In 1990, Michelle Kosilek was convicted for murdering her wife. At the time of the murder, Michelle was still going by Robert and was sent to an all male prison where she currently remains incarcerated. On Sept 4th of this year, a Massachusetts judge ruled that Michelle is entitled to receive genital reassignment surgery under her 8th Amendment rights as the only course of treatment for her diagnosis of gender identity disorder, which the CNN article identified as a ‘mental illness’. I don’t say this much in print, but fuck. I sincerely do not know how to feel about this.
Let’s start easy. I’m really not super thrilled with the negative publicity here. This is no CeCe McDonald where we have a clear case of a trans woman attempting to defend herself from attack, accidentally kills the big bag of douche in the process of him attacking her, and gets railroaded by a prosecution of the ilk I suspect implies that children “seduce” pedophiles. CeCe is a rallying point for trans rights. Michelle K though, not so much. As supportive of the trans sisterhood is, I’m not expecting to see her face on any ‘Free Michelle’ placards come the next Pride season. Still though, this is transgender news, and I have to ask if any good can come of it.
OK, I’m a positive kind of gal, so let’s look at the good first. That a judge, even at the state level, was able to recognize that transgender people exist and should be entitled to treatment is a good thing. Far too many still think it’s some kind of lifestyle choice, wherein folks, out of nowhere, wake up one day and ask themselves, “what can I do to make everything a 1000 times harder than it has to be?” Whoever you are, life is already hard enough, and this being a choice is like a mountain climber intentionally breaking a leg right before attempting Everest. One would assume their reasoning is pretty damn compelling, right? Any validation we get from the man is a good thing, so let’s take that at least.
That this is being recognized in the prison system is also a good thing. Let’s be clear, the whole concept of going to prison is a lot scarier for trans folks for the most part. The chance of sexual assault is 17 times greater. Those are really bad odds for something that is universally accepted as being one of the scariest prospects ever. Due to many of the ambiguities of the transition process, it seems pretty dangerous wherever you are sent. I suppose a trans woman would be more comfortable in a woman’s prison, and certainly not at all in a men’s one. Trans men are probably also better off in a woman’s prison, because even fully transitioned, they are likely to be way too popular in the men’s wing. However you slice it, it’s going to be bad. In case you are trans and a little slow on the uptake this morning, for the love of Pete, don’t so anything that can get you sent to prison unless you are hankering for a super bad time.
Should we feel bad for Michelle in general, apart from the judge’s decision? Ugh. I’ll share my thought process. She killed someone and is subject to the same repercussions everyone else not a celebrity or less rich than Mr Burns is. Being trans, however, does open her to being subject to a whole lot more. If you are even thinking of arguing that she’s doing this as a pastime or to get sympathy, please remember that not many people in a situation with hardened criminals zealously pursue a path that marks them as weak and easily victimized by the violent horney men. Yes murder is heinous, and (assuming she is for sure guilty) she deserves to be locked up. She doesn’t deserve much worse though than everyone else in the same boat. Our penal system has limitations based on the Bill of Rights, or we’d still be using iron Maiden to torture people. Yes, I did leave out the ‘the’ on purpose. Incarceration for conviction is justice, but incarceration of a woman in a men’s prison is going way too far.
Now for the real nest of worms. Should she be entitled to GRS while in prison and at the taxpayers’ expense? Let’s look at a couple points of view, although I’ll let you know right now, I’m not even considering arguing anything teabaggeresque. Let’s say no, this is outrageous. There are hundreds or more transgender people who meet every qualification for surgery, yet lack the ability to pay the cost. Why should a prisoner receive better treatment than law abiding citizens? Now let’s say this is a blessing in disguise. Isn’t this a prime example that can be used to build the case that all insurance carriers should cover GRS? If it is deemed a medical necessity by the state in the case of a prisoner, what basis then does an insurer have to lay claim that this is a unnecessary or cosmetic procedure? Can’t helping one who may not deserve it be considered a good thing if it helps many down the line?
To me is seems that the real risk is backlash. The cost to the taxpayers is well under a cent per, so all things considered, it’s not such a big deal. Humans, however, tend to become infuriated easily if they think they are paying for something they consider undeserved. The US population is punitive in nature, and as such, much more likely to argue that this is frivolous because it’s a prisoner, even if in normal circumstances they would be unlikely to care. Look at what we are doing to immigrants right now. Millions deported who are willing to work hard and live the family values so many pin to their sleeves simply because some of them may receive some form of public assistance. Far better that everyone suffer than one “freeloader” makes out. Such is the zeitgeist of our times. Ugh.
So the real verdict here is… beyond my experience and wisdom. I can see both sides here with no clear and compelling “gotcha” that plants the flag of righteousness on either side of the issue. Sure, I’ll pontificate from time to time if I think I have a good point, but hopefully not foolish enough to think I know everything. I think this is a great subject for debate and would love to see some inputs. In the mean time, be glad you are free.