Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mistaken Gender Identity

Did you see the article about the woman misidentified as transsexual and thrown into jail for 7 months with men?

I think it should be pointed out that it's not so nice to be treated like us, is it? And therefore it's not nice the way WE are being treated - DESPITE provisions in existing laws that supposedly protect people from this sort of treatment.

Apparently some typically over-qualified genius in the employ of the State mistyped her name as "Denis" - when she was actually Denise. (Yes, that's right, with an "e" - as in "education") That one slip of a key could easily have cost this woman her life. In point of fact, I would say that her life has been effectively ruined. Yes, she was detained on suspicion of having committed a crime - but now, despite having been cleared in court of all charges - she is a multiple rape victim, has suffered various forms of abuse and trauma, is suicidal, may have contracted HIV and numerous other diseases. A simple "We're so f***ing sorry" from the court and the Prison Service - or the State - is just not going to be good enough.

The simple truth about jails in this country is that they are death factories. Whether you go there for a week or life, the line between both can become a little blurry and actually mean the same thing.

Jails in South Africa have become breeding grounds for gangs that exist inside and outside the confines of prison life. They are training academies where a simple bag-snatcher can graduate as a full-fledged murderer. They are overcrowded, brutal and savage. And of course, our prison service is hardly any better than the criminals they guard, trading favors and money with their captives. Oh, now I'm being a little harsh, some might say - but how often has their corruption been exposed by investigative journalists?

And yes, prison is supposed to be feared, it's supposed to be a natural consequence to breaking the law. It's supposed to be a deterrent. But is it altogether fair? Is it just?

Should a mild-mannered white-collar fraudster be placed among hard-core gangsters, pimps, drug-dealers and convicted murderers? Surely common sense indicates that this would be tantamount to a death sentence? But of course, "that will teach him to steal money". Oh so this is the Wild West, then? Kill a man and get hard labor, steal a horse and get a death sentence? It's about the same thing here. Be accused of a crime and get raped, infected with HIV and possibly murdered for it - all while awaiting trial - and technically still innocent until proven guilty.

This is South Africa. Mistakes happen all the time. How often do we hear of people suing for wrongful arrest? Don't forget that innocent people can - and often DO end up in jail. If not just to await trial, to serve a sentence. Next time, it could be you.

If you go to jail or are awaiting trial, then surely you go there to await trial - not to be brutalized, raped, medically neglected or to contract HIV. Prison is supposed to be about being removed from society - not removing all traces of humanity from you.

And yet, this woman's Humanity License was expressly revoked because she was suspected of being a transsexual. I may not be a lawyer, but I am pretty sure the SA Constitution says something about that.

And when a transwoman is held awaiting trial, as far as I understand it, she is supposed to be placed with other females - as (duh, obviously) she will come to harm being placed with male prisoners who don't even blink twice at turning each other into "bitches". But they placed her with male prisoners, even thinking she was trans, assuming that "well, she's just a man in a dress anyway". So who cares?

Well, sistah - I do. And this is unacceptable! This was a deliberate hate crime - against both cis-women and transwomen.

I would be very interested to see if certain political parties take this matter up - or will it simply not interest them - because by doing so, they would have to defend transgender and intersex human rights in South Africa? And we know how much some of them hate anything which defies the traditional, fictional, blinkered gender-binary. It confuses the bejesus out of them and transcends their narrow little minds.

Aside from the clear disrespect and utter contempt shown to trans people in this example, the blatant and shocking ignorance exhibited by these officials around what a transsexual is, is nearly as revolting and repulsive as the pleasure they derived from allowing her to be treated this way.

And despite her pointing out the fact that she tried to prove her womanhood by telling them she was menstruating - and their assumption that this had something to do with her "sex-change" operation - they STILL thought better of having her examined by a doctor? I'm sorry, but where the hell is bleeding from the genitals normal for either males or transwomen?? This is a clear indication of willful neglect.

To add insult to injury, she is now being forced to undergo "gender testing" - in the same style as that other victim of the gender police - Caster Semenya, to prove she is female - despite the fact that she has children - which she gave birth to.

Let's be clear about this - this is not just about feminist issues - this is not as simple as just being about the abuse of a woman by a patriarchal system. This is about a woman who they thought was a transsexual - and dehumanized and brutalized because of it. In plain language, they thought she was transsexual and treated her as they would have treated one of us - without any regard for her safety, well being, dignity or humanity. Regardless of the fact that this woman was in fact not even transsexual, this is by plain definition, a hate crime.

What aggravates the whole thing is the fact that when she reached the court room - after seven appalling months of this inexcusable treatment - she was cleared of any crime. So what the hell was all this about anyway?

In my humble opinion, these people deserve not so much to be sued for every penny they have, as much as having their kneecaps sawn off with a blunt spoon.

Yet it seems perfectly clear that in South Africa, an awaiting trial prisoner - who has not even been convicted of anything at all and often is innocent - can receive a death sentence and be completely at the mercy of the people assigned to be responsible for them - YOU - the people who pay taxes.

Don't you find that disquieting?


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1 comment:

  1. Yeah as horrible as it is. This does happen from time-to-time in Canada and the US and I'm always thinking the same thing. What happens to these women is horrific and shouldn't happen... But why is it only when this happens to a cis-woman that people are outraged. Trans or intersex women people seem at best indifferent, at worst delighted that this is the USUAL treatment for us... Get that people... for trans and intersex women this is the NORM not the exception.
    Even in "civilised" countries like Canada and the US we are routinely housed with men and suffer similar abuses while the guards are indifferent or sometimes participate in the abuse. The only alternative? Punitive solitary confinement... Just for being trans/intersex she'll have to sit for 23 hours a day completely alone in a cold, dark concrete box (sounds a bit medieval doesn't it?). If she's considered "suicidal" add to that no furniture and sometimes they'll take her clothes away (they say for "safety" I say just to humiliate her).
    It ridiculous... In a civilised society we shouldn't stand for this sort of treatment of ANYONE. Rather than calling it a "human rights violation" when it happens to a cis-woman and shrugging it off or even saying she deserves it if she happens to be trans or intersex... We should be reforming the prison system...
    How can any society consider itself "civilised" when a whole class of people don't have equal rights and is routinely subjected to harsh and cruel punishments that do NOT fit the crime whether they happen to actually be guilty or not. Very unfair we don't get all the benefits of society but get the brunt of the legal system thrown at us when it has a chance. This is stupid.
    And people wonder why I'm terrified of police :s