Tara Hudson, a transgender woman, has been sent to an all-male prison to serve her twelve week sentence for assault. Despite the fact that she has had six years of gender reassignment, reconstructive surgery and has lived as a woman for her whole adult life, she is still considered a man in legal terms.
A petition calling for her to serve her sentence in a female prison has attracted more than 50,000 signatures. And, interestingly, this comes in the same week that another petition emerged at Cardiff University calling to ban Germaine Greer from speaking due to her belief that transgender women are not real women.
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.” That is the cold hard truth.
However, while we are free to argue against Greer’s opinion, it is much harder to tackle structural oppression. Allowing Greer to speak means she can be challenged - but in Hudson’s case the discrimination takes the form of actions, not words. She has no voice at all.
The Prison Service’s decision encourages and legitimises the idea that being transgender is “unnatural”, as does the Ministry of Justice’s refusal to intervene in the matter. Despite the huge effort and sacrifice that she has made to be comfortable in her own skin, it has been made clear that in the eyes of her government and her country, it is only Hudson’s biological, assigned gender that matters. The fact that Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has promised to bring Hudson’s case to Parliament pales into insignificance in the face of such huge judicial indifference.
Authorities argue that Hudson’s treatment is in accordance with “long-standing policy”, but this is a poor defence. Tradition alone is never reason enough to continue with anything, and placing transgender offenders according to their legally defined gender is not only offensive, but outdated.
Currently, offenders have to have a Gender Recognition Certificate in order to be placed in a prison relevant to their chosen identity, but this can take years to acquire due to the vast number of requirements. In cases such as Hudson’s, where she has taken such huge steps to live as a woman, the lack of a piece of paper seems trivial, as well as needlessly cruel.
Aside from the humiliation of having her chosen gender denied by the authorities, the decision also places Hudson in immediate danger of abuse and sexual violence from the other inmates. While authorities argue there are strong measures in place to protect transgender prisoners, Hudson will almost undoubtedly not feel safe while she is inside. At the very least, the threat of violence is an unjust addition to her sentence that will hang over her head.
The elimination of prejudice against transgender people in the UK and around the world has to start with the law, but our outdated legal attitude demonstrates just how far we have to go. For every Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner who is paving the way, there’s a Tara Hudson. So it’s worth remembering this week in particular, as Greer’s comments have to come to the fore, that all too often a person’s gender identity is questioned not only by famous individuals, but by the state itself.
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