This story is a shorter, edited version of an article first published in the June issue of Mule Creek Post. What follows are personal stories. Some of the writers chose to change their name or initials to protect their identity.
I first knew when I was about 5 years old. Although I was too young to understand what it meant, I knew I liked guys. Growing up, I knew being gay would mean a lifetime of ridicule at family gatherings, gay jokes from school kids, and the fear of “gay diseases.” I kept it all to myself, but I think everyone knew by the effeminate way I acted and looked. My parents didn’t know until I came out after I was incarcerated.
I think what scares me most is being an outcast. Being a person of color, I already struggle to be acknowledged; but now being “out,” I’m afraid of being even less of a person to others than I was before. In prison, l also fear being preyed upon, though none of that has happened. Still, I fear it.
One reason I don’t announce my sexuality is that I want people to see me for who I am, not because I’m gay. It is so easy for others to hold judgment over you, without even knowing anything about you except that you are gay. If you are gay, you are often seen as weak, girly, overly lustful, a sinner, godless, or a predator.
There is still much more to do for LGBTQ rights, in prison and out. There is still much to educate people about, such as understanding PREA [the Prison Rape Elimination Act], dignity and respect for transgender individuals. We have a long way to go, but we have come pretty far as well.
I discovered I was gay when I arrived at prison. When I was looking at men, I looked at them in a certain way. I honestly felt strange. My personal struggles at first were in fighting those urges. Now my community has accepted me for who I truly am. Now I feel like I am living a normal life.
Now I have support in my community. Because of that, I support others in the LGBTQ community for whoever they want to be.
I was raised in an ultra-strict religion that didn’t believe homosexuality was a real thing. They thought it was a choice, and I believed that lie for decades. I would lie to myself that another guy didn’t catch my attention. I lied to my ex-wife, who was a great woman, but who still couldn’t satisfy me. I didn’t know why then. It took many years to finally figure out and accept myself. I had to work through many hang-ups. The greatest of which was that I didn’t want to be gay, and I tried to fornicate the gay out of me with girls, but it doesn’t work that way. I am who I am.
I expected to be harassed for being gay, but as people foumd out, no one cared. It was easy, except for my family who still thinks it’s not real but just a phase. It may even cost me my inheritance, but it’s worth it because I’ve never felt so confident and powerful. I like me now.
I’ve been complimented many times for being real and not hiding who I am. I hope my example supports others — the fears I used to have weren’t real.
I have always known I was trans. I felt different, closed off. My only struggle was me, caring how others saw me and not being accepted. For the most part, my community accepted me because they’ve always known who I was. Still, growing up was hard!
The LGBTQ community is still struggling with being understood, especially by those on the outside. We are not being respected for who we are. I believe in engaging groups that help LGBTQ teens and adults create safe spaces; this is a huge benefit to them and very much needed.
I knew I wasn’t male when I was about 5 or 6 years old, but because of my family’s religion and social pressure of the ’80s and ’90s, with no real role model to look up to, I couldn’t come out as transgender.
In my mid-20s, I started slowly transitioning. I was out of my parents’ house and living on my own. It was liberating; it allowed me time to figure out who I was in my gender identity. I did have a cousin who was bisexual, and two aunts were once a couple. They worked with me to come to terms with who I am. I had some family support, but they were all distant, mostly step-related.
My cousin was the one who came up with the name “Jasmine.” I decided to stick with it for my legal name change and became Jasmine in my mid-30s. By the time I moved to California, I was called Jasmine.
I started hormone therapy in June 2017 and five months later was arrested. In LA County Jail, I was in the transgender/gay dorms and it was a lot of drama. You name it, it was going on. We were treated OK; we even had a transgender deputy, which shows they were more conscious of our issues there.
Going to reception at Delano was different. Although the medical staff provided me a chrono for being trans, I struggled to get my education transcripts from the outside because it had my birth name on it. I still haven’t received my transcripts.
In my first prison, the doctor re-diagnosed me as not having gender dysphoria and wanted to take me off everything, but the mental health staff was able to re-establish my identity.
We see ourselves as women, and the state tells us we are women. We get hormone therapy and women’s clothes, but we’re stuck living with men. In January 2021, that all changed and I hope to be transferred to a women’s prison. I know I will have to deal with discrimination, but the benefits of being accepted for who I am and being able to order items in the catalogs for women is worth it. I have no fear of living there. The worst worry is someone to “self-identify” and go over there as a predator. Hopefully, with the new laws things will improve for us.
I am dealing with a lot of issues from my past, but being open about being transgender has helped a lot.
As a pre-teen, my identity was not visible because I was searching inside myself. I was unsure of who I was. l was afraid to show who I really was so I kept it hidden. My struggles were in being true to myself, to love myself.
My family and friends were not biased against me. When I gave my mother the news about me being a transgender woman, she was not all that shocked by it.
Being trans in prison affects me very much. I feel at times that some people don’t give us as much respect as we should get. Some tend to react negatively towards us.
I want to show my support and educate others in my community by sharing the experiences I have gone through and to keep others in the community informed. Here in prison, there are still some things, like earrings and other clothing items that I think transgender people should have available to them.
I have known I was trans since I was 17 years old. I was OK with it and didn’t try to hide it. I was never in the closet, so I never struggled with my identity . My mom was OK with it. Nobody else commented on it. Growing up, it was what it was.
Everybody should just realize that whether you’re gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian or transgender, it is just something that you are. We are all still human beings who laugh, get mad, and cry. I started in prison on an active Level IV yard where, because of my lifestyle, I was not bothered as long as I stayed in my place. I was respected. Now I pretty much stay to myself, but we should all get along.
My final thoughts are that you can choose to be a gang member or to live a life of crime, but you do not get to choose to be LGBTQ or straight. It is what it is, so live with it.
I first identified as female in my late teens. I always felt different even in my pre-teens. I was scared when I first discovered I was trans.
My personal struggles took the form of disruptive behaviors. Though my family for the most part was understanding, in the community in which I grew up, it was hard to be trans, mostly because it was a gang environment.
Transphobic people are still hard to deal with. We need more people to understand that we are human beings with real feelings and emotions. Most officers and inmates are respectful, but life can still be hard for us behind these walls. Housing is one of the top issues.
I think the best way to educate people in our community is by letting them know that it is OK to ask questions about things they don’t understand. Knowledge is key. Most people fear what they don’t know.
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.