‘We Live By Our Essence’: A Trans Prisoner Shares Their Poetry

“Trans Prisoner Day of Action on January 22 is a day to acknowledge the experiences of trans and other sex and gender-minority prisoners. It’s about collaboration. It is about forging new relationships and dismantling the isolation of prison. It’s about resistance to state violence. It’s about solidarity between those who experience the violence of the system firsthand and those for whom the state hasn’t come yet.
This annual event is being led by trans prisoners and their supporters from around the world. It is a chance for those on the outside to remember those behind bars, give real solidarity and support and raise awareness about issues facing trans prisoners. It is a chance for those on the inside to have a voice and organize together.
As queers we know the terror of scrutiny, disgust and isolation; we have all be denied the ability to live our lives. For trans people in prison, those problems are doubled by the physical and emotional restraints of a literal cage. For decades, early queer activists showed active solidarity and support for their imprisoned brothers and sisters — they wrote letters, had marches, and demanded not just that they be treated with respect and dignity, but their total and unconditional release. Queer and trans prisoners organized with each other and the outside world. Join us in reviving that tradition.” — Transprisoners.net

Today’s first-annual Trans Prisoner Day of Action and Solidarity was initiated by activist Marius Mason, a trans prisoner who, since 2009, has been serving a 22-year sentence in Texas federal prison for multiple acts of sabotage in defense of the environment and animal rights.

The day sheds light on two chilling realities: a disproportionately high rate of incarceration among trans individuals, and a high likelihood that trans prisoners will suffer abuse while behind bars. According to a report published last year by the National Center for Transgender Equality, nearly one in six transgender people (16%, including 21% of transgender women) has been incarcerated at some point in their lives — a far higher rate than that of the general population. This disparity, the report notes, is “driven by pervasive discrimination, disproportionate poverty, homelessness, participation in street economies, and bias and abuse by law enforcement officers.”

Trans people are also at high risk for abuse in prisons, jails, and juvenile detention. As the report states, “the categorical denial of transition-related medical care is common, as is prolonged isolation of trans people, which has been shown to have devastating effects on mental health and has been declared by the courts to be a type of torture.”

Mason, for their part, is serving time for a crime that falls squarely into the cross-hairs of “eco-terrorism,” a term developed by the FBI to justify lengthy incarcerations for political dissidents largely bent on radical acts of protest and property damage. (Investigative journalist Will Potter penned an entire book — Green Is The New Red — likening the systematic targeting of environmentalists and the “gross overreaching” of our justice system to the days of Mccarthyism.)

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By Nicholas Luck

Journalist Aviva Stahl reached out to her dear friend and comrade — Geri — when she first heard about this much-needed day to raise awareness about trans prisoner injustices. Stahl reached out to see if Geri wanted to send over some poetry for the event; Geri quickly sent a few works back. Geri (who, for safety reasons, has asked that her last name be withheld) is a 49-year-old trans woman incarcerated in New York, who was sentenced to 25 years for second-degree manslaughter. She’s been on the inside for over 20 years.

Says Stahl:

“I met Geri about two years ago, when I was working on a story about how solitary confinement affects trans women locked up in New York (you can read the end product on Solitary Watch here). It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have her in my life. Geri is a tireless activist for trans prisoners and provides much-needed peer support to others affected by sexual violence in prison. She is a brilliant thinker, a beautiful writer, a supportive friend, and one of the fiercest femmes I know.”

***

Being There
by Geri Q

“We convince by our presence.” — Walt Whitman

We live by our essence
our core spirits
seizing precedence
overruling socializing
moreover primary teaching.
That constant of conscience
over peer pressure — 
in light of, despite of
those splits and self-appointed watchers
seeking solid evidence of deviance — 
the slightest variance sniffed out.

We strive
to pace our own stride
to embody our own selves
our own unique identities
 — pressed against the obstacles
of obligatory uniformity
of compulsive conformity

— until we become
empowered — bloom
as bright flowers.
Standing tall — 
solid as flowers
to stand fast
against these powers
to shine light
like first stars
in the night
skies — expanses
of velvet darkness draped
to envelope and exploit
our slightest weakness
the merest hint of meekness
to pursue prey past breathless
to devour our lost dreams for breakfast.

No time, nor place
to behave reckless — yet
to stride forth regardless — 
the bounties of freedom priceless.

But few conflicts
so passionate
play out bloodless — less
to count those left loveless
Us faceless, oft
voiceless and marginalized
 — yet still in place

Struggling to
find some grace
to excavate safe
foxholes — shunning
the traps of pigeonholes
they would slot us in
which would rein us in
would spread us thin
and light on these battlegrounds

— or worse fates
of settling, safe feeling
yet stagnating in our
cozy Queer spaces
with forward progress
no trace of — 
no taste of victory
to hunger and lunge for
to yearn, bleed
and maybe die for.

Us very few who
will pop in
the most hostile faces
to carve and stake out
slots of our own — amidst their spaces
their sacred places
 — ‘till one day
no one can tell
of ours and theirs.
A legacy built with our lives
 — left for theirs.

***

Lead image: TransPrisoners.net

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