Considering Trannies in Prison

I posted this at OutLoud this morning, but wanted to put it here, too. There are class issues involved with the trans life, as well, and I’ll talk more about that later, but for now, I think this is a great story to bring up these issues. The rest is after the jump…

According to a story on, a transwoman in Alabama has been charged with robbing a bank. Why did she rob the bank, you ask? Well, it was to fund her sex reassignment surgery (SRS).

The woman was charged and tried under her birth name – Jimmy Maurice Lewis II – of robbing the Alabama Credit Union in Huntsville. Police said that Lewis intended to use the money from the robberies to finance her sex reassignment surgery.

Herein lies problem number one: This woman was charged under her birth name, a male name, and faces 20 years in prison – a prison full of men. More after the jump…

She plead guilty, and will be sentenced on December 11. But she also faces charges for robbing banks in tennessee and texas. But my post this morning is not really about this particular woman. It is about some interesting issues surrounding financing SRS and the prison system.

Insurance rarely covers SRS because it is seen as “cosmetic” and “elective.” But, ask anyone you know who has had SRS, and they’ll tell you – it’s neither cosmetic nor elective. For those who undergo SRS – a lengthy and painful procedure that requires extensive recovery – it is a difficult decision, but to them feels like a necessity. It’s also extremely expensive. For some, keeping Gender Identity Disorder (GID) listed as a medical condition is important – because it allows individuals to argue with their insurance companies about the necessity of SRS, allows individuals to talk to employers and family about a medical condition (which can make the conversation a bit easier), and for some even provides comfort – because having a standard word for what they are going through is comforting.

For others, GID is much like “homosexual” –  a term that medicalizes, makes people a part of the medical-industrial complex, and connects an idea of “sickness” or “illness” to a person who feels neither sick nor ill.

Where do I fall on this? Well, I’m not trans, for one thing, and I’ve never been there. I have to say, this is one issue, where I fall somewhere in the middle. I see the benefits of keeping GID on the books – but I also detest the idea of diagnosing transgender and transsexual individuals as having some kind of “sickness” because of what that says to mainstream society – who already sees trannies as sick freaks.

In this story also lies an issue of social class and access to resources and/or family support (which may or may not be connected to social class). A woman robbed a bank to fund a surgery she needed. She didn’t rob a bank to pay for a boob job or botox, folks, it was to fund SRS – a procedure she probably felt was necessary – necessary enough to rob one bank, maybe three, depending on how the other charges against her pan out. Had this woman had insurance that covered SRS, she wouldn’t have needed to rob a bank. Had this woman had access to family who could loan her the money for SRS, she wouldn’t  have needed to rob a bank. I’m not justifying bank robbery here, either, but there’s a serious problem with assuming that she just robbed a bank to pay for the surgery because she didn’t want to foot the bill out of pocket.

The other issue I have with this right now is that this woman will be sentenced to some prison time, and in Alabama, no less. But she’ll be put inside a prison full of men, because she was charged under her birthname. If you need proof of why this is bad, read the next few links:

A transwoman lost her rape case against guards and nurses in a California prison, even though there was a “clear indiciation of rape.”

Law enforcement officers, judges, and prison staff never think about putting transwomen in situations where they may be raped.

And, according to the TGI Justice Project, a group that works primarily in California, but whose mission applies to most prisons in the country:

Abuse: TGI people in prison are frequently sexually and physically assaulted and raped by other prisoners and prison staff.

Discrimination: TGI people in prison are punished for disciplinary infractions based on their gender difference and/or because they have bodies not deemed “normal”.

Medical Neglect: Among other serious medical neglect, TGI people in prison are frequently denied access to hormone therapy, even if they were legally prescribed before entering prison.

Intersex People in Prison: People with intersex condition are born with external genitalia, internal reproductive organs, and/or endocrine system that are different from most other people. Strictly speaking, people with intersex conditions are not always also transgender, although many are. Many intersex people experience similar abuse and harassment in prison as do transgender prisoners, because of their unique bodies and medical histories — even though they may not outwardly appear to be transgressing gender norms.

One Response to “Considering Trannies in Prison”
  1. Jamie says:

    Considering you called transgender folk “Trannies,” I’m surprised you haven’t been verbally assailed before now.

    Interesting blog.

    I recently switched from WP to blogspot for a few reasons, but I like the layout.

    Will be back.

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