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Why inmates need gender-affirming surgery

An insider’s perspective forged by years in prison

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Gender Conference East
genital reassignment surgery, transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

When it comes to genital reassignment surgery, a lot of the population questions its validity as a necessary medical procedure – especially for the incarcerated. But doctors worldwide now recognize gender dysphoria, a conflict between your physical gender and actual gender, as an actual medical condition. Treatment options vary from hormone therapy to surgery, but just like any other medical condition, doctors are the ones prescribing drugs and procedures.

What does this have to do with inmates? It wasn’t until I won my case against the state of California in April 2015 that incarcerated individuals were even eligible for this type of surgery. The decades-long struggle I faced with my identity, coming to terms with my gender dysphoria and then fighting for my rights – despite being behind bars – paved the way for other transgender men and women like me. It’s important to note that when you live behind bars in the United States, you’re still a human being with rights. You don’t give up those rights to being human because you’re serving time. If an inmate needed a medical procedure to be physically or emotionally healthier, once a doctor deemed it necessary it would be carried out. Because gender dysphoria is a medical condition, this type of procedure is no different. Yet it’s faced with incredible opposition.

My story is just one example of how challenging it is for a transgender individual to receive genital reassignment surgery, especially while incarcerated. I came out as transgender in 1994 after talking to a priest, various doctors and years of self-questioning. I began trying to express my true identity as I could with limited resources; I wore tighter clothes, grew my hair out and used makeshift makeup I was able to create. As I’m sure you can imagine, these changes didn’t make life with other inmates safe, either. While living as a trans woman behind bars I was a target for ongoing verbal and physical abuse, and was brutally gang-raped, left suffering from Hepatitis C, PTSD and Stage 4 Liver Fibrosis.

Once I was officially diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2000, I began asking about surgery, requesting it over and over again. I wasn’t able to make any progress until a Department of Corrections doctor deemed it medically necessary. He submitted 13 pages about it, but was suddenly transferred to another prison. I filed an appeal as they were denying me a surgery their own doctor deemed necessary, citing Michelle Kosilek’s similar case in Massachusetts. The powers that be continued to deny appeals, refusing to take me seriously and sending people that didn’t have the authority to make the necessary decisions to the prison, so I sued the state of California. I won the case in April 2015 and the surgery was scheduled, but before it could take place I was suddenly paroled.

When I was released from prison, I approached the Transgender Law Center to help me navigate the path to receiving my surgery, but they refused to help me as their representation ended as soon as the case ended. I was left feeling completely alone in a world vastly different from the one I left 30 years prior, and needed to figure it out and advocate for myself yet again.

I started by calling the doctors scheduled to provide the surgery while I was in prison and they did a consult with me, explaining what type of insurance I needed. I made countless phone calls, went to the offices in person and ultimately navigated my way through so I could receive the insurance I needed for my surgery. I am looking forward to it finally taking place this February.

Along the way, I was very disappointed by the lack of support from advocacy groups that are supposed to be on my side; instead of giving me the help I needed, they just wanted to use me to advance their agenda. I’ve used this to fuel my mission, though. My dream is to open a home called Joan’s House, a safe place for other transgender men and women to become their true selves. I want to use my experience navigating through the confusing system to help others as they seek the medical care they need for their own gender dysphoria.

I’m truly grateful for a few organizations that are helping – specifically Bend Law Group, Three Girls Media and Healthright 360 – which have kept me off the streets, helped give me a voice and shown me the path to form a 501c3 non-profit.

Ultimately, the core of our identity is what’s truly at stake. My story is similar to so many other transgender men and women, and they’re why I continue to advocate.

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy is a trans rights advocate based in California.

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In debate, Biden must stay on offense

President needs more lines like ‘I am running against a 6-year-old’

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

On June 27, President Joe Biden will debate the man he has called a six-year-old. A great line, and he needs a few more like that. Unless there is a clear stumble by either candidate, we know what they will say. Trump will call Biden ‘sleepy Joe,’ among other names. But the reality is, people are used to it. They are not as used to Biden returning the favor. And Biden, aside from referring to Trump as a convicted felon, needs some lines that will make headlines the next day. Something with a little humor in it, but still making a strong point. 

Trump is scary. The recent column in the Washington Post on how Russ Vought, the former president’s budget director, is laying the groundwork for a broad expansion of presidential powers, is truly frightening. Now if it were me, I would be able to use my usual litany of words when referring to Trump: racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic pig, found liable for sexual assault, and convicted felon. I may even go as far as suggesting society replace the word felon with “Trump.” People at trials could be convicted of 34 “Trumps.” But Biden can’t really use that. Maybe Biden can do something like look him in the eye and say, “You can’t really believe all the BS you keep spouting!” Then add, “The world is a complicated place, and even most six-year-olds seem to have a better understanding and grasp of it than you do.” 

Then there is the focus on the very serious part of the debate. The discussion of issues including the economy, abortion, contraception, and foreign policy. Reminding people, it was Trump who killed the immigration bill in Congress, telling energy billionaires if they raise him a billion dollars, in essence bribe him, they can “drill baby drill.” The president needs to speak to African Americans, Latinos, women, and the young. He needs to tell each of those groups what will happen if the six-year-old he is running against, were to become president again. 

Then he needs to look directly into the camera and say to the audience at home, “It isn’t only Trump you need to fear, it is the people he will surround himself with. His sycophants and cult, who will let him get revenge on anyone who says a word against him.” You can count on the fact it will be much worse than the last time around when he tried to stage a coup, because no decent person will work for him.

The first debate will take place 18 weeks before the Nov. 5 election. So much can change between then and the election. Remember when we talked about an October surprise? In today’s world there could be July, August, and September surprises as well. Between now and election day we will be treated to an overload of polling, most of it wrong. We will read hundreds of headlines, many of them clickbait. If you watch TV you will get to listen to hundreds of talking heads, many knowing no more than you. The difference being, they are being paid to spout off on the election, giving not facts, but their opinions. 

It seems every four years we hear this could be the most important, the most crucial, election of our lifetime. Well, this time those who say it just may be telling the truth. One candidate, convicted of 34 “Trumps,” is telling you he will be a dictator, and using Hitler’s words. He has the likes of Russ Voight advising him, and openly says he will seek revenge. Nothing could be more frightening. He is telling the young he doesn’t care about climate change, and telling the poor their programs will be cut because he will cut taxes for the rich.  

He calls our soldiers, those who sacrificed their lives and died in wars, “suckers and losers.” He called John McCain “a war hero because he was captured,” saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.” This frightening, sick man, with the world view of a warped six-year-old, will lead the United States if we aren’t willing to stand up to him, and his MAGA cult. Yes, I am afraid! And you should be too! If you are a woman, a minority, a member of the LGBTQ community, or just poor, be scared, be very afraid! If Trump and his cult win, you will lose what little you think you now have.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Why you should celebrate pride with a musical about GenderCannibalism?

Rose: You Are What You Eat, through June 23 at Woolly Mammoth.

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Photo courtesy of Woolly Mammoth.

Because when I came out as trans my aunt told me it was because I ate my twin in the womb…and that’s what the show is about

Because…remember that time when you decided to dress like exactly like your older sister; or you stole your mothers’ makeup or your brother’s tie; or you decided to dress up like Katherine Hepburn for halloween when you were (i dunno) 10; or you started to look eerily like your lover…..that’s all gender cannibalism

Because because because because because….” because if you know that song this was made for you…and if you don’t…it’s okay, we’ll work on it

Because you can probably find a cute date at the show irl instead of just swiping in your phone…think of theater as an in person dating app without as much drunkenness as the bar

Because maybe that cute date is me

Because you can sing along to music written by a bunch of queers from Philly and D.C. 

Because we are all so hungry and so so thirsty 

Because I guarantee you will leave feeling fed

Because cannibalism puns are tasty

Because it’s a comedy

Because there are pay-what-you-can tickets

Because it plays all of June

Because we are consuming gender all the time but rarely watching what and how we eat it 

Because it’s an anti-assimilationist endeavor: the corporations can’t co-opt “gender cannibalism” for pride month (but there is merchandise available at the show…)

Because it’s only 75 minutes

Because I dance around in tighty whities with socks on my hands

Because there is a free clothing swap and treats in the gallery next to the show

Because why not?

Because you will be cast as my Mother, and that’s the role of a lifetime (or at least my lifetime)

Because you won’t know what will happen; you can’t pause or rewind the show; you will be taking a risk; you will find it’s more than just entertainment; you will feel me talking right to you

Because I’ve been writing this show for 34 years and am finally ready to share it with you

Because I’ll be in the lobby afterwards to say hi, and receive hugs, stories, and phone numbers 

Because I made this piece for you, my dear deviants, trans folx, genderful ones and for the people that care for us. It is a good laugh and a good cry and meant as a gift, a way to end your day feeling loved, nourished and worthy

Because don’t you want to be nourished and reminded that you are loved and worthy? 

And frankly because art needs you to survive and you need art to thrive

Because I took the time to write this letter to you and you took the time to read it, and neither you nor I want to waste that investment

Because you won’t want to miss it

Get tickets to Rose: You Are What You Eat, playing through June 23rd.

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Elon Musk is a danger to society

X has become a warped platform that spews anti-trans hate

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Elon Musk (Photo by shganti777/Bigstock)

Elon Musk is officially a danger to society. As of mid May of 2024, X.com, the platform formerly known as Twitter, has started banning accounts that use the word “cisgender” or “cis,” deriding it as a slur. For those who don’t know, “cisgender” refers to any person whose gender aligns with the genitalia they were assigned at birth. Erasing the word “cisgender” from tweets, or X.com remarks, ensures that gender nonconforming people can’t articulate the bigotry they feel in this world. 

Musk has been notorious for his transphobia. It didn’t just start in mid-May of this year. In June of 2023, during Pride month, Musk liked a bunch of transphobic tweets. For instance, he promoted the Matt Walsh documentary, “What is a Woman?”, which was a film in transmisogyny. 

Moreover, in July of 2022, Musk’s transgender teenage daughter sought separation from her father because he was hateful toward her and bullied her because of her gender identity. In December 2022, Musk tweeted “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci,” mocking the words that transgender people need to enunciate who we are. This wasn’t the first time that Musk mocked pronouns. 

Musk is becoming increasingly dangerous toward trans people, especially as X.com takes on a new dimension — turning into a warped platform that spews conspiracy views, including right-wing thoughts that trans people shouldn’t exist, and other ultraconservative opinions. 

What adds heavy weight to the danger that Musk poses is the relative success of his companies and the wealth, measured in dollars, that he carries on his shoulders. SpaceX is valued at around $180 billion, and Tesla is worth approximately $571 billion. The more wealth Musk accumulates, the more power is attached to his transphobia. Already, he is consciously allowing employees within his companies to mock transgender people. Having a CEO who openly teases a marginalized population is a recipe for that company to tease said population as well. 

As a former small business owner, I’m actually a huge fan of Musk’s work. The billionaire is brilliant beyond belief, and, after being bullied in school in South Africa, earned degrees in physics and economics from the University of Pennsylvania. At one point, he was working so hard on one of his first startups that he often slept in the office and showered at a local YMCA. In interviews, it is clear that Musk borders, if not embodies, genius. His intellectual prowess is second to none. 

Additionally, the mogul has been open about his diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and bipolar disorder. It’s impressive, to say the least, that Musk has racked up all of these accomplishments despite having these diseases of the mind and body. He has vocalized his use of ketamine therapy, for instance, in treating his bipolar, which is a ballsy move to make as CEO. 

Unfortunately, though, Musk just won’t stop with his transphobia. He is making X.com a non-democratic place for sponsored conspiratorial speech, and banning words is the farthest thing from freedom, which is a virtue he claims to embody. 

Many scholars of Elon have noted that he lives in a distorted reality, and I have to agree with that sentiment. Banning “cisgender” from X.com is certainly a distorted thing to do, and should be looked upon as a danger to society. 

Isaac Amend is a writer based in the D.C. area. With two poetry books out, he writes for the Blade and the Yale Daily News. He is a transgender man and was featured in National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution” documentary. He serves on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Contact him at [email protected] or on Instagram at: @literatipapi

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