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LGBTQ Nation: I am a trans woman who was incarcerated in a men’s prison. Here’s what you need to know.

In the stories and rebukes of trans women by conservative pundits and the greater conservative culture – who accuse us of “inherent predatoriness,” “Black facing” as women, and much worse – I have found a sense of being disempowered, dislocated and even disembodied. Nothing has brought those feelings home more greatly than the fear and hate-mongering around trans women in custody, fueled by conservatives pandering to their constituents and peers. 

As a trans woman who was confined to a men’s prison, the fact that these people don’t see me and others like me as vulnerable, as feminine, as prey, and as without power or protection is both outrageous and infuriating. 

One of the main problems with the culture and politics that vilify trans women is the deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes that underlie them. In Western society, masculinity is often equated with power and strength, while femininity is associated with weakness and vulnerability. This dichotomy is perpetuated by the media, politicians, and even the justice system itself.

These attitudes are particularly harmful to trans women, who are often subjected to discrimination, harassment, and violence because they do not conform to traditional gender norms.

Conservative pundits and politicians, in particular, have taken advantage of this vulnerability to score political points and mobilize their base. They spread hateful and misleading rhetoric about trans women, portraying them as deviants and predators who threaten the safety and morality of society – usually through the lens and aims of Christofacism

This vilification is compounded by the fact that trans women are often incarcerated in men’s prisons, where they are subjected to a heightened risk of violence and abuse.

Despite the fact that trans women with secondary sexual female characteristics are inherently vulnerable and feminine, they are still forced to live among male prisoners who often view them as targets. This policy is not only cruel and inhumane but also goes against the principles of justice and equality that the justice system is supposed to uphold.

Furthermore, the justice system itself is often biased against trans women, as evidenced by the high rates of arrest and conviction for crimes such as prostitution and drug use. This bias is rooted in the societal stigma attached to being transgender and reinforces the notion that trans women are inherently deviant and immoral. In this way, the justice system becomes complicit in the discrimination and persecution of trans women.

To address these issues, we need a cultural and political shift that recognizes the humanity and dignity of trans women.

This shift must begin with education and awareness-raising campaigns that challenge harmful stereotypes and promote empathy and understanding. It must also include policy changes that address the unique needs and vulnerabilities of trans women, such as housing them in women’s prisons and providing them with access to healthcare and other essential services.

To understand the issue at hand, we must first recognize the intersectionality of trans identity, race, and class. Trans women of color are at the highest risk of violence and discrimination and are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and the justice system.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 12% of trans people overall reported being incarcerated, with the number rising to 47% for Black trans women. Additionally, a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 22% of trans people who had been incarcerated reported being sexually assaulted while in custody.

First, let’s talk about the conservative pundits and politicians who love to stoke fear and hatred of trans women amongst their base.

These self-appointed moral guardians would have you believe that trans women are lurking around every corner, just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims. Of course, this is complete nonsense, but who needs facts when you can score political points by demonizing a marginalized group?

Despite this clear evidence of systemic bias and discrimination, conservative politicians and pundits continue to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about trans women. They portray trans women as inherently predatory and a threat to women’s safety, using this narrative to justify everything from discriminatory bathroom laws to the violent treatment of trans people in custody.

And then there are the prisons. Ah, yes, the shining beacons of justice and rehabilitation that are actually more like human warehouses for the “undesirables” of society. It’s bad enough that anyone has to endure the dehumanizing experience of incarceration, but for trans women, it’s a special kind of hell. Despite having secondary sexual female characteristics, these women are still thrown into men’s prisons where they are at high risk of violence, abuse, and sexual assault. How’s that for “justice” and “rehabilitation”?

But of course, the real problem here is the deeply ingrained patriarchal attitudes that underlie all of this. The notion that masculinity is synonymous with power and femininity with weakness is nothing new, but it’s still shockingly pervasive. It’s the reason why trans women are viewed as threats to “real women” and why their very existence is seen as a challenge to the social order.

For example, some individuals may believe that trans women are trying to “pass” as women to gain access to spaces that are traditionally reserved for women, such as women’s restrooms or locker rooms, and that this somehow undermines the safety and security of “real women.” 

Another reason some people view trans women as a threat is due to the patriarchal belief that privileges men over women and reinforces the idea that men should hold power and dominance over others.

By transitioning and identifying as women, some trans women are seen as surrendering the “precious” patriarchal power that comes with being perceived as male. This is threatening to some individuals because it challenges their belief in the superiority of men and the inferiority of women. Some may view this as an affront to the traditional gender roles and power dynamics with which they are familiar. 

The vilification of trans women is a clear example of how deeply ingrained patriarchal attitudes continue to inform our cultural and political discourse. The idea that femininity is inherently weak and powerless, while masculinity is strong and dominant, leads to a deep-seated fear and mistrust of trans women. This fear is compounded by the fact that trans women challenge the gender binary and traditional notions of what it means to be a “real” man or woman.

To address this issue, we need to take a multifaceted approach. First and foremost, we need to recognize and challenge the deep-seated patriarchal attitudes that underlie the vilification of trans women. We must work to create a culture that celebrates and embraces gender diversity, rather than seeing it as a threat.

Additionally, we need to demand that trans women be housed in women’s prisons, where they will be safer and better able to access the resources they need to thrive. This means not only changing policies and procedures within the justice system, but also addressing larger societal issues like poverty, lack of access to healthcare, and discrimination in employment and housing.

We also need to continue to advocate for broader criminal justice reform. This means investing in alternatives to incarceration, such as restorative justice programs, and addressing the root causes of crime, such as poverty, addiction, and mental illness.

Finally, we need to center the voices and experiences of trans women in this conversation. Too often, trans people are talked about as if they are objects to be studied or problems to be solved. We must listen to their experiences and perspectives, and work to center their needs. 

The culture and politics that vilify trans women and incarcerate them in men’s prisons are both deeply problematic and unjust. We need a comprehensive and nuanced approach that recognizes the humanity and dignity of trans women and addresses the root causes of their discrimination and persecution. Only then can we begin to create a more just and equitable society for all.

LGBTQ Nation