She came to me and said people think she’s dating this guy. She’s been hanging around him for some time. She’s known him for 5 years and she understands something that someone who isn’t transgendered in prison will never understand- objectification.

When celebrities look like they might be dating someone it makes some followers jealous. It means that their chances have just been reduced in their little fantasies. Like a teenager who cries hysterically when they learn their celebrity crush is dating some other celebrity. Objectification. Transgendered folx are part of the “celebrity” demographic within the micro society that is prison.

Transgendered prisoners experience the exact same thing with one teensie tiny difference: everyone around us has been convicted of a crime that stems from lack of emotional control. The typical stalkers of celebrities are literally all around us all the time. We must rely on street smarts to keep us safe. Street smarts means we must keep our social circles heavily managed and acute. Specific. Intentioned.

It makes sense that we are going to keep our circles small and hang out with the same people day in and day out, we know those people are safe. They respect our boundaries. Keep us trudging in a positive direction. You know, friends. But people hate on that and make assumption after assumption because in their minds, they no longer have a chance. When we are alone, we are accessible.

There is this little trick used by predators in prison that involves the Prison Rape Elimination Act or PREA. PREA is a Federally managed program with financial incentives for states who fully comply that takes aim at stopping prison rapes. But there is this little gem (I hope you see the sarcasm dripping off the screen here) hidden within the language of PREA that forces states to view any intimate relationships as illegal and predatory.

In short, it is NOT possible for 2 people in prison to have consensual intercourse, period. One MUST be a victim and one MUST be a predator. In the event that both claim consent occurred (meaning, it was a healthy, mutual event) than both are labelled the predator. Now, the fun part, the predators secret. If you are in a known or suspected relationship with someone than you will nearly always be separated.

I had a Correctional Unit Supervisor (CUS) try to explain to me once, in a miserable and misguided attempt at empathy, that:

“if I, as a man, were to be placed in an all female prison or dorm, I wouldn’t be able to control myself. I’d have sex. All we want to do is try to lesson that temptation.”

What he can’t understand is that many of us go years, some a decade or more, doing precisely what he so readily says he “wouldn’t”. His weakness and lack of self-control is being forced onto us as an inherent character flaw. No thank you.

When a someone reports to the state that two inmates might be in a relationship that person understands that the state will separate them. They also understand that trans inmates are harder to place and will likely be kept in that same location while the “boyfriend” will be moved, where he/she is no longer a competitive threat. Leaving that trans person isolated.

While it can be said that prisoners should not be concerned with dating in prison and should instead be focused on rehabilitation, there are factors overlooked that seriously complicate that. One major one is constant objectification. We are walking to the phone to call our mother and we are hit on, propositioned, and ogled. Each and every time and there is zero consequence for them. Where we work, eat, sleep, socialize, exercise, get medically treated, cry, laugh, urinate, shower, rage, become vulnerable… it is always around the same people who are objectifying us. It’s not as easy as one might think to only focus on rehabilitation when you have no way to get away from the constant pressure for sex.

Think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, transgendered folx inside prisons are kept in the lowest Need’s level, finding safety. The very mechanism that is supposedly keeping us “safe”, PREA, is the very thing that is weaponized against us to keep us unsafe.

Then there is the little factor that our ideal partner could be another inmate. Think about it, some of us have done some bad things. Who better to understand that we can change as human beings to be our best selves after a crime than someone else who has changed also. Someone here understands and accepts my past as the past. They know how to help me navigate it and utilize resources properly to ensure that neither of us ever do it again. They understand and see our daily struggle with those around us and ourselves. Sounds like a perfect partner to me…

But yet, that too is weaponized. When we could be receiving counseling for managing and finding a healthy, stable relationship as a trans woman or man we are forced into secrecy or total isolation. Now, imagine this for a decade. For 10 solid years it is entrenched in your mind that dating is a crime and needs to be kept secret. How does that translate into freedom or rehabilitation? It also keeps Trans and Gender NonConforming (TGNC) folx in isolated positions where reporting acts of violence is basic suicide for the TGNC community as a whole, but more so for those previously incarcerated.

It is up to the State department of Corrections, of which I am calling out and holding accountable, to make changes towards equitable treatment of TGNC persons. A major part of that equity is understanding basic psychology and practicing reality based human treatment. Which, is not happening, as I hope you can see a small piece of written above.

To help support or share in my release, please visit my gofundme created by some unusually wonderful folx in the community at:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-ruth-utnages-reentry-after-prison

Thanks.

With Love
Ruth