Tell me honestly — how are the state prison systems supposed to deal with the following true scenario?
The person at issue was born a man, and started taking hormones to feminize his appearance. At some point, he committed a crime and ended up in California’s state prison system. He continued to be given access to those hormones while in prison but, because he still had male genitalia (i.e., no surgery), he was assigned to a men’s prison. While in prison, he “initially was in a consensual sexual relationship with [his] cellmate in violation of prison policy, did not report specific rape claims and refused offers to be moved to a different cell. Once he made it clear [his] cellmate was sexually assaulting [him] and prison staff found strangulation marks on [his] neck, he was removed to protective custody, the state maintains.”
As a result of the assaults committed against him by his former cell mate, the person at the heart of this story is now suing the California prison system (and, by extension, the California taxpayers) for an undisclosed sum of money. Here is how the AP story opens, and please note that the person at issue, although biologically male, with a full set of male equipment, is referred to throughout using feminine pronouns:
Alexis Giraldo was born as a man and takes hormones to feminize her appearance, a fact she says prison officials didn’t care about even as her male cellmate repeatedly raped and beat her.
Giraldo is suing the state prison system and several guards over the state’s policy of assigning inmates like her to men’s or women’s prisons depending on whether they have had a sex change.
“Prisons are violent places, and male prisons are especially violent places,” said Greg Walston, a lawyer who took Giraldo’s for free and asked a jury this week for unspecified damages. “You take that boiling cauldron and you put one woman in there — which is exactly what happened here — and it’s like throwing a fresh piece of meat into a lion’s cage.”
Giraldo, 30, claims Folsom State Prison guards ignored her complaints and returned her to the same cell until she was assaulted again, then placed in protective custody and moved to another facility.
Giraldo is suing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for emotional distress and violating her constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. She has asked Superior Court Judge Ellen Chaitin to order prison officials to come up with a new system for housing transgender inmates.
Several counties in California, including San Francisco, have created separate units specifically for transgender prisoners. But like other states and the federal Bureau of Prisons, California assigns inmates to prisons based on their genitalia rather than physical appearance.
Biological men who dress and act like women but have not had sex reassignment surgery can be assigned to a psychiatric prison like the one to which Giraldo eventually transferred or the general population of a regular men’s prison.
This story really bothered me, because so many of the lines that define ordinary biology, ordinary sexual identity, and ordinary common sense are blurred. I’ve got a whole bunch of questions, and you can answer them at your leisure, since I’ll be traveling tomorrow and won’t be able to blog:
1. Why is a prisoner wearing long hair, girlie clothes and make-up in the first place? (See the picture in the AP story for my take on the hair and make-up.) Why not just prison orange and a short haircut, with no make-up? Isn’t part of the punishment of prison to remove your chance to indulge in individual self-decoration?
2. Why is Giraldo referred to as “she” and “her”? Giraldo can take as many hormones as he wants, but he still has external male genitalia and lacks internal female plumbing. I’m willing to concede that, once you have the surgery and look entirely like a woman from the outside, you’ve made the shift from one gender to another, but should a pill’s effect (breasts, less body hair and a higher voice) be sufficient to justify a news report that makes it sound as if a woman somehow wandered into a men’s prison facility?
3. I assume the taxpayer’s are paying for Giraldo’s hormones. I may be wrong, of course, but if I’m right, why are we?
Although you wouldn’t guess it to read this, I’m sympathetic to men and women who were born with the wrong wash of hormones. In my years as a parent, I’ve known both boys and girls whose hormonal make-up, from the toddler phase up, was completely out of synch with their body’s sex. Nevertheless, they were still boys, albeit feminized, or still girls, albeit masculinized.
Having said all this, if the state’s version of the story is true, the state stepped in as soon as it knew something was wrong, and rescued a very peculiar, mixed-up person from an untenable situation. And if the inmate’s story is true, the state certainly waited too long to step in and correct the situation. And no matter which story is true, I don’t like the way the news report keeps referring to Giraldo using feminine pronouns.