On the 11th of October 2014, a young woman went to a cheap hotel in Olongapo City in the Philippines, with a man later identified as a US marine, and one of her friends. The woman’s name was Jennifer Laude. She was 26 years old.
Later that night, Jennifer ’s body was discovered by hotel staff. She had bruises all over her and had been the victim of a sustained and savage beating. She had been strangled. But the actual cause of death, according to the coroner’s report, was asphyxiation through drowning. Jennifer’s murderer beat her half to death, then strangled her half to death and finished off by forcing her head into a toilet bowl and drowning her. Despite being a US Marine and well-educated in the means of ending human life, Jennifer’s killer wanted to be sure she was dead.
Jennifer had her whole life before her. Yet that life was ended in obscene savagery. She must have been utterly terrified, until the beating she received at the hands of a trained killer caused shock to blur her consciousness.
Why would anyone want to kill someone in this way? Could it have been theft? Did Jennifer try to steal this man’s wallet? His watch? No. No reasonable person surgically beats a person senseless, strangles them and then, when they are absolutely incapable of defence, drowns them in a toilet bowl, because they have tried to steal a wallet. Even the most brain-dead grunt would have measured the consequences, realised that his career and possibly life would be over, and simply overpowered the girl and thrown her out or called the police.
Newspaper reports say that two used condoms were found at the scene. We may safely assume that Jennifer’s murderer used at least one of them. But this was not rape; Jennifer willingly went to the hotel room with her killer, and even sent her friend away.
So the act of sex was consummated, by two consenting partners, and only then did the killer unleash a frenzied attack of staggering savagery.
Criminologists know how to read the signs that tell the tale of a murder. The brutal, sustained and excessive beating, the strangulation and finally, holding the victim’s head in the toilet bowl while flushing the toilet all say the same thing: Jennifer’s murder was deeply personal and provoked by visceral hatred.
What could make a man – someone with a good career in the military, which he must have known all along would be ended – murder someone he hardly knew with such anger and hatred? The answer is simple: Jennifer Laude was beaten, strangled and drowned to death for being transgender.
For those who do not know, that means that the gender she had been assigned at birth, on examination of her genitalia, did not match her understanding of herself. As far as Jennifer was concerned, she was a woman, and the picture of her above, which has circulated the web, shows how beautiful she was.
Jennifer, attractive, stylish and seductive, was a ‘target woman’ – the kind of woman that men try to have sex with in order to enhance their standing amongst their peers. Only Jennifer’s body did not correspond to the standards that were required for her murderer’s conquest of her to count as a trophy.
Instead of a vagina, Jennifer had a penis. In the patriarchal mindset, there is no grey area; there is no rainbow curve. There are only men, who are expected to dominate, and women, who are expected to meekly become their sexual trophies. Sexually possessing Jennifer was what her killer wanted. It matters not whether money changed hands; the intent remained the same.
But then, after the killer had sex with Jennifer (as is proven by the used condoms), what irony: there was no vagina to be taken possession of and instead, he had made love with a woman who had a penis.
In the foetid locker-room atmosphere promoted by the patriarchy, such a liaison does not confer honour and status on the male, but instead, shame and mockery. For his conquest to have been complete, Jennifer had to have a vagina, one that her attacker penetrated. Instead, Jennifer’s penis destroyed every concept of honour or belonging that her murderer had ever known. His reputation was ruined and his crew-mates would all, from now on, perpetrate the patriarchy’s condemnation of him.
Yet it’s not just his crew-mates, or the NCOs and officers who use psychological abuse and codes of ‘honour’ to pervert young men into killers, who are culpable. A glance through the comments section of media all over the world reveals the truth: there are people out there prepared to justify beating, strangling and drowning another person just because of her genitalia. Every one of these people is in part guilty of Jennifer’s murder.
Jennifer was engaged to a German, Marc Sueselbeck. The couple met online two years before the murder and had spent three months together. One can only imagine the pain and grief that Mr Sueselbeck is now suffering, especially in view of the tone of the media reports that consistently have misrepresented his fiancée. He is angry and I support his anger. I am angry and I did not even know Jennifer. Sueselbeck had invested his love in her, made plans to spend his life with her, shared a dream with her – and then an immature, testosterone-fuelled bigot who had been trained to kill robbed him of everything.
Jennifer’s death is not unique. Twelve years ago an American girl, Gwen Araujo, was beaten and burned to death and then buried in the desert for the same reasons as Jennifer: her murderers were conditioned to believe they had a right to expect certain features to be present on the body of a woman who had sex with them. Every year, in Brazil, around 100 transwomen are murdered, often in similar circumstances, and globally the number is much higher. And this does not count the innumerable beatings, insults and discrimination transpeople have to suffer just for being true to themselves.
American attorneys have invented the entirely bogus defence of ‘gay panic’ which suggests that seeing a penis is terrifying enough for a man that he may be excused for killing its possessor in the most savage manner imaginable. Well it will not do. I have since my teens been opposed to the death sentence, but if it will stop one more poor, terrified girl being beaten to death by a man, then so be it. Hang them high.
Jennifer Laude, in part thanks to the tragedy of her death, will be remembered as a beautiful young woman who meant no harm and just wanted to be herself.
Her killer will be remembered for what he is: a hate-filled, brutal, evil man who beat, strangled and drowned a weaker, vulnerable person for not living up to his expectations. The name of the accused, currently in custody, is Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton of the 2nd Battalion Ninth US Marines. We hope his unit, corps and country are proud of him and what he has done.