Transgender people remain one of the most vulnerable populations, both in the LGBT community and in society as a whole. The issue of protecting gender identity and rights related to it stands especially acute in the penitentiary system. There are many instances of how transgender rights are violated in jails: from constant misgendering from the staff and other prisoners to isolation and refusal to provide healthcare. For example, in his article, Mathias provides evidence on the case of transgender woman Sandy Brown, who was severely mistreated during her serving time (para. 1). Thus, one can consider that currently, transgender people present one of the most concerning populations for prisons.
In general, the very fact that a person is locked up for a long period of time and cannot move towards the realization of their gender identity in itself seriously affects mental health. Integration into society in the chosen gender role is the most important step in the transgender transition, and if this process is interrupted, the consequences can be the most deplorable. However, despite the fact that prolonged isolation can have a negative impact on their psychological state, trans people who find themselves in prison conditions might prefer to be placed in solitary. This is due to the fact that a transgender person usually cannot hide their gender status in prison, which increases the risk of verbal humiliation, physical attacks, and sexual violence (Mathias, para. 18). By other prisoners and often by the prison staff who do not distinguish between gender identity and sexual orientation, a transgender person can be perceived as homosexual.
In addition, there is the issue with using the toilet and performing hygiene procedures such as a shower. Not all transgender people undergo genital surgery and thus will easily give themselves away in shared showers or even in a toilet that is not fenced off separately. Such procedures not only reveal transgender status but can also be a pretext for harassment and violence. For example, Mathias reports that “prison guards watched the transgender prisoner Sandy Brown shower, and one repeatedly called her “it” and told her to commit suicide” (para. 2). As for sexual violence, it is often even more traumatic for trans people than cisgender individuals. They might experience serious discomfort in relation to the genitals with which they were born, which in prisons is exacerbated by the fact that the assailants usually perceive a trans person by their biological sex.
The role of accessible healthcare in supporting people with gender dysphoria also cannot be stressed enough. Refusal to provide hormones to a transgender prisoner can seriously affect not only their psychological but also physical health. First, if a trans person has been using hormonal drugs for many years, their own endocrine system is often suppressed. They can no longer produce the required amount of hormones for a supporting effect on the structure of bones, blood vessels, some organs, and the reproductive system. Therefore, the abrupt cessation of hormone intake can seriously affect overall health.
Secondly, if a trans person just recently started hormone therapy and then stops it for a while in prison, its effects on the body begin to reverse. For example, transgender men may have rounded hips and reduced shoulders and muscle mass, and transgender women may experience increased facial hair growth, hair loss, and rough skin. This can present a serious trauma for trans and non-binary people: these changes negatively impact mental health, causing bodily dysphoria, which might lead to self-harm and sometimes to suicidal behavior.
Often, the staff members of the prison system themselves are lost and do not understand what to do with a transgender person who comes into their responsibility. The decisions related to the trans person’s care largely depend on the personal qualities and training of the officers. Some employees would deliberately put a trans person in conditions that provoke bullying, while others could try to separate such a prisoner from the rest and provide appropriate living conditions.
Mathias, Christopher. “Woman Who Spent 2 Months in Solitary for Being Transgender Scores Legal Victory.” HuffPost, 2015, Web.