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  • Michael L. Smith

Transgender Men in Prison

Updated: Sep 5, 2019


There are many men that identify as transgender incarcerated in prisons all across America who fear their bodies will change because they will not be able to receive hormone treatments once they enter the prison system. “Once the treatment has begun, it needs to continue for life to prevent reversion.”[1] This issue has become a serious problem for correctional staff and officers specifically as it pertains to classification and medical issues. The problems are even more prevalent in progressive states. A major issue facing the state of California is male inmates that identify as transgender. Some inmates have informed staff doctors of their desire to transition into females and have even taken legal action in an effort to force the state to finance the surgery (Guerra, 2015). While others allege correction officials have not taken any corrective measures to prevent them from being raped by other inmates. Yet, every prison located in the state of California claim they are adhering to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and place the majority of transgender inmates in cells by themselves but there are some who share cells with other inmates. 


The fact that condoms are distributed to inmates by prison officials in California directly contradicts any claims they make and actually supports the inmate arguments against them. How can they protect transgender prisoners from sexual abuse if they are providing condoms for other inmates to use on them? This blatant contradiction has many doubting correction officials claims that they are doing everything to prevent transgender inmates from being sexually assaulted. It is very hypocritical for the California Department of Corrections to have policies in place that prohibit sex in prisons while encouraging inmates to have sex by distributing condemns. Department of Corrections officials believe condom distribution throughout California prison system, may help reduce the risk of spreading HIV/AIDS but others disagree: “Condoms fail to prevent sperm penetration in roughly 15 percent of all cases, and it is becoming clearer that many brands of condoms are incapable of preventing HIV transmissions and fail to do so in as many as one-third of the cases.” [2]  


Transgender inmates also suffer from mental anguish and often display suicidal tendencies as a result of being raped. These feelings and emotions can be treated with therapy and counseling but there are also some lingering physical effects which damages the body that must be addressed. “At least 21 percent of transgender women confined in men's facilities reported suffering physical abuse while in prison, while 20 percent reported sexual violence, according to a national survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.” [3] Many inmates have been raped on multiple occasions in prison and some have been infected not just with HIV/AIDS but also with Hepatitis C which causes damage to the liver. Hepatitis C prevents the California Department of Corrections from providing inmates with sex reassignment surgery because the disease puts them at a higher risk of receiving allergic reactions to medication which is necessary for the surgery. State officials are trying to resolve the issue and reach an agreement with inmates to decide the best way to resolve cases involving transgenders incarcerated in prison. [4] 


Unfortunately, there are some men who intentionally commit crimes because they know the Department of Corrections will pay for them to receive reassignment surgery. “Of course, not everyone who would call themselves transgender would opt for sex-change surgery” [5] but many do and as a result, some prisons are now even offering male inmates’ estrogen to help them develop female curves. If they do not receive the medication, they become depressed and disorderly which could create a hostile environment. Recently, a judge ruled if a male prisoner identifies as transgender, the California Department of Corrections has to give him the resources they need to obtain sex reassignment surgery (SRS). [6] According to the judge, refusing to perform the surgery violates the Eighth Amendment of the constitution which protects the rights of every American including those who are incarcerated against cruel and unusual punishment. There is also a case filed in 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by a transgender inmate who is suing for access to gender confirmation surgery. Lawyers representing the state argued that the inmate is too mentally unstable to receive the irreversible medical procedure. Idaho has no policy barring gender confirmation surgery for transgender inmates and that the Department of Correction specifically allows the treatment if its' deemed medically appropriate. [7]


State and federal prisons have evolved a lot over the years and they will continue to change even more in the future. Eventually all state and federal penal institutions will be regarded as medical facilities for transgendered inmates as the cost of reconstructive surgery continues to rise. Instead of prisons being a place where justice is served, they will become a place where inmates file lawsuits and receive monetary compensations for choosing to live lifestyle that is contrary to scripture. The victims leave the court room thinking the criminal which has been convicted of committing a crime against them will be punished. In reality, many transgender inmates come to prison intentionally to receive sex reassignment surgery because they can’t afford it on the street. Some even adapt to the prison lifestyle and become institutionalized. They develop a deep affection for the prison environment and some don’t even want to go home. 


Counseling Transgender Inmates


Chaplains should always seek the wisdom of God found in the Bible. "All scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). Yet, scripture is silent as it pertains to counseling inmates about sex change. “The Bible is silent about sex change and transgender because the technology to effect change did not exist in biblical times and the biblical writers could not have been expected to anticipate issues like these. But there are some principles that apply to this, particularly trusting God’s providence in the assignment of gender to individuals.” [8] 


As with any spiritual issue, biblical principles must be interpreted properly when counseling transgenders. “Scripture provides direction for all of life, but it is important to distinguish between command and counsel. If the question is, what is God’s will for all people 

everywhere at all times; which actions are right, and which are wrong? Scripture commands. It prohibits some actions and mandates others; its direction in this case is universal or absolute. On the other hand, if the question is, what is God’s particular will for me in my situation as a member of the body of Christ and a citizen of his kingdom? Scripture counsels. It gives principles and calls for prudent judgement; its direction in this case is relative to individual gifts and opportunities. Unlike command, counsel does not yield a definitive yes or no—otherwise each of us would have to be equipped with a personal Urim and Thummin.” [9]     


In addition to scripture, it is imperative for Chaplains to receive training on counseling transgender inmates. “Multicultural competencies with respect to gender and sexism may be addressed through increased counselor awareness of one’s own assumptions, values, and biases regarding gender and gender expression.” [10] Chaplains must understand the distinct differences in the terminology used in association with those who identify as transgender such as gender and sex. Through education and training, chaplains will better understand the various world views of transgender inmates. This can best be accomplished by comprehending the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) professional standards, participating in workshops, seminars and other resources.  


In conclusion, Christians are commanded to "walk in love" and remember that we too "were once in darkness" but I would fail in my responsibility as a pastor if I did not warn those who alter or change their body of God's impending judgement unless they repent. “Trying to alter what God has ordained for His purpose comes with a consequence. It really comes down to the fact that each of us were created by God for His purpose. To alter any aspect of that can alter one’s purpose.” [11] The biblical view of gender and sex is the correct view for we all are created in the image of God and should never seek to create our own image. After all, how can we possibly improve what God created? "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, whatever one sows, that will he also reap" (Galatians 6:7 ESV).


[1] Bioethics.com, 2019.  

[2] Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 291. 

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/transgender-woman-who-alleged-abuse-men-s-prison-be-moved-n1047996

[4] Curtis M. Wong, Huffington Post 2019. 

[5] Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 290. 

[6] Bioethics.com, 2019. 

[7] https://www.foxnews.com/politics/idaho-supreme-court-convicted-sex-offender-gender-reassignment-surgery-adree-edmo.

[8] Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 291.

[9] David Clyde Jones, Biblical Christian Ethics(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 25.

[10] Hays, D. G., & Erford, B. T. Developing multicultural counseling competence: A systems approach(2nd ed.). (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2014), 115. 

[11] Witness Lee, Dealing with Our Inward Parts for the Growth in Life, Chapter 3.




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