Sunday, 21 March 2010

You don't have to be Trans or Intersexed

You don't have to be Trans or Intersexed to suffer the effects of Transphobia. Even the omission of a single letter "e" is enough.

From the Sunday Tribune of South Africa:
There is nothing manly about 36-year-old Durban mother Denise Abbah. She is quite pleasant and no one in their right mind would suggest she looks like a man.

Yet she was thrown into a men's prison cell for seven months, which resulted in her being raped and sodomised, she claims.

Now, six years after her release, Abbah wants revenge.

"I have been in hiding. My life has been turned upside down. I cannot go anywhere without people picking on me, calling me a man," says the Durban mother of five.
Abbah's alleged torture began in September 2002 when she was sent to jail to await trial for armed robbery, attempted murder and hijacking - she was later acquitted on these charges.

On the day of her arrest, Abbah says, prison authorities registered her as Denis instead of Denise and locked her in a cell with transvestites and male prisoners, where she claims she was raped and sodomised.

Even though she protested against the cell arrangement, she said her pleas fell on deaf ears.

"They just refused to believe that I was a woman. They thought I was a man who had undergone a sex change. I told them about my children at home, but it didn't help.

"When I told the female wardens that I was menstruating, they refused to believe me, saying the bleeding was a result of the sex change operation that I had," said Abbah.
"I will never be able to forget the trauma, torture and ridicule. I was made a laughing stock and everywhere I went people questioned whether I was a man or a woman," she said.

Abbah said it was time to get justice for what she had been through.

"My life was turned upside down when this happened. Everybody started reacting negatively towards me. My family disowned me because of what happened in prison.

"My father doesn't want to have anything to do with me and my mother died due to the harassment and stress this issue has brought on our family.

"I even tried to take my own life while I was in prison, but then I had to think about my children.

"Apart from them and my husband, I have nothing else to live for," says Abbah.
The saddest thing about this?
Abbah is expected to undergo gender testing ahead of her legal battle against the Department of Correctional Services.
To prove that her treatment was not acceptable, you see. As it would be for me if I was arrested for something I didn't do. Because I'm not cis-sexual, like her.

If you don't think that this is a big issue to you, because you're neither TS or IS... that might not save you. And if you think the consequences to her family life were bad, remember that for TS and IS people, this the norm. We're too used to it, too accepting that that's the way things are for us. It's sometimes difficult realising that others have different expectations. I consider myself incredibly fortunate that I've lost nothing, and objectively, in comparison with this woman and with very few exceptions, all Trans women I know, I am.

I've never been cis-sexual. So it takes me some effort to comprehend that for most people, such a thing would be considered an appalling violation of human rights, rather than something usual. And that, more than anything else, illustrates the concept of "cis-sexual privilege".

As you can see though, it doesn't take much to revoke your "Human Being" license. A clerical mistake omitting a single letter in your name can be enough. Perhaps, and this is just a suggestion mind you, it might be in your best interests to see that TS and IS people, not just "people like you", don't get treated this way, hmm? Just a thought.

UPDATE : More at News24, The Sowetan and The Mercury :
But the department of correctional services said the matter was struck off the roll in September last year. Spokesperson Sonwabo Mbananga said there was no case pending against the department lodged by Wilson.

"The case was struck off the roll and there have been no new papers that have been served on us," he said.


Lloyd Flack said...

To add to the bad joke I know a woman who's first name is Denis. She's German and I can tell you she does not look like a bloke.

Anonymous said...

I'm shocked that this story isn't being used to highlight the terribly way trans women are routinely treated by police all over the world. No, instead it's horrible because a precious cis person got the usual trans-treatment. And this is by far not the first time this has happened.

Every time this happens the hue and cry is for the "horrible mistake" and the "stupidity" of the cops, not because of the source of the hatred being expressed.

Yet again we've lost an opportunity to expose the hatred and do some educating.

Hmmm. It seems that the "Choose your identity" script doesn't want to work.

32.flavors.and.then.some said...

That this happens to anyone is a horrific. That anyone is raped and sodomised (in prison or elsewhere) is "an appalling violation of human rights."

In response to jessie_c ("I'm shocked that this story isn't being used to highlight the terribly way trans women are routinely treated by police all over the world. No, instead it's horrible because a precious cis person got the usual trans-treatment"): I agree that it's absolutely not right that media only seems to care when it happens to cis women. However, this is absolutely unacceptable treatment for anyone, trans or cis. Simply because it is "usual" for trans women to be treated this way does not mean that this woman's awful experience should be dismissed because she's cis and thus is somehow just experiencing what it's like to no longer have that privilege.

Everyone deserves to be safe, whether in prison or elsewhere, whether cis or trans.

Anonymous said...

Yes, 32.flavours.and.then.some, it should never happen to anybody. But the fact is it happens, cops and prison guards know it happens and in most cases encourage it to happen to punish their more "unusual" and "difficult" prisoners. We don't need you to cry "what about the poor cis-people?" we need you to be outraged that this kind of treatment is considered "normal, business as usual" in far too many juisdictions.

No, Denise's treatment should not be dismissed simply because she's Cis. She should be getting a whole hell of a lot lot more compensation than a mere R100 000.- The prison officials who allowed this mess to happen should be on the other side of the bars, for a good long time.

But here's the kicker: Go read those media articles. Go read the comments. See the bias in Society fed by the Media with your own eyes. Go find the real, systematic injustice.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

as a post op TS woman, i have to wonder what gaol i could be sent to if i committed a crime.

my birth certificate still has me as male (to change it in Australia i would have to divorce my wife).

very disturbing for the "Normal" folks that they might be treated like the weirdos they think i and other like me to be.

amanda g

Zoe Brain said...

Amanda - in Australia, a female jail. In other jurisdictions... YMMV.

Anonymous said...

"As you can see though, it doesn't take much to revoke your "Human Being" license."

Exactly. As long as that's an option, anyone with enough power can make anyone else a nonperson, so everyone is in danger whenever anyone's rights are negated. It's why torture is dangerous, and why governments trampling on human rights is dangerous.

But for the privileged, that just freakin' well NEVER sinks in, until it is too late.

Lloyd Flack said...

32.flavours.and.then.some is right, the problemem is the condoning of sexual assault in prisons by those in contol and by the electorate. How1 often to you hear the wish that someone be raped in prison? You have people using prisoners to to do things that they don't want to take responsibility for. Yes trans people are at much greater risk of assault but they are still a minority of the victims. You want the problem dealt with, you have to focus on the general problem. That is where the greatest potential number of allies is.

Helen G said...

@jessie_c: I touched on the question of the human rights abuses inflicted on trans women in prison on my blog post here.

I've previously blogged about at least three trans women who've been mistreated authorities; what struck me was that the criteria used against Ms Abbah were almost a mirror of those used against trans women.

In the case of trans women, the usual pattern is that, no matter your legal status [...] if the powers-that-be have any doubts about you, they will apply a biological essentialist metric and judge you on your genital configuration: if you have a penis you must be male, if you have a vagina, you are female. The paradox that Ms Abbah ran into was that, although her genitalia were visually typically female, her (misrecorded) documentation showed a typically male name – and it seems it was that which justified the prison authorities’ decision to send her to a gender-inappropriate prison. The sick irony is, of course, that had that reasoning been applied to ‘B’, Nastaran Kolestani and the Spanish woman, all would have been sent to women’s prisons.


Zimbel said...

As a note for others in the U.S.A. who read this, the comment period on national standards addressing sexual abuse in detention is presently open. You may wish to consider contacting Attorney General Holder with about Docket No. OAG-131.

Zimbel said...

STANDARDS FOR THE PREVENTION, DETECTION, RESPONSE, AND MONITORING OF SEXUAL ABUSE IN ADULT PRISONS AND JAILS - one of the several standards I referred to above. A few sections that may be of interest:

PP-4Limits to cross-gender viewing and searches
Except in the case of emergency, the facility prohibits cross-gender strip and visual body cavity searches. Except in the case of emergency or other extraordinary or unforeseen circumstances, the facility restricts nonmedical staff from viewing inmates of the opposite gender who are nude or performing bodily functions and similarly restricts cross-gender pat-down searches. Medical practitioners conduct examinations of transgender individuals to determine their genital status only in private settings and only when an individual’s genital status is unknown.

SC-1Screening for risk of victimization and abusiveness
All inmates are screened during intake, during the initial classification process, and at all subsequent classification reviews to assess their risk of being sexually abused by other inmates or sexually abusive toward other inmates. Employees must conduct this screening using a written screening instrument tailored to the gender of the population being screened. Although additional factors may be considered, particularly to account for emerging research and the agency’s own data analysis, screening instruments must contain the criteria described below. All screening instruments must be made available to the public upon request.
• At a minimum, employees use the following criteria to screen male inmates for risk of victimization: mental or physical disability, young age, slight build, first incarceration in prison or jail, nonviolent history, prior convictions for sex offenses against an adult or child, sexual orientation of gay or bisexual, gender nonconformance (e.g., transgender or intersex identity), prior sexual victimization, and the inmate’s own perception of vulnerability.

Use of screening information
Employees use information from the risk screening (SC-1) to inform housing, bed, work, education, and program assignments with the goal of keeping separate those inmates at high risk of being sexually victimized from those at high risk of being sexually abusive. The facility makes individualized determinations about how to ensure the safety of each inmate. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or other gender-nonconforming inmates are not placed in particular facilities, units, or wings solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, genital status, or gender identity.

Each of these sections has more material, and there's some material about training, but I can't fit that in the character limit.