This year the CCWF (Central California Women’s Facility) has grown to include men transitioning to women who have not had their gender reassignment surgery so we now have trans females in women’s prisons. There is an effort to remove the word “women” from the prison’s name. The issue now is trying to meet the needs of women and transgender prisons and protecting the rights of both.
By 2016, there were several transgender men-to-women prisoners who had integrated into the women’s prison. They had reassignment surgery prior to their arrest and had spent their pre-arrest life as a woman. They each clearly identified as female and lived as a woman. Some struggled to be accepted by fellow inmates and staff but most were able to find their place in the complex world of a woman’s prison.
In 2016/2017, CDCR began to approve male inmates’ gender reassignment surgery. After surgery, the transitioned prisoner were transferred to a woman’s prison. They struggled more than those who came before them. Because reassignment surgery came later in life, their features were more masculine and their voices deep. The population was acutely aware of their male origin and even their CDC numbers identified them as being from a men’s prison. The size of these women was also intimidating to many prisoners and staff. Before their arrival there might have been 5-6 women in the institution above a height of 5 foot 9 inches.
When the prisoners and staff welcomed these new women with resistance, human nature took over and fights broke out. These fights were used to justify fears. A few of the new women were perceived as swinging between masculine and feminine. Few paused long enough to realize the behavior they were observing were part of normal bi-polar disorder, which over half of women prisoners suffer from.
The studs and transgender female to male population were divided between welcoming the new women and seeing them as competition. There were comparisons. Women who prefer to partner with masculine partners, were more drawn to the new women. The number of female prisoners who requested the hormone therapy and would identify themselves as transgender grew dramatically. Transgenders also had more success in getting advocates, more clothing selections, and perceived to have better medical and mental health access. These “perks” also led many female inmates to choose on paper to be classified as transgender, while they had no masculine tendencies.
The risk of a female transitioning to male is higher than those of a male to a female. The men’s prisons are notorious for being more violent towards LGBQ. In the women’s prisons, the majority of the population identifies as LGBQ so there is less risk of violence. This fear of the men’s prisons meant that few of the females transitioning would consent to reassignment surgery that would make them ineligible to remain at the women’s facility. This developed a third gender within a system that has a history of not being able to manage two genders. This transgender community was growing and was neither wholly male or female.
The female population of women facilities has had to adjust. Most women in the prisons pride themselves on being inclusive but most were also victimized by men. Living years isolated from men except for officers who have ultimate authority over them, left many unprepared for their own reaction to suddenly being around masculine people. Some who had been violently victimized by men would have panic attacks around the new women with deep masculine voices and masculine features. Women were forced to live in a cell with a person who has distinct masculine features and a deep voice. Being woken from a nightmare of being gang raped to see a person who had a close physical representation of the object of their nightmare (men) was traumatizing.
On an intellectual level women know that these transgenders are female but they see the transgender women who are neither female or male but are both. They are willing to trust the female side of the transgender but they still struggle with the masculine side of the person. This contradiction began the strain on tolerance and inclusion.
When a woman was uncomfortable or was triggered, she was accused of being homophobic, a bigot, or discrimination. The simple truth was the woman was uncomfortable being around masculine people and no amount of hormones and makeup can completely erase masculine from a body that was born male.
The woman who is uncomfortable is not protected by law or by public opinion.
The new law states that a “transgender” may select the prison where they feel most comfortable. After years of abuse at the hands of men, most would prefer to live with women. The same is true of women. After a life time of abuse, most would choose to not live around men. But in today’s world that is no longer an option.
This division and complication was increased exponentially in 2021 when pre-op male-to-female transgenders were allowed to join the general population of women prisons. The transitioning men have lived years in a male prison with their culture and politics. Now they are not only trying to transition their gender, but will also be transitioning into a completely different living environment and culture. Cell living denies privacy to all and there is no way to ignore the differences. Women who would be triggered by a fully transitioned transgender was now more triggered.
Where do the rights of protecting victimized women and the rights of a transgender person to be accepted on the basis of the identity meet in harmony. So far CDCR and the inmates in their charge have not been able to answer that question.