By Nancy Jane Moore
I wrote a story awhile back in which people were arrested if they presented themselves as one gender when they were "really" the other (as defined by a genetic test). In my story, New Orleans set up a separate section of the jail for those charged with gender crimes, rather than putting those people in with either men or women.
Perhaps Washington, D.C., needs to set aside a similar jail section. According to The Washington Post, three corrections officers have been fired for classifying a woman as a man and putting her in the male section of the jail.
She told the corrections officers she was female. So did at least one other inmate. She even showered with men. The story says the officers also made fun of her and called her a "thing."
The Post story is short on details. The story says she looks "androgynous," though I must say that I thought "female" when I saw the picture that accompanied the story. Her name -- which was apparently on her ID -- is Virginia Grace Soto. There's something about her covering her genitals with her hands, apparently making it impossible for the guards to tell she wasn't male. On one arrest (she was arrested twice, once for prostitution and once for crack cocaine), the gay and lesbian liaison officer classified her as a transgendered male, and the corrections officers put her in the male section. On her second arrest, she was apparently classified as a man because of the first arrest. A doctor eventually confirmed that she is female.
I confess I'd like to know what she really looks like. Is she really so androgynous in the nude? Is she one of those persons born with vague genitalia -- not clearly one sex or the other? I feel a little guilty about wanting more facts, because more detail would violate her privacy even more than it's been violated already by the publicity -- not to mention her treatment at the jail. I hope to God she sues, because this is a slam dunk case for significant damages.
But the interesting thing about a story like this is how it challenges all our assumptions on gender. If someone's gender isn't obvious when they're stark naked, then gender isn't cut and dried.
And if gender isn't cut and dried, then we either need more distinctions than male and female or fewer.
Setting aside the far from insignificant problem of rape -- rape being the first thing that occurred to me when I heard a woman had been locked up with men -- I'm for fewer distinctions. And given that rape is a significant problem in jail, it occurs to me that perhaps that we need to come up with ways to prevent it besides simply locking men and women up separately. Rape is no less terrible just because the victim is male.