Antonia D'orsay

Civil Disobedience of Trans in LGBT+ efforts

Filed By Antonia D'orsay | March 19, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics
Tags: Arizona, Blogswarm, civil disobedience, comprehensive immigration reform, Dan Choi, Don't Ask Don't Tell, ENDA, grassroots, Joe Arpaio, LGBT, Trans, transgender, transsexual, Twitter

I've been arrested before.

I have a record of arrests -- a "rap sheet". I even have court records against me -- several, all of which are for the most part "expunged", which means they'll only come up when I piss powerful people off and they can be used to discredit me.

I do not argue with police when they come to arrest me, either. Well, not usually. There was one time when I was in the midst of a rage fit and the cop shoved me and I sorta kinda went berserk on him until his partner pulled us apart and let me bloody myself on the world around me and then, spent, arrested me without much hassle. His partner was not very fond of me, but I always got a kick out of how the the DA had dropped the charges in the plea bargain.

I live in Phoenix, Arizona. This is in the middle (and occupies most) of Maricopa County. The Sheriff of Maricopa County is Joe Arpaio. He bills himself as the Toughest Sheriff in America. He's allied himself with senior citizens (who are the folks he would, normally, deal with most often) who are part of his "posse" and drive around looking for wrongdoers, and with various racist organizations who are after "those damn illegals".

When you are arrested here, you get taken to a substation and dropped in a holding cell (often set up so as to be too narrow to comfortably sit one way and too shallow to allow comfort the other way on purpose), then processed, then taken to the care of the ever so attentive Sheriff, who's killed more people in his tenure than all the other Sheriffs in the last 120 years combined. I should note that wrong death judgments against him, even with insurance, cost his department more money than his entire yearly budget. And he still spends money as if he isn't limited by it.

He's a spend and posture conservative.

Usually you will wait in a relatively cramped holding cell with several other people, often reeking and smelly and more than a little scary looking (and looking at you with the same thoughts in their head most of the time), a toilet that if you are lucky no one vomited on because they don't have seats, and, if you are there long enough, a boxed lunch consisting of a nearly out of code piece of some kind of fruit or vegetable and a dry sandwich on stale bread with a single slice of meat and a single slice of the cheapest cheese you can imagine. He gets the stuff as cheap as possible, and he's made a big deal about how he feeds his "criminals" green bologna.

The fact they haven't been arraigned yet and charges are often still pending, and many of them will ultimately not be guilty of anything, doesn't factor into this. Sheriff Joe works under the assumption of guilty until proven innocent, not innocent until proven guilty.

And you are treated that way.

Then you get arraigned, and you might have to post bail or be released and if you can't, you get put back into the holding cell until you are transferred to one of his jails. These jails have had their accreditation stripped of them. Which means that they do not mean the minimum standards set by the major bodies who oversee the construction and running of jails. It places them in a situations where they are ripe for abuses of prisoners.

One of these places is called "Tent City". It is a jail on a large, barren space (a mix of the hard, almost concrete like soil covered with gravel and patches of concrete and construction debris) where there are large tents -- like the old TV show MASH. There is no air conditioning. In summer, when the temperature in the shade is reported at 110, those tents can be 130 degrees or so inside. And, even at night, when the temperature drops to a coolish 95, they can be well above 100 degrees still.

He puts people in pink underwear as part of a set of tools to make people find the experience terrible -- like wearing pink underwear is such a horrible thing that men will not wear it. The "uniform" he uses for his work crews is a bright orange jumpsuit with black and white striped sleeves. He had wanted just black and white stripes, but safety overruled him.

There is very little segregation.

And, like the overwhelming majority of jails and prisons, if you are put in one, you will be put in it on the basis of your current genitals. If you have long hair, you may be required to cut it. You do not get to choose your undergarments. You do not get to take drugs unless failure to take them will result in your immediate death. You do not get treated well.

If you are a trans person and you are lucky, they put you in a special facility they use for the sex offenders, segregated. If you are not, you get tossed in general pop at Tent City.

I will say that the above is for the guys. The girls have a tent city as well. But I don't know the conditions there.

If you've had any kind of modifications to yourself done -- say you've got breasts, and you look halfway decent -- you might not have it all that bad provided you are willing to play the game. And the game is a sex game. You need to find a "husband" -- and he will protect you in exchange. And sometimes use you as a favor to improve his standing.

I've known gals who have c cups, silicone hips and cheeks and serious body going on, who have never been off hormones a day for 10 years. They couldn't be men if they tried to be. And they get tossed in with the guys. The smart ones -- the ones that survive -- get that husband if they don't swing the sequestered unit. The ones that have principles or wouldn't do that to save their lives are not given any say in the matter and find themselves abused.

You do have another option, of course. Solitary. Confinement to a tiny cell and contact with other people so limited that even someone who's gone through rather intense military training will go nuts. It's that kind of painful.

There is some collusion in all of this. Not a lot, though, Just some.

It is, to say the least, unpleasant.

If you are surgically corrected, you get all the above, but in the right place, not the wrong one.

Civil disobedience does work in effecting change. But to work, it needs to be on a large scale -- there needs to be numbers that strain the system, that make it newsworthy, for civil disobedience without coverage is worthless. The purpose in such things is to make your foe see you as human, ultimately, and if your foe never sees you, then the purpose is without value.

A crapload of trans folk resisting would be newsworthy, all in and of itself. A group of ten to thirty would be like saying "Holy cow, they are in revolt, lock your doors and windows!" Not that many. But put them all together in a single space, and they multiply exponentially the power of their presence. It uses the very things people are afraid of to make them see there's not much there to be scared of.

It takes a lot for a trans person -- who hears stories about the above that are far worse than the reality, and that focus heavily on the dehumanizing aspects of it -- to consider civil disobedience. Because for them, they are not merely risking being arrested. It doesn't matter if they are legally their right sex and gender -- it's all about genitals, baby.

It's all about the penis.

If you got one, they throw you in jail with the other people who have one, because if you've got one, you are automatically a threat to those who don't have one. You are dangerous in this society, this culture.

What trans folk face when they are civilly disobedient is far worse than merely being stuck in a smelly room for a few hours. They face being stuck there for a long time, because most trans folk do not have the wherewithal to afford to post bond. They can't even pay simple fines. They get thrown in a place where they lose their sense of being who they are, and they are placed at great risk of harm to themselves int he process.

And if they are anything other than white and very tall, they get it worse than anyone else because they are treated poorly, treated worse. For those of color, prison becomes a stain, a mark that does not go away, and never has any pride to it, and it follows them the rest of their days.

I know hundreds of trans women who would gleefully march and be arrested if they didn't have to worry about the rest on top of it. If it was just being arrested, there would be parades of trans folks in the streets so often the media would ultimately get bored with covering it.

But it isn't just that. It's all the rest, as well.

And there's a sense by many that says we are cowards for not being willing to take that. To which we say that's untrue -- it is not cowardice, it is self preservation. But that's mincing words.

Its a valid fear. For us, it strips us of everything we have fought to gain in our lives -- it takes away from us the very act of coming out. We are forced into a closet not of our own design, told we had damn well better answer to the wrong pronouns or we will be punished, told to act like our genitals, and then when we get all prickish about things we are punished for it.

Jail is not a win for us. Jail is a torture for us.

How many people would protest in this manner if they new that the outcome would be waterboarding? Legally and gleefully done.

Today, Lt. Dan Choi chained himself to the White House fence. He was arrested. How would people feel if he was off to the equivalent of the "Hanoi Hilton" here, to be tortured and beaten and brutalized, with complicity, and it was legal?

Today, people across the US, including trans people, were arrested in sit ins and public disobedience actions to try and spur House Speaker Nancy Pelosi into action.

I have yet to see anyone say anything about the treatment of the trans people. We're a stoic lot -- in general, we'll blow it off. And there is a difference between the way that a trans man is treated and a trans woman is treated -- not saying that's positive or that it makes it easier, but there is indeed a difference, and we would be lying to ourselves if we didn't acknowledge it.

So I am.

I would like all of you who read this to take a moment and tweet this line:

Thank you to the #trans folk who disobeyed at great cost to #getENDA for the #LGBT.

Or make it part of your Facebook status, or put in on your MySpace page. I'd like to know that some folks even blog about jail.

Because they need to be recognized for making a personal sacrifice that is ultimately greater than their peers.

They did it to get ENDA passed. And that's so important that I'm willing to go to jail again.

I'm willing to be civilly disobedient now, myself, in order to get something done that will, in the end, make it easier to be civilly disobedient.

You see, if we could work, we'd be able to get our surgeries. If we have our surgeries, that price, that cost, for those of us who want surgery (and who need it, such as myself) , is suddenly changed to something equal to the price and the cost for our allies.

And the more of us who can face merely being arrested, the more of us who can be out there to make a difference.

So I am going thank them for helping me to see what is my personal lack of courage, for helping me to face my own fear. And when I face my own fear, I figure I might as well do it right. I'll just avoid beating the hell out of someone this time. Don't want to break my nails...

So to those of you who sat and resisted, my thanks. I'll be joining you when I can.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Thanks for this. It sums up my own fear at running afoul of the police. One of the greatest fears I've ever had is which jail would they send me to, were I arrested? I'll lobby, I'll march, I'll support financially when I can, but I'm not ready to risk my life in prison.

Friday Jones | March 19, 2010 7:44 PM

Thank you for putting this so eloquently. My boyfriend doesn't get just how scared I am of the police, he's cool with trans women so he just doesn't understand how dangerous a hypermacho group with arrest powers can be to a trans woman.

Our local public play space is forced to operate temporarily without a permit, and he's trying to convince me to go to the parties anyway, telling me that if the cops show up, everything will be fine, but I know that if any cop reads me as trans there is a real possibility that I will get beaten and then jailed for "resisting arrest and assaulting an officer," which is what happens to a trans woman when the cops beat her up for giggles: She gets prosecuted for attacking THEM.

Thank you so much for posting this. If we could work, we could also lobby harder to change laws so that surgery isn't required by law for us to be recognized as who we are and treated thusly.

My UK birth certificate says "boy", my UK passport says "F". Which detention area I'd end up in is a crap shoot.

Intersexed people don't get treated well in jail, possibly even less well than trans people, if that's possible.

Neither documentation nor genital anatomy is definitive. And courts have ruled that prison guards have no duty of care to prevent attacks on inmates by other inmates.

Thank you for writing this, Antonia.

I would love to see a Mexican army strike force attack the tent city and liberate the prisoners