CW: Article discusses distressing topics.
January 22 marks the seventh International Day of Solidarity with Transgender Prisoners. Initially called by Marius Mason, a transgender anarchist prisoner incarcerated for his environmental direct action with the Earth Liberation Front, J22 encourages us to acknowledge the experiences of trans and other sex and gender-minority prisoners. Against a system committed to erasing the existence of incarcerated trans people, we can voice our solidarity and demonstrate our commitment to the abolition of prisons. Prisons, as Angela Davis notes, “do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings.”
While prisons are hellish under any circumstance, they take on a new dimension for trans prisoners, whose very identities are subject to assault from the moment they enter the so-called justice system. Frequently incarcerated on the basis of their sex assigned at birth rather than their gender identity, transgender prisoners are routinely exposed to discriminatory policies and the threat of sexual assault, which in turn leads to high levels of psychological distress. As gendered sites of violence, prisons expose their inmates to systematic harassment, violence in the form of sexual coercion and rape at the hands of other inmates and prison staff, the restriction of appropriate clothing and items, misgendering and the denial of gender affirming medical care. Violence is a considerable threat, with transgender prisoners in California, for example, have been found to be thirteen times more likely to be sexually assaulted than non-transgender people. It is difficult to ascertain the reality for transgender prisoners in Australia given the desperate lack of research on the subject, but what we have observed has been catastrophic.
In 2016, a former inmate of the notorious Boggo Road prison going under the pseudonym Mary revealed her experience of having been sexually assaulted as many as 2000 times while serving a four year sentence for vehicle theft. On top of having been sent to a male prison, she was also denied hormone treatment. In 1997, Catherine Moore committed suicide after being raped by a male prisoner in the protection unit of a NSW prison and in 2009, Veronica Baxter, a transgender Indigenous woman who had been convicted on drug charges, committed suicide after being incarcerated in an all-male facility and denied the hormone medication prescribed to her. As a final insult, the Deputy Coroner in Baxter’s inquest initiated a gag order preventing the inquest from going public and articles that were already published were removed from media outlets. The issue remains a persistent concern. Lisa, a transgender Indigenous women, or sistergirl, reported in 2016 that as an 18 year-old being incarcerated for low-level drug and prostitution charges, the experience of prison in Queensland was “absolutely terrifying. I had people attempting to rape me, and other times I was raped in prison.”
Anarchists are convinced that the purpose of prisons is not to rehabilitate prisoners but to simply keep them off the street. In our society, where the violence of the state (e.g., war), environmental degradation, economic gambling, the systematic dispossession of Indigenous people and so on and so forth, is celebrated and even codified into law, we cannot expect any semblance of justice. Like Black Flag Sydney, we take careful note of the fact that “not even one police officer has been held criminally responsible for any of the over 474 Indigenous deaths in custody.” This is why Anarchist Communists Meanjin supports Pride in Protest in its efforts to bar police and corrective services from the opportunity to use the Sydney Mardi Gras as a platform to pink-wash state violence. How can we forget the October 2020 police assault on protesters voicing their opposition to Mark Latham and One Nation’s anti-transgender bill? We might recall TranZnation’s 2007 report that detailed how more than two-thirds of transgender people interviewed reported having been ridiculed or embarrassed by police at some point in their lives and question if anything has changed since then. As Sydney Anarcho-Communists argue,
“we know that communities that are policed at greater rates, Black and Brown communities, poor communities, queer, trans and gender diverse folks, First Nations communities, immigrant or undocumented communities, sex workers, are less likely to call the cops. This is because they, often the furthest removed from wealth and capital, know that the cops do not exist to protect them – the cops exist to further criminalize their bodies, families and communities.”
The anarchist society, free of poverty, racism and prejudice on the basis of gender and sex, will see the consequences of these social conditions, such as non-consensual sex, theft and violence, largely vanish. Anarchism is committed to overcoming the brutalisation of the human spirit that has resulted from hundreds of years of capitalist misrule. Where they continue to exist, the response to antisocial activities will not be based on revenge and retaliation but on the community’s commitment to finding suitable methods of rehabilitation. We do not pretend to hold all the solutions because ultimately we do not believe, in Sydney Anarcho-Communists’ words, that we should look “to replace the Capitalist functions of police and prisons with one solution. Furthermore, we should not fall victim to the necessity of having all the answers. The project of Abolition is revolutionary in thought and praxis.” In the mean-time, ACM raises our banner in solidarity with transgender prisoners around the world. To quote Marius Mason, “we are one spirit, many hearts, moving towards freedom and where we will live the dream of a world released from injustice and brutality.”
An extensive discussion of anarchism’s approach to prisons can be found in Wayne Price’s book The Abolition of the State, which can be found at https://usa.anarchistlibraries.net/library/wayne-price-the-abolition-of-the-state
Black Flag Sydney. 2021. No Cops No Corporate Mardi Gras. https://blackflagsydney.com/article/3
Black Flag Sydney. 2021. No Cops, No Prisons, Total Abolition. https://blackflagsydney.com/article/10
Carter, Jeremy S. and Carrick, Damien. 2016. ‘Absolutely Terrifying’: Transgender People and the Prison System. https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lawreport/transgender-people-and-the-prison-system/7284154
Gilhooly, Madden. 2021. Justice and Abolition. https://www.redblacknotes.com/2021/05/14/justice-and-abolition/
Lynch, Sam and Bartels, Lorana. 2017. Transgender Prisoners in Australia: an Examination of the Issues, Law and Policy. Flinders Law Journal 19 (2): 185-232.
Miles-Johnson, Toby. 2015. Policing Transgender People: Discretionary Police Power and the Ineffectual Aspirations of One Australian Police Initiative. SAGE Open. 2158244015581189.pdf
Price, Wayne. 2007. The Abolition of the State. https://usa.anarchistlibraries.net/library/wayne-price-the-abolition-of-the-state
Redcay, Alex, Luquet, Wade, Phillips, Lorraine and Huggin, McKenzie. 2020. Legal Battles: Transgender Inmates’ Rights. The Prison Journal 100 (5): 662-682.
Van Hout, Marie-Claire and Crowley, Des. 2021. The ‘Double Punishment’ of Transgender Prisoners: A Human Rights-Based Commentary on Placement and Conditions of Detention. International Journal of Prisoner Health 17 (4): 439-451.
Wilson, Mandy, Simpson, Paul L., Butler, Tony G., Richters, Juliet, Yap, Lorraine and Donovan, Basil. ‘You’re a Woman, a Convenience, a Cat, a Poof, a Thing, an Idiot’: Transgender women negotiating sexual experiences in men’s prisons in Australia. Sexualities 20 (3): 380-402
Wood, Alicia. 2011. ‘Why Did Our Sister Die in a Men’s Jail?’ The Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/why-did-our-sister-die-in-a-mens-jail-20110409-1d8fe.html