If I ever had to go to prison, you can bet I'd call myself a woman to escape the horrors men face when they do time. Especially trans men, or small or effeminate men. But detention for women and girls brings its own torments. Most notoriously, women are raped by guards. And, according to a story from 365Gay, the girls at the two female facilities in New York State are subjected to constant, if smaller, abuses such as strip searches, verbal abuse and overuse of handcuffs.
Just as an aside, I have a hard time thinking that prison time isn't cruel and unusual punishment when we know that people are abused in these ways and denied decent health care. Doesn’t imagining yourself in jail for a year seem so awful as to be basically unimaginable and worth avoiding at all costs—even, say, pleading guilty to something you didn’t do, or turning on a friend who doesn't deserve it (which can be a real issue when drugs are involved—read Eric Schlosser's Reefer Madness)?
The 365Gay story mentions a recently settled suit in Hawaii and reports by Human Rights Watch and the ACLU on the New York facilities, which suggest that things are especially bad for trannies and queers. In Hawaii, several youth sued after being repeatedly threatened and humiliated, and in one case smeared with semen. The kids won. In New York, Alyssa Rodriguez was put in a boys ward, refused the hormones she'd been taking for years and punished for her feminine behavior. Now, she has sued and won. The facilities will enter a five-year agreement with Lambda Legal in which they will be schooled in LGBT sensitivity.
In a sense, though, the Hawaii decision is more exciting because it shows that even in states other than the few, the proud, the tolerant (California and New York) some baseline of regard for LGBT people is now considered normal. And mandatory. Maybe it's because I just started getting Google Alerts on trans issues, but it seems like a quiet trend is forming. New Jersey passed anti-discrimination laws for trans folk with its sell-out civil unions bill. And Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico and Rhode Island also include gender identity as a protected category.