Days, mornings really, are all too familiar these days. For most of my life I would awake to discover it was not just a dream, I was really born in the wrong body. A woman, living in a shell that is male, unable to break out of the “man suit” I was forced by nature to wear. Hormones and the prospect of future surgeries have lessened the impact of my morning pain, only to have a new fear fill the vacant space. But I am a mother to many LGBTQ boys and girls, budding young men and women and, as a mother, you often have to hide your fears.
Today the fear is of course, COVID-19. Every morning I watch the news, hundreds more dead, hundreds of thousands sick. I’m not permitted to simply isolate myself, and couldn’t afford do that financially if they would. You see, I am a transgender woman serving time in a men’s maximum security prison. Twice daily trips to stand in the rain, snow, hail (whatever mother nature throws at me) for my next dosage of hormones, those magical little pills that work so hard to help bring my body closer to what it was always supposed to be.
I worry about my health, something new to me considering I lived most of my life in a constant suicidal state. I have been on hormone therapy since May 6 of 2018, and, with that, I have watched as my body has been transforming itself into the woman I have always known myself to be, changing my whole attitude toward life. On July 20, 2020, I will turn 61 years young, and since I have only experienced optimism for the future in the past two years, I would like to experience more of it with the goal of completing my transition before I pass on.
My age is not my only issue. I was a heavy drug user for many years with heroin my drug of choice — now drug free for two years. With that came the hepatitis C, something else they don’t want to spend the money to treat us for. I was a heavy smoker for 50 years — smoke-free now for two. Do you see a pattern? I am actually “wanting” to live now, to realize my true self and to help others in their journey. But COVID-19 seems to be the next thing trying to stand in the way of progress, working to oppose my transition with the specter of death looming.
Once or twice daily I walk to the dining room for a meal, passing several prison guards and other prison staff. One can not help but notice that few (if any) of the staff members are wearing masks! I shiver inside, wondering which one may have come to work unknowingly sick, spreading this killer throughout the prison.
Yesterday (April 24, 2020), two prisoners in the wing next to mine (there are four wings of 72 prisoners each that make up one housing unit here) became sick with symptoms similar to COVID-19. The wing has been on quarantine, the sick prisoners tested but not removed. We all sit in fear of the results, not even knowing when the results will be known. I try to keep a strong outward appearance for my sons and daughters, but inside I am so terrified — terrified at the prospect that I may yet never know my true self and terrified of the loss of life that would result when/if this thing attacks us. And fear at the knowledge that if this thing is here, an undiagnosed staff person brought it in and remains under the radar, unwilling and not required to wear a mask.
I am not just a woman, I am a mother to the LGBTQ community. As with any mother, fear and concern must stay hidden in the background, putting on a strong front for the children while still doing what I can to insure they have plenty of cleaning supplies and healthy foods/vitamins. Luckily I have had some great support from outside agencies, without whom I could do little. Black and Pink, Coyote (RI) and others have contributed to ensure all have soap and healthy items, but as free world people know, without a steady influx of revenue, things grind to a halt quickly.
Let us all hope a vaccine is developed quickly and we are able to relax until the next super plague! Stay safe and healthy!
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.