It’s a common, and quite frankly ignorant, assumption that trans women have an easier time, or even enjoy being in prison. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Firstly, the most important fact is we are still in prison. We’re still locked in cells, away from our loved ones, and exposed to all the same hardships and trials of a regular inmate… and then some.
People assume that all LGBTQIA+ people — specifically trans women in male facilities — love their time in prison because being around a bunch of sex-deprived and affection-craving men, ready and willing to shower us with attention, is our dream come true. Yet, the aforementioned characteristics of the environment can be, and usually are, dangerous.
Also, even though LGBTQIA+ acceptance in the outside world is progressing for cisgender gay men and women, trans people are still merely tolerated at best. And that goes for inside prison, too.
Life in the male prison system for a trans woman isn’t equal to that of cisgender men. Trans women are constantly under a much larger amount of stress and pressure. Contrary to what people believe, being around all these men doesn’t make it easier or more desirable for us. Our everyday journey and battles of prison, such as missing home, trying to survive economically, dealing with the stigma that exists about being trans, and the unhidden bias, disgust, and contempt from most officers and inmates, still exist. Also, more often than not, we face rejection, ridicule, and hostility from the cis gay men who we seek community with.
All of this is magnified when with a man.
For example, let’s say a trans woman did decide to engage in a physical or even emotional romantic relationship. That would immediately double the burden of prison. Now, we no longer just have our own shit to worry about, but his too; his problems, stress, debt, ridicule and lifestyle become ours.
Then, too, let’s not forget how the majority of any prison relationships, even consensual ones, are toxic and danger-prone. Most men are looking at you more so as property than anything else.
Also, a large number of trans women, and almost all that I’ve personally met, have no outside assistance or family due to being trans. So, the mindset that they have to do what they need to do by any means because no one is going to do anything for them, leads many to join the sex trade.
Whether consensual or not, sex is forbidden according to prison policy. So you’re rolling the dice if you engage in sex from increasing your chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease TI, to being in a situation that will lead to rape.
Trans women are hyper-sexualized in the prison system, especially those of us who have been on hormone replacement therapy and have fully developed feminine physical features. But the idea that we all not only want that kind of attention, but need it is a misconception.
In actuality, there is a minuscule percentage of trans women who embody that stereotype of seeking attention, being overly promiscuous, and playing with hearts and minds. That image creates a perception that we are all like that, which opens the door to fuckery.
I read somewhere once that trans women in a male facility are up to 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted or raped than a cis gay male inmate. Out of the five trans women at my current facility, three of them, including me, have said that they’ve been raped or sexually assaulted in the last three years.
What kind of wonderland is that where a trans woman has to always be on guard of not only being sexually assaulted but physically assaulted, too.
Lastly, our time is made worse in a myriad of other ways — from small but important ways like having to answer to born names and be called by the wrong pronouns, to medium aggressions like being verbally assaulted and ostracized by the general population, to major ways, such as being placed in administrative segregation for long periods of time for “our protection” or being forced to stop or prohibited from starting hormone therapy.
By no stretch of the imagination is being incarcerated in a male facility as a trans woman easier or desirable. In truth, I feel comfortable enough to venture off and say it’s harder, darker, more stressful, miserable and dangerous to be so.
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.