Gender and Sexuality in Star Trek & SciFi

Utopian Views of Gender & Sexuality in SciFi

After 50 years, Star Trek is the obvious starting point for a discussion of fictional futuristic views of sex and gender. Given the unlimited possibilities of SciFi and Fantasy, it can seem disappointing when film, television, and books, often resort to binary genders and heterosexuality. Star Trek was groundbreaking with the first on-screen interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Uhura in 1968 (“Plato’s Stepchildren” – episode 65, third season). Actually, the first interracial kiss was British, and in 1962. The Uhura episode saw Star Trek’s lowest ratings ever, and was not broadcast in the conservative American South.

Uhura Captain Kirk Star Trek Interracial Kiss
Uhura & Captain Kirk in Star Trek’s 1968 interracial kiss

The taboos of race and gender were paramount during the civil rights battles of the 1960s, whether about colour, sexuality, or indeed the Vietnam war. Science Fiction provided the opportunity to speculate and present utopian visions of what might be. This was particularly the case on some of the planets that the Enterprise was to visit on its mission “to boldly go where no man has gone before” (based upon a White House space exploration booklet, 1957).

[Discussion Tue 1 Nov, 6-7pm, Norwich Millennium Library]

Star Trek episode: The Outcast

Episode 117 of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), appropriately titled “The Outcast”, sees The Enterprise contacted by a genderless race called the J’naii.

Star Trek, genderless Soren in The Outcast
Star Trek, genderless Soren in The Outcast

“While being treated by Dr. Crusher, Soren asks her several questions about female gender identification. While Soren and Riker work on the shuttle, Soren confesses that she is attracted to Riker and further that she has female gender identity. Soren explains that the J’naii are an androgynous species that view the expression of any sort of male or female gender, and especially sexual liaisons, as a sexual perversion. According to their official doctrine, the J’naii had evolved beyond gender and thus view the idea of male/female sexuality as primitive. Those among the J’naii who view themselves as possessing gender are ridiculed, outcast, and forced to undergo ‘psychotectic therapy’.” – Wikipedia

Sexuality in Star Trek

Star Trek Captain James T Kirk William Shatner topless
Star Trek Captain James T Kirk William Shatner topless, again!

Star Trek doesn’t travel far into the unknowns of gender and sexuality, by current standards, but was ahead of its time, mainly around race, bisexuality and polygamy. Whilst the 1960s outfits could be said to have sexualised its female crew members, Captain James T Kirk barely kept his shirt on and became an object of female and perhaps too, male desire.

In later series, the Bolians and Denobulans are regarded as being polygamous and/or polyandrous, and the former, even bisexual with mention by Data in a 1999 epsiode of a Bolian man’s co-husband and wife.

Four years earlier, Babylon 5 had introduced a bisexual character in 1995. Susan Ivanova mainly had relationships with men, mostly bad ones, but seemingly also had one with Talia Winters. “Seemingly”, because more is alluded to than shown.

In 1997, Bruce Vilanch in The Advocate wrote despairingly:

“Probably the most egregiously overlooked area of gay visibility is, if you can swing me on this, is science fiction. With the exception of a telepathic meeting of two lesbian minds on Babylon 5, there has never been a gay creature – much less a gay human being – in any of the Star Trek series or movies or, for that matter the other Star Trek clones popping up all over the dial… Since all these shows are set in the future, the grim possibility exists that, at least in their creators’ minds, there are no gay people in the future. It’s a curious notion for science-fiction to embrace…” – The Advocate (21 Jan 1997), p.104

In 2013, Landon Palmer on IMDB suggested that nothing had changed.

Lack of Queer Sexuality in Star Trek

Star Trek Sulu, gratuitously topless?
Star Trek Sulu, gratuitously topless?

There is an irony in Star Trek in that George Takei who played Sulu is gay and his original character wasn’t, yet in the rebooted films, the character is now played as homosexual. A move, branded by Takei, as “unfortunate” and beyond Gene Roddenberry’s vision, who feared back in 1968, 37 years before Takei himself came out, that it would lead to the show’s cancellation. Indeed, it was, for other budgetary reasons, lasting just three seasons and dropping off the air just 7 weeks before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.

Roddenberry, raised a Southern Baptist, had turned to humanism as an adult and rejected organised religion. He also rejected conventional marriage and discouraged any representation of it in Star Trek episodes – expecting both religion and marriage to have died on Earth by the 23rd Century setting for Star Trek.

Actually, Roddenberry in 1987 promised that TNG would have gay characters – but did it fulfil that promise? Leonard Nimoy, in 1991, also supported that view. Roddenberry died before he could realise or “materialise” that ambition.

Star Trek Screenwriter (1988-99), Ronald D Moore said:

“We’ve just failed at it. It’s not been something we’ve successfully done. At Star Trek we used to have all these stock answers for why we didn’t do it. The truth is it was not really a priority for any of us on the staff so it wasn’t really something that was strong on anybody’s radar. And then I think there’s a certain inertia that you’re not used to writing those characters into these dramas and then you just don’t. And somebody has to decide that it’s important before you do it and I think we’re still at the place where that’s not yet a common – yeah, we have to include this and this is an important thing to include in the shows. Sci-Fi for whatever reason is just sort of behind the curve on all this.”

It took the fan-fic spin-off series, Hidden Frontier, to unofficially portray the first gay male kiss on Star Trek when Lt Corey Aster in reveals his feelings for another crew member he’d fancied since Starfleet Academy days over a story arc lasting a few seasons between 2001 and 2004.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Seeing Red Willow And Tara
Buffy the Vampire Slayer ‘Seeing Red’ Willow And Tara

Meanwhile, over those same years, it took Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to be the first to portray an overt lesbian couple – Willow and Tara, their first kiss in 2001 and by 2003 to air the first lesbian sex scene on mainstream American television.

Between 2006 and 2011, Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood, took the British SciFi series to new places that the seemingly asexual Doctor himself could never go to.

John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness and Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto in Torchwood
John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness and Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto in Torchwood © BBC Worldwide

Torchwood doesn’t just introduce gay characters, it actually introduces almost universal bi and pansexuality, or even omnisexuality with the sexually voracious Captain Jack Harkness, whereby the strict limitations of hetero and homo are dealt with by going beyond them, with nearly every characters having same-sex and/or alien attraction encounters.

“Without making it political or dull, this is going to be a very bisexual programme. I want to knock down the barriers so we can’t define which of the characters is gay. We need to start mixing things up, rather than thinking, ‘This is a gay character and he’ll only ever go off with men.'” – Russell T Davies

Star Trek rebooter, JJ Abrams, said in 2011 that he was “frankly shocked that in the history of Star Trek there have never been gay characters in all the series”.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Jadzia Dax same-sex kiss
Star Trek Deep Space Nine Jadzia Dax same-sex kiss

The closest Star Trek came was in 1995, “Rejoined” – episode 78 of Deep Space Nine (DS9), when Jadzia Dax kisses another woman. The taboo made an issue not reuniting with the loved ones of former hosts, not of their gender. DS9 was probably the most forward-looking with a more adult script actually mentioning sex, and not just love.

Success or failure in LGBT inclusion?

It’s been argued that that Star Trek’s aliens are so diverse and its plots so full of social justice that adding a gay character would have been redundant.

“…a homosexual character simply doesn’t add anything of substance when you have an alien species (the Cardassians) literally putting another (Bajorans) in concentration camps. Gay acceptance issues in the Star Trek universe would be both redundant and trivial compared to the deeper ethical questions the franchise regularly poses.” – Adam Selene

That said, its omission is noticeable, and seems to be a mark of film studio and writers’ sensitivities to the US family entertainment market. Its very success making the likelihood of a gay portrayal diminish.

Gender and Sexuality in Star Trek, David Greven
Gender and Sexuality in Star Trek, David Greven

David Greven seeks to challenge, in Gender and Sexuality in Star Trek: Allegories of Desire in the Television Series and Films (2009), the “…frequent accusations that the Star Trek saga refuses to represent queer sexuality. Arguing that Star Trek speaks to queer audiences through subtle yet provocative allegorical narratives” containing a “queer sensibility” from the 1960s original’s “deconstruction of the male gaze” through to the “constructions of femininity”, particularly in Star Trek: Voyager with Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine.

So, did Star Trek fail in its mission “to boldly go”? Have other SciFi franchises done any better, or has the world finally overtaken SciFi in terms of LGBTIQAP sexualities and gender. Tumblr is certainly way ahead of TV!

Sexuality & Gender identity education in Schools

This year teenage pupils were sent a 24-option gender identity survey and I was invited to speak at a number of schools and universities on dozens more labels and identities, whilst the MOGAI Tumblr enumerates hundreds. Is this confusing or liberating? Is there an agenda in gender education, should there be one? Social engineering and secular indoctrination? Are children confused by gender education at a young age?

Are the labels male and female, gay and straight, insufficient for the current generation of young human beings? What can 8 and 10 year olds teach adults about being both simply human and at the same time using a proliferation of labels outside the binary. Are children confused or liberated by more labels and identities? Do we need MOGAI watch?

Religious responses

Christian Concern has railed against primary school pupils being taught about alternate gender identities, making them “confused” and gender-neutral uniform policies. They are running a conference this November to “equip teachers and concerned adults to respond to this [society’s attitude to sex and gender] revolution, particularly at home, in schools and in wider society.”

Over the Summer in Poland Pope Francis has lamented that children are being taught at school that gender can be a choice.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2005799432979841/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12127280/Government-asks-schoolchildren-to-define-their-gender-and-gives-them-24-options-to-choose-from.html

Non-binary 10yo
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-37383914

http://christianconcern.com/our-concerns/social/transgender-the-new-normal

http://christianconcern.com/search/node/transgender

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/girls-you-dont-need-to-be-pink-princesses-5bjbjrb27

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/02/pope-complains-gender-children-schools-telling-choose http://www.advocate.com/religion/2016/8/02/pope-francis-denounces-concept-gender-choice

 

Sex, Gender, Politics, Leadership and the EU

Is Leadership, political, religious and journalistic, too male?

What has the EU done for sex/gender equality, opportunity, and protections? How were the Leave and Remain campaigns dominated by “blokeish” male political and media voices and yet female candidates are now more to the fore in post-Brexit party leadership challenges? If women were allegedly more likely to vote Remain, and yet makeup over 50% of the electorate, how come they voted 52% Leave? All the political parties, even UKIP, could have women at the helm by October. Would female voices have run the campaigns any differently? Were male voices more prone to exaggerating facts and fears? Some religions and states still argue that “leadership is male” and “women should be silent” following only the vote of their husbands, brothers or fathers, if they are even allowed to vote at all. 60% of Christians voted Leave and 70% of Muslims voted Remain.

Discussion in Norwich Library, Tuesday 5 July, 6-7pm

Blokeish Masculinity & Male-dominated Politics

“The twin curse of masculinity and male-dominated politics helped create Brexit”

“Women will decide the EU referendum – so why [were] the campaigns so blokeish?”
Evidence points to a potentially significant difference between men and women when it comes to their views of the EU and the referendum:

  • Women were almost twice as likely to answer ‘Don’t Know’ in most EU referendum polls.
  • Women were less likely to say they are certain to vote in the referendum: 43% of men are certain which way they will vote, whether that’s ‘In’ or ‘Out’; that drops to just 29% of women.
  • Women are considerably less persuaded by UKIP, and have been less likely to vote for them. When asked how much they trust a series of different politicians when they talk about Britain’s membership of the EU, 41% of men say they trust Nigel Farage, but only 31% of women agree.
  • Intriguingly, evidence suggests that women may be more Eurosceptic than men, and more difficult to persuade to vote for Leave.
  • There are divergent patterns among different women voters: younger women are more likely than younger men to vote Remain/Left; older women are more likely than older men to vote Leave/Right.

Women’s Silence or Absent Focus?

“women’s voices have been depressingly absent…Women’s voices have not been heard anywhere near enough in the macho standoff that has passed for a campaign” – Polly Neate, CEO of Women’s Aid

“This was a horrible campaign; an argument that until the final days of the referendum campaign was conducted largely between white middle-class men, with ill humour and little understanding of voters’ disenfranchisement” – Sophie Walker, Leader of the Women’s Equality Party

Although the WEP were largely silent during the Referendum campaign, only writing about it after the fact.

“…a referendum campaign in which women’s voices were woefully lacking…” – Sophie Walker

“Considering they make up a slim majority of the British population, women have been notably marginalized in the EU referendum debate. The repercussions of Brexit for them as a demographic have scarcely been highlighted. As a group, women wield 1 million extra votes more than men in the June 23 referendum, yet the male-dominated Leave and Remain camps have done little to explain what either eventuality could mean for the livelihoods of the other sex…polling data compiled by YouGov [suggested] that 53% of women favour leaving the EU. However, only 68% of women said they would definitely vote in the referendum, as opposed to 75% of men. According to British Future, twice as many women as men prefer to say they don’t know which way they will vote.” – RT

“Women are more likely to say they don’t know. This is an ingrained feature of public opinion research. They are also slightly less likely than men to support Leave.” The Independent

Make your mind up!

Are women more or less likely to back the EU?

In the end, it seems a majority of women voted Leave by 52% to 48%, just like men, so was there no gendered difference? Probably there was, with younger higher-education women more likely to vote Remain and older women more likely to vote Leave than similar men.

“Neither side in the EU debate seemed that interested in women. The campaigns largely felt like men talking to one another, and a cursory glance at a debate on the matter in the House of Commons might still back that up: Europe seems to turn men on in a way it doesn’t for women. The campaigns feel rather blokey too…Even at a grassroots level the debate is rather heavy on the boys.”

“Tory minister Priti Patel claimed that “Women for Britain are fighting for the same cause” as Emmeline Pankhurst. This didn’t go down all that well with Helen Pankhurst, Emmeline’s great-granddaughter. She claimed the suffragette leader would have “been the first to champion what the EU has meant for women – including equal pay and anti-discrimination laws”.” – The Guardian

“there can be no reneging on the legislation prompted by membership of the EU that – while creaky in places – has done much to enhance the lives of women workers.” – The Daily Telegraph

On equal pay, on maternity leave, on unfair dismissal, it was the EU that forced the UK to extend those rights to all women and not just some. They also pushed for full protection from sexual harassment in the workplace.

“membership of the European Union has brought benefits for women – and particularly for women escaping violence and abuse…The EU has also done important practical work…to support the eradication of violence against women; this has been championed and prioritised by the European Parliament. This work includes the European Protection Order, the European Victims Directive, and the Lisbon Treaty…the majority of EU member states have developed national strategies and action plans to address VAWG (Violence against Women and Girls)…largely thanks to the EU… It funds EU-wide networks, such as the European Women’s Lobby and Women against Violence Europe(WAVE)…Forget house prices: this is about human lives.” – The Daily Telegraph

Are women’s views and input considered of less value than men, are they by default, less heard? Do they make better decisions?

Why Aren’t More Women in British Politics?

Despite at one stage in 2015 there being 5 female leaders, and a larger tranche of female MPs than ever before, the loudest and leading voices on Brexit were male.

“An unprecedented high of 191 women MPs (29%) were elected to the House of Commons on 7 May, an increase of 48 from the immediate post-2010 election results. At one stage during the summer, five of Britain’s main political parties were led by women – including interim party leaders Harriet Harman (Labour) and Sal Brinton (Liberal Democrats).” – PSA

And yet, Theresa May is leading the pack for Tory leader and Andrea Leadsom coming second, invoking the spirit of Margaret Thatcher and God in her ambition to be Tory leader.

BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour – ‘The Women Are Coming
Quentin Letts and Laurie Penny discuss the rise of women in politics
“Theresa May is the favourite to be the Conservative leader, Angela Eagle has put name forward to take over Labour, and we already have a female First Minister in Scotland with Nicola Sturgeon. In Europe Angela Merkel is still the one in control and let’s not forget that Hillary Clinton could be US President by the end of the year. So, is this time finally the time for women politicians?”

Not to mention Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) and the possibility of Suzanne Evans (UKIP) post-Nigel Farage.

GAS Sex, Gender, Leadership and EU Politics
Are women’s voices and views ignored in politics and the EU Referendum?

Prison, Gender, Trans, Violence, and Women’s Spaces

The Norfolk Gender & Sexuality (GAS) Discussion Group meets at the Norwich Forum Library, 6.30pm Dec 1, to debate “Prison, Gender, Trans, Violence, and Women’s Spaces”. (Facebook event)

With the furore over Tara Hudson, a trans woman, being sent to a male prison and her eventual transfer to a female one, and another – Vicky Thompson, who took her own life because she was sent to a men’s prison, and another Joanne Latham, 2 weeks later, we look at gender based violence in prison. Hudson was sent to prison for violence against a man but presented and identified as female, Latham for murder.

Prison is an area of mandatory sex/gender segregation based upon the presumption of two sexes and a majority heterosexual population. Separation based upon sex is presumed to aid management, deny sexual privilege, improve safety and risk of sexual and physical violence. All on the basis that men are more likely to harm, harass, or worse, women more than other men. If that is based on size and strength, or merely sex, we should be housing people according to height, weight, and sexuality as well! Where is the protection for gay, lesbian and bisexual, inmates? Trans prisoners, as some intersex prisoners would also, present a binary dilemma.

Inmate violence in US prisons is actually more common between women than between men, up to three times higher for sexual victimisation. What are the facts and myths of gender-based violence and does prison distort them? For instance men are more likely to attempt suicide outside of prison but inside it is women that are more at risk where a higher proportion have mental health issues and concerns.

Where is a safe place to send trans prisoners? In the US they are 50% likely to be raped in prison. Italy has a dedicated trans jail. HMP estimates around 20-30 trans people are in UK prisons but that is likely an underestimate as I’m aware of 10-15 in my local counties.

It is, however, the argument of Germaine Greer and others that women’s spaces need to be kept safe from “men masquerading as women”. The verbal vitriol is almost violent of her anti-trans rhetoric and is something that has led several universities to no-platform her in the name of creating safe trans-inclusive female spaces for students.

What risks are acceptable in the name of free expression (that may contain verbal violence), gender identity, legal sex definition, and how should we balance them with creating safe spaces in universities, DASV/rape crisis support centres, society at large and during incarceration – for all people?

Trans Detention Experience in the USA

“According to a study by University of California Irvine professor Valerie Jenness, more than half of all transgender inmates experience rape. Prison culture also creates an atmosphere where transgender inmates may submit to sexual assault for protection from physical violence – all under the callous indifference of prison authorities.” The Guardian

“Transgender prisoners are unfathomably at risk for sexual abuse,” Chris Daley, Deputy Executive Director at Just Detention International, an advocacy group that works to end sexual abuse in detention, told VICE News. “It’s a crisis”

“A recent US study said transgender women in male prisons are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than in the general population, with 59 per cent reporting sexual assaults.”The Independent

“When we are talking about trans people, we are talking about a population who are among the most vulnerable in our prisons,” Rebecca Earlbeck, lawyer representing Sandy Brown.

“Among former state prisoners (US), the rate of inmate-on inmate sexual victimization was at least three times higher for females (13.7%) than males (4.2%)… Following their release from prison, 72% of victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization indicated they felt shame or humiliation, and 56% said they felt guilt.”

Many transgender inmates are placed in “involuntary administrative segregation, which keeps them separated and safe from other inmates.”

“I was forced with no options to be in protective custody, locked down for 23 hours a day,” said Christopher D’Angelo, a transgender male who spent six months in MCSO [Arizona] custody. He likened his detention to solitary confinement. “It just added to my isolation,” D’Angelo said.

Earlier this year, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was looking to relocate around 25 of the nearly 70 transgender women (there are also a half-dozen or so trans men) that it houses on a nightly basis somewhere more permanent and together, incorporating the 2015 revised trans policies that it has been trying to improve since 2009 and 2011. Barely two-thirds of US facilities are even following the 2011 guidelines.

“The transgender detainees will likely be housed in their own area of the women’s facility, but may be allowed to “mingle” with other female detainees, according to ICE officials.”

Whilst the declared trans women detainees may make up just 0.22% of the 34,000 held, they account for 20% of the sexual abuse cases in detention, and that’s the confirmed reported ones – many are not.

“[US] Immigration officials say they have a model facility in Southern California that only houses gay and bisexual men and transgender women. While some 75 transgender detainees are housed across the country every night, the California facility only houses an average of 44 gay, bisexual and transgender individuals at a time.”

ICE has now cancelled those plans leaving trans immigrants and asylum seekers at risk until improved policies are adopted, although LGBT and immigrant-rights advocates had actually opposed the move because the facility in question had a notorious reputation, disputed by GEO Group and its apparent 100% standards accreditation. Instead, the updated ‘Transgender Care Contract Modification’ policy would allow trans women detainees to be housed in facilities matching their gender identity – a policy the UK adopted in 2011/12, though judging by recent cases, not wholly adopted.

Trans Detention Facilities in Italy

It is thought that Italy has a total of some 60 transgender prisoners but a specialist centre in Tuscany was planned to house about 30 people. The BBC’s Duncan Kennedy, in Rome, said that until now [2010] transgender prisoners have been located in women’s prisons where they are often segregated for their own safety. Guards were to undertake special training in how to treat transgender prisoners before the prison block was to open near Empoli, in Tuscany, in March 2010.

“It’s a great idea. It will not be a ghetto but a way to avoid the experience of isolation in ordinary prisons,” said Regina Satariano, the head of the Italian Movement for Transgender Identity.

Sadly the Pozzale facility, near Florence, was put on hold. An academic case study – ‘Section D: a Tertium Genus of Incarceration? Case-study on the Transgender Inmates of Sollicciano Prison‘, was recently published (Dec 2014) presenting “a socio-legal analysis of the condition of transgender inmates and of the policy choices (or the lack of them) concerning their incarceration in Italy, based on our case-study of Section D of the Italian Prison of Sollicciano, Florence.”

“…different scenarios share the same conceptual roots: normative binarism and the resulting impossibility of engaging in a political discussion concerning the condition of transgender inmates. Therefore, the second consideration lying at the heart of our study and defining its theoretical and practical framework consists in the necessity of interpreting the complex relations between law and gender, and prison and gender… The condition of transgender inmates globally is evidence of the failure of essentialist policies, grounded on normative binary categories, and the reduction of the social world to the male/female opposition. Employing theory, i.e. critically rethinking the categories of our social space, seems the most logical solution, but logic is not the strong suite of the law (nor of politics). As a result, while legislators envision solely male and female prisoners (and the corollary male and female issues), many correctional institutions are confronted with troublesome ‘specters’ who fail to conform to the legislator’s rational, biopolitical plan…

…Sollicciano is one of the few Italian prisons in which a
tertium genus of incarceration, not provided for by law, has been informally established. The second consideration is the high percentage of non-EU inmates housed in Section D, and the predominance, within this group, of Latin-American inmates, with a significant majority of Brazilians. The last consideration, which lies at the heart of our study and defines its theoretical and practical framework, is the necessity of interpreting the complex relationship between law and gender, and prison and gender. This ‘critical triangle’ defines the object of our study: the theoretical and practical interrelation of law, gender, and rights.”

Trans Detention Experience in the UK

Government estimates of numbers are vastly under-reported. 20-30 is just the tip of the iceberg when there are around 10 in one county alone, to my knowledge, and often 2 or more in each prison, and there are 136 prisons, 82,000 male inmates and 4,000 female inmates. Based upon typical trans statistics that would indicate a few hundred trans inmates, at least. Self-inflicted deaths in custody this year number 43, at least 2 of which were trans, 5% of the total from a population of perhaps 0.5% of inmates (less than 1 in 2000 according to the Government, 0.05%), so at least 10-100x more likely to take one’s life when imprisoned in facilities not matching their gender identity.

Trans and prison reform activists petitioned the Government for over a decade before the PSI 07/2011 Care and Management of Transsexual Prisoners guidance (March 2011) was brought in. I met with prison officers in the few years leading up to that and found that some were taking common sense into their own hands already and in one instance allowing trans women, both pre and post-op, to be moved to the female estate. That, it is not being followed fully 4 years on is a scandal that has led to several high profile deaths in custody.

In ‘Rethinking gendered prison policies: Impacts on transgender prisoners‘,
Sarah Lamble co-founder of Bent Bars Project and a lecturer at Birkbeck School of Law, says:

Law enforcement officials have a long history of targeting, punishing and criminalising people who do not conform to gender norms. As feminist criminologists have shown, for example, women who fail to conform to femininity norms are often policed and punished more harshly in the criminal justice system than those who adhere more closely to societal gender expectations (Carlen, 1983, 1985; Heidensohn, 1996). Likewise, traditional norms around masculinity and femininity still operate as key modes of discipline, power and regulation within carceral settings (Sim, 1994; Carrabine and Longhurst, 1998; Crewe, 2006). Although the role of gender norms within the penal system is widely recognised, little attention has been paid to their specific impact on transgender people.

Joanne Latham

A transgender prisoner was discovered dead in her cell at an all-male prison, the BBC reports. Joanne Latham, 38, serving life for two attempted murders, was found hanging by a prison officer at HMP Woodhill (category A) in Milton Keynes in the early hours of Friday 27 November. That she was a patient at the secure Rampton Hospital in 2011 may evidence mental health issues. She had apparently only publicly identified as female this year.

Vicky Thompson

Transgender woman Vicky Thompson was found dead on Friday 13 November at “England’s most overcrowded prison” all-male HMP Leeds (category B), where the infamous violent prisoner Charles Bronson was briefly held. It currently holds 550 more people than the 669 person prison was designed for, with the contingent additional health and safety risks that brings. Thompson identified as female and requested female prison incarceration for her 12 month sentence. She said if she was sent to a male prison she would likely commit suicide. her solicitor described the 21 year old as vulnerable. So sending her to Britain’s second most suicidal jail was not clever thinking. HMP Leeds is second, to HMP Brixton, with “77 self inflicted deaths in custody since 1978. There has been at least one death every year since 1986. From 2010 the number of prison officers has fallen from 383 to 260.”

Tara Hudson

Transgender woman Tara Hudson was moved from a men’s to women’s prison after protests. She was imprisoned for assaulting a bar manager. She had been living full-time for 6 years as a woman since the age of 20.

A petition that called for Tara Hudson to serve her sentence in a women’s prison attracted 159,000 signatures. At the same time another petition by Cardiff University SU Women’s Officer, Rachael Melhuish, wanted to no-platform Germaine Greer from speaking due to her transmisogynistic views.

Greer’s view has been labelled as radical by those feminists who embrace intersectionality, but Hudson’s treatment at the hands of the Prison Service shows the opposite. If anything, Greer’s disdain is indicative of how we view transgender people as a society. By denying Hudson the right to serve her time in a female prison, our legal system is entirely aligned with statements from Greer such as “Just because you lop off your penis… it doesn’t make you a woman.” – Ella Griffiths in The Independent

Paris Lees

How The Prison Service Is Failing Trans People by Paris Lees

Germaine Greer

Paris Lees on Germaine Greer and whether she should be “no platformed”.

Abigail Tarttelin on Germaine Greer:

When you tell Germaine Greer to sit down and shut up because of her views on transgender women, you become a misogynist too. Trans women’s and cis women’s issues intersect, but they are not identical.

Whether you agree with Greer or not, she is not inciting hatred or violence. She is not disregarding the rights of trans people to transition, or to be referred to by their chosen pronoun. She is exercising her freedom of speech.

Feminism is essentially about freedom. Freedom from oppressive gender roles, freedom to be who you are, and to say what you think. Trans politics have benefited enormously from feminist politics; because of feminist agitators, traditional gender boundaries have been destabilised, and legislation such as the Equality Act 2010 protects trans people from discrimination.

Some material above has been borrowed from Katy Jon Went‘s article – Sex & Gender in Prison, Time to Think outside the Binary for Trans Prisoners.