Nasty, Brutish and Short?

I've been slow to get to this, but I found a few spare moments from work, so here it is. An article in the Victoria Times-Colonist about Katherine Anne Johnson, a woman convicted of murdering her roommate. Do yourself a favour, though, STAY OUT OF THE COMMENTS. There are many head-splodey comments being made, the usual MRA and transphobic bullshit you'd expect.

There's a fair bit of fail in the article itself from a trans POV, starting right in the headline: "sex-change operation". This isn't 1973, and that's not the term used anymore by people with any interest in being respectful (though they do get it right in the article, which suggests it's the headline writer who's got the problem). There's a consistent thread of "she prefers female pronouns", as though it is unreasonable for her to do so, with a subtext that if the writer weren't being forced to use female pronouns, male ones would be used.

Ms. Johnson has been threatened and attacked repeatedly while serving time in a federal prison for men, as Corrections Canada follow a genital-essentialist policy (and I don't think I need to explain to a feminist audience what's wrong with genital-essentialism!) of insisting that inmates be housed with people who have similar genitalia. It shouldn't require much imagination to see how intensely dangerous this is for Ms. Johnson.

Despite that she has several times harmed herself in her gender dysphoria, and that she has what would be required in most provinces to have GRS* on the government health-care tab (this link from EGALE Canada has an outline of coverage in various provinces as of 2004 - health care is a provincial-level responsibility of government) - she has the doctors' letters saying that GRS is a medically necessary procedure for Ms. Johnson - they have delayed indefinitely any response to her urgent situation. The federal government is legally responsible for providing health care coverage to federal inmates.

Although it's an idea popular among wingnuts that anyone going to prison deserves no rights, that's not how it works in this country. Inmates are entitled to the same health care as any other Canadian, by law. Ms. Johnson meets all the legal requirements for having her surgery provided, and delays (particularly given she's not a young woman) are not only illegal, they're immoral.

We're not talking about something cosmetic here. For those trans people who feel surgery is needed to resolve their gender dysphoria**, it can quite literally be a matter of life and death. I have many friends whose surgery kept them from killing themselves.

Ms. Johnson committed a horrible crime, for which she is serving a life sentence (in Canada, this means in practical terms, at 61, she is unlikely to ever get out). This does not remove her humanity, nor her rights as a Canadian citizen to get the medical care she requires.

As a long-time Amnesty International member, I've become accustomed to responding to situations like this with letters (archaeopost or e-mail) to appropriate officials and government members. I strongly encourage Canadian Shakers to write to your Member of Parliament, and to CSC Commissioner Don Head:

Commissioner Don Head
CSC National Headquarters
340 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0P9

I don't have an e-mail address to contact CSC directly by e-mail - if anyone does, let me know and I'll put it in the post here.

Tell them urgent action is required: CSC is unreasonably and indefinitely delaying response to Ms. Johnson's medical needs, and to her safety - if they are going to require genital surgery before allowing her to be in the safer environment of a prison for women, then they need to get their thumbs out of their comfort-holes and get her the help she needs, so she can serve her sentence safely.

Tip of the CaitieCap to Shaker JMR for the link, and for her hard work in organizing activism to help Ms. Johnson.

* Gender Reassignment Surgery, a preferred term for "the operation" - itself a misnomer, as surgery related to transition can be one procedure or many, depending on the direction of transition (m->f, or f->m) and the needs of the individual in question.

** Despite popular impressions, by no means do all trans people seek surgery. Many trans men have "top" surgery (double mastectomy with reconstruction to male pattern), but forego the "bottom" surgery as it is very expensive, has long recovery times, and hasn't reached the level of sophistication they'd desire. Similarly, many trans women are happy with their physical shape, but are gendered female, despite their body being of a male sexual configuration. Considering that surgery is also a very privileged process - class, race and financial means all play roles here, in preventing large numbers of trans people from ever realistically being able to afford the surgery they do need - it should be clear that it cannot be assumed that simply because a person is transitioning, that they will want or have surgery. It is in solidarity with my trans siblings who cannot have the procedure(s) they would like to have, that I do not speak about my own surgical situation in public: surgery does not define transness.

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