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Transgender Victims and Offenders: Failures of the United States Criminal Justice System and the Necessity of Queer Criminology


The purpose of this article is to highlight the experiences of transgender people within the criminal justice system as both victims and offenders. We contend that queer criminology is both needed and can assist in exploring the experiences of this unique population who face discrimination within the US criminal justice system and who are often ignored within criminological research. The article will provide an overview of transgender people’s general experiences within the criminal justice system and explore influences of cultural stereotypes about transgender people by examining the cases of three transgender victims of violence—Brandon Teena, Gwen Araujo, and Cece McDonald. This article highlights the importance of concepts such as sex, gender, transpanic, transphobia, victim-blaming, and the responses by key players in the criminal justice system (police, courts, and corrections) to transgender victims and offenders.

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  1. The medicalization of these characteristics provided an alternative to jailing non-normative gender and sexual behaviors, but did nothing to combat the associated stigma.

  2. Gender identity disorder (GID) was defined as “people who experience intense, persistent gender incongruence” in the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) (American Psychological Association [APA-1] 2013). The most recent incarnation of the psychological disorder that pathologized gender incongruence was recently amended in the 5th edition of the DSM published in 2012. The diagnosis of GID has been replaced with gender dysphoria (GD), which “will be used to describe emotional distress over ‘a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender’” (American Psychiatric Association [APA-2] 2013). Rather than stigmatizing the new gender nonconformity, this new diagnosis aims to remove stigma from gender nonconforming individuals and places the emphasis on the symptoms of stress related to gender incongruence in US society, while creating a respectful diagnostic label to ensure transgender and genderqueer people are able to access appropriate medical care (APA-2 2013).

  3. In order to respect the transgender people we focused on, we have decided to refer to them by their first names, as those names were chosen to best represent their personhood and identity.


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The authors would like to thank Regina Cline for her research assistance and Adrienne Trier-Bieniek, Tracy Hall, Matthew Ball, and Jordan Blair Woods for their thoughtful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Carrie L. Buist.

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Buist, C.L., Stone, C. Transgender Victims and Offenders: Failures of the United States Criminal Justice System and the Necessity of Queer Criminology. Crit Crim 22, 35–47 (2014).

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  • Criminal Justice System
  • Gender Identity
  • Hate Crime
  • Gender Dysphoria
  • Gender Identity Disorder