Serving time in prison does not get more formidable than being a transexual in prison. Being a transsexual woman in a men’s prison is something right out of the Twilight Zone.
In the cell, the dayroom, on the yard, at work and in the clinic, there’s no refuge. The rapes, beatings, robbery, threats, and sadly the killings of us transsexuals continue.
The cops don’t care. They look the other way and blame us for being trans. But some of them are drawn to us as well, male and female. Men and women doctors inspect my genitals. There are daily strip searches, in front of others. I wear baggy clothes to conceal my bumps and curves. Still, I’m so obvious.
While anyone can be sexually assaulted in detention, transgender inmates are exceptionally vulnerable to this form of violence. One study of California prisoners found that 59 percent of transgender women housed in men’s prisons had been sexually abused while incarcerated, as compared to 4 percent of non-transgender inmates in men’s prisons. Making matters worse, transgender inmates often face prejudice and discrimination in the aftermath of an assault.
I am constantly under the microscope. The guys and cops stare at me everywhere I go with curiosity, disgust and awe. Guys regard me with lust and with aching love. Lovesick men, women-starved for decades, coo and give me gifts. It’s less the ones who don’t like me than those who do that I have to watch out for. I get letters that vary from love at first sight, poetry, praise, explicit sexual fantasies and personal histories. Flirting, ogling my body, unwelcome caresses, attempted kisses, peeping toms at my door, it never ends.
I have transitioned transexually in prison. Through four decades I mutilated my genitals to get rid of them, once requiring treatment in a community hospital. One of a number of gender identity-related suicide attempts also required community hospitalization to keep me alive.
Start with the premise that I am female. Transgender specialists hired by the state prison department to evaluate transsexual inmates and recommend treatment diagnosed me to be a female psychologically. (This evaluation occurs statewide due to a federal lawsuit by a transsexual prisoner.) Until then, I had tried to get hormones and Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) for 20 years.
The prison agreed with the diagnosis and approved the recommended treatment with female hormone therapy. I am provided with sports bras, which are inferior to cup bras. I send and receive mail in my female name. There is no policy for this, it is just allowed, though at times the mailroom will cross it out and write in my birth name. Haters.
After my latest hospitalization for gender mutilation I was placed in the state’s department of mental health, which recommends SRS [Sexual Reassignment Surgery]. The prison refuses to respect the recommendation made by a panel of mental health experts.
In a court petition, I succeeded in having the prison castrate me, for an unrelated medical concern, which was a big step toward my complete medical transition. My request to transfer to a woman’s prison was denied.
I am not allowed makeup but I invent it. They don’t seem to mind when I wear it. My arching eyebrows are tattooed on. Some girls tattoo eyeliner, eye shadow, lipstick and rouge quite expertly in different colors. Although it’s against the rules to tattoo, we are not cited for it.
The humiliation in the aggregate is overwhelming. There is no relief ever. It is a daily ordeal. Often I’ve been on the verge of taking my head in my hands and screaming, covering my mouth to prevent it. I’ve had rivers of tears, mountains of anguish, valleys of sadness and self-imposed isolation. The constant stress and strain led to periodic housing in psych units.
As charges of the state, the prison department is responsible for our health care and effective mental health treatment, including SRS for those diagnosed with a medical condition. The international standards of care for the treatment of transexualism have established that “the only effective treatment” for the category of transsexuals who mutilate their genitals is SRS. The standards of care categorically hold that SRS “is not cosmetic.” Not all transsexuals desire SRS, in fact only a small percentage wants it.
Prisons nationwide need to shed their old-guard mentality and get in the 21st century and provide SRS for prisoners diagnosed with a need for it medically, as well as psychologically. They must update their housing policy to create safe trans-only housing in men’s prisons or housing in women’s prisons for those who want it. They should use feminine pronouns in reference to us and allow us feminine clothing and accessories. Transgender responsive prisons are a must today, especially in California, which has over 300 transsexuals in its prisons. Until then, transwomen in men’s prisons will continue to suffer as the subjects of confusion, ignorance, hate and sex objects to be intimidated and used.
Michael “Eva” Contreraz is serving time in California for murder.
Michael “Eva” Contreraz #C45857
Kern Valley State Prison (C-6-215)
PO Box 5103
Delano, CA 93216