What does it mean to be a transgendered person in prison? A collection of writings on queer, transgender and prison politics shed light on these two populations and their struggles.
Released last fall, the book Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex brings together stories and poems from current and former prisoners, activists, and academics looking at how race, gender and sexuality are experienced when a person is incarcerated.
“The history of trans and queer people in the United States is also a history of incarceration and the struggles against incarceration,” co-editor Eric A. Stanley said Thursday night during an event celebrating the book at Mills College in Oakland.
The book includes stories about the gay youth group involved in the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco, an event that preceded New York's Stonewall riots and marked as the rise of transgender activism in the US. Other stories feature prisoners demanding access to HIV medication, the impact of juvenile court on queer youth and critiques of hate crimes. Co-editor Nat Smith said the book comes at a time when the prison and justice system should be at the forefront of gay liberation.
“I really wanted to challenge all the tenets of what gay liberation movements have looked like in the past,” Smith said, which used to rely “heavily on using policing and the government to create hate crime legislation to further punish other people.”
Julia C. Oparah, professor and chair of Ethnic Studies at Mills College, contributed a piece on how feminists involved in prison abolition work can sometimes undermine the experiences of transgendered people. Many feminists, Oparah said, “assume that all women prisoners are in women’s prison. Actually turns out not to be the case.” Often times, Oparah explains, transwomen end up in men’s prisons where they face sexual harassment and humiliation.
Thursday’s book celebration resonated at Mills College where a new queer studies program kicked off earlier this year. “Mills is really doing a lot of work around transgender politics,” Oparah said.