[I started writing the following thoughts as a comment in RServen’s recent diary but as my thoughts wandered a little further than usual, I decided to post this as a diary.]
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I preface my thoughts with the note that I don’t know any transgender people, or at least I don’t know if anyone I know is transgendered, so I’ve never had the opportunity to ask this question in a face-to-face conversation.
Would transgender folk prefer to simply be recognized as being the gender they identify as, or to have recognition of their transgender status?
My guess is that this is something that will vary from person to person.
A relative of mine is a pediatrician. Years ago she told me that legal documents should have five (5) genders instead of two, being male, trans-male, female, trans-female and hermaphrodite.
Her view was that if we legally recognized that gender has (at least) five flavors, the general public would start to become more accepting of differences from the standard M or F.
I suspect that the strategy of demanding official recognition of genuine, identifiable, objective differences (like the five genders above) will be more likely to achieve political success than arguments over who is or isn't considered male/female.
Such an approach would also go some way to reduce people's fixation with what has or hasn't been done to someone's genitals. If you're a transgender woman, you're a transgender woman, regardless of whether you've had surgery affirming that or not.
The recent controversy with Katie Couric had me thinking that for a transgender person to be asked as a matter of course about the state of their genitals is akin to a man being introduced on a talk show and asked, “Well, you are obviously dressed like a man and live as a man, so how big is your dick? Are you circumcised? Does it bend to the left or right?” Now, I can imagine these questions being asked as part of a comic sketch, but can we imagine similar questions to a woman being broadcast, even in jest? Probably not. It’s just too offensive to be so particular and personal about someone’s genitals in a public conversation.
It’s talking about genitals instead of gender. They are connected, but not the same. And that’s probably the most important point for people to comprehend.
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Given the "Orange Is The New Black" context for Couric’s interview of Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera, a tangential thought about prisons popped into my head.
A serious issue for transgender prisoners is whether they are assigned to a men’s or women’s prison. I don’t think any state will ever build a separate prison for transgender inmates, even if there were recognition of five genders, so where does that leave gender and prisons?
Writing this, I decided to search transgender+prison and found this spot of progress in Harris County, Texas, reported at Salon.com in mid-November 2013.
A Texas county has just adopted a sweeping new policy to protect the rights and safety of transgender people who are incarcerated, including allowing transgender people to be housed according to their gender identity and ensuring they are addressed by their chosen name in spoken identification and on official documentation while incarcerated, the Associated Press reports.
TPM has a more recent piece (January 2014) that discusses some context to changes in housing inmates and gender showing that change is more difficult than just announcing new and better policies.
The Harris County Jail in Houston, the third-largest in the country which processes some 125,000 inmates annually, is one of many nationwide implementing changes to the way it treats its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population. The changes stem from a law passed by Congress under former President George W. Bush that requires federal, state and local lockups to eliminate rape in part by adjusting regulations about how the population lives behind bars.The basic functions that a prison is supposed to perform (incarceration and rehabilitation) have nothing inherently to do with the gender of the inmates. Certainly nothing that is helped by being locked in an all-male or all-female environment.
It's not easy. As jails sort out how to put the law into place, conflicts are arising between existing state laws and the federal rules, making the implementation process slow and difficult.
Housing is one of the most difficult questions. Until now, gays, lesbians and transgender inmates were often housed separately, but based on their biological gender. .... The new rules say it is discriminatory, as well as potentially unsafe, to house people based on sexual orientation and gender, and so now they hope to house inmates based on where they will be safest, and consider gender identity when making that decision.
So, why are prisons sex-segregated?
The answer is because, historically, the state that put someone in jail took no responsibility for their physical safety in that jail, and while men raping men could usually be shamed into silence or laughed about by others, men raping women just wasn’t funny that way.
Bashings and sexual assaults in jails, and the constant fear of same, have been used as material for comedy for ages and are often referenced in crime dramas as a pressure point for the hero cop to turn an accomplice into an informant. How does that environment make for a better person on release? Are they supposed to be broken and fearful?
It’s hard to develop a person’s thinking and decision making to a point where they can be a good citizen who contributes to their community when their daily environment is a brutal, atavistic struggle for existence. And if reform isn't your idea of what prisons should be about, your community will not be safer when someone is released from a prison if they have spent their time inside in fear of the violence that surrounds them. Safer prisons make for saner, less violent inmates, who in turn make better people to have living down the road from you when they get released.
Only when jails are run so that they could be unisex will conditions for inmates be humane.
If we are interested in humanity, "M or F?" is rarely the right question.