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Why the Dana Rivers Case Should Wake Up the ‘Be Kind’ Folks
A lesbian-feminist point of view
My therapy was also reaching a peak. The hormones I had begun taking were coursing through my body. I felt alive as never before. The chronic depression I had held at bay for so long left me, and my eyes sparkled with newfound joy. On my chest, hair thinned and nubile breasts began to peek out from beneath larger nipples. My body was changing to finally align itself with how I felt inside.
- Dana Rivers, “An American Woman,” 2000, reprinted from Hostile Climate: Report on Anti-Gay Activity, published by People for the American Way, 2000
Gives transgendered people the chance to reclaim their connection to God.
- Dana Rivers, Board of Directors, International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), on Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach, 2001
@katebornstein #pornhelped me understand my gender deviant mindfreak is healthy & sane and delightfully irrational.
- Dana Rivers to Kate Bornstein, Twitter, February 2, 2010
In 2019, when I attended two hearings for Dana Rivers in Alameda County Courthouse in downtown Oakland, CA, he was brought into the courtroom in prison garb and handcuffs to stand at a podium facing the judge. With his back mainly turned to the gallery, only some minor visible tattooing was evident, as his shoulder-length hair covered up some of it on his neck. While Rivers’s lawyer and the judge went on mumbling about medical evaluations that had been performed, the words “sanity” and “insanity” were batted around. At both of these hearings, Rivers only uttered about ten words total, and I couldn’t get over the obvious twenty years of estrogen he’d clearly been on—as his skin appeared quite soft for a man who was sixty-four years old and thinning. It bothered me to think that, under “normal” circumstances, out in public, Rivers’s altered secondary sex characteristics may have tricked the unaware. And, of course, our tax dollars had been paying for his delusion. Then it struck me deeply how sad it was that women, especially lesbians, would have ever accepted a man like him into their intimate spaces.
NOV 3, 2022
Day Four of The People v. Dana Rivers:
Will the Jury Like My Tight Sweater?
Now, three years later, there he was: seated in a wheelchair, about thirty feet from me, and the angle was more revealing. His body was facing more toward the jury now. He was wearing a dark, soft-knit women’s long-sleeved turtleneck sweater. Immediately, one could notice the fabric clung to a pair of rather large fake breasts that appeared so unnatural for the rest of his body, which had become more gaunt over his time spent in prison.
I sat as closely as I was able and mostly had the left side of his upper torso in my view. But his seated positioning enabled me to clearly watch him occasionally shift so that the view of how he appeared directly across from the jurors was more revealed. Several times he shifted just enough so that I could see the right side of his upper body—and what I saw absolutely enraged me. Rivers had an obvious, erect nipple on his right side that his sweater clung to.
What is the importance of this detail, minor as it may seem? It signaled a type of exhibitionism, one evident among the men whom sexologist Ray Blanchard has classified as “autogynephilic.” This was the anatomic variety among the men fetishizing women’s bodies. For Rivers, this “dressing up” corresponded with his previous behavior, including a website he hosted featuring photos of himself wearing lingerie to better express his “female identity.” On Twitter, citing Kate Bornstein, a fellow “trans” activist, Rivers even said that pornography helped him, in his words, “understand [his] gender deviant mindfreak is healthy & sane and delightfully irrational.” The sweater clinging to his fake breasts, with his erect nipple, was what the jurors would face the entire proceedings—as “she” and “her” pronouns were casually applied to Rivers, a violent man. This manipulation of language—and reality itself—would serve to bolster the absolute delusion, involving all that were present. A white male transvestic fetishist who murdered a mixed-race lesbian couple and their Black son would be called a “woman.” And, ultimately, Rivers’s case represents the social and political nightmare that has been institutionalized in language and, as we have seen, in law. We have been entrapped in normalizing that which never should be—at the cost of women’s lives.
NOV 11, 2016
How One Murderous Man, Celebrated for Wearing a Dress, Created a Media Blackout
I was managing an art house movie theatre in the Bay Area and the film Denial had been released just a couple weeks before. I was working on writing a review of it when I got a phone call from my friend Lenn Keller, a wonderful photographer and Black lesbian archivist. She sounded devastated. I thought she had personally experienced something horrible—or that someone we mutually knew had been hurt in some way. Lenn blurted out in fury that this man, whom we had been talking about close to a decade before, had just been arrested for murdering a lesbian couple and their nineteen-year-old son. “What man?” I asked her. To which Lenn replied: “That prick who trapped his students in the classroom, got fired, sued for discrimination and won and was paid off $150,000! HIM! He killed these women and their son in East Oakland!”
My brain went into a state of denial. I had been thinking of that film of the same name, one that happened to be based on a true story. And this theme of denying reality had infiltrated my thoughts so completely that, at first, I kind of blanked on what Lenn was saying to me. “We’ve got to do something,” she said. “We’ve got to let people here know and have a protest or something coz no one will touch this!” When we had that conversation back in 2007, we had recently pulled off a successful protest against the Frameline Film Festival and gotten press for it. Based on this past success, she felt very urgent about getting something—anything—off the ground to get ahead of this story.
The Personal Is (Still) Political
I knew Lenn was right; I knew that this story would receive little—if any—press. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2016 meant being conscious that we, as lesbians, were living under this vast experiment that had been devastating the lives in our culture for about thirty years at that point. If this killing spree she was telling me about was true, then it meant the straight world would have to pay attention—as all of our previous cries had fallen upon deaf ears, as usual. And, even more unforgivably painful, the silencing and shaming came directly from within “the community.” That “T” added to “LGB”—the Trojan Horse that a number of us feared—had long succeeded in colonizing our culture. With Rivers, this colonization brought forth a mass murderer who, first, violated lesbians’ boundaries and, finally, took innocent lives.
A white heterosexual male with a past of alcoholism and three failed marriages, David Chester Warfield, a.k.a. Dana Rivers, had changed his name, began taking wrong-sex hormones and added fake breasts to his stocky upper body. He then invaded and infiltrated women’s spaces and multiple women’s groups, especially those specifically for lesbians. All of this boundary-breaking, presumably for so-called “trans rights,” led Rivers to become embraced as “an activist for the transgender community.” He had been faking womanhood for sixteen years at the time of the triple homicide, and, true to form, the San Francisco “queer” press went quiet on the story.
Only a couple of news print platforms covered the crimes he committed, and one Bay Area TV station summed it up in a ninety-second piece. I reached out to one of the reporters to ask about a newspaper article that was published and if he was going to pursue the story further. He informed me that he was told to “drop any further reporting on this story” and that there was a “media blackout issued” on the Rivers case. So, it was unlikely that I would learn of any details until the case went to trial. I was gobsmacked and asked him why that would be. He told me that “this usually only happens when there is politics involved”—and that was that. But what kind of “politics,” at least applied to lesbians, would suppress a story like this?
This dead end left the only way to get information—or speculation—being via the “lesbian grapevine” which meant direct phone calling and through a member subscription newsletter platform called Lesbian Connection. In very quick succession, rumors flew around the country that demonstrated shock, sadness, and fear of potential copycat crimes that could happen. Stories about this murderer’s years of harassing women while trying to gain entrance to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, or Michfest, were rampant. Yet no one appeared to personally know the two lesbians whom Rivers murdered. Beyond the blackout, actual reporting did take place on a now-deleted website called GenderTrender, run by an anonymous reporter using the pseudonym “Gallus Mag.” Interestingly, it would later be revealed that, although this reporter lived three-thousand miles across the country, she turned out to have a pretty close account of what actually happened with the crimes Rivers had committed.
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Determined to Expose This Killer
So, in planning to hold what we decided would be a demonstration, I realized I could use this new tech tool—a livestreaming app called Periscope—to stream our action to viewers. It would go straight to Twitter, which meant a wider audience would learn of this atrocity and, importantly, active lesbian resistance to it. Lenn and I already assumed that, with the crime of a white man slaughtering a mixed-race couple and their Black son, it would surely garner the interest of the Black community to participate in a demonstration against this case of injustice. We thought that, once local lesbians really understood the nature of this crime, they would surely rally en masse to protest. So, with these considerations made, we began by trying to see if we could get any locals who connected online via a longtime listserv set up for SF Bay Area lesbians and bisexual women.
This listserv had thousands that were subscribed, and it used to be a godsend of vital information for any woman that needed quick turnaround referrals, advice or notifications pertinent to same sex-attracted women as a community. But all that it took was my posting one announcement that I was “seeking any lesbians who would like to join a demonstration at the Alameda County Courthouse where Rivers was likely going to be tried.” I received a warning from the admin of the listserv that I had violated the new “guidelines” of the now over twenty-year-old platform. Then I was banned for thirty days. I saw that, in the description for the listserv itself, the wording had been changed from simply “An announcement mailing list for lesbians and bisexual women in the Bay Area” to, “Announcement mailing list for lesbians and bisexuals in the Bay Area, open to anyone who identifies as a woman.” This update took place around 2014. I knew of at least three female impersonators who had infiltrated the listserv, and all of them were dogged about policing and reporting any member for “anti-trans bigotry” as a reason. Then, by 2018, use of the term, “transphobia” replaced that earlier phrasing with far higher frequency, as we see it used now.
Without being able to use that former “lifeline” for connecting with the L’s and the B’s among women, I took to Facebook and reached out to several radicalized lesbian feminists that I knew were not down with supporting these dangerous colonizers. While some flat out told me, “No,” and that they would not want to risk their lives, others ghosted—and even blocked me. Some that could have physically been able to show up for such an action suddenly had a million excuses as to why it was not possible for them to participate. I then took to using an age-old networking tool: the telephone. After years of gathering groups for both cultural and political actions, I had a lot of phone numbers but far fewer phone numbers for lesbians specifically. But there was no luck with this approach either, with it producing similar results to my Facebook efforts: silence and excuses.
I made fliers and posted them at the local lesbian and gay center—only to have them removed by the next day as I went back to follow up. So I put up another one and got reprimanded immediately for breaking the rules at one of these centers. My message was declared “alarming and triggering for some visitors to the Center.” I had been warned that if I showed up “one more time with that brand of hatred,” I would be banned from attending any groups there or using the facility to rent for holding any meetings. Apparently, organizing lesbians and bisexual women to demonstrate over a white heterosexual male killing a mixed-race lesbian couple and their Black son qualifies as “hatred.” And, of course, “misgendering” is the real violence, not men violating women’s boundaries.
I tried reaching out to two Black pastors whom I knew personally, who had been active in raising the numbers of their church members to get out and vote for Obama nine years before. Surely, I thought to myself, the Black community would rise up and get behind the fact that a white man killed two Black individuals in cold blood. While the pastors were sympathetic, they admitted they could not afford the potential harm that could come to their buildings or their pulpits. There were these rejections and the excuses of lesbians in the area who just could not be brave enough to stand in a legal, peaceful demonstration. We would hold large signs, with large font, showing messages like, “DANA RIVERS IS A WHITE MAN WHO MURDERED THREE HUMAN BEINGS” and “DANA RIVERS COMMITTED A TRIPLE HOMICIDE AGAINST A LESBIAN COUPLE & SON.” Yet the very communities that should have organized responded with fear. This was all just too painful and felt self-defeating.
Lenn and I got the message loud and clear: It is 2016 and no one gives a shit about what just happened to three innocent human beings. We could not rally the lesbian community. We could not rally the Black community. There was a media blackout in effect and the entire geographic area has been captured. We could not even talk about these murders locally without being accused of “hatred.” Add to these circumstances the fact that any former women’s physical gathering spaces have been infiltrated by men. Local women had long been groomed, becoming handmaids.
After the years had passed, I finally made it to the courthouse to catch a couple of the Rivers hearings in 2019. I spent hours pouring over the notes of the case on the courthouse computers. I learned that the reporting on GenderTrender had been very close to what the officer’s notes from the crime scenes stated, and I understood that medical-mental status was being reviewed so the defense could plan their selling points and strategy. Specifically they wanted to get to this:
Was Rivers going to be deemed INSANE or SANE at the time of these murders?
Here’s one of three medical evaluations produced by different psych doctors who had spent time with Rivers while he was locked up in the Santa Rita Women’s Prison Facility:
When COVID hit, 2020 became a year where courtrooms and judges slid behind computer monitors and held mainly non-public hearings at irregular intervals throughout the year, if at all. Throughout 2021, there were hearings delayed, many changed dates for the Rivers trial, and, by April, the plea of “Not guilty by reason of insanity” had been entered by Rivers with the court appointing a mental health examiner to evaluate the veracity of this premise. The remainder of the year consisted of frustration as we waited for delayed doctor reports, readiness hearings, and jury selections to be completed. After several scheduled court dates that changed, the trial was set to begin on October 31, 2022—seriously, on Halloween.
The Most Frightening Realizations from the 1st Phase of the 2022 Trial
Among the rumors that had been circulated since 2016 was that Dana had belonged to a “Women’s Motorcycle Club.” But any other details were not forthcoming, and it would not be until the trial that this fact became what I considered to be the bombshell. It was an ugly piece, among the ugliest, of the larger story in the entire proceedings.
On Nov. 10, which was the eighth day of the trial, after it had begun on Oct. 31 with all the gory forensic details being largely laid out by expert witness after expert witness, prosecuting attorney Abigail Mulvihill put witness Sandra Carranza on the stand. Sandra had been and still is currently the acting President of the Deviants Motorcycle Club that Rivers was a member of. Prosecutor Mulvihill was seeking to clarify the relationship that Carranza had with Rivers, and also her relationship with one of Rivers’s victims—Charlotte Reed. It was determined that Reed had been interested in, but actually never did join, the Deviants. But the history shared by all of these women—and Rivers—was about to be revealed more intensely.
Sandra reminded me of a lot of the old-school butch women from the lesbian bar scenes that I’d encountered in my youth. Short in stature, soft-spoken and with a tell-tale either past or current smoker’s low growl in speech, and any former swagger or braggadocio had long passed now with aging. She was on the defense several times when asked what must have seemed to her as “leading” questions after Mulvihill brought up the fact that Sandra was the first to visit Rivers in prison and had brought other motorcycle members to visit him out of respect for his connection to the club. Mulvihill was more than hinting that Sandra demonstrated a loyalty and personal closeness to Rivers, even when the club itself stated that no one could be a member of the Deviants if in prison.
Sandra would respond in a challenging manner with lines like, “If that’s what you think,” as if Mulvihill was just creating fantasy scenarios out of the air. After Mulvihill asked several questions of Sandra regarding a series of terse text messages sent by her to Charlotte Reed, Sandra simply stated, “I don’t recall.” Then Mulvihill presented to the court for all to see and magnified for us on two separate large monitors the visible proof of text messages between Sandra and Reed that were damning.
When Mulvihill then asked Sandra about recorded voice clips that were directed at Reed with Mulvihill suggesting there to be a level of malice Sandra had towards Reed, Sandra dryly replied, “If that’s what I said.” But all of this was deflection from accountability. What this witness appeared to make clear was that the entire club was complicit, that it approved of supporting Rivers, no matter the crime. Or, perhaps more terrifyingly, maybe they supported him because of the crimes he committed. Mulvihill was definitely suggesting that this triple homicide may have been sanctioned by the club—and the stillness this theory brought into the courtroom was palpable.
As the proceedings came to a close for the day, there was this very strange moment that lasted about twenty solid seconds. I found myself glaring right at Rivers—as he was glaring menacingly right back. But his eyes shifted a bit, and he was also glaring into the eyes of a friend sitting right next to me. It appeared that the three of us became locked in a kind of competitive death-staring contest that was only broken by the judge’s voice that caused Rivers to turn away. My friend and I touched hands in silent recognition of what will likely be one of the creepiest things that ever happened to either of us.
Overwhelming feelings of disgust, anger, sadness, and loss came up for me throughout this trial… It was six long years of waiting for some answers, some retribution, for those closely connected to the three victims… And, then, it culminated in a verdict of “guilty” and the judge ruling that this man was, indeed, sane at the time of the killings... This all just scratches the surface of the consequences that this man’s crimes have created. But there is something even more damning and frightening to me, when all is said and done, even after the court reconvenes on the scheduled date later this month on January 31st. For over fifty years, there has been a smaller number of us who have been warning about colluding with the enemy, i.e. female impersonators that predate upon women—and, for some, children. It has ultimately, and tragically, been women, including lesbians, who have permitted, even invited, this enemy. Spaces that should be considered sacred and protected for us have been occupied. Even the ownership of conversations and platforms originally for women has shifted to men’s control—worst of all, with women’s complicity and collaboration. This makes it easier for any of us who dare to say “No” to their delusion to become targets of their violence. It is unlearning that “be kind” programming that so many women have had ingrained in them since childhood that needs to be a real focus in our battle. Only in undoing this collusion can we stop the repeated cycle of losing ground to our very agency.
Today, with the “affirmation” of the amorphous “gender,” with legalized, experimental genital surgeries performed on children and young people, our gatekeeping is being pushed by new faux “allies.” Presently, they are infiltrating our very conversations and movements about child safeguarding. We see men producing events, who are themselves living in delusions of gender, claiming “allyship.” They seek constant validation to be received not only as women but also as lesbians. These men’s inclusion amplifies the illusion of progress while undermining the gains we have made.
Decades on, since the start of men colonizing the lesbian community, Dana Rivers’s calculated and brutal crimes should serve as a warning. He represents a warning so evident to anyone who even remotely cares about what we are truly up against. What Rivers did to Charlotte Reed, Patricia Wright, and Toto “Benny” Diambu-Wright, possessing womanhood and taking women’s lives, should be a call for us to stop “being kind.” Women, especially, must actively arm themselves with competence. We need to recognize how the personal is still political. Like past femicides perpetrated by men, Rivers’s actions should awaken us. The forcefulness of women’s organized resistance matters. Only an unapologetic resistance will dissuade any man impersonating women from the kind of intrusion that has transformed our everyday lives. We need to stop listening to those commanding us to “be kind” while they enable fetishistic, even femicidal, men.
In memory of the victims:
Toto “Benny” Diambu-Wright
Diana Shaw, “Famed Transgender-Identifying Activist Accused of Violent Murders of Female Couple, Couple’s Son,” Women Are Human, January 17, 2019. https://www.womenarehuman.com/male-transgender-famed-trans-right-activist-accused-of-violent-murder-of-female-couple-their-son-dana-rivers
Genevieve Gluck, “Trans Activist To Stand Trial For the Brutal Murder of a Lesbian Couple and Son,” Reduxx, October 14, 2022. https://reduxx.info/trans-activist-to-stand-trial-for-the-brutal-murder-of-a-lesbian-couple-and-son
Genevieve Gluck, “Prominent Trans Activist Found Guilty for 2016 Triple Homicide of California Family,” Reduxx, November 16, 2022. https://reduxx.info/prominent-trans-activist-found-guilty-for-2016-triple-homicide-of-california-family
Mandy Stadtmiller, “Rabbitholed #78: Dana Rivers Is the Story the Media Doesn't Want You to Read,” Rabbitholed, December 8, 2022.
Here is a deeper dive into some revelations from the trial:
Nate Gartrell, “Transgender Activist, Teacher Was Vengeful ‘Enforcer’ for All-Female Biker Gang, Leading to Oakland Triple Homicide, DA Says,” New Hampshire Union Leader, October 26, 2022. https://www.unionleader.com/news/crime/transgender-activist-teacher-was-vengeful-enforcer-for-all-female-biker-gang-leading-to-oakland-triple/article_d8177b1d-ef96-52c2-a8cc-8f7438c5d42c.html
For more day-by-day trial details see https://twitter.com/AirDhatu.
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