has since become law in California.