THE LIFE AND DEATH OF LATISHA KING
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 Not enough, Salamon fears: the Trump administration recently rescinded an Obama-era directive stating that teachers should allow trans students to live as their chosen gender.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