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Home/The State of the Union/Going to Gender Jail

Going to Gender Jail

Large numbers of transgender inmates are looking to be transferred out of prisons to match their gender identity

Over the years, you’ve probably heard transgender activists and their allies argue in some form that their bodies are a prison preventing them from becoming their true self. Apparently, more and more governments seem to think that because transgender inmates are already imprisoned by their own flesh and blood, where they’re incarcerated doesn’t matter all too much.

A dozen transgender prisoners that have been convicted of sexual or violent crimes are being held in women’s prisons in Scotland, the Timesreported last week. Of the 12 biologically male inmates, only one had undergone surgery and other treatments to present as the opposite gender. The other 11 merely self identify as female.

The decision to send the biologically male inmates into women’s prisons was made without any attempt to assess the impact their presence may have on female inmates, many of whom are previous victims of sexual and physical abuse.

Some advocates and experts told the Times that the scholarship surrounding these issues shows that no matter how you slice it, placing biological males in women’s prisons adversely affects the female inmates. “The evidence clearly indicates that where prisoners of the male sex, no matter how they identify, are held in women’s prisons, women in prison are negatively impacted,” Dr. Kate Coleman, director of Keep Prisons Single Sex, told the Times.

“It is always an issue to have trans women in with female prisoners and you have to think beyond the obvious which is physical or sexual threat,” said Rhona Hotchkiss, the former governor of Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling, Scotland, according to the Times. “The very fact of the presence of male-bodied prisoners among vulnerable women causes them distress and consternation.”

I wish I could say that an ocean separates America from this sheer insanity, but it’s already here—and where else than in California. To ensure the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) was sufficiently woke, Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed S.B. 132 into law in January. The law requires the CDCR to ask each person entering CDCR custody what their pronouns are and what their gender identity is.

Depending on the future inmate’s answer, the CDCR is then required to place the inmate in a  “correctional facility designated for men or women based on the individual’s preference.” Because the placement is solely based on an individual’s preference, there is no requisite level of transition therapy needed for men to be placed in women’s prisons.

If, say, an inmate wakes up one morning and decides that thing hanging off their midsection doesn’t represent the true them, no problem. Because everything in S.B. 132 is predicated simply on preferences, an inmate can update their information at any time in the future. If inmate Samuel decides he is actually Samantha virtually overnight, prison staff are expected to keep their heads down and refer to the inmate with whatever pronouns they prefer.

Unsurprisingly, hundreds of inmates took the CDCR on their offer. Since the law was passed in January, at least 261 inmates have requested to be transferred to a facility that houses inmates that correspond to their chosen gender identity. 

“255 are from transgender women and non-binary incarcerated people who are requesting to be housed in a female institution and six are from transgender men and non-binary incarcerated people who are requesting to be housed in a male institution,” CDCR Deputy Press Secretary Terry Thornton told the Daily Caller News Foundation. The 261 requests represent nearly a quarter of the California prison system’s transgender inmate population.

At the time Thornton spoke to the Daily Caller News Foundation, the CDCR had approved 21 of the requests, and not denied a single one. 

Of the 21 approved, four were moved to the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. Two of the 21, the CDCR noted, changed their minds, although it remained unclear whether or not they changed their minds about their gender, or moving to a facility to match said gender.

The capricious androgyny at the heart of S.B. 132 was always the end goal of gender ideology. At the core of this prevailing gender ideology is the idea that gender is merely a social construct separate from sex, making it a natural fit in the umbrella of modern left-wing ideologies whose utopian ends presuppose complete social construction. As gender constructionists began to aggressively wield the institutional power they gained, the right attempted to counter the gender constructionists by arguing that gender was foremost a matter of science. Genitalia, chromosomes, hormone levels, bone density, and muscle mass is what separates male from female. No doubt, each of these are determinative or demonstrative of an individual’s sex, which is inextricably tied to gender. But by reducing gender to scientific conceptions of sex, those on the right forwarding these arguments were ignorant of the essential social constructions that demarcate masculinity and femininity. Like most human things, gender is a matter of both nature and nurture.

As my TAC colleague, Associate Editor Declan Leary, wrote in a recent column

Conservatives damage their own cause when they reduce the argument to mere biology… Gender is, in the words of one of the great reactionaries of our age, ‘the sociocultural role of sex,’ and the two ‘can be distinguished but not separated.’

Which is to say that what we call gender is real and actually, in a way, more dignified than sex. It is the way that sex—a fundamental feature of who we are as human animals—affects our higher lives as social and spiritual beings. It is an elevation of bodily facts into tradition, a carefully held and transmitted way to habituate our understanding of who and what we are.

Gender constructionists were quite happy that the right had eschewed considerations of gender’s social constructions, which is why they were willing to entertain these purely scientific arguments from the right. If the difference between male and female was just genitalia, then the proper surgeries would do the trick. If being a man or a woman was simply a matter of hormones, then various hormone therapies or treatments can transform someone’s biological chemistry to more closely resemble, scientifically, someone of the opposite sex. For gender constructionists, this was simply a waiting game. All they had to do was keep the right bogged down in the science long enough to amass the institutional power necessary to ignore or quash them as they saw fit. That time has now come.

As evidenced by California and Scotland, liberal justice systems are now squarely in line with the gender constructionists, and by freeing these transgender inmates from the prison of their worldly bodies, they have helped them circumvent the just punishment they deserve.

about the author

Bradley Devlin is a Staff Reporter for The American Conservative. Previously, he was an Analysis Reporter for the Daily Caller, and has been published in the Daily Wire and the Daily Signal, among other publications that don't include the word "Daily." He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Political Economy. You can follow Bradley on Twitter @bradleydevlin.

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