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An Online Resource Library on Gender-Based Violence.

Strip searches, trauma, isolation: Trans men describe life behind bars

Friday, December 03, 2021

"By the time he ended up in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on insurance and theft charges, Tahj Graham was 33 and had been living as a man for nearly half his life. Born in 1985 as the youngest of three kids, Graham soon realized he was not like other children who had been assigned female at birth. 

'As early as 5 years old, I knew that something was different,' Graham, 36, said in a phone call from his home in Mansfield, a suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth.

He came out as a teenager, started taking hormones at 17 and had his breasts removed when he was 20 in a procedure known as 'top surgery.' Once he had undergone a medical transition, Graham said, he passed completely as a man. 

'Unless it was someone that I was dating, I never disclosed being trans,' he said. 

As he was transitioning, Graham’s life also moved forward in other ways. He started working toward a college degree, taking classes at other schools before enrolling in the University of Texas at Austin in 2006. After he tried out a couple of other majors, he finally settled on religion. 'I was given a Bible at age 7,' he said, and faith was 'just something I always felt.'

He had dreams of starting his own ministry and distributing Bibles around the world. However, in 2016, Graham was arrested for insurance fraud and was also under investigation for wiring himself about $90,000 from an ex-girlfriend’s bank account without her permission. In 2018, he pleaded guilty to both charges and was sentenced to three years in prison.

First, he was sent to a men’s prison — until, he alleges, guards started to perform invasive strip and cavity searches and he raised the alarm. 

'I was then transferred to a women’s unit, where the big nightmares occurred,' he wrote in an email. Over the next few months, he endured 'voyeuristic strip searches by female staff,' was forced to grow out his hair and was sexually harassed by other prisoners, he said. 'So many incidents occurred at the female unit I nearly lost count.'

Currently and formerly incarcerated transgender people, like Graham, are increasingly coming forward to discuss their difficult experiences behind bars, and over the past few years, news outlets have devoted considerably more space to their stories. The reporting, however, has focused primarily on trans women, who are incarcerated at a higher rate than any other segment of the LGBTQ community. Transgender men are also incarcerated at disproportionate rates: According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, about 10 percent of trans men have spent time in jail or prison — approximately twice the rate of U.S. adults overall."

Read the full article here.