This BBC News report about a trans only prison in Italy raises more questions than it answers:
Italy is to open one of the world’s first prisons for transgender inmates, reports say.
The prison, at Pozzale, near the Tuscan city of Florence, is expected to house inmates who mainly have convictions for drug-related offences and prostitution.
It is thought that Italy has a total of some 60 transgender prisoners.
The centre will house about 30 people, according to reports.
The BBC’s Duncan Kennedy, in Rome, says that until now transgender prisoners have been located in women’s prisons where they are often segregated for their own safety.
Segregated for our safety? For this transsexual woman trying to make her way through this spirit-crushing and brutally ciscentric world, there is no such thing as a safe space – and let’s not forget that there’s more to transphobic violence than physical attacks. So at best, all I can hope for is a safer space – and my experience is that the only real safer spaces I have found are, without exception, trans only. Even when interacting with my most trustworthy allies, with the best will in the world, their cis privilege is an ever-present threat, no matter how muted or apparently under control. In the context of this report, as long as there is even one cis person present – whether that’s another prisoner or a member of the prison staff – no transsexual woman can ever consider herself “safe”.
To me, there are two very obvious problems with this form of segregation.
First, it denies our identities as women, as women who are transsexual. Both the decision and the news report leave cis people as the unmarked class which automatically positions us as some sort of less-authentic women and men. It Others us as a third gender – in this case, “transgender inmates”. What is meant by transgender? I understand it to be an umbrella term which may include – for example – cross-dressers, and transsexual women who are undergoing a comprehensive medical/surgical/legal/social transition, as well as transsexual women who maybe aren’t considering surgery. What about non-binary identified people? Additionally, I consider the term to also include self-identified men who may be transsexual – and the needs of each group are likely to differ widely. So is this prison to accommodate transgender men as well as transgender women? If so, then male privilege will come into play, yet the question seems to have been left completely unexamined by the Italian authorities. Or is the segregated prison to be further divided into areas exclusively for trans women and areas exclusively for trans men?
And don’t even start me on the potential ways that this proposal will, without a shadow of a doubt, completely fail people who were born sexually ambiguous or chromosomally atypical or who may otherwise fall under the catch-all term ‘intersex’.
My second problem is that this “solution” further oppresses us as a minority group: if cis society really wants to serve our interests, then it needs to deal with the root of the problem and not the symptoms. It needs urgently to stop seeing our existence as some sort of threat, and realise that it is failing – on a massive and undocumented scale – to be a truly inclusive society. I simply cannot see how segregating all the “transgender inmates” in the country under one roof goes any way towards solving that problem and helping cis society to integrate fully with ours, to the point where these constructed divisions between us no longer (need to) exist. And that is why I cannot see this as anything other than – at best – one step forward and two steps back.
Previous related posts about the (mis)treatment of trans women by the prison system:
- Women prisoners and human rights (October 1, 2009)
- Woman prisoner in human rights landmark ruling; cis woman lifestyle journalist attempts satirical comment (September 5, 2009)
- Human rights violations in U.K. jail (July 25, 2009)
- Nastaran Kolestani (July 13, 2009)
- Spain – convicted trans woman transferred to women’s prison after 11 years (June 10, 2009)
- Nastaran Kolestani trial (June 4, 2009)
- Human rights violations in U.S. jail (April 2, 2009)
- Trans woman imprisoned indefinitely ‘for the public’s protection’ (October 11, 2008)