Across the country, transgender people held within the prison-industrial complex face a litany of deprivations. Trans people are incarcerated at more than twice the rate of the general population—more than that for trans people of color. For many trans women incarcerated here in Georgia, like myself, the most significant deprivation is that of medical and mental health care.
The fight to make medically necessary treatments available to transgender prisoners in the state has been under way for more than a decade. Many progressive and urgently needed changes have been enacted by Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) officials since around 2013, such as access to hormones, as well as to bras and panties.
Unfortunately, none of those changes were the result of officials’ voluntary action. They were the result of advocacy and persistent litigation by trans prisoners—like Ashley Diamond, a trans advocate and activist against carceral violence, who in 2015 brought suit due to the GDC’s failing to protect her from sexual assault and denying her access to medically supported hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and facial-hair removal.
Years later, despite initial assurances from GDC attorneys and representatives, it is still apparent that the medical needs of trans prisoners are not a priority for corrections officials.
In 2021, as the US largely fails to protect its prisoner population from COVID-19, incarcerated trans women are raising their voices even more loudly than before. Denying us access to facial-hair removal and gender-reassignment surgeries such as breast augmentation and vaginoplasty—as well as depriving us of our right to grow hair on our heads by maintaining a “3-inch” policy, with forced head-shaving to compel compliance for those of us attempting to grow our hair longer—obstructs our medically necessary transitions.
The WPATH Standards of Care (along with position statements published by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care) supports the necessity and urgency of these treatments. GDC officials are aware of these Standards of Care and have been put on notice of the existence of these serious medical needs by trans women.
For many of us, the cost of not being able to further our transition and have our medical needs met is psychologically torturous.
“Every day is anguish for me.”
“The biggest issue we face is the trauma of forced de-transition and de-feminization, such as with facial hair,” Ashley Parker, a 36-year-old trans woman in Georgia’s Valdosta State Prison, wrote to Filter. “We can’t shave like we would like to since the GDC has taken the razors out of the system. So we walk around all the time half-shaved or with a 5-o’clock shadow because we can’t keep ourselves groomed properly to look like the women we are.”
“This is important to us, as this seriously affects our mental health and stability,” she added. “Everyday is anguish for me.”
For Jazzmine Sellers, a 51-year-old trans woman in Georgia’s Central State Prison, being deprived of transition-related care is an existential issue.
“On a day-to-day basis, I’m trying to fulfill my Truth and look on the outside like the woman that I know I am. And it’s hard to do that when the GDC won’t allow me to receive the medically necessary treatments I need,” Sellers wrote to Filter. “I’m not able to shave everyday, but the very act of even having to shave everyday just causes me to get more depressed. I often feel depressed because I can’t face another day with this hair on my face. I feel like I can’t continue my transition properly the way I know I should. I feel like I can’t live in this male body and facial hair is certainly one of the most painful parts about being in this body.”
“That’s not who I am, this is not who I am,” she continued. “Not being able to fully be the woman I know I am, well, I feel like I’m living a lie and what’s the point of living like that.”
Some incarcerated trans women have been pushed to the brink of death. Prison officials continue to abdicate their duty to provide medical care to those they cage, utilizing paper-thin excuses like “penological interest” and “classification criteria.”
“I just couldn’t see life as worth living being stuck in this body while petty bureaucrats at the GDC refused me care.”
As a trans woman incarcerated in Georgia, I know this firsthand. I used to be very suicidal. I would think about it all the time. I was so deeply depressed, I couldn’t see life as worth living—stuck in this body while petty bureaucrats at the GDC wrongfully refused me care for my gender dysphoria.
At one point, I just snapped. I tried to castrate myself. In that frame of time, I literally just could not stand another moment of life with these genitalia. I nearly died. I was placed in a crisis unit for almost two months. The whole time I was there, I just wanted to die.
Prison officials just don’t understand this. Transitioning isn’t a want for me; it’s a need. I need to have a sex change. I need to have my facial hair removed. I need to be able to grow out my hair as a woman. I need this so as to not be constantly at war within myself. I need this to live, really live.
Sometimes, when it’s all just too much, it feels like I can barely breathe. The pain of the experience is crippling. I literally live everyday begging these officials to let me out of this body, rather than out of this prison. But no, my prison is two-fold and so is my sentence—this facility and this body.
Why do correctional officials persevere in their patent refusal to provide medical care? Why are they permitted to continue in this illegal practice?
GDC officials seem to think they can simply ignore the medical needs of trans prisoners, perhaps certain that the “problem”—us—will simply go away.
“We’re not a problem and our medical care isn’t a fleeting nuisance,” Sellers wrote. “We’re here and so are our needs. Neither is going away.”
Photograph via Pixabay