Trans Prisoners

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Trans activism is prone to deal in absolutes and often appears incapable of empathy for the individual trans people with the means always secondary to the end. Nowhere is this more apparent that in the reponse to trans prisoners. Usually activists only take up this issue when the media has reported a suicide. Usually there is a quick assumption that the trans person has taken their life because they are placed in the wrong prison, e.g., a trans woman in a male prison. The primarily online nature of trans activism means that there is a rush to comment and no one wants to wait for the inquest that will usually reveal what was behind the death. In part that rush is because the absolute position of the campaigners depends on the facts of the inquest not being known. This is copper-fastened when the inquest produces an awkward result and activists ignore the result because it does not fot in with their agenda.

One example of this activist playing fast and loose with inquests is the case of Vikki Thompson, who died on 13 November 2015, although her case did not appear in the media until six days later. The political and activist reaction was swift with then Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron calling for a change in the law so that all trans women would be held in female prisons. Had activists and politicians awaited the May 2017 inquest they would have discovered that Thompson wanted to be in a male prison. She had been informed about the transfer request process, but stated that she was reluctant because of worries about how women in the female prison would react to her. Prominent trans activist Stephen Whittle condemened the prison for breaking the law by holding Thompson in a male jail, despite the inquest making it clear that was her preferred prison estate. Four days after the inquest trans activist and journalist Paris Lees wrote an article for The Guardian complaining that Thomspon was in a male prison, but failed to mention that the inquest stated that this was Thompson's preference. As Lees has persistently ignored the result of the inquest into the death of trans teacher Lucy Meadows it is par for the course for her to only mention the parts of Thompson's inquest that fits her agenda.

Another factor that the inquest brought to light was the large number of self-inflicted deaths that have taken place at HMP Leeds. There have been thirty-three such deaths there since 1993 and fourteen of those occurred in the five years before Thompson's death. In the seventeen months between Thompson's death and her inquest a further five HMP Leeds prisoners took their own lives. That is an inconvenient truth for the activists who want to maintain that all trans people who take their own lives in prison must be doing it because they are trans and in the wrong prison esate.

Progress on the treatement of trans prisoners will not happen while trans actvists, and the politicians they appeal to for support, pursue a one size fits all policy that all trans people must be placed in the prison estate of their identified gender rather than that trans person's choice. Nor will trans activists gain widespread support for their case if they continue to ignore the death by suicide of non-trans prisoners. It is well past time for trans activists to learn the skill of empathy and introduce a little humanity into their campaigns.

© Mercia McMahon. All rights reserved