Part Four – Gender nonconformity and the Prison Industrial Complex
So far our blog series has introduced some key facts and realities for women in prison in the England, Wales and Scotland, especially women of colour. The statistics we research categorise human beings in ways we reject by defining reality in a gender-binary way.
Lockdown, a zine produced about prison, repression and gender nonconformity in Germany describes the inherently repressive nature of prisons clearly:
“For a person who does not conform to conventional categories of sex, or gender, or sexuality, being imprisoned entails an additional form of repression. Simply by dividing prisons between the binary of male and female leads to the enforced categorisation of every person held there into one of these two sexes. Many transgender or transsexual people either choose not to conform to these categories or, as a result of the circumstances of their transition, are refused recognition as the sex that they identify as. This (perceived) state of ambiguity or conscious rejection of categorisation exposes people to prejudice, discrimination and abuse carried out both by those figures that enforce imprisonment and also by some of those imprisoned. Even for people who have transitioned, and are both socially and legally recognised as the sex that they have transitioned to, prison is a place that will undermine this status and exploit the vulnerability it carries.“ 
Last winter more than 150,000 people signed a petition to move trans woman prisoner Tara Hudson. Having lived her entire adult life as a woman, Tara was sent to HMP Bristol in October after admitting assault over a Boxing Day bar fight. Without a gender recognition certificate, people will be sent to prisons based on their assigned gender at birth. The psychological impacts can be terrifying. Tara told the BBC said she was so frightened she was going to be raped she thought of taking her own life.
Shortly after Tara’s case, two reports of trans woman deaths hit the headlines. Vicky Thompson took her own life in Leeds prison on 13th November 2015. Her partner had warned the jail of her vulnerability and she had told friends she would kill herself if she got sent to a male prison. Only days later on the 27th November 2015, another prisoner Joanne Latham killed her self in a man’s prison.
These tragedies have sparked debate in Parliament, with liberals tripping over themselves to suggest reforms. Yet none of them questioned the existence of prisons, or the violence of being caged, or why so many trans people are in prison in the first place. The inspiring Bent Bars Collective, who have been supporting trans prisoners for a long time through their letter writing project, wrote recently, “Putting someone in a sexgender ‘appropriate’ institution may lessen some hardships of being locked up, but it doesn’t address the pervasive issues of violence, harm and inequality that exist across all prisons.”
On January 22nd there was an International Trans Prisoner Day of Solidarity and Action. A few events took place in the UK, with many more organised around the world. The day of solidarity was called for by Marius Mason, a trans prisoner in a Texas Prison serving a 22 year prison sentence for underground earth liberation actions. The organising collective, made up of people inside and outside, wrote:
“2016 will be the first annual Trans Prisoner Day of Action. This is a call to action against the system which seeks to erase our very existence. The survival of trans and other sex and gender minority people is nota quaint conversation about awareness, but a struggle for us to live in a world so determined to marginalize, dehumanise, and criminalise us – especially trans women, and especially Black, brown, and indigenous trans people.
We are discriminated against in every area of society including housing, healthcare, employment. Our survival is often precarious and many of us survive by work which is also criminalised – making us even more of a target for police harassment and the crime of “Walking While Trans’’.
Once incarcerated, trans people face humiliation, physical and sexual abuse, denial of medical needs, and legal reprisals. Many transgender people are placed in solitary confinement for months or years, simply for being trans. Trans women are usually placed in men’s prisons, where there is a massive increased risk of experiencing sexual violence. Just as our lives are violently repressed on the outside, trans people experience extreme suffering and death within the walls of jails, prisons, youth facilities, and immigrant detention centers.
Trans Prisoner Day of Action on January 22nd is a day to acknowledge the experiences of trans and other sex and gender-minority prisoners. It’s about collaboration. It is about forging new relationships and dis- mantling the isolation of prison. It’s about resistance to state violence. It’s about solidarity between those who experience the violence of the system first hand and those for whom the state hasn’t come yet.”
At the upcoming Gathering as part of the Women and Trans* Week of Action against the prison industrial complex, there will be an opportunity for people to become better connected and continue to organise for trans and all non-binary people’s safety and work ultimately for liberation from the P.I.C and repressive gender categories once and for all.