Question: Should Prisons Cover Gender Reassignment Surgery?

Aurora asks…

As I’m sure many of you have heard in the news, recently a transwoman convict was granted a gender reassignment surgery. From what I understand of the situation, this is being paid for by the state because she is in prison, and someone I know on Facebook stated that she didn’t think this was right because the surgery wasn’t fixing a condition that was “life-threatening.” I disagree with this, and I cited the suicide and hate crime rates in the trans community. What are some (constructive) thoughts and opinions on this debate, and what are some ways to counter the “gender reassignment surgery isn’t fixing a life-threatening condition” argument?

Please post your response in the comments below.

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[Editor’s note: This question may be referring to this news.]

Posted by on April 7th, 2013 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 3 comments »

3 Responses to “Question: Should Prisons Cover Gender Reassignment Surgery?”

  1. radical/rebel

    this is a great question because I’m transgender and a prison abolitionist (i.e., I believe that no more prisons should be built in the US and that we need to turn away from using incarceration as a solution to social problems like poverty and drug addiction).

    I’d say what most immediately comes to mind for me is that most states and federal prisons have incredibly, and dangerously, stringent guidelines for determining the “sex” of trans people and what prison trans people should be housed in. for the most part, the ONLY factor taken into consideration when placing trans people in men’s or women’s prisons is genitals: so even a trans woman who’s been on hormones her entire adult life and is saving up for gender-confirmation surgery (bottom surgery in this case) would be placed in a men’s prison. having gender confirmation surgery would change the placement of a trans person from being housed with the gender they were assigned at birth to being housed in a prison with other people of their true gender.

    the part that makes the need for surgery “life-threatening” is that conditions for trans women housed in men’s prisons are very dangerous and highly abusive. trans women in men’s prisons are at a very high risk for being raped, both by correctional officers and other inmates. sometimes trans women are placed in solitary confinement where they are locked in their cells for 23-hours a day for weeks or months in order to “protect” them from sexual assault by other inmates, but this isolation makes them even more vulnerable to rape and assault by prison guards.

    I believe that trans women should ALWAYS be placed in women’s prisons, as being locked up with men is cruel and inhumane. gender confirmation surgery may be the only way for a trans woman prisoner to get transferred to be housed with the gender she identifies with.

    to learn more about transgender prisoners and incarceration, I recommend the movie Cruel and Unusual, although I’ll give a warning that it’s probably the most intense and horrifying movie I’ve ever seen.


  2. shaedofblue

    Medically necessary means necessary for the treatment of a medical condition, not only things that are immediately life-threatening.

    The county pays for hip replacements if the inmate is in enough pain, and it should pay for this.

    The 8th amendment means that allowing any unnecessary, unrelated to their sentence, anguish to prisoners is unconstitutional.

    Not to mention how the negative psychological impact of refusing to allow the surgery is a constant drain on the state’s coffers (counseling, dealing with the aftermath of suicide attempts), and the amount that the government has spent on not paying for this could probably have paid for surgery for all trans prisoners for several decades.

    Medicare only doesn’t pay for this because of it being deemed “experimental” several decades ago despite its known effectiveness at treating the dysphoria of those who ask for it. It should be paying for it.


  3. Lane

    To colloquialize part of the above point, would you argue against treating a prisoner’s broken leg? How about if they requested therapy and meds for severe depression? No, that would be cruel, and the state agrees. If you think gender dysphoria can’t fall in with the above categories, you have not been listening to what the actual experts in the field have been saying.


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