Alex Blaze

Female inmate housed in male prison sues

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 03, 2011 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: deena kaye myers, intersex, men, prison, Virginia, women

A woman in prison in Virginia is finally suingPrison cell with bed inside Alcatraz main building san francisco califfornia so that she'll be placed in a women's facility. She's been housed with men even though her birth certificate says she's a woman, she lives as a woman, a medical exam said she's a woman...:

Myers says she suffered "invasion of privacy" and "various degrees of sexual harassment" in the dorm, and was repeatedly denied accommodation for related medical issues. At times, Myers--who requires use of a wheelchair--says she was forced to crawl on the ground to access her bed and shower. Once, the suit claims, a male official with "notebook and camera" visited Myers to "look at any tattoos Myers had . . . ordered Myers to disrobe completely . . . then proceeded to take photographs, both close up and full body shots, of her body including her chest and pelvic regions." In 2008, she says she contemplated suicide.

We discuss possible definitions of "man" and "woman" and slippages between those categories, how no one identifier is perfect, but we'll have to add another reason why someone might be identified with a certain sex: pig-headedness. That's the prison's reason, at least:

That year, Myers began making efforts to be transferred away from Deerfield and into a female facility. Four years after entering Deerfield, Myers says that she was physically examined by a prison nurse to determine her sex. "No penis visualized," the report concluded. "Impression abnormal genital anatomy--plan nothing to do." Later, Myers says she was subjected to repeated strip searches and body cavity searches by male corrections officials. In 2009, she had her birth certificate sent to a prison counselor to prove her sex at birth. Myers says the counselor was "shocked" that the document listed her as female. This year, Myers says she underwent several more genital exams in the prison. According to the suit, one Department of Corrections doctor "seemed to still be in 'shock' from the first exam to not find a penis but rather a vagina." In August, Myers underwent a blood test; her suit claims that her "hormone levels clearly reflect that of a biological female."[...]

The rationale provided by prison officials: "at the time of your sentence, you were assigned to a male facility."

Clearly, that settles it.

Something tells me that Myers won't be getting much sympathy from people outside prison anyway. Any proportionality when it comes to responding to crime has been lost in our culture and replaced with "If you broke the law, then you have to take whatever the hell we throw at you." Consider the only comment I could find on this story on a major news site (from UPI's page, in its entirety):

Just one more reason to obey the law!

Perhaps it's a result of the sluggish economy, that people aren't feeling all that generous anymore with anything, much less their sympathy. Or perhaps as these two wars drag on, killing hundreds of thousands of people for no good reason, we've stopped seeing suffering as an inherently bad thing. Or maybe people are just getting more sadistic and when someone commits a crime it's assumed that they volunteered themselves to be society's punching bag.

Whatever the reason, it doesn't bode well for the future of America. A culture that accepts such levels of cruelty against other societies and other people within its society is really just asking for more cruelty to be acted on itself.

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Hi Alex,

I think you should read up on cloacal extrophy.

"Cloacal exstrophy: Severe congenital malformation of pelvis, including (in males) lack of a penis. These boys usually develop a male identity even if castrated and surgically reconstructed as females."

It is discussed here:

"That is one of the big problems with putting intersex under the DSD umbrella. For example, we have received correspondence from some people born with Cloacal exstrophy (which is a DSD but not intersex) and they insist they want intervention. I hope that answers your questions"

This person is obviously being abused as a result of being different. I think Meyers has a strong case. The issue of "gender idenstiy" is a very complex one. I don't think many conclusions can be drawn from this situation, except that it demonstrates how unique the problem of gender identity can be for people. William Reiner is supposed to be the foremost expert on Cloacal Extrophy. The coterie of researchers that he belongs to have been the subject of much criticism for their pronouncements on gender identity, however. A lot of these researchers do not have a much better reputation among the people they study than the prison guards in this case.

Regardless, if Meyers was born with cloacal extrophy, as the article indicates, that is a very important context for this situation to be seen clearly in. It is important for a person to define their gender. This case demonstrates that clearly and raises questions at the same time. Ironically, cloacal extrophy is used by people across the board to demonstrate how a person's gender identity is something they are born with.

The reference to cloacal exstrophy is linked in the TBD article to an article that appeared in the Washington Post which originally came from the Richmond "Times-Distpatch:

"Myers was born a male with cloacal exstrophy, a rare defect that includes an exposed gastrointestinal tract and bladder.

Traditionally, males born with the disease were sexually reassigned soon after birth, as was Myers. Her birth certificate lists her as a female."

I don't know how clear that is. There is a lot of context here.

I think it's a bit misleading to say "She's been housed with men even though her birth certificate says she's a woman, she lives as a woman, a medical exam said she's a woman..." in light of the fact that Meyers was assigned to a male prison because that's what she wanted at the time. As the article explains, at the time she was arrested, convicted, and sentenced she identified as male even though she was legally female, and the court actually did the right thing in assigning her to a male prison because of that.

According to the TBD article, she identified as a woman before she went to prison:

Some time after her arrest, though, Myers again began to identify as a woman. Upon arrival at the all-male Deerfield Correctional Center, Myers' suit says that she "explained her medical and gender situation and questioned why she was being housed at an all male facility." But she was nevertheless housed in an 88-bed all male dormitory, where she was forced to "use the bathroom, change her colostomy bags, shower and change clothes in an open locker-room style bathroom with 87 other individuals of the opposite gender."

Also, that was over seven years ago, when she was 22 and involved in crime. It's not like she was changing her gender identity every week just to cause a disruption or to get a change of scenery.

I don't think the state gets off the hook just because of how she identified years ago if they've been notified that that's no longer how she identifies, if her identity hasn't changed in seven years. All the paperwork she has should be enough.


I think it is important to understand how this person has been traumatized. How many things are there to discuss? In sexual relationships, what kind of compass does one use to determine sexual orientation? How can it seriously be asserted genitals don't make a difference? How complex is gender identity? What is gender identity? Is it the way a person feels internally? Is it the way people are identified by others? What about the jurisprudence issues? What is appropriate punishment? What is cruel and unusual punishment?

The state of Rhode Island has established a special program for veterans suffering from PTSD and are convicted of crimes. I say wonderful. How many people would find themselves in trouble if they weren't dealing with some sort of trauma? My question is, what about everyone else who is convicted of a crime and also suffering from PTSD? I don't know about this person but I would say that at least the post incarceration experience has been traumatic. The David Reimer tragedy and people who have been treated this way for cloacal exstrophy are often spoken of in the same breath. Then there is the question of intersex people who have been traumatized by their treatments, also. I do notice that you find it fitting to include the I with the l, the g, the b, and the t. Anyway, no matter how you look at this person's situation, it is a human rights issue and a very complex one.

How can it seriously be asserted genitals don't make a difference?

I am aware that this statement might be rejected in some circles. I think the situation is a paradoxical one that has to be accepted because contradictions exist. Genitals do matter in some ways. In others they don't. Cloacal exstrophy is seen, by some who are considered authorities on the subject, as evidence that gender identity exists and is formed pre-natally. In the case of cloacal exstrophy the gender identity is supposed to be almost always male. The fact that one does not have a penis is not supposed to make a difference. I agree. A penis does not make a man a man. Within this article and the articles linked there are numerous contradictions, however. The Richmond Times-Dispatch asserts that Myers was born "male". The TBD article states at the end, "Even if a biologically female inmate like Myers identified as a man at sentencing"

"Biologically male (or female)" and "genetic male (or female)" sound scientific and authoritative. Reality, however, is, often, far more complex.

As someone who's been championing the right of a prisoner to get adequate medical care and some general decency while locked up, your statement about getting people to care about a prisoner really resonated with me.

I shared Amanda Hess' story on my Facebook page and, also, linked to this post. Next to the thumbnail it says :

"A Virginia prison takes a rigid approach to a fluid gender identity."

Randall McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest springs to mind as that statement rolls around in my mind.

The notion of "fluid gender identity" has me wondering what that can mean. The term "gender identity" is associated with John Money and his ideas of gender identity development. Deena Kaye Meyers is supposed to be the classic example of how early surgery and sex of rearing should have simply produced a female "gender identity" in this case. Reiner's research into cloacal exstrophy indicates this is not the case and runs counter to notions of gender being a social construct.

I am sorry to go on about this. I have written five posts, so far, in a thread where there are only eight in total. This article by Amanda Hess is just packed with so many questions, though. What about the inmate who is quoted at the beginning of the article Amanda wrote for

"Pamela, 42, has seen the male detention facility of the D.C. Jail too many times to count. She’s made “seven to eight” trips over the past 10 years, she says. Pamela, a transgender woman, says she’s not interested in being housed with females—she just wants to hold on to her weave, her bra, and her hormones."

I don't think these are easy problems for the corrections officials to sort out. As a woman of transsexual experience the issues raised in this article are some of the most important concerns I have. Even if there is marriage equality throughout the entire world these problems will still exist for intersex, transgender and transsexual people.

I know many people who have been to prison, as well. I am very concerned about the rapid rise in the prison population over the last forty years and the prison industrial complex that has developed out of that. There is great need for reform. I was very impressed with the way the people at Bilerico were able to help Betsie Gallardo out. It is obvious Deena Myers needs help in her situation. The Meyers case is just so much more complicated and full of implications for so many people not just her, however.

Gary Upchurch | January 12, 2011 10:03 PM

Deena Kaye Myers is my Fiancee. If there is someone out there that help her in her situation please do so. She has been sexually harassed and abused. I mean even the doctors at Deerfield said Female.