One of the big discussions around the idea of transness is the argument that gender is innate and that person transforming from one gender to another doesn’t change their innate reactions and decision making process.
Many transphobic people believe that physical attempts to affirm one’s preferred gender is just that, a physical change. They believe that a transman is merely a woman who has cut off her breasts and mutilated her vagina and vice-versa for men.
Many believe that as more people become trans and are followed in public spaces, their behaviour will lay credence to this theory. This is why the case of Jessica Winfield (formerly known as Martin Ponting) has become a strong talking point in gender circles.
Winfield was convicted for two counts of rape in the United Kingdom in 1995 and then was sentenced to life imprisonment. In the course of her sentence, she announced she was trans and applied for a partial gender reassignment surgery, which cost her about £10,000. The exact details of what was done isn’t clear but we do know that her penis wasn’t operated on. After the sex change, Winfield received a disproportionate amount of unsolicited sexual advances from male inmates in her mens-only prison and applied for a transfer to a women’s prison. Her application was approved and she was moved in March this year from male-only HMP Whitemoor, in Cambridgeshire, to HMP Bronzefield in Surrey.
However, it was recently revealed by prison authorities that Winfield had been segregated from other female inmates when it was discovered she was making unwanted sexual advances at them. According to sources quoted by The Sun, “prison bosses were worried she would try it on with inmates and their fears have come true”.
However, The Independent reports that “a source close to the situation understands that Winfield had been segregated, but not for inappropriate advances” made to other female inmates.
Although prison authorities do not comment on individual inmates, stories have filtered out that the authorities had contemplated creating a special accommodation for Winfield when she was transferred because of her criminal history and her reputation as a serial rapist and decided against it, fearing legal action.
Winfield was able to change her sex and ask to change prisons thanks to legislation passed in 1999 and 2009. Her segregation now brings to the fore several important questions about the rights of transpeople in prison and if previous criminal history needs to be considered before transpeople rights are revoked in prison.
Dr Jane Hamlin, president of national transgender support group The Beaumont Society, speaking to The Independent provides a more wholesome way to view the situation.
“Sensationalising the story isn’t helpful to anybody. I get letters from trans women in prison who are very upset due to verbal abuse and this story doesn’t help them. The fact that Winfield is trans is irrelevant, if she’s offended in prison she should be treated as any other inmate would be treated in the same circumstances, whether they are a man, woman or trans.”