Chelsea-née-Bradley Manning’s request for hormones and surgical treatment for gender dysphoria again raises the question of gender treatment for prisoners.
The issue became news a year ago with the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf that a Massachusetts prisoner, Michelle Kosilek, be granted sexual reassignment surgery. Michelle, then known as Robert, was convicted of murder in 1992 and is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. While in prison Kosilek had a legal name-change, received psychotherapy, and successfully sued for electrolysis and hormone treatments. Following the ruling last year, which is being appealed by the Department of Corrections, Kosilek returned to court, demanding further electrolysis.
Judge Wolf’s position is that all these treatments are medically mandated by Kosilek’s transgendered condition. His ruling has sparked questions about whether the sense that one’s internal gender identity and outer body are out of sync constitutes a terminal condition to be addressed surgically and cosmetically. About whether the state should pay for such therapies when most health insurance companies don’t. About whether a convict has a right to sexual reassignment surgery in a nation in which there is no right to health care of any kind for people who have not been convicted of crimes.
Different questions preoccupy me. I find myself wondering why these particular convicted criminals are the focus of so much impassioned concern, with many protestations of support for their rights and well-being. Opinions may differ over whether Manning is a traitor or a hero. Kosilek is a murderer. Their crimes are irrelevant to determining the medical necessity of surgery or electrolysis for transsexuals. Are they also irrelevant to their status as poster children for transgender rights? In a number of news outlets, arguments in favor of the treatments Kosilek demands site the concern that he is “sad” without them.
Here’s a story I find sad:
On May 20, 1990, a fifteen year old named Timothy McCaul needed a ride home. But when he phoned his house to ask for one, no one was there to take the call. That afternoon his mother, Cheryl, came upon his stepfather, Robert Kosilek, dressed in her clothes. They argued, and Robert strangled Cheryl, using both rope and wire and nearly decapitating her. He put Cheryl’s body in her car and drove to a mall not far from their Massachusetts home, where he left the car in the parking lot, taking a cab for the return trip.
Some news accounts of reactions to Judge Wolf’s ruling reported that there were law-abiding transsexuals frustrated that a prisoner would receive surgery they themselves found prohibitively expensive. This reaction is understandable. What I missed in all these stories was the cry of outrage from the GLBT community, and from the mainstream press, that the perpetrator of a hate crime had become a cause célèbre in a movement for human rights and dignity.
Wife battering, not to mention wife murder, is widely recognized as a hate crime against women. How would the trans community respond if someone convicted of a hate crime against a transgendered person won an unrelated legal battle and was then celebrated by supporters, with little or no mention made of his or her victim, and no censure of the crime?
Those who argue for human rights might consider broadening their definition of whose humanity, whose rights, and whose lives have value.