I find that writing about transgender issues is difficult, for I want to both adhere to liberal tenets that respect people’s identities ensure moral and legal equality as far as possible, yet also ensure a kind of fairness that comes from realizing that while, for gender labels, a “transwoman is a woman and a transman is a man”, there are a couple of exceptions because transitioning involves modifying one’s biological (natal) sex. My solution has been pointing out a few areas in which inequality of treatment of trans- verus cis-people is useful in the interests of fairness (some sports participation, prison occupancy, rape counseling, halfway houses, and the like), but to hew to equality in all other areas (pronoun use, bathroom occupancy, etc.) But even carving out a few exceptions gets one called a “transphobe”. Well, I can live with the opprobrium so long as I think I’m right.
The latest flare-up in this matter involves the transfer of prisoners from men’s to women’s prisons, and vice versa, as outlined in the articles below from the Los Angeles Times (first piece) and the Associated Press. Click on the screenshots to read.
There’s also this article from WOLF (the Women’s Liberation Front), which is more tendentious and uses more anonymous sources. But it shouldn’t be ignored. I believe WOLF is one of those feminists organizations branded as TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), which seems even more restrictive of trans “rights” than I am. But their claims might well be right.
The backstory: last September, California governor Gaven Newsom signed a bill allowing people to occupy prisons conforming to their gender identity (with the exception of any “management or security concerns” by the state). Gender identity is determined solely by asking prisoners to name theirs when they enter prison (some of these are sexual offenders), and are based solely on self-identification—not on anatomy, chromosomes, or other markers. There are similar laws in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York City.
One can envision problems with this, even if one used markers other than self-identification by gender. But going with the self-ID criterion alone, the possible problems for trans men who want to transfer to men’s prisons is that they are biological women, though they may have undergone hormone or surgical treatment (some prisons pay for that), and thus possible targets for harassment and rape. You can imagine the kind of flak such a prisoner would get given the rough nature of prison life. On the other hand, a trans woman who requests transfer to a women’s prison creates two kinds of problems. The first is that, if they still have the sexual equipment and urges of men, as well as the superior body strength of that sex, they could sexually assault cis female inmates. Or sexual congress could be unforced, with cis female inmates getting pregnant through voluntary sexual intercourse, creating the problem of pregnant prisoners which sex-segregation of prisons is meant to avoid. (One can imagine that in both cases, someone of the opposite biological sex thrown into an institution of voluntary celibacy would create “issues.”) These issues should not arise, though, with those whose identity is not a ruse, and whose reasons for requesting transfer, is genuine.
The WOLF article, and their tweets below, reports that at least one California cis-woman inmate has gotten pregnant “after being housed with a male (i.e., trans-female) felon.” The implication is that this was rape, but it’s not at all clear what happened. What is clear is that the problem will increase. With the recent exponential rise in adolescent natal girls wanting to become trans-men, and laws (in my view misguided) that regard self-identification alone as an unchallengeable marker of both gender and sex (this is creating problems for sports as well), we have a recipe for trouble.
I thought the requests for transfer would be few, and the problem small, but the AP report says that there have been 261 requests for transfers since the law took effect on January 1 of this year. (1% of California’s prisoners, according to the AP, “identify as nonbinary, intersex, or transgender.”) Even without these transfers, the problem is acute, as they report a 2007 study that 59% of prison inmates in these gender categories experience sexual assault: a rate 13% higher than cis people. It’s expected that, for example, if you identify as a woman in a man’s prison, and act or dress like one, you’re making yourself liable for assault by sexually deprived (and criminal) inmates. That is not the fault of the nonbinary or transgener prisoners, of course, but it’s a predictable problem that, like prison transfer, needs a solution.
Another issue, mentioned by the AP as a concern of prisoners and staff, is that prisoners may try to game the system. An untreated biological male may say he’s a transgender woman simply to get into a women’s prison where he might have access to women—and sex. Indeed, the LA Times article reports that one transgender woman incarcerated in a men’s prison knows of five biologically male inmates who have applied for transfer to women’s prisons “under false pretenses”. Again, most of the reporting in these articles by inmates is hearsay, as names cannot be used.
Advocates of the California policy say the problems are few, but so far there have been few transfers. And those transfers that have occurred between prisons have attendant problems (not always—some prisoners report improved conditions after transfer), problems involving bad treatment of transsexual inmates. While it’s not fair for transsexual people to be treated differently in prison than on the outside, it’s understandable given the conditions of prison life.
As for the WOLF article; it’s summarized in part by the tweets below (indeed, the whole organization’s Twitter feed seems devoted to the California issue):
Our connections tell us that at least 3 of the men have now been moved to Administrative Segregation. (Because this is private health data, we're not currently able to confirm any more than this.)
— WoLF (@WomensLibFront) July 26, 2021
They add that women’s prisons have started informing inmates about abortion, adoption, and prenatal care, and making both condoms and the Plan B pill available to inmates. I can’t confirm this from any other article. The article also makes the following claims, some of which are verifiable (but which I haven’t verified):
Women’s prisons across the state appear to be making final preparations such as these for a massive wave of transfers after nearly 300 requests were initiated following SB 132 going into effect in January of this year. So far, only about 20 of the transfers have been processed (and exactly zero transfer requests have been denied) — leaving hundreds of men, many of whom are sex offenders, awaiting entry into the women’s estate.
. . . The facilities are also increasing security measures in preparation for potentially hundreds of new dangerous and violent men living alongside the vulnerable female inmate population. Women’s prisons have traditionally been lower-security and afforded more privileges to inmates since incarcerated women are less violent than men and pose a lower risk to Correctional Officers (COs) and each other. CCWF’s prison yard, for example, had been home for over three decades to trees which provided shade from the desert sun and a home to local birds. Once the men started coming, the trees were cut down, as they were seen as a security risk. (CCWF denies this happened, despite the first-hand accounts from incarcerated women). The security level of individual male inmates is otherwise completely disregarded once they enter the women’s facility, as prisons opt instead to remove privileges from all inmates.
. . .The prison has been unable to prevent or stop sexual activity between male inmates housed with incarcerated women, though. Sources tell us there have been incidents of sexual assault, as well as illicit sexual activity between the male inmates and women, putting the women at risk of pregnancy and disease, including HIV, as well as increased risk of disciplinary actions that can affect chances of parole. Avoiding the negative consequences of sex between males and females is, of course, one reason why prisons are single-sex to begin with.
As more men arrive at the women’s facilities, the crisis will only worsen. In just six months since the enactment of SB 132, the number of incarcerated people self-identifying as trans or non-binary (thus becoming eligible to request a facility transfer) has increased from 1,088 to 1,237. The nearly 300 pending transfers are only the beginning of the invasion of women’s prisons by violent male inmates, including convicted murderers and rapists.
“You might as well declare the prison is co-ed and ship us off to Pelican Bay!” one devastated woman currently incarcerated in CCWF said.
As I said, there is no substantive documentation of the anecdotes or verbal assertions of inmates in California from WOLF, though, as in the penultimate paragraph, there are checkable statements.
The good news is that this is not an insoluble problem. One solution is to have special wings for transsexual prisoners segregated from other cis-sexual inmates. That, however, would violate the trans-activist claim that “trans women are women and trans men are men.”
Sadly, that isn’t always the way they’re treated in prison, and all the activism in the world can’t prevent rapes, sexual congress in supposedly single-sex prisons, or violence. What is clear is that there is a problem, that it will grow more serious, and that adhering to the mantra above will do nothing to solve it.