California Begins to Allow Gender-Appropriate Clothing

By Fatima Malika Shabazz

From PHN Issue 35, Winter 2018

I have been fighting long and hard to get gender reassignment surgery here in California. There are now protocols in place for inmates in the California Department of Corrections to apply for surgery. I applied with the medical department for reassignment surgery, but I kept my civil action (lawsuit) open. I have not lost a major motion to date, so the outlook (at least for now) looks pretty good for negotiation.

My civil action is about more than just surgery. After years of grievances/appeals and civil actions by several of us throughout the state, including Ms. Michelle Norseworthy and Ms. Shiloh Quine, we have achieved the victory of a “new” personal and state property matrix for transgender inmates. Even this was fought by the state as if their lives depended on it.

There were some things that were not included in the property matrix, as I expected there wouldn’t be, but overall it is a big victory—just one of many to come.

The matrix now allows transgender inmates to order some clothing and cosmetics congruent with their gender identity. We are allowed to order these from approved vendor catalogs. These catalogs offer sneakers, shower slippers, women’s slippers, underwear, sweats and other items. These items can only be purchased by friends or family members or if the inmate has a prepaid vendor account or enough money on their inmate account to purchase these items themselves. Many inmates don’t have any of these. Also, many trans women here do not have pay numbers that would allow them to purchase even the most basic of cosmetic items from the prison canteen. Many women have no outside support, which prevents them very often from being able to acquire what is needed to properly present in their female identities. This is an unfortunate circumstance.

The property matrix also allows for all transgender inmates to request that the prison laundry exchange their state-issued clothing for clothing appropriate to their gender. I believe that will actually be more complicated, because in the case of men’s facilities, that will require laundry managers to order the clothing. This will give the prisons reason to stall or deny based on using the prison budget as an excuse, saying the prison doesn’t have the money.

I sent a request to our laundry manager requesting all of the clothing items allowed at women’s facilities. I am, however, operating on the belief that the facility is in no hurry to accommodate the LGBTQ community and are using things like order delays and lack of budget to defy the courts. As usual, we are experiencing quite a bit of pushback from the staff who do not agree with our lifestyle, in an effort to discourage us from being and presenting as who we are.

Female pajamas, bathrobes, hair clips and hair brushes are needed but are not included in the matrix. It also excludes earrings and bracelets, as well as scarves, due to supposed safety and security concerns. I live in an open dorm situation, and a bathrobe is important for the purpose of modesty, particularly going to and from the shower. I have dreadlocks, but for the trans women who do not and are in need of a hair brush, the denial of this is a hindrance to daily grooming.

The Department has determined that only inmates who have a form stating they are transgender can order any of the allowed items from the approved vendor catalogs. But many people are simply gender non-conforming and may want to, from time to time, wear a little makeup or even want to be modest and wear a robe to the shower or restroom in the night when it is necessary.

In any case, we in California have achieved a couple major victories when it comes to gender identity. But it is imperative that the fight continues, not just here in California but across the nation. I encourage all of you to use what has happened here in California as your template, do your homework and always make sure you cover all your bases. Use every little thing you can think of—you would be surprised what can be important.

Until next time, friends and family, never stop fighting.

Love and solidarity,

Fatima Malika Shabazz

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