Wearing a bra does not a serial killer make: Russell Williams and the media assault on gender queer identity


Russell Williams has submitted a guilty plea for 88 charges against him, including breaking and entering, attempted breaking and entering, forcible confinement, sexual assault, and murder. He is, by all accounts, a very bad man.

Given his plea of GUILTY to every charge brought against him, I find it particularly astonishing that he still requires a media cir — trial to examine the evidence. He has stood up, said, “Yep, that was me. I broke in, stole shit, and raped and murdered women.”

Yesterday, his trial began – both in a Belleville court and in the Canadian press. News of this man’s crimes has hijacked my Twitter newsfeed. The trial is being liveTweeted in all its explicit gory detail. My eyes were assaulted by the image of him wearing a bra on the cover of this morning’s Toronto Sun. And news of his “fetishes” has overshadowed the true nature of his crimes.

This is problematic, and for several reasons. First, his victims – those who survived as well as those who did not – are being pushed to the side in order to glorify his perceived perversions. Two murdered women, on their own, do not a good story make. Women get murdered all the time in our world. It’s not sexy, it doesn’t sell papers, and it doesn’t increase web hits. But women murdered by men who take photos of themselves wearing lingerie? THAT is a story.

It’s the wrong story, though. Let’s recap:

break and enter –> criminal
theft –> criminal
forcible confinement –> criminal
sexual assault –> criminal
homicide –> criminal
masculine-bodied people wearing clothes made for feminine-bodied people –> LEGAL

Being a crossdresser is not a crime. Putting a photo of WIlliams on the cover of the Sun wearing nothing but a bra doesn’t only demonize him as “evil” and perverted: it puts every single person whose gender presentation transgresses the norm into danger. They become/remain suspect, and their very lives become more threatened. By equating the horrific things WIlliams did to his victims with his choice to don his victims’ underclothes is to reinforce the ideology that all transgendered, gender queer, and fetishists are capable of that level of horror.

It’s Silence of the Lambs, writ large, but using a real-life poster boy of depravity. Williams wearing women’s clothing is not a sign of the escalation of his criminal behaviour. His STEALING TROPHIES FROM HIS VICTIMS is.

No one would look at how one vegetarian art school drop out turned out and assume from his actions that every one like him would also be a genocidal megalomaniac. The way Williams’ story is being framed makes his cross-dressing directly related to his criminal acts, though, and that connection is being made in minds across the province by those who have no context for understanding the complexities of healthy expression of gender variation and sexualities.

The media have a responsibility to ensure that people are not further victimized by their coverage (or at the very least, they should).

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18 Comments

  1. m0ff said,

    October 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    YES!!! A million, billion times, YES!

  2. winnie said,

    October 19, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Stop blogging this tweet, everyone with any brains knows that cross dressing is not a big deal. You are making it a big deal, the reason behind showing the idiot in lingerie is to shame him. Don’t make more out of it than it is

    • m0ff said,

      October 19, 2010 at 8:12 pm

      Yes, perhaps they are posting pictures of William on the front page of the Toronto Sun as a method of “shaming” him, however by doing that they have (perhaps inadvertently) placed even more stigma on an already heavily stigmatized lifestyle.

      If the media really wanted to illustrate the full gravity of this man’s crimes they had other pictures (which were made available by the court yesterday) that they could have chosen from, which would have had a much greater impact on the readers; the impact being the full comprehension that this guy is a cold-blooded killer.

      Not everyone has the same level of acceptance of “cross-dressing”, regardless of the amount of brains in their heads. The Canadian media should perhaps give greater credence to this before they (very) selectively mass publish controversial (and potentially detrimental) headline photos.

    • Bambi Blue said,

      October 19, 2010 at 9:29 pm

      That’s exactly the problem — the mentality that showing him in lingerie is ‘shaming’ him. If cross dressing isn’t a big deal, why is it so ‘shameful’?

    • Tut said,

      October 20, 2010 at 11:14 am

      Why is it supposed to shame him by showing him in Lingerie?

      It seems that you missed the entire point of the post and are in fact guilty of everything the blog was talking about and worried about.

      • winnie said,

        October 20, 2010 at 1:56 pm

        No, you missed the entire point I was making. Cross dressing is not shameful – did I say it was? NO! Williams however must be greatly ashamed by having his picture all over, especially to those that were in his command.
        How dare you assume I am not gay, lesbian, bi or transgendered by what I wrote. I am pretty sure people didn’t look at these pictures and say – Oh My God!! That man is a cross dresser, how terrible. Get a friggin grip, it had NOTHING to do with anybody’s sexuality or fetishes – now that ‘groups’ are up in arms about showing him as a ‘cross dresser’ they have successfully made some people think of him as a cross dresser instead of the twisted, sick, perverted individual he is. He was wearing clothes from houses he broke into of GIRLS and women, that is creepy – there is no ifs ands or buts about it. The pictures are proof that he is guilty of breaking into homes and stealing.

    • Chelsea said,

      October 21, 2010 at 9:35 am

      “x” wouldn’t be a problem if PEOPLE WOULD STOP TALKING ABOUT IT!

      Oddly enough, this is never a good argument, but I’m always a huge fan of blaming people of causing bigotry, when they too openly oppose bigotry.

  3. R.K. Finch said,

    October 19, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    It’s not cross-dressing or stealing trophies from his victims that is the sign of escalation. It is in fact the breaking into the homes of women and young girls and wearing their undergarments, photographing it, IN THEIR HOMES, that does demonstrate steps in the escalation of this monster’s motivations that led to murder(s). Though the topic is painful to hear or read, it is worth reading the whole coverage and not judging a commentary by its front page photo – and realizing in doing so that he has in no way been defined as a “cross-dresser”, “queer” or any of the other terms you disagree with. This is a case of a psychopath and the forensic psychology of such is important to analyze. The MSM has been particularly careful not to sensationalize this case outside of the fact that it is, as a whole, a sensational case. And, word of advice, maybe not so great to cite the Sun as a main media source.

    No one has pushed the victims to the side. If you followed the coverage of this trial, you would see the only common theme was the unfounded abuse of innocent victims, the compassion of which was commendable from the judge to the CA to the media and onwards, for some who survived and some who did not, at the hands of a man who is admittedly heinous and displays a very complicated psyche and sociopathy worth studying.

    This coverage is important for a number of reasons and is no way a media circus. To not disclose these facts would be the real miscarriage of justice.

    • winnie said,

      October 20, 2010 at 1:58 pm

      Thank you – you have put the facts very succintly.

  4. Hazel Cohen said,

    October 19, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I agree entirely with this blog post. Thank so much for putting into words what I Hadn’t been able to.

  5. Shonagh said,

    October 19, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    Maybe they selected the mostly ‘publishing friendly’ pictures that still had a deep meaning to the understanding of what was going on in this man’s head. Could this just be that most people will see: a crazy man in a little girl’s underwear, while she doesn’t know. That thought is terrifying, and yet the image is pretty safe. Our society has nothing against publishing these images. The media is not attacking cross-dressers. They are trying to report a horrible story, and to convey an emotion from the readers. Does everything have to be an attack on the fragile nerves of some of those who identify as queer.

    • winnie said,

      October 20, 2010 at 1:59 pm

      I am also in agreement with your post – thank you

  6. Hazel Cohen said,

    October 20, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    I really feel like most of the above commenters just don’t understand that using these images as ‘shame’ implictly means that x-dressing is shameful, and that showing images of x-dressing and associating it with perversion and horrible crimes is a disservice to all crossdressers who are already a misunderstood and harmless minority.

  7. creoleladymarmalade said,

    October 20, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    if it’s not a big deal, why did you write “My eyes were assaulted by the image of him wearing a bra on the cover of this morning’s Toronto Sun”? Are images of men trangressing gender norms really that traumatic for you, or were you simply making a cheap shot that weakened the rest of what you wrote? ( all of which I agree with, by the way….good writing except for that one line)

  8. stanleonard said,

    October 24, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    RE: Col. Russell Williams and Gender Identity

    I can tell you right now Colonel David Russell Williams would never make a good candidate for sex change surgery.

    The psychiatric specialists would say he has too many issues and they wouldn’t recommend him for sex change surgery. It may make him really unstable. He may change his mind and not want to have a sex-change after all.

    Another one of the issues is: he just doesn’t look good at all in bad fitting bras, panties, and dresses. It makes him look really bad and ugly. He should shave if he is going to wear those polka-dot thingies.

    Stan Leonard

  9. October 25, 2010 at 10:15 am

    […] an article at Living My Social Work talking about the media treatment of the trial of Russell Williams who has already pled guilty to […]

  10. October 25, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    […] Trigger warning for violent crime against women: Russell Williams and the media assault on gender queer identity. […]

  11. Donna said,

    October 26, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    No, a man wearing lingerie is not the issue. It’s how the man acquired the lingerie, it’s how much lingerie he stole, it’s the photos of himself in them that he took, it’s the notes he left for little girls on their computers after he stole their lingerie, and it’s him masturbating on little girl’s beds in this lingerie that is disturbing.

    The lingerie burglaries were the beginning (that we know of ) of his escalating behaviour to torturing young women before he brutally killed them.

    I don’t think him wearing lingerie as a fetish was the issue, at least not for me.


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