Issues around press coverage of new trans prisoner guidelines

The Ministry of Justice have finally published guidelines for trans prisoners. Not brilliant – but not bad. And besides, the important thing is that there are now guidelines which cover stuff like the appropriate prison to send someone to in the case that they commit a crime.

A long time coming

Yeah, I know: there’s a general presumption abroad in some quarters that the present situation suited very well. Because without the guidelines – which have taken the MoJ and Home Office a combined fifteen plus years to hammer out – we have had all manner of stupid judgments.

Obviously trans women were sent to male prisons where they either needed to be segregated at great expense (or risk abuse and/or rape): and trans women who should have gone to prison were not sent, because judges feared for their safety. That should now – and the vast majority of the trans community will breathe a sigh of relief. For that removes one very large stick used by the likes of the Star and the Express to beat us with.

Because although the situation may have been none of our making, it LOOKED like special trans privilege.

Icky bits missing

Intriguingly missing from today’s published guidelines is reference to specific searching procedure. A touch of ickiness on the part of the MoJ? Or awareness that last time that particular set of rules did the rounds, it gave the press a field day. As well it should, because the guidelines were inconsistent.

No prisoners get intimate (as in, cavity) searches. However, males get asked to squat because items concealed in their behind tend either to protrude or drop out. Women don’t, because a vagina is apparently a much more efficient place to hide stuff (it doesn’t fall out!). So no point in asking.

Therefore no point in asking a post-op MtF trans prisoner: but every point in asking one who is pre-op. Only the guidelines said not, which felt like a little bit of politically correct confusion.

All of which leaves just two issues. The tabloid giggling (and shouting). And maybe some further insight into transition.

Tabloids behaving badly

The Mail was at it today, with a nudge nudge wink wink piece about trans prisoners being allowed to “wear women’s clothing” and cover their stubble with make-up.

Wow! That must be the new code for “tranny”. When eventually the pcc outlaw THAT word, we’ll all just be women with stubble. Let’s pass on the obvious insult. What comes across from the tabloids is a series of boring, clichéd shock! horror! memes every time this issue is trotted out.

Its expensive (no its not, as the guidelines make clear). Women will object: in that respect, a recent contribution from the Scottish Sun is consistent with my own recent experience of supposedly chivalrous blokes riding to the rescue of women in danger from the predatory tranny (even if the women haven’t asked for any help, and the trans woman in question wasn’t posing any threat).

The view is summed up by this charming couple of lines:

She was born Joseph and STILL has a willy despite having started to form breasts as part of the sex-change process.

A jail source said last night: “We have had full-on transsexuals before but never someone who is half way through the procedure.

“The guards don’t even know how to address this lass.”

Later in the piece, another prison source is quoted plaintively moaning: “We have not been trained to handle this. How are we supposed to search her?”

We-ell: since the guidelines are now out there, that’s one problem solved. However, the real problem seems to reside in a further comment from this anonymous source, to the effect that: “It’s ludicrous a person with all their wedding tackle intact can share a jail with these women.”

Back to that in a moment.

Froth and nonsense

With regard to all the froth – the supposed expense, the objection by prison guards, the lack of training – it is hard to know exactly where to go. These are clichés that recur time and time again in the tabloids (and the Mail) to the discredit of the journalists writing them, and as a spur to public outrage. Sometimes there is a point, hiding in there.

Sometimes, it is all just speculation – and largely unsubstantiated speculation at that.

It plays to a public view that there is still something “odd” about transitioning, coupled to a resentment that we may be getting “special treatment”. In response to today’s Mail piece, the comment columns were awash with readers just assuming that the right to wear gender approriate clothes meant that trans women were having these clothes bought for them by the state (not true).

Also plenty of frothing about how you were meant to give up all privilege when one committed a crime (though apparently no great demand that women should be forced to wear a prison uniform. Perhaps they aren’t aware that in those terms, women, too, are generally “privileged”).

But yes. A lot of the angst seems to be around the idea that those opting for transition – for the medical risk that accompanies that, not to mention the serious risk to life and limb from random bigots one meets on the street – are somehow taking the “soft option”. To which there is but one answer: if any (male) reader – or journalist – thinks this is an easy path, let him put on female clothes…not in pantomime jest, but in earnest… and make his way from one side of the centre of london to the other at half ten on a Friday night.

Soft? Oh my: they don’t know the meaning of the word!

Getting complicated

Somewhere in there, too, are some quite complex drivers. One which I touched on elsewhere recently is the male need to be the white knight: to provide protection even where it isn’t sought.

The other, endemic to all these pieces is the mix of salaciousness and incomprehension with which they detail those who are part way thru.

As the Sun put it, she “STILL has a willy”. And that, really, is what it seems to boil down to: an utterly primitive view of sex and gender that sees maleness as encapsulated in the possession of just the one physical attribute (a willy) and femaleness, presumably, in the absence of same.

How simple. How easy. Except, as I’ve also touched on of late, transition really is a very much more complex process than this. Psychologically, the further I go, the more I realise that there are layers upon layers of change.

Whoever I am now is very different from a month, two months ago. Probably, in the clichéd way of seeing such things, far more “female/feminine”: definitely different. Responding to threatened violence at the weekend (by a bloke, naturally), I found myself retreating into stereotypically feminine response mode: curling in on myself, becoming small in the face of the threat.

I took refuge in female company: and they treated me as one of their own, providing tea and hugs in equal measure.

And while on day one of my real-life experience, it might just have made sense to think of me still in old terminology – a bloke in a dress, a lass with a willy – that, too, feels no longer applicable. Psychology, of course.

Drugs, too. One can see the journalistic cogs turning. Person with willy in a women’s prison. Fnar! Fnar! Wouldn’t you just love it! Only, of course, most of my “male” sex drive vanished long under the onslaught of oestrogen: what remained has been terminally turned off by a massive dose of anti-androgen.

Challenge no. 2: let any journalist who genuinely thinks that someone pumped full of oestrogen and anti-androgen is a sexual “threat”, try it out for himself. Once he’s got over the dick shrinkage effect, the impotence and the general mellowing that follows, it is unlikely he’d be quite so cavalier in his assumptions.

Future forecast – more of the same

So there you have it. Expect more stories like the ones around this week. They’ll be full of mostly nonsensical detail designed to stir up the public about the special privileges that trans folk are presumed to have. Behind the detail is some pretty atavistic stuff: men fearful of what us trannies may get up to if they’re not around to exercise control.

Behind that is a pretty unsophisticated take on gender: one that equates male to a single physical attribute – makes “the op” the be-all and end-all of trans existence – and has probably never once looked more deeply into the rich and complex experience that is transition (let alone inquired after what all the drugs actually DO to us).



About janefae

On my way from here to there
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2 Responses to Issues around press coverage of new trans prisoner guidelines

  1. On a minor point, the new guidelines are Prison Service ones and only apply in England and Wales – they only bear the MoJ crest because the National Offender Management Service is part of the MoJ. (Although no doubt they were approved by someone within the MoJ at some point, quite possibly at ministerial level)

    Scotland has it’s own prison service with separate rules.

    (Keen to point this out myself as I got it wrong in my own post about the Scottish issue and was corrected by someone!)

    • janefae says:

      good point. i am always making this mistake (and being taken to task for it). On t’other hand, the focus for this piece is really how the journo’s use this issue to beat us with – and that applies both sides of the border (as the Scottish Sun article makes abundantly clear).


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