Non-Trans Woman in Men’s Prison

Okay, I’ll admit it: I was entirely astonished to read the story of Virginia Grace Soto over on Autumn Sandeen’s blog. Ms. Sota was born and raised female, but due to her androgynous appearance, was housed with men, in the men’s jail, in DC. Again, Ms. Sota is NOT TRANS. From the DC-area MetroWeekly (where you can see a photo of Ms. Soto as well):

Despite being strip searched and having female genitalia, Soto’s androgynous appearance led to assumptions that placed the 47-year-old in a male facility where she had to shower with four other men. Her pleas to be moved to a female facility were repeatedly ignored.

There is no mention as to whether Soto is straight or gay, though I’m going to guess that the guards acted out of homophobia (on the assumption that all gender variant people are homosexual, which of course isn’t true at all). The good thing is that three of them will be fired over their misconduct, at least.

But the underlying issue of course is that we have no standards in place for people who are not obviously gendered male or female, or whose male appearance doesn’t correspond to their female genitalia, or vice versa. Sandeen quotes local trans activist Ruby Corado:

“It’s the perfect example of how not having a plan on how to deal with individuals that do not fit in the binary gender of this society, of being male or female, creates [problems],” she says.

Exactly. Solutions? If anyone has any resources links of people who are working on prison issues concerning gender, please post them in the comments section.

7 Replies to “Non-Trans Woman in Men’s Prison”

  1. Here in California, TEA (the Transgender Equality Alliance — which includes partitipation by several non-profits, including the Transgender Law Center, Equality California, Lambda Letters, and the Transgender Advocacy And Services Center of San Diego), have been working towards possibly having several legislative hearings set up for calendar year 2008, with one goal being to develop statewide policy for transgender prisoners within California’s penal system. Still preliminary in planning and scope.

    Also in California, the TGI Justice Project works on transgender jail and prison issues. They have a MSWord document out entitled Overview of Issues Facing Transgender, Gender Variant & Intersex (TGI) People in Prison.

    In New York, the Correctional Association of New York has a Women In Prison Project that at least has acknowledged transgender issues with their document Transgender Issues and the Criminal Justice System

    There have been some recent activity in dealing with prison issues.

    U.S. District Judge Charles N. Calvert, Jr., issued a ruling August 7 refusing to expand a pending lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s
    recently-enacted statute concerning hormone treatment for prisoners. The case, originally brought by Lambda Legal and the ACLU on behalf of five transgender Wisconsin inmates who were threatened with cutoff of their hormone therapy when the statute was set to go into effect (article here).

    Also, this year in Orange County, California, Stock Stephens, LLP and Transgender Law Center helped Orange County craft significant policy changes regarding treatment of transgender inmates. The press release for this is in the transgendernews archive. (For reference, Matt Stephens is an F2M attorney whose business offices are in northern San Diego County. He’s on the board of the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center.)

    I’m sure there are more organizations then I’ve mentioned here working on transgender prison and jail issues, but I’m not personally aware of them all.

  2. One lesson that I take from this – don’t ever get arrested. In fact, don’t do anything that could attract attention from law enforcement. Attracting the attention of a cop is a very dangerous thing if you’re TG.

  3. interesting that this point was missed, it was a GW, truth is it sucks to be a woman, any kind of woman in any kind of trouble with the law.

  4. from Kiri:

    just briefly, king county, washington (incl. seattle) has a policy (pdf) on how they’re supposed to treat trans prisoners. it’s not the policy we might want, but it’s better than no policy.

  5. There’s also an association, Stop Prison Rape, whose work is very important along these lines. TG prisoners, and regular women deemed gender-variant enough to get thrown in with the men, are certainly in the most danger, and it makes sense to get them out of there; still, I hope we’re not simply accepting rape as an unchangable fact of life among standard male prison inmates.

  6. but according to this article, from 8/24, which i hadn’t seen before, apparently she was determined to be transgender, but it’s not clear whether they thought she was MTF or FTM. i’m going to assume MTF if they put her in the men’s prison.

    though apparently she has identified as male at least once.

    there was an additional language barrier (um, hello, there’s no one in a DC jail that speaks Spanish?)

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