Transgender in Prison - The Catch 22 to Being Transgender in California’s Prisons
By Amber Enderton | March 24, 2017 |
In 2015, the courts ordered that Shiloh Heavenly Quine, a transgender woman serving a life sentence, be given access to sex reassignment surgery (SRS), a life saving treatment for many transgender persons. For those seeking it, it is a necessary procedure, one that reduces the symptoms of gender dysphoria. In January 2017, she finally received the surgery she had fought so hard to receive access to, and afterwards was moved to the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.
For trans women in prison, the only way to get assigned to a woman’s prison is to have already had gender reassignment surgery. Up until the courts ruled that the state has to provide SRS to transgender inmates, the only way to get assigned to a women’s prison as a trans woman was to have had the surgery prior to your arrest. While deeply flawed, the new rules provide a pathway for trans women to be reassigned to a women’s prison.
Quine, being the first inmate to be transferred to a women’s prison after having SRS, is experiencing first hand the level of unpreparedness the state prison system has in dealing with the new rules. Upon being assigned to the Central California Women's Facility, Shiloh was locked up in solitary. Many of the privileges she enjoyed at the previous facility were taken from her, including rehabilitation programs and television privileges, until they reevaluate her status. She is even being denied a razor for shaving, allowing facial hair to accumulate on her face.
Quine claims that this behavior is torture, and she may be right. The courts ruled that SRS is a medically necessary procedure for treatment of gender dysphoria that California inmates must be provided access to. Under that same framework, it can be argued that inmates suffering from gender dysphoria must be provided the means to remove unwanted facial or body hair which can also trigger dysphoria.
One nefarious piece of circular logic, forming a catch-22, is the reasoning behind Quine’s denial of a razor. Terry Thornton, a spokesperson at the corrections department, stated that inmates are not allowed access to razors until prison officials are confident they won’t harm themselves. Paradoxically, in Shiloh’s case, it is the accumulation of facial hair that is triggering her dysphoria. Until she can shave, she is at risk for self harm; until she is not at risk for self harm, she cannot have a razor to shave.
California’s prison system has had over a year to adapt to the ruling by the courts, and this first case has shown they were ill prepared. California’s prisons must do better to meet the needs of trans inmates. SB-179 recognizes nonbinary trans persons; but these changes are inadequate if they fail to take into consideration what trans people face in prison.