Talking about life inside prison as a trans woman is a bit overwhelming because there is so much ground to cover. Our experiences cannot be described accurately by others. Cisgendered male prisoners do not and cannot understand our situations nor do well meaning free-person support. Having said that, if I don’t talk about it, I have discovered that others who have never experienced us as a group have zero problem writing about us in absolute speculation and accepting every perk that goes along with their communal notariety.

So talk I will.

First of all I love my incarcerated sisters and brothers. They are special human beings who experience objectification and dishonor at the hands of others while still walking through life with their heads held high. Despite demands to be sexually unavailable and closed off they still manage to wipe off the stink of whispered sexual propositions into their ears and carry on without much judgment for that same double-tongued person.

We are forced to move in with men and navigate policies meant to protect us, such as PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act), and are designed to target not just the offensible rape but the just as “offensible” homosexuality. Under these same policies we are not allowed to live with one another, even for safety’s sake without a bureaucratic fight that most do not know how to begin with. After all, DOC does give instruction on how to navigate their policies. The option is usually to settle for someone and hope for the best. But reporting violence is a rare occurrence not because we are afraid of being labelled something unsavory, like a snitch (after all, being labelled trans is far worse often times), but because if we are assaulted it is already widely accepted that we invited such a thing by our very existence.

Widely held assumptions about us include:
If we wear makeup we are “seeking attention”
If we move in with a man it’s because we are seducing them, not because we were forced to
If we wear form fitting clothing it’s because we are “whores” on not because we are attempting to feel feminine
We are always seeking sex
We are promiscuous
We must be dating someone
We will sell our bodies…

I could go on and on. We are still subjected to the scrutiny that if something negative happens to us we are responsible for that. That our existence is optional. I think the last one is the one that incenses me the most. If some had it their way I would have remained Jeff, the man. Miserable and hidden behind the suffocatingly¬†masculine facade I have been locked inside for decades. If not in prison physically, remain in prison psychologically. I no more have choice to be a woman than you have to be male or female. If I have a choice to be “masculine” then so. do. you. If I have the choice, then so do you. Think about that.

We are told daily, literally every day, that if we want to act like women then we must also carry the mantle of women, which is to be objectified. Not only that but that we must learn to like being stared at and to like it when we are told our “butt’s look good” and to feel flattered instead of insulted. This happens so often that I have developed automatic responses to such lunacy.

I am going to begin to speak up and out about our lives as incarcerated trans women because I cannot stand being spoken for when I am capable of doing so myself. It’s akin to going on a date and the date ordering on your behalf without consulting you at all and expecting you to feel grateful for silencing you.

Well, watch me get up and walk my fine self right on out that door and make a big ‘ole scene before I go home.

With Love

Ruth Utnage