What is the first question we ask after hearing that a loved one is expecting a new baby? “Is it a girl or a boy?” From then on, every decision made about that child’s life will be based on her/his gender. What about those of us who do not subscribe to or fit into the gender given to us at birth? Or those among us that identify as gender queer?
The two-gender system is used to regulate gender expression. For those of us who fail to follow these two rigid options for gender expression, female or male, we are forced to the fringes of every segment of society. Transgender youth are routinely kicked out of their families of origin, drop out of school, are denied housing and medical care, and a majority find it almost impossible to obtain employment. Consequently, many resort to illegal economies to support themselves leading to the high rates of imprisonment in transgender communities.
It is estimated that 30% of the transgender population is either imprisoned, formerly imprisoned, or on probation or parole. According to Alexander Lee, attorney for the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project, an organization dedicated to changing the current California Department of Corrections and “Rehabilitation” (CDCR) policy regarding transgender people in California’s prisons, the exact number of transgender prisoners is virtually impossible to determine as a result on the invisibility of transgender prisoners to the prison administration. In the CDCR’s 204-page document outlining California’s prison regulations, the only mention of transgender or gender variant people concerns housing policy. Essentially, if a prisoner identifies as “homosexual,” that prisoner may require “special housing”, also known as Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg), supposedly reserved for prisoners with disciplinary issues. People who speak out against sexual assault are also routinely segregated. Thus transgender prisoners are forced to live in isolation because of homophobic and transphobic prison housing policy.
The absence of policy regarding transgender prisoners culminates in the majority of transgender folk being housed in institutions according to their genitalia without regard for their gender identity. This discriminates not only against those trans folk who cannot afford sexual reassignment surgery, but also against those who choose not to have surgery. Current policy allows continued hormone therapy for prisoners who can prove that they were receiving treatment prior to incarceration. However, many transwomen, specifically transwomen of color, are denied treatment because they may have obtained hormones without a prescription prior to incarceration. More than half of transgender prisoners are people of color. This intersection of race, class and transgender significantly impacts the discriminatory practices experienced by transgender prisoners of color.
CCWP is committed to raising awareness to issues impacting transgender prisoners and advocating for measurable changes in the ways in which gender variant people are treated inside and outside of prisons. We believe that in order to arrive at the solutions that will liberate us all, we must fight to end all forms of oppression. The bodies of transgender people of color represent the nexus or center of systems of oppression – systems that create violent social, political, and economic outcomes for those forced to this location. The people most impacted by these systems of race, class and gender are the same people who are working towards real and sustainable solutions. CCWP is invested in supporting the leadership of transgender and gender variant people because we understand that in order to end oppression, we must support the right to self-determination for all.