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Transgender and incarcerated

Updated on July 1, 2015

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox as Sophia in Orange is the new Black (right). Her twin brother playing as Marcus (Sophia's birth identity, Left).
Laverne Cox as Sophia in Orange is the new Black (right). Her twin brother playing as Marcus (Sophia's birth identity, Left).

Orange is the new Black: Sophia

For the last few years, Orange is the new Black has been in our living rooms, tablets, Xbox's, cell phones and computers. If you haven't joined the worldwide binge yet then it's about time you jump in! The show follows Piper who appears to be a "good girl" on her way to the heterosexual alter. As she enters prison-hood we meet a vast variety of characters. One of which is a transgender woman, Sophia. Sophia is the prison hair dresser and is played by Laverne Cox. Sophia has inspired a deeper more realistic 'dig' into the real world of a transgender prisoner.


The rules and restrictions about where to house a transgender person are rather simple. The only way a transgender person can be housed as their "new physical sex" is if all their genitalia has been changed. If their birth genitalia is still intact then they will be housed as their birth sex.

i.e. If a woman born as a man is to be housed in a women's prison she would need to have all female genitalia, male genitalia completely removed.

Those who still have their birth genitalia intact do have options when being housed as their birth sex. One option is to be housed regularly with the other inmates. (A man born as a woman, female genitalia still intact, being housed in a female prison). He would identify as a man and would act like a man but, since he would still look like a woman, he would need to be housed with women. However, the inmate risks bullying, hazing, and other daily torture by the other inmates for being different. The other option is "Administrative Segregation". The inmate would be completely separated from any potential harm. However, they would also miss out on any social time, recreational, educational, or occupational benefits.

Hormone Treatment

When a person undergoes plastic surgery to change their birth genitalia they are then put on a strict hormone replacement therapy that upholds their new gender traits. These hormones are provided by prescription written by a licensed physician. However, in prison the inmates are not always given such privileges.

The inmate is only able to get these hormones if they are able to provide the correct documentation and have a physician advocate for them, most times from within the prison walls. In the past, prison officials could still deny the inmate their hormone therapy even if they have proper documentation of the hormones needed and the physician to back them up. In recent cases, the prisoners have been more successful (most likely because of the higher acceptance of LGBT).

The point...

It's understandable why there are certain rules and regulations in place for transgender inmates. However, I can still understand why it would seem demeaning and as though they don't deserve the same rights as everyone else. Sophia had already had the plastic surgeries to give her the lady parts she felt she was lacking when she was born a man. Therefore, she was incarcerated as a woman in a women's prison. She didn't need the segregation that would have been offered to her had she not had the surgeries. Honestly, I don't believe she would have taken it anyways!


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