Italy “to open first prison for transgender inmates”

January 13, 2010

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.

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Previous related posts about the (mis)treatment of trans women by the prison system:

6 Responses to “Italy “to open first prison for transgender inmates””


  1. […] Here is the original post: Italy “to open first prison for transgender inmates” « bird of paradox […]


  2. Moreover, the fact of separating trans people for the “unmarked” cis population will probably have the same consequences that it already has on (cis) women (at least I know it’s the case in France): less link with family and friend (if there is only one prison in the whole country, it means you might be very far from your family and friends, and they’ll be able to visit you less often) and less facilities and activities available (because there is less population than men’s prison, so it’s not affordable).

    Given the current states of affair concerning prisons, sexism and transphobia, I would thing that the only thing that could help trans inmates suffer a bit less transphobia is letting them choose whether they are placed in men, women or this kind of “trans” prison. If that’s not the case, I’m afraid it will only helps marginalizing us…

  3. Ruth Moss Says:

    Oh jesus. What utter fail.

  4. Emily Says:

    Oh gosh, that’s horrible! We’re not even good enough to mix with cissexual prison inmates!

    I wonder what would have happened were the Italian authorities to have done the same for any other minority. I’m sure there would have been an outcry! Trans people, however, are so despised that this is acceptable.

    How tremendously depressing.

  5. Les Says:

    As a trans man who has not had bottom surgery, I’m fairly convinced I would be assaulted if I were sent to prison with cismen.

    Of course, I don’t want to go to prison at all, but if I went to a trans prison, at least I think my chances of getting through it relatively intact would be higher.

  6. Helen G Says:

    Les: Welcome to BoP and thanks for commenting; it’s interesting to get a trans man’s perspective on this.

    The other side of the coin is, of course, trans women who haven’t had surgery being sent to cis men’s prisons, and it highlights the underlying problem of cis society not considering us to be “real men” and “real women”. It’s an essentialist stance which states that our genders are fixed: if we were assigned female at birth we can never be male and vice versa.

    That is the root of that problem and it is that which needs changing. Unfortunately, to do that it needs a fundamental shift in attitudes by mainstream cis society and, as we all know, that’s not going to happen any time soon.

    It’s a pity, though, that whoever’s decided to introduce this segregated prison doesn’t seem to have thought through any of these issues. I still don’t believe it’s appropriate for trans men and trans women to be incarcerated in the same prison without any consideration of providing for our very different needs, any more than locking up cis men and women in the same prison without considering their differences.

    We may be prisoners but we are still humans and, in my opinion, should still be entitled to the same human rights as anybody else.


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