Op-ed: When Stigma Overshadows The News
BY Diane Anderson-Minshall
January 16 2014 6:30 AM ET
Saying Myles Dobson is a kid who fell through the cracks is a vast understatement. His mother, Ashlee Dobson, was negligent, so New York’s Child Protective Services removed him from her care (citing “inadequate guidance”) and sent the toddler to live with his father in 2011. Then his father, Okee Wade, was arrested on a New Jersey warrant for bank fraud charges. So unbeknownst to the rest of the family, Myles ended up in the care of his father’s mysterious girlfriend, 27-year-old Kryzie King. The family had heard a lot about King from Wade, about her beauty, physicality, and her upscale lifestyle and luxury dwelling at the Ritz Plaza in Hells Kitchen, but they hadn’t been allowed to meet her or to know she was a performer on the trans and drag circuit.
On Jan. 8, Myles was found dead; it may have been a sweet relief after what police say was 18 days of pure torture. According to reports, 4-year-old Myles had been beaten with a belt (buckle imprints were left on his face); whipped with a clothes hanger; starved (his last full meal was in December); burned with cigarettes on his genitals, face, and torso; had one of his teeth knocked out; burned with a hot metal oven rack; tied with shoelaces and gagged with a cloth to stop his crying; locked in a dark bathroom alone for hours; and locked outside on the eleventh floor balcony for an hour, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt, as the wind chill pushed temperatures below zero.
If all of this is true—and there’s little reason to believe it is not — Kryzie King is a monster, someone who deserves a very long prison sentence. She is also transgender, which means that reporting on the crime will be imbued with transphobia in the mainstream media and the LGBT media will largely ignore the story. It’s not a surprise. After decades of being demonized (and imprisoned) as deviants and monsters, the LGBT movements have worked hard to impress that we’re good, honest, hardworking, loving, family-oriented people, not the deviant monsters that society once made us out to be.
Our distance from this story allows us to hide the bad, emphasize the good, something the LGBT movement and press have been doing for decades and while it may serve us well politically it doesn’t allow us to fully investigate where issues of transphobia and homophia, for example, have influenced people with severe mental health issues like King, like Jeffrey Dahmer, like Aileen Wuornos. We don’t want to claim these people because to embrace them would let their crimes be associated with us, yet that’s an unrealistic perspective. How many straight men are worried that Ted Bundy reflects poorly on them? How many elderly women think Dorothea Puente makes them look bad? Or Latinos with the Menendez brothers?
We can’t keep burying the horrific acts of these (clearly mentally ill) LGBT people under the rug, when investigating, unpacking, and analyzing the stories of their sordid deeds would better help us understand others like them. My mother is mentally ill (dangerous to herself, not to others) and I know how scary it is to look into the chasm and know you’re only a short genetic distance from a crazy person.
That’s what we fear, collectively, as a community, though: the stigma that we’re still trying to shake off is always there like a shadow, and one trans (or gay or bi or lesbian) person like Kryzie King can set us back politically and socially by decades.
Of course, the saddest part of this story is that a little boy is dead, was tortured, and he had a family that loved him that is now mourning. Almost as horrifying though is knowing that when his father talked to the New York Daily News from Atlantic County Jail in Mays Landing, N.J., his first interview with the media, he hadn’t heard much about his son’s death. He didn’t talk much about his son, beyond saying he was a good father, which maybe he was when he wasn’t in jail (this was his 13th arrest; King, it’s interesting to note, only has one arrest: a sealed, unconvicted, rape arrest as a teenager, before her transition).
Wade Dobson, for all we know, could have been a great father, a man who trustingly left his son with the woman he loved, a woman he hadn’t introduced to his family because he was ashamed of dating a transgender woman. He had now way of knowing what a monster she really was.
But that isn’t what Wade Dobson wanted to make clear to the paper. He wanted to clear up one point, telling the News, “They put in the paper that I was dating a transsexual. That’s just wrong! I like women. I don’t date men and I don’t date transsexuals.”
DIANE ANDERSON-MINSHALL is editor at large for The Advocate and editor in chief of HIV Plus. She's a Lambda-nominated Bold Strokes Books mystery author, and an L.A. Pride and NLGJA honoree.