by Fatima Malika Shabazz
From PHN Issue 26, Fall 2015
My name is Fatima Malika Shabazz. Some of you may be familiar with my name through a previous article I wrote. I want to thank all of you who in one way or another have reached out to a trans woman or trans man in any prison in America. I am currently doing time in the California prison system. In a state that is supposed to be very progressive in regard to LGBTQ rights, it would appear that the secretary of prisons has not gotten that memo.
Recently, a trans woman named Michelle Norsworthy won a court decision granting her the right to have genital sex reassignment surgery. Unfortunately, the decision was appealed by the state (not surprising). However, she was granted parole by Governor Jerry Brown, probably to avoid paying for the operation.
Well, I am pursuing the same surgery. For those ladies in prisons across the nation who wish to do the same, I am going to be giving the blow-by-blow on how this should be done, so, win or lose, everyone will see what I did right and what I did wrong. Wish me luck—and good luck to all of you.
The first thing you have to do is put in a medical request to see both a mental health psychologist and your primary care physician. You first should have been on hormones for at least a year. You also have to have been living in your gender identity for at least a year.
Do not let them tell you that you have to have been living in your gender on the streets for a year. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) standards of care says one year—it doesn’t matter if that year was on Jupiter, as long as it’s been a year. Before you can qualify for genital surgery, you also must be diagnosed with what is known as gender dysphoria, which means you mentally, emotionally, and physically feel outside of how you look.
I identify as a woman—always have. Though I presented late in life, it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve always known I was first a little girl, now an adult woman. Because of this, I have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. This is also why I am on hormones. The requirement may be that your gender dysphoria has to be so bad that it has caused or may cause you to harm yourself, which is really bullshit—you should not have to harm yourself to get treatment.
You should also keep very detailed and clear records of all the meetings you have with all of your doctors. Also keep any paperwork they send you with denials, and their reasons for that denial. If you ever have to go to court, you will need that paperwork to either help or prove your case. Also keep a journal of your activities. I did not do that, but I now realize the importance of doing it.
If and when you are denied, be sure to exhaust all of your administrative appeals, and keep all that paperwork.
Once you decide to file in court, you will in all likelihood be filing for violation of your 8th and 14th Amendment rights. Look those up so you know what they are and how they apply to you. The crux of the matter will be violations of medical deliberate indifference, which is a violation of Farmer v. Brennan, among other things. This is a 1983 suit. If you are in federal custody, you can file a Bivens.
Make sure you know who all your defendants and witnesses are going to be.*
At this point, I have exhausted all of my administrative remedies. I am currently working on the paperwork for the suit itself. I’ll keep you posted as this progresses.
In my opinion, the most important thing is to put up a fight. We’ve heard all the phrases, like “A closed mouth don’t get fed.” Well, that is true. If you don’t speak, no one will know you’re there. So, let’s start speaking, collectively, and with a loud voice.
Anyone wishing to contact me can do so at the following address, although you may not be able to send me mail directly if you are in prison:
P.O. Box 5248
Corcoran, CA 93212
Fatima Malika Shabazz
Editor’s note: On August 7, after this article was written, a trans woman named Shiloh Quine who is in prison in California won a settlement granting her medically necessary sex reassignment surgery and then transfer to a women’s prison. This will be the first time any state has paid for genital surgery for a trans person in prison. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation also agreed to allow transgender people in prison clothing and commissary items consistent with their gender identity and to revise its policy on sex reassignment surgery. We look forward to sharing future articles by Ms. Shabazz on the progress of her lawsuit and how California’s policy changes are experienced by people in prison.
*Defendants are the people and institutions responsible for the decision not to treat you. These can be people (like the medical director who decided not to treat you) and institutions (like the Department of Corrections). Witnesses are people who have information (evidence) about your situation. This should include people who know about your medical needs (like the therapist who diagnosed you) and people who have information about the decision not to treat you.