A verdict has come in, in the August murder of Roberto González Onrubia in Spain. In 2006 Onrubia reached out to two homeless cis women, Dolores de los Reyes Navarro and Ainhoa Nogales Bergantiños, in the hopes of providing them an opportunity to get back on their feet. While the potential “guilty liberal” politics of such a decision are questionable, they did not justify the violence and humiliation Reyes Navarro and Bergantiños heaped upon him for the misguided attempt to help them out. Within a few months of moving in, they took over his home and kept him prisoner in his bedroom while they sold his mother’s jewelry and his inherited stamp collection. His attempts to free himself where met with both physical violence and transphobic and cissupremacist sexual threats. On more than one occasion Reyes Navarro and Bergantiños forced Onrubia to wear women’s clothing and threatened to prostitute him for additional cash. They did it both to humiliate him as a trans man and to intimidate him sexually, relying on both transphobia and sexism in the sex industry to menace Onrubia as much as their own behavior. They also forced him to give up much of the outward markers that allowed him to live in his chosen gender while again filming the abuse.
When the two women had sold all of the furniture and possessions in Onrubia’s home, they beat him to death.
Onrubia’s was found, disfigured by physical abuse, dead in his own excrement and urine. It was clear he had been forced to spend an unknown amount of months living and sleeping on the same mattress where he was forced to go to the bathroom rather than be allowed to use the facilities in the home. He was also extremely malnurished at the time of his death; Reyes Navarro and Bergantiños took pleasure in denying him food and may have even linked the starvation to their transphobic torture by telling him his dwindling body helped him look “more like a man.”
While the abuse in this story is horrifying, one has to ask why none of his neighbors, co-workers, or friends asked what happened to him. Though he did receive calls during this time, Reyes Navarro and Bergantiños took his cellphone and screened his calls. No one seems to have done more than a preliminary inquiry about where Onrubia was and why he had allowed these two women to sell everything he owned. Was he ignored because he was trans or did he lack an extensive support network because he had transitioned and was rebuilding his life? Either way, his vulnerability seemed to be clearly linked to cissupremacy that often requires people to start completely over when they transition.
For their crimes, Dolores de los Reyes Navarro and Ainhoa Nogales Bergantiños were fined US$180,000 and sentenced to 18 years each in prison. While it is an impressive conviction given the slap on the wrist most murderers of transgender people receive, can we really put a price on the life of any person, especially one who tried to help others survive?
This article is based on information from El Pais