CissexismDiscriminationHealth / MedicineLawTransgender

An open letter to Lawrence Harmon

Mr. Harmon,

I just read your article, “Judge goes too far in sex change ruling” published in The Boston Globe, and I must say I’m quite disturbed by your complete lack of humanity. Not only does your piece read like a second grader’s essay about unicorns, but it’s so full of cissexist bigotry I’m stunned you didn’t sprout a second penis from sheer testosterone overload.

Like Ms. Kosilek, I am transsexual. Now I will not claim to know what her journey as been like, as we’re obviously at completely different points in life, and each person’s transition is unique, but I will claim to know the pain she goes through as a result of Gender Identity Dysphoria. I have dealt with this pain for over 10 years now, and have much more experience in this matter than you. Since you wouldn’t ask an auto-mechanic to check a funny looking mole for cancer, I fail to see how you deign yourself able to pass judgement on somebody when you’ve never experienced anything remotely close to what she’s going through. You don’t know what it’s like to get up in the morning and hate everything about your body, about your social role in life, and to know that fixing these issues is a long, difficult journey, where many people in power hope you fail. Yet through your words you attempt to strip away a person’s identity, showing not only how ignorant you really are, but the absolute cruelty that resides where your heart should be.

However fun flinging insults at you left and right might be, let’s instead take a look at your actual words, paragraph by paragraph, and see how silly your tiny brain really is:

1)“Credit US District Judge Mark Wolf with courage for being the first federal judge to order a taxpayer-funded sex change operation for a transsexual prisoner. But don’t credit him with a wise decision.”

Uhh… it’s not a “sex change operation”. The correct term is Gender Confirmation Surgery, or Gender Reassignment Surgery if you must. A sex change operation is so ’80’s… really not in fashion anymore.

2) “Wolf has been wrestling with this issue for more than a decade. In 2002, he ruled that inmate Michelle Kosilek (formerly Robert) was entitled to treatment for a gender identity disorder, a psychiatric illness characterized by anguish over one’s sex. He left it up to medical professionals to figure out a course of treatment. Shortly thereafter, Kosilek began a regimen of female hormone treatment and psychotherapy. That seemed like a humane solution. The case should have stopped there.”

First off, Gender Identity Dysphoria is not a psychological condition, it is a medical one. It is an actual disconnect between mind and body that causes extreme emotional and, in some cases, physical distress. It is not anguish over one’s sex. The pain goes even deeper than anguish, to a wrongness with your very core; your existence as a human being is warped into something that feels monstrous, and the simple act of living becomes almost painful.

Secondly, you’re not a medical professional. You don’t get to decide where the case should have stopped, that is up to the patient and her medical team. If a treatment is not completely helping, if there’s more going on than anyone else knows, then the patient should be able to seek other solutions. You don’t just throw one type of pill at a patient and say, “You’re screwed if this doesn’t work, because we’re not giving you any other options.”

3) “Kosilek, however, continued to press for a sex change operation, arguing it was the only way to alleviate the pain of being a female trapped in a male’s body. And this week, Wolf arrived at the same conclusion, ruling that anything less than ‘sex reassignment surgery’ would be a ‘violation of Kosilek’s Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care.’ In short, Wolf ruled that withholding the surgery would rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment.”

OK, that’s his job, he’s a federal fucking judge. It’s his duty to interpret the Constitution and decide cases based on that interpretation.

4) “This ruling flies in the face of common sense and our better instincts. A layperson is easily overwhelmed by Wolf’s 126-page ruling and his skill at advancing legal arguments. But one thing can’t be obscured by legal citations: Courts require public support to remain credible. And this ruling strays incredibly far from what might be considered a midpoint of the public will. By giving Kosilek a vagina, Wolf could be giving a heart attack to the judiciary.”

What??? Exactly what form of common sense are we betraying here? A person serving a prison sentence does not need to be punished further, and giving somebody treatment for a medical condition does not mean they’re somehow getting a break. Would you deny a person with cancer chemotherapy? That, to me, does not seem like “common sense”, it’s more like being an asshole. Besides, she’s already serving her sentence in an all-male prison. That’s bad enough on its own, you don’t need to stick your nose in the situation and make things worse.

And “giving Kosilek a vagina”? You make it sound like they’re handed out as consolation prizes at a county fair, “Step on up, get your vagina! Vaginas here! Just throw your balls in one of the cups, if it goes in, you WIN!” I mean, seriously?

5) “Wolf also eviscerated former Correction Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy for testifying that a sex change operation would create insurmountable security problems at MCI Norfolk. Instead, according to Wolf, she was motivated by a fear of ‘political controversy, criticism, scorn, and ridicule.’ Maybe Wolf is right about that. But it’s easier for a federal judge with lifetime job tenure to bear up under such pressure.”

Well no shit, Sherlock. That’s why we give federal judges lifetime tenure, so they can make unpopular decisions. It makes their job of upholding the Constitution easier, since the population often lets it’s personal judgement cloud their better decision making. I feel like if you’re writing for a fairly well known, local journalistic entity you should have a better grasp on how our branches of government work.

6) “A lot of people won’t get past the idea of being forced to foot the bill for vaginoplasty for a guy who murdered his wife in 1990 and is now serving a life sentence without parole. But this ruling should get under the skin of everyone, including law-abiding sufferers of gender identity disorder. They don’t get to invoke their Eighth Amendment rights when their private insurers reject coverage for sex change operations. Gender-trapped Medicare recipients are told to tough it out because federal regulators deem the surgery ‘experimental.’ Same goes for low-income people covered under MassHealth, which considers sex change surgery ‘unproven’ or ‘medically unnecessary.'”

First off, male pronouns and referring to this woman as “a guy”? Really? FUCK. YOU. You don’t get to strip away someone’s identity. You have no right you pompous piece of shit. How would you like it if I referred to you as “she”, “her”, or “that chick”? And secondly, I would foot the bill for you if you were in prison and needed medical treatment. It would be your Constitutional right in that case. But I believe everybody, regardless of their social status, deserves proper medical care in prison or not. However, if you’re going to argue this case, you have to argue against treatment for ALL medical conditions while in prison. You can’t just pick which ones suit your incredibly skewed sense of the world.

Also, don’t try to tell me what should and should not get under my skin. We transsexuals are not in competition with one another over who gets surgery and who doesn’t. I’m incredibly excited for Ms. Kosilek, why would I begrudge somebody a chance to live with a lot less pain?

You are right though, I don’t get to invoke the Eighth Amendment to get surgery. But I get to walk out of my house every day and interact with the world as a free citizen. Besides, many private insurance companies are now covering Gender Confirmation Surgery now that the AMA has deemed the surgery medically necessary as treatment for GID.

For what it’s worth, Medicare’s definition is decades old, way behind current medical science and opinion, and reliant on very outdated ideas about the procedure. Gender Confirmation Surgery, at least for women, is not “experimental”. It is a well-established procedure, performed by hundreds of medical professionals with great success and an incredibly low rate of post-surgical regret. The denial of coverage to medicare beneficiaries is something we should be fighting though, not using to raise public opinion against a prisoner by inciting jealousy and envy.

7) “Last year, Kosilek told an AP reporter that “everybody has the right to have their health care needs met, whether they are in prison or out on the street.’’ But he’s dead wrong about that. Only someone who commits a crime and is sent to prison can claim such a right. That is why Wolf’s decision to push the limits on what should be deemed adequate health care is so enraging.”

First off, once again you used a male pronoun. Michelle is a woman, you insensitive asshat. Second, she’s exactly right. I have no idea what your last sentence in the above quote means, as we ALL can claim this right; Health Care is not a privilege.

8) “Wolf put a lot of stock in medical experts, especially prison doctors, who testified that Kosilek might kill herself if denied the surgery. The prisoner has made some attempts. But the fact that Kosilek is drawing breath today after more than 20 years’ imprisonment — including a long period without hormone treatments — undermines that argument. If the goal is to keep Kosilek safe from self-harm, it can be done with psychiatric medication and careful observation.”

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. You acknowledge the fact that Ms. Kosilek has attempted suicide in the past, but think the fact that she failed to kill herself is somehow an indication that she won’t kill herself if denied the surgery? SHE’S ALREADY TRIED IT!!!! Seriously, I cannot even comprehend the level of mental gymnastics it takes to come up with that idea. I mean, if a non-prisoner attempted suicide multiple times, no sane person is going to think, “Well, they obviously don’t need a psychologist anymore!” Does the fact that she’s in prison suddenly change that? I think not.

9) “Many prisoners are stunningly manipulative. Some maim themselves in the hopes of receiving pain medication. Others weave elaborate cons because they have nothing else to do. There may be more going on in Kosilek’s mind than Wolf or the psychiatrists know. It’s another reason why Wolf should have looked for a more moderate way to ensure humane treatment for the prisoner.”

So now an addiction to pain medication is somehow comparable to a physical need? Or should I take the implication of the words “elaborate con” to mean you think Ms. Kosilek’s gender identity is a ruse? Either way, you’re dead wrong. She’s addicted to her hormone pills the same way an organ transplant patient is addicted to their anti-rejection medication. It’s not an addiction if it’s needed. And going a significant period without hormone pills doesn’t mean they’re not necessary, it means she’s a strong person. But besides, as you said before, she did try killing herself; there’s only so much strength a person can have.

10) “Let’s accept, however, that Kosilek suffers from a severe case of gender identity disorder. Had he not murdered his wife, he would be free to pursue a sex change operation that helps some people to improve their social lives, sexual relationships, job performance, and capacity for happiness. But what makes anyone think that such treatment goals apply to lifers?

Kosilek, a convicted killer, has been sentenced to prison to protect the public, not to reach her full potential as a woman.”

Wait, so her diagnosis of GID has been up for debate this whole time??? I wasn’t aware that a completely unqualified opinion writer for The Boston Globe had the ability to overturn a physician’s and mental health professional’s diagnosis, so thank you for enlightening me. But yes, let us accept reality for a second and consider what it means for an incarcerated person to get medical treatment. So, if she hadn’t murdered her wife, which I think we can all agree (using your aforementioned “common sense”) is a heinous act for which she does deserve prison time, you would grant her your permission to pursue surgery. Well I’m sure she appreciates your approval, since your opinion as a man obviously matters a great deal to Ms. Kosilek.

You know, a common theme I’m picking up in all of your references to GCS is that you think it’s done for aesthetic purposes, or for superficial reasons. GCS does more than improve social lives, sex, job performance and capacity for happiness; all of those come as a result from what GCS actually does. It rights an internal wrong, and sets in place the ability for a person to feel whole and true. It is not done so someone can live up to their full potential as a woman/man, but rather so that person will have the same chance you were given from birth to feel right, to feel like a complete human being. It’s true, she is a convicted murderer, and for her crime she deserves to have her freedom taken away, but taking away her freedom does not mean taking away her humanity. Instead, you would do so because you think trans* people are “icky”, and would rather us not infect your nice, everything-fits-in-perfect-little-boxes world. You would use your position and voice to strip away from somebody their very identity, to lord over them, decrying with your “holier than thou” attitude what is right and proper. Well, sir, since you’ve made your opinion of our community perfectly clear, let me make perfectly clear my opinion of you.

In the immortal words of George Takei,







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Rimi is a 25 year old transgirl currently residing in Michigan with her amazing girlfriend and the most adorable pug in existence. Her first degree was in math and physics for secondary education, though she is now pursuing a second degree in nursing due to an extreme lack of teaching opportunities for LGBT folk. She enjoys studying and writing about LGBTQA politics, secular humanism, human origins, and the impact of religiosity on cultural attitudes. In her spare time, she's a skydiver, science geek, movie nerd, and a gamer girl.

1 Comment

  1. September 15, 2012 at 11:33 am —

    Well done Rimi.

    I’ve engaged in discussion about this case in other venues and it isn’t easy. While Mr. Harmon’s take isn’t valid in the least, it is very much expected that a certain subset of cis-folks will be uncomfortable with the judge’s decision and make the same fallacious arguments Mr. Harmon makes.

    Unfortunately, there are transfolk who have internalized society’s transphobia to such an extent that they make arguments and hold positions identical to Mr. Harmon’s.

    And I find that just sad.

    Also, re medicare/medicaid… I know of two cases in Washington State where transwomen took the state to court after being denied GCS and the judges ruled that their GCS was a medical necessity and that medicaid had to pay for it.

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