Michelle Kosilek’s Surgery Raises Questions About Trans* Prisoners’ Rights

Michelle Kosilek is a trans woman who needs reassignment surgery. She’s also an inmate serving a life sentence since 1990 for the murder of her wife, Cheryl. Though Kosilek entered prison presenting as male, she has identified as a trans woman for at least the last 12 years. In 2000, she sued the state of Massachusetts; her lawyers argued that reassignment surgery was a medical necessity and that denying it was a violation of her Eighth Amendment rights. Initially, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf only supported her as far as getting hormone therapy, but stopped short of surgery. When she sued again in 2005, it eventually resulted in Wolf deciding this month that Kosilek did, in fact, need surgery and the Massachusetts Department of Correction was required to provide it for her. It is the first such decision in the United States. The judge found that “the treatment… had been prescribed by Department of Correction doctors, and that the only justifications for denying the treatment were based on public opinion.”

Judge Wolf’s decision has been a lightning rod for acclaim and criticism not only in Massachusetts, but around the country. It’s received acclaim from groups such as the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, and outrage from various radio hosts and politicians.

Michelle Kosilek via AP Photo

The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution – the one that Judge Wolf cited in his decision that Kosilek required surgery – prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishment” as the result of a crime. The problem is, it’s not exactly clear about what constitutes “cruel and unusual,” and like some other parts of the Bill of Rights, how that phrase is interpreted has a lot to do with who is in power, and who they appoint to the courts. A “tough on crime” judge and a prisoner’s rights advocate are going to see the limits that that phrase imposes very differently. Few would deny a prisoner’s right to life-saving medical care, but when it comes to mental health and wellbeing, what exactly is required becomes a bit fuzzier. It’s true that Kosilek isn’t at risk of dying if she doesn’t receive surgery, but without it, her existence would be a pretty miserable one. It’s hard to argue that there’s anything “elective” about Kosilek’s desire for surgery, given her history. Many critics understand surgery for trans* people as being “cosmetic,” but this simply isn’t the case. According to CBS News, “Wolf notes that Kosilek’s gender-identity disorder has caused Kosilek such anguish that she has tried to castrate herself and twice tried to commit suicide, once while on Prozac.” (“Gender identity disorder” language from CBS, not this writer.)

That’s not the only issue at stake. Because Kosilek is a prisoner, her surgery would be paid for with taxpayer money. Plenty of non-convicts with health insurance have trouble paying for surgery, since many insurance companies still see it as elective surgery. In their appeal to the judge’s decision, MA government officials cited Kosilek’s hormone therapy, which was prescribed at the state’s expense.  Concerns have also been voiced about her safety in a men’s prison after surgery (though one wonders why that wouldn’t be rectified by transferring her to a women’s prison, or why she hasn’t been already).

Another issue at hand is just how much people understand about the trans* community and how dysphoria works. In general, that’s not a lot. As pointed out in this editorial in Boston alternative newspaper The Phoenix:

Even in Massachusetts, there’s still dismayingly widespread prejudice against transgender people. The medical facts, the physical and psychological realities, are not known or understood by the public at large. Hence the political tension in a state that recently became the 16th in the nation to adopt formal non-discrimination measures to protect the trans community, and the political reaction — or backlash — against Wolf’s order.

via AP Photo

Looking around the Internet proves the writer’s point. Unfortunately, you expect the reader comments on a general news site like CBS to be execrable. But even on Jezebel, the comments on the various articles about Michelle Kosilek’s struggle show a great deal of ignorance on the part of some of the commenters toward her needs. For example, a number of comments make offensive comparisons to truly cosmetic procedures (such as breast enlargement for cisgender women). And, of course, there is the predictable radfem nonsense about how she’s still and always will be a man because [insert flawed explanation here].

The fact that there’s so much misunderstanding about trans* rights even in more progressive circles does a lot to explain why even normally pro-LGBT politicians, like MA Gov. Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren have come out against Kosilek on this issue. Although Warren’s statement — “I have to say, I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars” – isn’t quite as strongly-worded as that of her opponent in the Senate race, Scott Brown, who called it an “outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars” and referred to a possible overturn of Judge Wolf’s ruling as “common sense prevailing.” There seems to be particularly dismay at Warren’s stance, though, since she’s someone who has made a career out of standing up for the downtrodden, and would be expected to be on the progressive side of things when it comes to both trans* rights and prisoners’ rights.

Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Deval Patrick via Boston Herald

Obviously, just how much one can live with dysphoria — and whether an inmate is entitled to correct that — is something that transgender people are best-equipped to answer. After all, they’ve lived it. While there was disagreement among the trans* commenters in the comments of some of the articles I read — one trans female commenter asserted that if trans* people who can’t afford the surgery they need are forced to live without it, a convict shouldn’t be able to get it for free — trans* rights organizations seem to be largely supporting Kosilek and expressing disappointment in the appeal decision. The Mansfield Patch reports that leaders from two New England transgender rights organizations, Jennifer Levi of the Transgender Rights Project at Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), and Gunner Scott of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, have spoken out against the appeal. Scott said that “Care that is medically necessary cannot be denied based on public opinion,” and Levi, that “Constitutional rights belong to everyone, even the least loved, least popular people among us.”

At the end of the day, we pay taxes to ensure the betterment of our country and our fellow citizens. Isn’t it better for our society – both in, and outside of, the prison walls – if we treat our prisoners like they are people?

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Rose is a 24-year-old Detroit native currently living in Boston, where she is working on her master's degree in musicology. Classical music, history, 1960s rock bands, cartoons, cats, Diet Coke, old movies and the Detroit Tigers are just a few of her favorite things. Besides Autostraddle, she works as a streaming reviewer for Anime New Network and has also written for Bitch and her own media-analysis blog. You should follow her on Twitter and Tumblr.

Rose has written 69 articles for us.

220 Comments

  1. Thumb up 17

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    ‘It’s true that Kosilek isn’t at risk of dying if she doesn’t receive surgery, but without it, her existence would be a pretty miserable one.’

    I would argue she is very much at risk of dying if she doesn’t have surgery, she already tried to commit suicide twice and tried to castrate herself.

    I read an article that was talking about her laywer and court fees were around $3,000,000 and her medical bills are $85,000~. The decision also required those costs to be covered.

    • Thumb up 10

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      Yeah I agree that, all the shitty transphobia aside, the main issue here is that she IS at risk of dying without the surgery. My understanding is that, whatever the mental health reason or reasons behind it, if someone in jail is suicidal, the medical professionals involved do all they can to provide that inmate with the proper care, medicine, etc. to treat their condition. In this case, I think it’s pretty clear that her gender dysphoria is one of the main reasons, if not the main one, for her self-harm. And it’s clear that Prozac etc., which is probably the typical first line of defense from a medical perspective for a depressive or suicidal inmate, was NOT enough, and therefore the surgery makes sense as a pragmatic medical procedure, at the very least. And that’s not even getting into moral issues at all.
      Ugh idk, I’m scared to read articles in the mainstream media because I know the comments sections will make me vom/cry.

      • Thumb up 1

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        No, I don’t think you were wrong per se, it’s just interesting to discuss where you draw the line between medically necessary and cosmetic. And like, idk, I’m sure there are terms in the middle — are there? Like, medically helpful? A good/nice/humane thing to do for another human? Lol I’m so clearly not a doctor.

  2. Thumb up 14

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    As a transgender woman, I support her right to medical care, whatever that entails. It is often said, when talking about medical care, that the government should not get between the patient and their doctor– that such a relationship is private and sacrosanct. That principle applies here as well. Being in her position, I’m sure she has been subjected to even more review and scrutiny by an even larger team of medical and psychological professionals than most trans people are (and we are subject to quite a bit, usually). If that team of people agrees that she has a medical need for surgery, (and considering attempted self castration and suicide attempts, I would say it definitely is) she should have access to care and there is no reason to deny it. Every person, regardless of trans status or incarceration, has a right to medical care, particularly so when their life is in jeopardy- no exceptions because someone might be in disagreement about something that does not concern them.

    This has become politicized in a big way, and to the detriment of all. I was personally affected by this story, shortly after I came out. My wife’s parents are very upset that I am trans and their daughter bisexual, and one of the few communications I’ve had with them since was a little note citing this story and making a snide comment to the effect of “hey this trans person killed their wife and is getting a sex change! it could happen to you!” kind of fearmongering bullshit. It was very hurtful and insulting, and the more attention this story gets, the more it will be used to stereotype and marginalize trans people.

  3. Thumb up 12

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    I think the court made the right decision on this. The crazy part is, no matter your side on this issue, it probably cost the state more money fighting this than it ever would cost to provide transgender care to inmates.

  4. Thumb up 3

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    I wonder how much of the blowup over this isn’t so much that she’s trans* but that she’s a convict. “They committed crimes against humanity! why should they be treated as human?! they used up their chances at dignity”. (Not my personal sentiment, but stuff I’ve heard before) How is medical care like for other convicts?

    • Thumb up 7

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      From my understanding, medical care for convicts in general is rather exemplary and taken seriously. I think that’s the reason this issue is an issue, because it isn’t really par for the course. It is discrimination because of her trans* status, where her medical needs would otherwise be met and served as any other convict’s needs would have been. I think the quote about public opinion sums this up well, regardless of whether said public opinion has been an honest cultural and political misunderstanding or the result of conscious prejudice and bigotry.

      • Thumb up 2

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        Not always. In US penitentiaries, at least, medical care for immediate obvious-to-mainstream-public life-threatening issues (bleeding to death, organ transplant, killer infection broken bone) might be there, but quality-of-life type stuff (better/different/any medication for mental issues, surgical help for chronic problems) can fall to the wayside depending on the whim of the prison, the doctors, and anyone in charge of allowing access to that kind of thing. Varies by state, by prison, by quality of civil rights advocates, and by political climate. An election year is not a favorable climate for prison reform advocacy.

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          Hmm, really interesting. I do think you’re right that, from what little I know, it varies a lot by state/county/prison, etc. The prison near me I think is generally pretty good, but I might be totally wrong about that. This particular case though is important, I think, because people feel extra-comfortable being transphobic when the person involved is also a convict, right? So the biases of the general population come out in less-than-exemplary situations. Like you said, election years bring shit out in people, a lot of it not so good. But, on the other hand, it does get the discussion going, so that’s…good?

  5. Thumb up 2

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    I won’t comment on the actual topic itself because my thoughts have already been expressed in the article and comments above (prisoners are human, they have a right to medical care period), but – am I the only one who finds the expression “gender reassignment surgery” cissexist?
    I’m not a native speaker so I don’t know if it’s actually a term endorsed by the english-speaking trans community at large or if I’m somehow misinterpreting it, but to me it sounds like an implication that genitals are a defining element of your gender or something. I’m more used to the term SRS and I like this one better.

    • Thumb up 6

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      There are a few terms in use; to name a few, there is “gender reassignment surgery,” “sex reassignment surgery,” “genital reassignment surgery,” and “gender confirmation surgery” (the prettiest one by far, but kind of unfortunate in light of the existence of trans people who either do not want/cannot afford the surgery. Personally, I use “bottom surgery.” To each their own.

    • Thumb up 3

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      Personally I really dislike “gender reassignment surgery” as to actually reassign someone’s gender would require some pretty radical brain surgery.

      “Gender confirmation surgery” suffers from not including non-binary folks who opt for these types of surgeries.

      And the idea of reassigning someone’s sex on the basis of this surgery is kind of loaded as it carries implicit assumptions about people who don’t choose to have the surgery.

      Genital reassignment surgery is at least accurate, but I prefer vaginoplasty. Why do we need a euphemism? Call the procedure what the doctors call it.

        • Thumb up 4

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          In trans* communities SRS/GRS/GCS is only used to describe bottom surgery: vaginoplasty, metoidioplasty or phalloplasty. Occasionally it gets used for orchiectomy. Breast augmentation or mastectomy are “top surgery.” Any of the various facial surgery procedures and tracheal shaves are covered under FFS (facial feminization surgery).

          Basically, SRS is already not a general term.

        • Thumb up 1

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          Okay. I still needed a catch-all term so I updated the article to use “reassignment surgery” without specifying. Please let me know if that’s still incorrect.

  6. Thumb up 15

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    As a trans girl who really is having trouble living with her lower parts as they are, I really do think it’s extraordinarily cruel to deny her access to bottom surgery. If the only way to get bottom surgery were to give up both my arms, I wouldn’t hesitate. Obviously, I speak only for myself, so I can’t know whether she feels the same way about it. Some trans women are less repulsed by their genitals than I am, and some are perfectly happy with them. It doesn’t take any legitimacy away from their identities.

    Personally, I think all trans* people ought to have access to (good) bottom surgery through private insurance or, ideally, universal health care, be they angels or prisoners. As this is most certainly not the case in the U.S. today, I can see where the argument is coming from that poor people on the other side of prison walls ought to have their access prioritized. However, if this issue comes out allowing trans* prisoners access to bottom surgery, guess who gets a stronger argument come the time that the issue of insurance/government benefits coverage finds its way to the forefront? Those of us on the outside (i.e. “Even prisoners get it, why not the rest of us?”).

    If I have to stick to a principle, I’d prefer to be on the side of whomever’s access is up for argument right now than to yank them down because I think the queue ought to be arranged differently. That really doesn’t help any of us.

    • Thumb up 7

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      “Even prisoners get it, why not the rest of us?”

      Is it likely that this could be used as some kind of precedent? I’m not in the US so I don’t know how much impact it will have, but my first thought was that if a judge has ruled this medically necessary for a convicted murderer, will trans* people generally be able to use it to argue for better health care?

      • Thumb up 0

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        Not to be a downer but…even if this were to establish some kind of positive precedent for trans people in prison, opponents will try to narrow the ruling so that it only applies to prisoners and does not extend to citizens in the outside world. Unfortunately, this would probably be an easy task.

        And second, because this is only in a U.S District Court (I think), even if they ruled in favor of Michelle, the ruling would only hold authority in the limited geographic that the district court controls – so regions outside of New England would be free to ignore the ruling entirely if the courts disagreed. So, prisoners in other, more conservative regions may have an uphill battle. That’s why the Supreme Court is so important – their rulings have the ability to change policy for the entire country.

        • Thumb up 5

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          While the ruling only has jurisdiction over its particular district, U.S. District Court rulings can serve as precedent in deciding rulings in other districts or even in the Supreme Court (in terms of “well, I like what this judge said, we should use that same reasoning in our decision”).

        • Thumb up 4

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          Yay! It’s just like law school up in here!

          While I doubt this would be a binding precedent outside the prisoner-in-Massachusetts context, it’s always good to have some more persuasive authority on your side. I think the fact that a judge said that denying bottom surgery to a trans* inmate who needed it was cruel and unusual punishment would stick pretty hard in the craw of a benefits agency denying even partial coverage outside the prison context.

          Obviously, there’s no guarantee that such an argument would be a winner in any other case, but it might tip the scales somewhere.

          Really not looking forward to our current Supreme Court passing on this issue, however. I’m especially not looking forward to whatever opinion Scalia might write. See Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 586 (2003) (Scalia, J., Dissenting).

  7. Thumb up 2

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    “For example, a number of comments make offensive comparisons to truly cosmetic procedures (such as breast enlargement for cisgender women)”

    I agree that taking it to the extent of wanting bigger breast to be offensive to transwomen, but as a ciswoman, if I had to get a double mastectomy I would still feel like a woman inside. They could give me a hysterectomy and a double mastectomy at the same time and I’d still feel like a woman. Do body parts really define gender? I agree with user GV about too much emphasis on genitalia. Does anyone have stats on percentage of how many transgendered people go through with “bottom surgery”? From my understanding, not the majority….especially for transmen. Also from my understanding, most transgendered people knew who they were before they even knew what the word genitalia meant. Later in life, it seems society focuses too much on body appearance as to what’s deemed acceptable or passable. Sorry if I used wrong terminology, but I’m still learning.

    • Thumb up 11

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      Once again speaking for myself, even knowing that genitalia don’t define gender doesn’t make it any less horrible having something down there that really *feels* wrong. I still feel like a woman even with them down there, but I really think body dysphoria can’t just be theorized away. It certainly has not been my experience.

    • Thumb up 8

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      There are plenty of trans* people who don’t think their genitalia is that important, but THIS particular trans woman tried to castrate herself and then commit suicide multiples times because of her genitalia. So I think in HER particular case it is pretty important.

    • Thumb up 9

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      It’s a pretty subjective experience. It has a lot to do with the form dysphoria takes for the individual person. For me dysphoria was a very physical thing. It didn’t really have much to do with social anything.

      Or to put it another way: I knew I was female before my vaginoplasty, and without the vaginoplasty I’d still be female, but I’d probably be a dead female.

  8. Thumb up 6

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    TW: transphobia

    I’m sorry, but she MURDERED her freaking wife, she freakin’ killed a woman someone’s daughter etc. and you care about her cosmetic surgery.. because it has something to do with the rights of a [transphobic language removed].. This is blown out of proportion and I think to much attention is being given to a brutal murderer. I mean.. this article is so “smart” but actually backwards.

    edited by Rose

    • Thumb up 14

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      Of course what she did is odious, and she is being punished for it with imprisonment. We also have a constitution that guarantees prisoners be free from cruel and unusual punishment, which has always been interpreted as equal access to medical care. Letting someone’s serious (and life threatening) medical condition go untreated falls under that amendment’s prohibition against “cruel… punishment.”

      As for it being ‘cosmetic’ surgery, please consider that correcting what is clearly (speaking for myself) a both mentally and physically painful and distressing part of the body is far from cosmetic. If she is ready to self harm due to this, it is clearly a threat to her life. And who are you to say otherwise when clearly multiple professionals have agreed that surgery is the best (and only) corrective action available?

      If a cisgender female inmate had PCOS resulting in regular painful periods, hormone imbalances, etc would you deny them that care just because it increases their level of comfort? This individual has been sentenced to life in prison, and in our system that punishment does not and cannot include denial of necessary medical care. No judge can or should be deciding who gets what medical treatment, convict or otherwise.

      • Thumb up 9

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        Yeah, I agree completely and have brought this up in other discussions I’ve had about this issue. No one is saying that Kosilek is not a terrible person, and that violence against women is not a terrible thing regardless of whether it’s committed by men or women, cis or trans people. But the Constitution is blind to how bad of a person you are. You still have human rights. It’s the same as how even really awful opinions are still protected under the First Amendment; even really awful prisoners still are protected under the Eighth Amendment (and the other amendments dealing specifically with prisoner’s rights). It’s hardly “bad feminism” to believe that anti-feminists still deserve rights.

      • Thumb up 7

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        Also my issue is less the courts deciding these things, and more public opinion deciding these things. Imagine if we had the public deciding every single surgery that every single prisoner got (as the “my tax dollars” arguments seem to suggest should be the case). I mean, when we have Tea Party rallies cheering the deaths of the uninsured, it’s kind of scary to ponder how far that slippery slope could go…

    • Thumb up 10

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      Also, it should be pointed out that putting quotation marks around the appropriate pronoun, and calling transgender people deviant is bordering on hate speech.

      Our lived gender is as real as your own, so dehumanizing us by mocking our pronouns is very offensive and dismissive. Also calling us deviant not only has the tone of a bible-thumper, but is just factually inaccurate as the American Psychological Association in it’s DSM-V lists transgender people (under Gender Dysphoria) separately from the category of deviancy. To some, homosexuality is ‘deviant’, so how is my gender any more deserving of such a slur?

        • Thumb up 1

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          On cripes, I replied before I saw that others addressed this nonsense far more eloquently. Please feel free to redact my comment, ma’am. That type of language has no business here, even in a quote.
          Thanks!

        • Thumb up 1

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          Nah, I wasn’t trying to say that is was wrong to call her out on that. I was just replying to this comment with that info since it was the first to point that out.

      • Thumb up 3

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        TW: more transphobia

        Why would I be homophobic?
        People.. you’re missing the point.. Again. I was using the word deviant because it describes something that is not “normal” e.g. within certain limits in the Bell curve. I consider myself a deviant, it’s just a term for things that do not occur a lot, that’s what the word means, irrespective of the Clinical definition what the DSM gives to it. Or the emotions that you have attached to it.

        The word *she* was within quotes because [removed].. which can be a bit confusing for readers so there you have the quotes.

        It’s like a lot of the queer readers out here are just soo eager to feel offended by something, does it make your day or something? I don’t get it.

        Anyway.. I the gender surgery of this murderer is not something I’m going to care about.

        edited by Rose

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          True, I think it’s a good thing not to assume though. I feel like most people, regardless of gender, consider “it” to be dehumanizing.

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          TW: more transphobia

          How is [removed] transphobic? Many men will say themselves that they feel like a woman.. Please explain Rose.

          edited by Rose

        • Thumb up 4

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          If you are a regular reader of this website, you should know the answer to this question by now. If not, a quick search of the “trans” tag should help you out.

        • Thumb up 3

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          What I find kind of remarkable is; I’m from the Netherlands, a country that has a very high acceptance of queers of all kind, and the queers don’t get angry so easily, they don’t stumble over every word you say. They’re relaxed. Maybe you all should relax too a little, because this is all semantics and it’s kind of pointless debating over labels when we’re talking about real people.

          Anyhow, have a nice day.

        • Thumb up 15

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          what? how was this semantics?

          You definably said you thought she was a man.

          saying a woman is a man is not an argument of semantics.

        • Thumb up 4

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          You’re the one trying to argue that you’re not homophobic, which I assume means you would prefer not to be accused of hate-speech of any kind? I could be wrong, of course. But people are telling you the words you are using are offensive and hateful to them and people they know. That seems like pretty textbook transphobia to me. Also I don’t think you know what semantics are?
          I actually think it’s amazing that AS readers are even giving you the respect and generosity of responding, so I’m trying to follow their lead and assume you’d like to learn where you’re going wrong, as well.

        • Thumb up 4

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          don’t speak for other people. especially not for a whole nation,will you. also ‘relaxed’ might not be the right word here, maybe you were looking for ‘ignorant’.

        • Thumb up 5

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          Rather than relaxed or ignorant, maybe they don’t say anything because it could actually be dangerous or at least make them lose a “friend”. There might be many reasons.

        • Thumb up 8

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          i have never heard a man say they ‘feel like a woman’

          also ‘feels like’ is not ‘is’

          also, if you’re even a semi regular reader here, how do you remain so ignorant of what trans* identities are?

        • Thumb up 8

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          “Anyway.. I the gender surgery of this murderer is not something I’m going to care about.”

          Clearly you don’t care, considering how many words you’ve typed up and posted about it. Nice try.

          Also, you cannot just redefine words like ‘deviant’, especially when you clearly meant to use that word to defame and other those of us who are trans.

        • Thumb up 5

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          Yeah lol you can’t just decide the meanings of words, especially ones that are totally loaded and triggery. And especially not in a place like this, where people have had these exact terms used against them in a hateful way. You can apologize and say you didn’t mean it that way, but you can’t just tell them they’re wrong for assuming you meant the literal definition of a word you used.

    • Thumb up 7

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      I entirely agree. She murdered her wife; why don’t we talk about domestic violence against females by people assigned male at birth rather than about how oppressed she is and how she deserves an expensive surgery with my tax dollars?

      • Thumb up 13

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        Can you chew gum and walk at the same time? I can.

        This site and society at large is more than capable of doing two things at once: yes of course we condemn violence (against everyone by everyone), and particularly domestic violence. And, we also condemn the judicial system from giving unequal access to medical care based on arbitrary categories like, for example, gender or sexual orientation.

        These are two issues, and it is possible to think both things at once.

    • Thumb up 11

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      I don’t think anyone here is trying to ignore the fact that she committed murder. Also, your use of the phrases “cosmetic surgery” (in this context) and “gender deviant” is pretty messed up. Did Ms. Kosilek take the life of her wife and should she receive consequences for her actions? Yes, absolutely, and she is. However, I don’t believe incarceration should equal a lack of regard for any person’s humanity, regardless of their identity as cis or trans*, or their criminal record.

  9. Thumb up 27

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    the judge absolutely made the right call by ruling that the state should fund her surgery. michelle kosilek isn’t the most sympathetic character, but for me, the answer is simple: i believe that trans* medical care shoud be a fundamental human right, and i don’t think that prison inmates deserve to be treated as second-class citizens (the prison industrial complex is seriously fucked up, y’all).

    also, the whole argument that her having surgery would endanger her safety in prison is stupid because trans women already face terrible harassment and violence in jail regardless of their genitals, and shouldn’t they be incarcerated in men’s facilities in the first place.

    • Thumb up 5

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      I wonder if part of the issue here is that, like in most states, once she has bottom surgery she will be able to change her legal gender (on the birth certificate), and thus apply to be placed in the appropriate women’s facility?

      Even ignoring the difficulty of not having bottom surgery, she may be seeking this simply to be placed in the right facility, which could potentially be safer for her. If her safety is such a concern of those seeking to deny her surgery, they should consider that possibility; of course they haven’t because we know this is not about her safety at all.

      • Thumb up 4

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        Sadly, that’s not guaranteed. In “Cruel and Unusual”, there’s a story of a woman who gave herself bottom surgery in prison, and continued to be incarcerated with men. Also, there’s no guarantee that being placed in a women’s facility would be any safer. She’d likely still be placed in solitary confinement.

    • Thumb up 6

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      It was pointed out that Kosilek was on Prozac for one of her suicide attempts – but not all of them. I don’t think it matters in terms of whether or not Kosilek is deserving of surgery, though; Prozac doesn’t cause you to experience dysphoria that you didn’t have before you took the meds.

      • Thumb up 3

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        ^I was trying to get a timeline on the behavior/med action. How does that question pertaining to this case in particular make you think I’m against meds in general? That’s stupid to assume that….especially when I said “sometimes” promote.

        • Thumb up 0

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          You suggested that the medication she takes to deal with being suicidal is causing her suicide attempts and attempted castration. You didn’t say anything about a timeline, and if you were looking for that information you would have read more or done your own research.

          If that’s not what you meant, I’m not stupid. You didn’t write what you meant.

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          The fact that suicidal thoughts are a potential side-effect of taking anti-depressants, and Prozac in particular, is a pretty well-documented side effect: http://www.drugs.com/prozac.html I don’t think bringing that up is necessarily part of an “anti-drug” agenda. It’s the sort of thing that even the psychiatrists who prescribe it to you are supposed to inform you of when they write up your prescription. Anti-depressants usually take at least a week or two to fully “kick in” and while your brain adjusts to the altered levels of serotonin, that can do a lot to fuck with your mood.

          The article I cited about Kosilek’s suicide attempts even noted that she was on Prozac during one of them. They wouldn’t have mentioned it if it wasn’t relevant.

          I’ve used anti-depressants and they have made my life much better, so I am definitely not “anti-drug,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t think that side-effects are important. And “suicidal thoughts” is a pretty freaking big one.

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          “You suggested that the medication she takes to deal with being suicidal is causing her suicide attempts and attempted castration.”

          Yes, I was curious to know if certain factors played a role in the suicidal thoughts & actions. I’m curious to know if she ever had anymore irrational thoughts prior to being in prison, hrt, or any other meds. In some cases, the body reacts differently to specific changes. And as far as my own research, all details of this case aren’t going to be publicly available which is why I asked….as a simple “what if” question. And to be clear I’m not against her surgery since it doesn’t change her punishment for murder.

          ——————————-
          Thank you Rose :)

  10. Thumb up 4

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    Just so everyone knows, the language in the article re: the correct term for Kosilek’s surgery has been updated to best address the concerns expressed here. (We’re not usually allowed to edit after the articles have gone public and I needed wait for the go-ahead.) I hope it is okay now, and please let me know if it still isn’t!

  11. Thumb up 15

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    Thank you, rose for educating me from “why should anyone help that beelpity bleep piece of trash? Shouldn’t she suffer?” To, if not having compassion for her, at least understanding that even the most unrelatable person has to be protected by our constituion to get the medical care that they need in order to protect that right for others too

  12. Thumb up 3

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    I’ve been having a lot of feelings about this story. Let me just say that you did a great job with this article. I do think that she should get the surgery. That seems a no brainer when you think about treating inmates as humans regardless of what they’ve done. Especially given her past – that she is clearly suffering given her current physical condition.

    However, I can sympathize with taxpayers being up in arms about where their money is going. In light of that I also think of the fact that inmates also get a roof over their head every night and food on the table three times a day. There are plenty of people out there, even in the States, that don’t have that guarantee. Yet I would never complain about feeding prisoners. I know that’s simplifying things a lot but considering the amount spent on building, staffing and stocking prisons I think it’s something to consider.

    I am a little concerned about her placement and what would change etc. As has been touched upon above, there are transwomen who don’t feel as hateful (for lack of a better term, sorry) of their genitals and I think a lot could have been done to help her live with women and be accepted as a woman. I’m not saying that is a substitue but I think there was, obviously, a lot of transphobia that only made this situation worse.

    I know that the amount spent on court costs etc is ridiculous compared to the cost of the surgery, but unfortunately I think this might be one of those things that needs to be done. Obviously I’d be okay with the prison (state? country?) immediately paying for the surgery but as that didn’t happen I think now talking about the money is not the way to look at it. They didn’t do it for obvious reasons, probably one of the biggest that they were afraid they’d have to do “things like this” (as in the other “cosmetic” surgery people say is the same) on a more frequent basis and that would seriously add up. This discussion needs to be had. Not only for medical coverage for inmates but for those out in the world with insurance that still cannot afford this surgery.

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      Re: the second paragraph – but what would be the solution? The point of prison is that we need to contain people somewhere where they aren’t able to harm more people, at least until they are rehabilitated enough (determined by the length of their sentence) to return to the population. Are we supposed to just not give them food or a bed? Because that would be blatantly unconstitutional per the Eighth Amendment.

      I know you say specifically you don’t agree with that line of thinking, but I still think it needs to be pointed out how ridiculous it is. I think people say these things about “I don’t want my tax dollars helping prisoners!” without really thinking about them. As I said in the article, we pay taxes to support the best interests of our communities and treating prisoners like people is in that best interest – because, in truth, we really really want prisoners who are well-fed and -sheltered. The less miserable they are in prison, the better their mental health will be, which can only lower their chances of re-offending should they ever be let out (probably a moot issue with Kosilek since she’s serving a life sentence although the articles didn’t specify her chances of parole, but certainly an issue with other prisoners).

      And the people who complain about their taxes going toward prisons are, oddly, rarely the people who want to do much to help the homeless, as it tends to be a more Republican policy and we know how much the likes of Romney and Ryan are doing to help feed the very-poor (i.e., nothing). So positioning it as an either-or in terms of how we spend our taxes is sort of weird.

      Also, compared to other highly-developed, democratic nations, the U.S. is pretty terrible in how we treat our prisoners, so it’s not like tons of money are being spent because they’re being given lavish accommodations. The reason that we spend so much money on prisons is because we lock people up for so many things we probably shouldn’t be locking them up for at all, or have them in for excessively long sentences (such as with “three strikes” laws). The amount of money we spend on prisons would be reduced far more by, say, ending the war on drugs, than it would be by making American prisoners’ already-execrable living conditions even worse.

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        Yeah, sorta like how the GOP doesn’t believe in abortion but also doesn’t want “their tax dollars” to go towards supporting the poor/disadvantaged/struggling populations they are creating by that (not seeing that women who can’t and/or don’t want to support children probably don’t have the ability to support their children who are nonetheless brought to term without outside aid).
        And lots of other examples of fucked up logic from that wonderful party. Ugh.
        But yeah, your argument is spot-on, I like how you articulated it too. I wish people would just take a second to think through where their “tax dollars” argument is going.

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      First, there is a better term than “hateful”. It’s called dysphoria.

      Second, gender and body dysphoria manifest differently in different people. And they don’t always line up to how one transitions. The surgeries available for transition carry a lot of risks. The decision to have them is not done on a whim, I don’t care what your circumstances are.

      Third, transphobia plays zero role a person’s decision to transition, and how to do so. That’s just something transphobes made up to feel important. Just because some trans people don’t get bottom surgery doesn’t mean it’s the standard. Some childbirths don’t involve epidurals, but epidurals aren’t elective procedures.

      Fourth, the skyrocketing costs of prisons aren’t because prisoners are being treated too nicely, but because more people are being imprisoned. Just saying.

      Fifth, the discussion about medical coverage for inmates has already been had. And time and again, courts have ruled that it falls under the Eighth Amendment. I’m sorry if taxpayers don’t like it. I feel for people upset that they have less access to healthcare than inmates. I think its an argument for Universal Health Care, but that’s irrelevant. Even if you believe the free market can provide health care for all, prisoners, by definition, won’t have access to it. So who pays for their healthcare? Because denying healthcare to a person because they’re in prison is considered cruel and unusual punishment, and a violation of civil and human rights. That’s the thing about human rights: it applies to all humans, no matter how saintly or despicable.

      Sure, there are countries that don’t share those values. Where if you’re convicted of a crime, you lose all your rights. Where they throw you in a cell and come back at the end of your sentence to make sure you’re alive. I just wouldn’t want to go to prison there.

  13. Thumb up 20

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    I.. just… thank you so much for the thoughtful writeup of this. And for the warnings and editing in the comments. I am a trans lady and it’s so rare to find for a place where I can read an article (on anything, even stuff way less contentious than Michelle Kosilek) without my stressful trigger defenses up. Autostraddle is generally pretty good these days and has only been getting better, but this article was great.

  14. Thumb up 5

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    Obviously, my first thought was that Michelle is a horrible human being. Reading through the reports of the murder, she seemed to be outrageously abusive to her wife, even before she murdered the poor woman. As someone who grew up with domestic violence, I’m obviously going to come to the conclusion that this person is scum.
    That being said, I think the controversy here is whether or not this surgery is indeed life saving, whether or not this surgery would do anything for her obviously messed up head (she was abusive and killed someone. That’s pretty messed up), and whether or not denying her this surgery would indeed be treating her a second class citizen.
    I’d first like to point out that previously mentioned argument of “It’s none of our business” is inaccurate. This is our business. We’re paying for it. She’s not.
    I read awhile back about convicts with pretty messed up charges, and the prevalence of trans* identities among them. With one convict in particular, the psychiatrist, who had spent a huge amount of time with said convict, came to the conclusion that the person did indeed have dysphoria, but not in the way that the average trans* individual would. Instead, it was an attempt to separate themselves from the person they had been, the monster they had been. I wonder if that’s the case here.
    I question the “life changing” argument. I have attempted suicide twice, and have had many close family members who committed suicide. I also struggle with self-harm. The suicides, and my self-harm, is no one’s fault but the people who choose to engage in that. Surely, there are factors involved, but it’s still a personal decision. Given Kosilek’s obvious issues outside of her dysphoria, I highly doubt a surgery will change things.
    Lastly, I question the “second class citizen” argument. It’s beyond faulty. This surgery is not accessible to the huge majority of the population. Her access to the (FREE) surgery is a massive privilege that she gets because she killed an innocent person. Giving her the surgery does not make her on the same level as free trans* individuals, it makes her more privileged than them. Again, because she abused and then killed an innocent woman.
    Let’s also please remember that the victim’s loved ones will be paying, via tax dollars, for her surgery. That’s horrible.
    Just my two cents.

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      If you think about it in terms of what she might be able to do outside prison vs what she is able to do inside prison, I think it makes more sense. Yes, some people can’t afford to transition, but since Michelle cannot earn money or probably hold health insurance, surely it’s not fair to judge her the same way. It’s not for us to reinforce class divides by taking away someone’s right to earn (I’m not disputing this bit) and then punishing them for that as well as for their crime. She may or may not have been able to afford this surgery outside prison, but that’s no longer relevant, is it?

  15. Thumb up 5

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    TW: transphobia, cissexism

    I am going to be alone here, but I worry that [ridiculous transphobic nonsense removed]. Also this individual seems to really hate women, I mean she killed one so housing her with women who aren’t trans seems pretty dangerous. They do have an isolation option in most prisons, seems like a suitable punishment for murder, I mean at least it isn’t the death penalty and nobody is going to be able to hurt her. I don’t know really I just hate that the rights of the woman who lost her life get ignored over [removed]. She identifies as a woman and killed one presumably [while presenting] as a man. It is dangerous and unfair to the other inmates.

    edited by Rose

    • Thumb up 6

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      Well
      a) It’d be more likely that those super clever transwomen you speak of would purposefully get caught on a minor drug possession charge or a mugging or something else fairly tame, get a 3-5 year sentence, get the “free” surgery, and then get out on good behavior. Brilliant, right?
      b) Prisons are meant to deal with people who have committed crimes, even crimes against other women. I think they know how to deal with a murderer and how/where to house her within the prison to keep other female prisoners safe from her. I’d venture to say that’s an issue they deal with a lot.

    • Thumb up 7

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      No. Nobody wants to be in prison. You’re alone here because it’s a ridiculous argument that no one with even the most basic understanding of the U.S. prison system would make. For one, cisgender prisoners have been getting free, life-saving surgeries for years and somehow it hasn’t led to people murdering to get “free surgery”…

      There are already many women who murdered other women who are still housed in women’s prisons. Why is Kosilek any different? Because she used to present as male? That’s transphobic.

      Also, not exactly helping yourself with such a cissexist username. The number of X or Y chromosomes you possess has no determination on your gender identity.

    • Thumb up 8

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      Yeah, trans women are totally going to murder people (I mean, not “people”, cis women exclusively for some elusive reason) for the privilege of going to prison! That’s so much easier than saving money, and they’re treated so much better there, and we know it’s going to happen because look at all the homeless people who murder cis women to get free food and shelter, right!?

      Also, all murders are hate crimes, obvs. We all know that’s why men who murder men and women who murder women are shuttled away to small individual islands where they won’t get to meet anyone of their gender ever again, because otherwise they would most probably kill them all! Michelle Kosilek must also hate anyone of the same ethnicity, age, and hair color than her wife, the indubitable proof being that she killed a member of those groups, so there’s no other solution than locking her away alone forever.

      Besides, who cares about her anyway, human rights for minorities are just “fringe issues” and the civil rights of (non-minority!) dead people to, uh, be dead and all is much more important. I mean, it’s in the constitution right? If you die it is your utmost posthum right to have your murderer suffer as much as possible? Yeah, pretty sure that’s in the constitution. And it’s not like she’s even a woman to begin with, otherwise she would have publicly identified as one since birth.

      Aah, gotta love bigotry and fear-mongering mascarading as logic.

  16. Thumb up 9

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    Slightly unrelated, but is there a way to ‘spoiler’ comments rather than outright editing them, because as much as the stuff written may be offensive i’d like the option to reply directly to that rather than an edited version that the problem stuff is missing from.

  17. Thumb up 9

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    I have to say I don’t really like that someone (Rose?) has gone through and edited out a shitton of comments with the editorial remarks like “nonsense removed” or something but then feels free to respond as she chooses. I am almost positive that I would agree with Rose that they are transphobic and stupid and would condemn them. BUT I feel very belittled that I’m being “sheltered” from this and can’t make judgements for myself. This might be partly because I think ‘trigger warnings’ are misunderstood and poorly used. But also, as a longtime reader this really isn’t Autostraddle’s way, IMO.

    • Thumb up 4

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      And I just want to clarify that it’s not that I think transphobia should be treated like an opinion as any other, but I think that the manner in which the comments were edited is weird and paternalistic.

    • Thumb up 4

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      Yeah, I’m with you on the editing. I actually appreciate the trigger warnings though, since comments like “you’re a man even if you X” and the like do call forth my memories of very dehumanizing and physically invasive treatment by others, even police, on no basis other than being visibly trans. So I don’t think the trigger warnings are misused.

      That said, I am an adult capable of steeling myself to read hurtful things, and I think I should be allowed to make that choice.

    • Thumb up 6

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      Also, there is another horrible transphobic “L” commenting away below, but it’s not me… just wanted to say that, lest my comment here be given a who ‘nother context.

  18. Thumb up 7

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    I also feel like this new editing phenomenon detracts from the conversation and creates kind of a “you agree with us, or you don’t get a voice” rule that I haven’t witnessed here ever. Everybody doesn’t always agree and I don’t know why all the sudden we can’t handle this.

    • Thumb up 7

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      I think that if you really think that I am editing every comment I disagree with, you aren’t looking at the comments here very carefully. There are multiple comments where I replied to express my disagreement that I did not edit, because they were not saying anything offensive.

      There is nothing “new” about this approach to comments. Autostraddle doesn’t usually edit comments, true, but there is definitely a history of editing transphobic ones, and I modeled my approach here on ones taken on previous articles. It only seems “new” because we have been getting so many more transphobic comments lately (and I suspect this post is a particular lightning-rod for it because Michelle Kosilek is a pretty despicable person who happens to fit with hateful radfem myths about trans* women in general).

      If people really really want to know what a particular comment said, feel free to PM me. However, I think when at least one commenter is saying that she is “triggered” by the content in these comments, that’s a little bit more important than some people’s desire to argue with a hateful comment. In the case of the “nonsense” comment, I think the content that was removed is more than alluded to, if you really want to know, in the replies to it – but it was a hateful conspiracy theory that really added nothing to the conversation except pissing people off.

      • Thumb up 14

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        Normally I’m against editing comments but I’m totally fine with editing out transphobic, biphobic bullshit. Which happens here way too often and often gets replaced with dancing hot dogs.

        AND WHO DOESN’T LOVE A DANCING HOT DOG

        • Thumb up 8

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          Bring back the dogs!

          I agree with Rose’s decision: if people’s safety is going to be threatened by some fucking transphobic trolls spamming this comment thread, it’s not worth it for our curiosities to be sated, or for a “fair and balanced” discussion. If someone’s safety is compromised, it’s NOT a fair or balanced discussion, period.

      • Thumb up 4

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        I just wanted to put in a vote of confidence for Rose. I completely agree with her decision to edit transphobic comments. There is no place here for those comments, they only serve to make people feel unsafe and they don’t add to the conversation.

    • Thumb up 2

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      I feel like there is a bit of a feeling here where if you don’t agree with the authors’ opinions or popular opinions, then you are wrong, not about stuff that is obviously bad (like the transphobic stuff here), but about other stuff, like if you’re not interested in the right subjects or haven’t read the right books or if you think the wrong thing about what to say or whatever. I’m sorry, but that’s just my feeling, and I’m probably wrong anyway, but sometimes reading things here makes me feel more insecure and worse about myself than I already do, so I imagine that for a trans person, reading some of the nasty things written here might make them feel worse, and they would have a legitimate reason for that, but I’m not trans, so I’m not trying to say they should, just I can see why.

  19. Thumb up 3

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    TW: transphobia, cissexism, misgendering, trolling

    It strikes me as “cruel and unsual” to house female inmates with a [removed], even a [removed] who has had [her] penis removed. Where is the concern on this website for those women, who are the most disenfranchised members of society and – I would suspect – include many lesbians?

    It is shameful that advocating for the rights of a [removed] who killed [her] wife is what counts as a victory for gay rights in 2012.

    edited by Rose

    • Thumb up 4

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      I’m glad you showed up CB, even if it is just for a minute because I was gettin tired of this being an unfair fight. We don’t ask questions about Women’s rights even if we call ourselves femninists, we always defer to the trans feelings argument.

      • Thumb up 11

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        There’s nothing unfair about calling a spade a spade.

        Feminism is not exclusive to cis women. It is about WOMEN’S rights. And no amount of misgendering is going to change the fact (and supported by medical evidence) that trans* women are WOMEN and, therefore, must be included in a movement that claims to champion women as a class.

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          Rose, you are not a feminist, you are a humanist. You support men’s rights at the expense of women.

          There is no such thing as “cis.” I am sorry about your brainwashing.

        • Thumb up 8

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          I’m pretty sure that’s not what a ‘humanist’ is.

          And if there is no cis, what is not-trans?

          Seriously that’s like arguing there is no such thing as ‘hetero’

        • Thumb up 6

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          Also, i know there’s no point arguing with someone as notorious as CB, but i just can’t help but find it all just hilarious.

          Also i have literally nothing else to do right now, until i get a new computer mouse.

        • Thumb up 4

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          “Rose, you are not a feminist, you are a humanist.”

          Wait. Are you saing that women are not human? Because I always tought that woman’s rights are also human rights.

          Besides that, you clearly don´t seem to know what the term “humanism” means. Please educate yourself on philosophy (among other issues).

        • Thumb up 10

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          how is this in any way a story about lesbians?

          Christ i knew you had a reutation of being pretty dumb but seriously…

          This is an article about a trans woman, not a particularly nice one, but still a trans woman. This is one of the few articles on this site that actually, is not to do with lesbians.

        • Thumb up 19

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          This website isn’t for lesbians, it’s for all queer women. And if you don’t like that, don’t come here. Simple as that.

          Rose is awesome.

        • Thumb up 6

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          Because a) this isn’t a “lesbian concern” and b) I think if you read Autostraddle more than just to find trans*-related articles to troll every once in a while, you’d know the answer to that question.

          Also, it’s interesting that you think you are the one to decide who should and should not be writing for a website that has repeatedly banned you from posting. Food for thought!

        • Thumb up 12

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          Hilarious.

          So let me get this correct: you claim to advocate for women (as a feminist), then proceed to divide women by category, and then claim that because this particular woman is not in the same label-based category as you would prefer, her opinion is somehow less valid?

          You are literally doing what the patriarchy does: divide and demean women because they don’t conform to some arbitrary standard you have set for them.

        • Thumb up 7

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          somehow, rose managed to take some time out of all the dirty bisexual casual sex she’s obvs having to write an awesome article about this issue. it’s truly inspirational that she could stop having sex for that long.

          (ugh but seriously i do not want cb/transphobes/biphobes in my happy queer website, can she please just stay away)

      • Thumb up 8

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        so, ‘trans women’s rights’ aren’t also ‘women’s rights’? despite actually containing the exact same phrase.

        Don’t get me wrong, this person seems like a terrible, terrible human being, but she still is human, and i’d like to treat her the way I’d like to treat others in the same situation.

    • Thumb up 3

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      TW: misgendering, trolling

      Rose, I don’t know you, but it is not trolling for lesbians to not give a shit about the rights of a [removed] who murdered [her] wife.

      I am embarrassed for you. Seriously.

      edited by Rose

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      You know, I’m not transphobic at all but I think Cathy is making a point here. If you zoom into the discomfort of this trans woman murderer, you forget the big picture, which is that she (*she* without quotes or otherwise I’ll get banned or something) is a killer.. of a woman. Why don’t we cry for this woman instead of for the killer?

      And also, I don’t think Rose can be objective moderating the comments on her own article, because when somebody doesn’t like it, you get the tag “transphobia” or “trolling”. Somebody else should moderate the comments, not the author who clearly takes every comment personally.

      • Thumb up 5

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        I think you’re the one who is taking it personally that I edited your previous comments. If you’re really paying attention to the article, there are MULTIPLE comments that I replied to say I disagreed with that I did not edit.

        For example, this one. You didn’t use any transphobic language so I’m not going to edit it, just as I didn’t edit your penultimate comment either.

        Pretty much every single comment CB left was (deliberately) offensive and needed editing or outright deleting, because she is apparently incapable of talking about trans* people without misgendering them. She is a well-known troll on trans*-positive feminist/queer sites, not someone who is interested in real discussion.

  20. Thumb up 9

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    @L: are you the same L who commented above? Because your comment seems to be in a totally different vein than hers.

    “I’m glad you showed up CB, even if it is just for a minute because I was gettin tired of this being an unfair fight. We don’t ask questions about Women’s rights even if we call ourselves femninists, we always defer to the trans feelings argument.”

    As though women and trans* people are mutually exclusive categories, as though feminists aren’t capable of taking both into account. Pretty sure I’m a feminist. Pretty sure I’m also trans*. Why should we have to choose between both perspectives?

    The “trans feelings argument”? As though trans* concerns are solely personal and emotional and not at all political. As though a discussion of the intersection of trans* identities and the industrial prison complex is nothing but self-absorbed sentimental navel-gazing. As though you aren’t gaslighting all over the place, in your comment.

    An “unfair fight?” As though cis people don’t *already* have everything to begin with, aside from what identities and spaces trans* people have managed to eke out for ourselves. It was already an unfair fight. It’s always been an unfair fight. You think that because your arguments against trans* people are in the minority in the comments section of a queer women’s website, that you’re somehow a renegade? That there is somehow an “unfair” disadvantage against you? Think again. Most people feel the way you feel. Most people hate trans* people.

  21. Thumb up 13

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    I am both thankful for and ambivalent about the hateful comment-editing policy. On the one hand, seeing a comment with whole sections bracketed out does feel uncomfortably like censorship, and I think it can make it hard to both respond to such a comment and understand follow-up comments without the full context. I wonder, too, if it might make people who are less informed about a topic like this one (but who genuinely want to learn more), less willing or comfortable to comment and thereby lose the opportunity learn from fellow AS readers (who are probably able to better inform them than the rest of the interwebz). But the most hateful commenters are not those people, and I doubt responding to them will really change their mind. Don’t feed the trolls, right?

    On the other hand, and this is a big “other hand”, Autostraddle is one of few places on the internet where I can read a thoughtful article about a topic like this one that is both well-written and doesn’t actively try to scaremonger, titillate, or pander to people’s ignorance. It’s also one of verrry few places where I can actually read the comments without facing a wall of hate and carrying that shitty, disheartened, attacked feeling with me the rest of the day. It’s a safe space, and I’d really like for it to stay that way. I’m already low enough on safe spaces as is.

    And sometimes even trigger warnings aren’t enough. Some days when you’re dysphoric or depressed, just seeing the first words after a trigger warning, or glancing at a trigger-warned comment while scrolling past it, can cut to the bone. And sometimes that weird combo of Internet-specific schadenfreude/masochism makes you read that comment anyway, even if you know it’s not a good idea.

    I wonder, though, if AS could create a jump or abbreviate trigger-warned comments (without editing them), so that you could chose whether or not you want to expand a potentially triggering comment; I know some folks do that on tumblr for trigger-(un)happy posts. Would that be possible on y’all’s web platform?

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      that system is the exact sort of thing i would like to see, just ‘marked as spam’ or something so you could choose whether to look at it, and the following conversation or not.

      I like scrolling down these comments because even half an hour ago, i was feeling shitty about myself, now, reading through here has reminded me that people are out there, not all of them trans* themselves who will stand against the douchenozzles who feed the dysphoria.

    • Thumb up 8

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      “I wonder, though, if AS could create a jump or abbreviate trigger-warned comments (without editing them), so that you could chose whether or not you want to expand a potentially triggering comment; I know some folks do that on tumblr for trigger-(un)happy posts. Would that be possible on y’all’s web platform?”

      I would like a system like this. Maybe something that could be implemented in the site re-design?

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      As a scientist and an academic I am no fan of censorship. However, Autostraddle is one of the few sites I’ve found where a queer trans woman can feel welcomed as a member of the community. It is the only site where I read the comments, much less comment myself, when a trans related topic is discussed because if some troll comes along their comment is quickly and thoroughly dissected, eviscerated and shown to be the BS that it is (there are such intelligent and thoughtful people here that they don’t stand a chance!). Though I think that people can have a respectful difference of opinion on any topic when someone starts intentionally using hateful language their point becomes irrelevant. We wouldn’t tolerate any form of racist, misogynist or homophobic slurs – transphobia should not be treated any differently. If there is some way to preserve the context of a person’s post for discussion while redacting the offensive slurs then I think that would be ideal. However, many of the redacted comments above were purely hateful crap and added nothing to the discussion. In these cases I’d be happy if the editors would put a big read banner across the comment that stated something like “Look out! Huge pile of transphobic horseshit. Move along before you pick up the stink!” I can go almost anywhere else on the web to be assaulted by transphobia.

  22. Thumb up 2

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    TW: misgendering

    I believe that Feminism extends itself to all kinds of arguments and all kinds of women. I even know some men who are in fact dedicated to establishing equality for women (and claim the monniker) . I also know that as a biological woman I will make less money, be subjected to violence whether verbal or physical, and was born into a position of disadvantage. I think if the question is whether to punish a [removed] who killed a woman by not allowing [her] free membership in a space where we are already punishing female criminals I will always be against giving [removed] so [she] can be near another woman ever again.

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      as a cis woman*

      Hey, as a trans woman, once everything goes through, i’ll make that same amount, and be subject to verbal and physical harassment too!

      I think the question is whether to punish a woman who killed another woman by not allowing them to be a woman the way they see it, and whether leaving a woman in a mens prison is fucking stupid, which it is, I will happily say they should still serve their life sentence, but they really should serve it in the ‘correct’ prison, since we need everything to be split down binary gender lines.

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      The part about “subjected to violence” as though it happens at higher rates for cis women than trans* women is simply not the case, by just about any statistical measure. Trans* people are also “born into” a position of disadvantage, or are you trying to suggest that it’s a choice? Because the current consensus in the psychological community is that it is not a choice, just like sexual orientation is not a choice.

      Also, please stop with the deliberate misgendering, or your comments will continue to be edited.

  23. Thumb up 4

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    Evidently this is your first trip here, the site’s writers are from all walks of lady-loving-lady areas, be they homo, bi, MAAB or even plain outside of this, nowhere is this stated to be a ‘lesbian blog’

    Find those two words in a single phrase on the ‘about this site, i’ll admit i’m wrong, until then, stop being dumb.

  24. Thumb up 14

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    What’s the fuss around the comment editing all of a sudden?

    I’ve been reading AS for about a couple of years (or maybe three? idk), and hateful comments/slurs/discrimination etc have ALWAYS been edited out. The only difference here is that Rose is bothering to only remove the offensive terms/sentences and replace them with an explanation of what was there and TWs, when usually bullshit posts are just flat out deleted or replaced by a “comment deleted” notice or a silly one-liner/picture. Which frankly I like better, and probably is much less time-consuming for the staff.

    I’m just saying, I’ve *never* seen anyone here complain and whine about censorship when homophobic BS by random right-wingers or biphobia by outsiders and AS regulars alike is edited out.
    I wonder if it is because of Rose’s selective editing style, or just because (cis) people here don’t care as much about making AS a safe space for trans* people. If transphobia is an opportunity for intellectual entertainment for you, you can go plenty of other places to get that. For those of us who take it as a personal offense, we don’t have that many safe spaces to go to.

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        Honestly I was just thinking about past approaches to editing offensive comments and wish I had had more fun with this. I remember when in response to the “Gay Girl in Damascus/Lez Get Real” thing last summer, a comment about expecting lesbians to drop their pants was changed to “eat MORE PUDDING.”

        I think it was because I was already super-stressed out about school stuff last night. And head-achey from all the beer I had drunk to deal with that stress. Oh grad school!

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      Yeah, I modeled my approach to editing on other articles that deal with transphobia so I don’t really think there’s that much of a difference.

      Although, I do want to say, that it isn’t true that Autostraddle always edits comments, even hateful ones; we usually don’t.

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      It’s not about “censorship” or whatever… it’s that I’m well aware transphobia like this exists in the world… among many, many people… and I don’t need to have my eyes covered. But ultimately it’s the site’s decision, so w/e.

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        Some people do want or even need their “eyes covered,” though… I would prefer a system where you had the option of reading a triggering comment if you wanted and ignoring it if you didn’t want to, but I think at this point this is the best we have. Maybe the site re-design will address this.

        It’s an issue that’s pretty sensitive to me, because I’m a very adamant anti-censorship advocate when it comes to, say, public school libraries, or what the government can do and that sort of thing. I think that in that sense, the cost of giving those institutions the power to remove content they deem “offensive” is much higher than that of people being exposed to upsetting content by accident. I think that private websites are different, though, and they have the right to try to create a safe space – and I think in this case, it’s between protecting some of our trans* readers who are sensitive to triggering content, and keeping everything to make it easier for people to debate with those comments, and I think the first one is a greater concern. But I do agree that even with private websites, when they go too far in the direction of regulating comments, it can be pretty troubling even if it has good intentions. It does feel pretty infantilizing, and so I understand those concerns: I definitely don’t want readers to think I don’t respect their intelligence. Far from it – I love the comments here! And I was a commenter for a long long time before I became a contributor.

        For the record we did once have a feature where you could flag a post as “offensive” as well as upvoting it, and if enough people flagged it would say “Flagged as offensive. Click here to read” or something like that. But I think it was removed because too many people were “flagging” comments they merely disagreed with or disliked, not just stuff that was actually offensive/spam/etc.

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          Oh yeah I remember the short-lived +/- feature, God please don’t bring it back. The whole “+/like/thanks” epidemic on various forums and websites is already a plague that does nothing but promote popularity contests and clique mentality, giving people the ability to anonymously downvote and hide away other people’s posts is just a disaster. I remember ASers bragging about fucking with the system and finding ways to single-handedly mass-downvote people until their comments were hidden, it was just a mess.

          Personally I would be totally fine with disrespectful, hateful and discriminating comments being nuked away into oblivion without warning. The Internet isn’t a democracy, we set up our own little virtual homes there and kindly open the door, and if some people don’t like what they see or fuck with the other guests, then let’s kick their ass to the curb. Our house, our rules – we don’t owe them a place among us and an audience to their bullshit. It’s not like they don’t have 36.000 other places to go to where they would be welcome with open arms.

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        I do. I don’t have the energy or desire to wade through hateful transphobic crap to no purpose. I’m not even comfortable with the limited editing on the comments in this article.

        If Autostraddle keeps getting this kind of garbage in the comments section, I’m just going to stop reading the comments section.

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          The problem is there is really no fool-proof way to ban someone on the Internet anymore, because way too many people have figured out how to get around IP bans. I’m pretty sure at least some of these people have been banned before, but they find a way to come back anyway. And right now, it seems like adding trigger warnings to or editing out offensive language in CB’s comments just enrages her and her supporters and means we get more offensive comments, so I have to balance my desire for people who are triggered to not see these things with not doing things that seem to bait them into coming back and posting more offensive things. I’m sorry. It’s tricky.

  25. Thumb up 2

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    I agree with the point of view expressed in this article. I do however, like other commenters, have an issue with the fact that this surgery would be paid by taxpayers. This reassignment/reconfiguration surgery IS in fact, a matter of life or death, and SHOULD be performed on this woman, but what about the other thousands of Americans who cannot afford it. It is also a matter of life or death for them…

    There is something so insanely wrong when one can access life saving healthcare by committing a devastatingly serious crime.

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      I think now it comes down to a thing of whether prison should give retribution or rehabilitation. If you believe they’re there for retribution alone, then you can easily through that logic deny this, however i’m pretty sure prisons are at least supposed to rehabilitate.
      also you can hardly expect someone who can’t get a job due to being in prison to be able to get the money to afford the procedure.

      Also, if it can be deemed necessary by a (reportedly) conservative judge, it goes a way towards making sure this stuff IS included in insurance things and made available.

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        No, you can’t even justify it on the basis of retribution. Because the retribution must be equal. She has to be punished equivalently to all other perpetrators of similar crimes. In fact that is basically why she is being treated. Because she is suffering more than it has been determined by a court of law that she should suffer.

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          I didn’t think i’d written it very well, i mean thinking from the way someone who thinks retribution means ‘making them suffer’ thinks.

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        In her case, it’s not about rehabilitation. She received life without the possibility of parole (which, by the way, says quite a bit about the nature of the crime.) So it’s about keeping her contained until she dies, to put it bluntly

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          But hastening her death by denying her essential medical care is still an Eighth Amendment violation. Just because someone’s in prison for good doesn’t mean that they lose all their human rights.

          Also, thanks for clarifying the parole issue, I couldn’t find in the articles I looked at whether or not she had the possibility of parole or not.

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          I don’t think her issues will magically disappear if she has this surgery. She is obviously incredibly mentally ill. She was physically abusive to her wife, and then she killed her, and then she dumped her body in a mall parking lot.
          She also tried to castrate herself and attempt suicide. As someone who has attempted suicide and self-harmed, that’s what is called mentally ill.
          I truly believe that suicide is a personal choice that is no one’s fault but the person who carries it out. Denying her this surgery isn’t going to help her mental illness (again, she killed someone and was abusive to her wife. Mental illness right there.)
          I truly believe that in her case, based on everything presented, her dysphoria is a result of wanting to separate herself from the monster she was and is, not necessarily strictly a trans* issue.
          I don’t know. I just sort of think she’s a scumbag.
          And I’m sure the victim’s parents, who would be paying for the surgery, and who are the ones that truly matter here, would agree.

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          Well reports i’ve read say the killing happened after the wife came home to find her in her(the wife’s) clothes, so i don’t think that saying the dysphoria is to disassociate herself with having committed the act argument holds much weight.

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          Where did you read that? Because all the reports I’ve read say that Robert Kosilek was an abusive husband, resulting in his strangling his wife and dumping her body in a mall parking lot like the scumbag Kosilek was and is.
          His trans identity came much later, after the murder and trial.

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          Most reports actually, or at the latest, had an accident 2 days after while dressed in womens clothing.

          Also, to be taken a little more seriously, could you please stop misgendering her.

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          I’m fairly convinced there is a relationship between the 40% rate of suicide attempts in the trans population and the fact they are trans. And the self-castration thing is not nearly uncommon enough.

          And sure, my suicide attempts and self-harm were mentally ill behaviours… which have now terminated since my transition. People do try to kill themselves and hurt themselves based on their current situation. It isn’t all just chemical imbalances.

          By your logic, if someone kills themselves because they are being tortured, the torturer is not in any way responsible for the death. I’m not comfortable with that line of argument. Suicide has a hell of a lot to do with circumstance. And dysphoria can be pretty torturous.

          I mean, no, personally I don’t give a damn that Michelle is suffering. I’m sorry, I’m just not a good enough person for that. But unalienable rights should be unalienable. I’m not okay with setting a precedent that torturing someone to death is acceptable as long as it is caused by inaction.

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          That’s really not an argument you made right there at all, though. Just generalizing your own beliefs and armchair psychology of someone you’ve never met based on a theory you claim to have read from some unidentified source. Forgive my incredulity, but what kind of credence were you expecting when you made these comments?

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      Absolutely there is something insanely wrong with that and it is incredibly fucked up that the US still has no public healthcare system and that private insurance companies routinely deny coverage for trans-related surgeries. But you can’t right one injustice with another injustice. Denying Michelle Kosilek’s surgery wouldn’t make anything better, it would just contribute to the problem.

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      I had to pay for all aspects of my transition out-of-pocket (including SRS) and, yes, it, along with work lost due to transition, it had an profound financial impact on my life (years later I’m only now crawling out of that hole). That said…

      Tarzan, I get your concerns about why this seems ass-backwards, but the reality is, either SRS is going to be viewed as a medically necessary procedure for those who need it or it’s not. We don’t get to cherry pick who this applies towards and excluding people from being deserving of this or not isn’t the way to normalize these procedures under (hopefully, eventual) healthcare for all. The Kosilek case is a painful first step towards the law finally acknowledging that SRS is not “a cosmetic procedure.” Believe me when I say, most people in the trans community wish it were someone other than a murderer who this was centered on, but it’s important to look at the big picture and not the micro situation.

      And the reality is, an entire range of surgeries/therapies which cost more than SRS include heart or lung surgery, a hysterectomy, removing a gall bladder or kidney and prolonged drug treatment for addiction. I don’t hear anyone complaining about prisoners getting those. Nor do I hear anyone saying that non-trans women who murdered other women don’t belong in women’s prison facilities because they place the other prisoners at risk.

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        I know, I understand the lack of health care and the unethical nature of cherry picking.

        I do understand that this is a matter of life and death for this woman rather than a mere cosmetic procedure, it just… ugh. You’re right though, big picture.

        I do agree she should be placed in a women’s facility.

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      “This reassignment/reconfiguration surgery IS in fact, a matter of life or death, and SHOULD be performed on this woman, but what about the other thousands of Americans who cannot afford it. It is also a matter of life or death for them…”

      You are right. But like you say yourself – the question is not if Michelle Kosilesk should or should not have the surgery (because she should), the actual question is: How to make those kinds of surgeries accesseble for everyone else? So the answer to that should not be the denial of surgeries to prisoners but a better health care system overall.

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          Depends on the province, really.

          In British Columbia (and oh do I ever feel so lucky to have been born and raised in BC), the provincial Medical Services Plan covers SRS and HRT if officially diagnosed.

          I think that applies in Quebec too, and Ontario, but I’m not sure of the details. In some (all?) of the Maritime provinces, however, you’re completely on your own.

  26. Thumb up 15

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    Rose, thank you for handling this issue so well. Since first reading about this somewhere else on the internet I have braced myself for the comment section, including Jezebel, even though there was a lot of support there is a lot of ignorance. Plus, I am so tired of having to discuss and justify the choices I have made over my body as I have transitioned, especially in cis-dominated spaces.

    On Jezebel, I stumbled across a good friend’s comment in their article, she has been a great ally and friend and she argued that for her friends who are transitioning (including me, but not by name) on the outside of prison are not so lucky to have our surgeries paid for, at the same time not managing to kill our S.O.. And she is right, BUT while the physical makeup of my body causes me constant distress, I had to call her up and tell her my view point on this – not black and white issue – but very grey one.

    The reality is prisons are notoriously awful places for trans people. It is a system that is made up of enforced binaries, and the judgement of female vs male prison placement is often placed solely on genital status. Knowing this, and the fact that not only is her body probably causing her great mental anguish, in an all male prison where she probably feels quite isolated and unsafe, and her identity is put up to question (or put in quotation marks) on a daily basis, I cannot do anything but support the decision of the court to support her surgery.

    On top of that, the prison industry is making hand-over-fist money on the incarceration of individuals, and I believe they should be the ones paying for her well-being and care, tax-payers have subsidized their industry long enough, and the fact they would come crying to the state that they would have to pay for that care is disgusting.

    Also: FREE CECE, because the media would rather talk and sensationalize a white trans-woman’s surgery than talk about the injustices of trans and queer people of color’s struggle within the same prison industrial complex.

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      “Also: FREE CECE, because the media would rather talk and sensationalize a white trans-woman’s surgery than talk about the injustices of trans and queer people of color’s struggle within the same prison industrial complex.”

      ^THIS. Times a million. Fuck, this kind of hypocritical bullshit drives me crazy.

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      “FREE CECE, because the media would rather talk and sensationalize a white trans-woman’s surgery than talk about the injustices of trans and queer people of color’s struggle within the same prison industrial complex.”

      I learned so much about the American judicial system (but also media) and how it handles queer issues and issues of POC and I was horrified.

  27. Thumb up 5

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    We treat prisoners with humanity (in theory) because we are trying to promote and foster that same sense of humanity. For many trans people these surgeries are a medical need that, if not met, can end in mental torment and even death. I do not for one second see why this is even a question. She needs the surgery and I don’t care if she’s the worst human being who ever lived.

  28. Thumb up 0

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    I read this article a couple of weeks ago and haven’t really stopped thinking about it. I’ve never really thought about my feelings on this kind of scenario before and the more I’ve discussed it with friends the more I’ve realized what a travesty it is. I can’t really understand how anyone with compassion can disagree.

    More thought provoking articles like this please.

  29. Thumb up 0

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    I have been away but…

    I have a bit of an issue with a prisoner receiving what she deems as necessary medical treatment, which a law abiding citizen can not get.

    Like Gina, I am still; paying off my bottom surgery and will be for years, but it goes further than that because some transwomen also deeply feel they need other surgeries to feel congruent with their inner gender, i.e. facial feminization, liposuction, so where do we draw the line?

    This really comes down to the current argument about what is necessary health care, who gets it and at what cost? I know, for instance, that my life partner would be incensed that a convicted felon is getting something she has painfully been attempting to acquire for years. What message does this send? “If you really need surgery, commit a crime and get sent to the slammer”?

    Tiger, do you have the same compassion for the law abiding transwomen needing bottom surgery outside prison? I have many friends pre and post-op who are wondering why a prisoner’s need for surgery takes precedent over the law abiding? (or at least these who have not been convicted of crimes)

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      I think noone here is trying to say that law-abiding trans folk shouldn’t have access to full medical coverage (except maybe CB, but trolls aren’t real people). The way I view it, though, is that there really isn’t a compelling reason to say that this prisoner shouldn’t get the treatment she needs. As a trans woman, it is definitely frustrating for me that she will probably get the surgery sooner than me, and without having to foot the bill, but there is nothing to be gained by opposing that, and plenty of longer-term benefit that could come from setting that precedent in a legal context. As an active proponent of trans folks’ right, and as a trans woman myself, I think that we should push on all fronts. Yes, she should be allowed to get this surgery. Yes, trans folks should have their medically-prescribed procedures covered under existing health plans. Yes, we need to improve many of these systems, medical and judicial and all of them, in order to ensure that trans people are not misrepresented, mistreated, or erased, regardless of who else they are and what else they have done. I don’t view these as mutually exclusive goals to strive for.

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