THE LIFE AND DEATH OF LATISHA KING

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight - RE­BECCA FOSTER

A decade after Latisha King’s mur­der, Gayle Sala­mon re­assesses what we know about King and her legacy. The Life and Death of Latisha King is no or­di­nary true-crime nar­ra­tive, but a hard-hit­ting philo­soph­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into gen­der and its cul­tural de­pic­tion.

On Fe­bru­ary 12, 2008, fif­teen-year-old Latisha, a trans girl, was shot dead by fel­low ju­nior-high stu­dent Bran­don Mcin­er­ney. Latisha was bira­cial and con­sid­ered her­self black; Bran­don was white. Latisha al­legedly an­gered Bran­don by call­ing him “baby” just be­fore he killed her, but the hand­gun that he brought to school in­di­cated the act was pre­med­i­tated. Sala­mon at­tended the mur­der trial in 2011 and quotes ex­ten­sively from tes­ti­mony. The case is rid­dled with mis­con­cep­tions, she be­lieves: peo­ple think it’s about un­re­quited love or sex­ual ag­gres­sion; more broadly, it’s been con­strued as a gay story. Latisha was in­ter­preted and dis­cussed by the shooter, the court, and me­dia cov­er­age as a gay boy rather than a trans girl. This is false, Sala­mon ar­gues. The court record only call­ing the vic­tim “Larry” is just one ex­am­ple of the “trans era­sure” at work here.

The book has a solid un­der­pin­ning in phe­nomenol­ogy, which de­scribes how we per­ceive our ex­pe­ri­ences. Fre­quent ref­er­ence is made to Mau­rice Mer­leau-ponty’s the­o­ries of ges­ture and move­ment, which pro­vide a frame­work for un­der­stand­ing how Latisha’s in­di­vid­ual body was un­der­stood in the con­text of a wider stu­dent body. The so­phis­ti­ca­tion of the anal­y­sis makes it un­likely this book will be read by laypeo­ple; in­stead, Sala­mon’s work will be an in­valu­able re­source for gen­der stud­ies stu­dents.

What have we learned from this case? Not enough, Sala­mon fears: the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­cently re­scinded an Obama-era di­rec­tive stat­ing that teach­ers should al­low trans stu­dents to live as their cho­sen gen­der. “The point is to purge trans peo­ple from pub­lic spa­ces. To make them dis­ap­pear,” Sala­mon as­serts. Her book is a safe­guard against that hap­pen­ing.

Gayle Sala­mon, NYU Press (MARCH) Soft­cover $23 (192pp) 978-1-4798-9252-5 JU­VE­NILE FIC­TION

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