Prison can be a magical place for transgender people, especially once you get over the whole “rape” thing. That's according to an op-ed in The Daily Beast which suggests that Chelsea Manning - formerly known as Bradley Manning - might be treated like “royalty” as a transgender inmate in an all-male prison. The op-ed has already drawn criticism, prompting an editor's note in which The Daily Beast acknowledged the existence of prison rape but continued to ignore the horrific conditions experienced by transgender inmates in particular.
On August 22, The Daily Beast published an op-ed by columnist Mansfield Frazier titled, “How Will Chelsea Manning Be Treated In Prison?” The op-ed sought to downplay concerns that Bradley Manning - who recently announced her desire to be identified as a female named Chelsea - might be subject to violence and abuse once she begins her prison sentence for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.
According to Frazier - who bases his claims on his own experience in prison - the astronomical rates of rape and sexual assault against transgender prison inmates are overblown and exaggerated. In fact, in the original version of the piece, Frazier suggested most inmates who claim to be raped secretly want it:
[L]ife in prison is more complex than many statistics suggest. When I was in the joint, rape wasn't just something you could let happen to you.
Indeed, the vast majority of experienced convicts know that “true” rape is not a common occurrence in prison. That doesn't mean that homosexual sex doesn't occur--it certainly does. But it's really not that unusual for a new prisoner to show up on the compound and begin walking around the yard in pants far too tight. Before long they drop the soap in the shower, get a little close to another naked man, and then-- simply because they've never been able to come to terms with their own sexuality--tell anyone who will listen (but, interestingly enough, they usually never complain to the guards) that they were “raped.” And a week or two later it could happen again, and then again.
To further prove his point, Frazier states - without citing a shred of evidence - that the desire to have gay sex and claim it was rape is why many prisoners choose to go back to prison once they've been released:
Quiet as it's kept, this is one reason for high recidivism rates. In prison, closeted homosexuals can receive what they desire but are able to maintain to the world they really find such behavior disgusting; in this manner they don't have to take responsibility for what happened to them.
Frazier goes on to explain the litany of options transgender inmates have to make it by in prison. They can get “married” to prisoners like “that big, dreaded prison dude known as 'Bubba'” ! They can become prostitutes and become “prison rich” ! It's like a prison version of Pretty Woman, except instead of falling in love with Richard Gere, Manning would be forced to have sex with a bunch of other prison inmates for cigarettes.
Frazier concludes his op-ed by suggesting that, if she plays her cards right, Chelsea Manning might end up becoming the “queen bee” of her prison facility:
One thing is almost a certainty: celibacy probably won't be an option for Chelsea Manning, but she will have choices in regard to how she wants to spend her years behind bars. With that said, we need to keep in mind that one person's prison is another person's palace. Chelsea Manning could become the queen bee. [emphasis added]
You heard right; not having sex with men you don't want to have sex with “probably won't be an option,” but at least you'll get to have “choices” about who ends up raping you.
Frazier's column is so detached from the experiences of transgender inmates that it almost seems silly to try and correct him. Transgender inmates face levels of rape and sexual assault over 10 times as high as the rest of the prison population, to say nothing of the harassment and abuse they face from prison staff and the long-term denial of proper medical care. Anybody who's done actual research into the experiences of transgender inmates knows that being a transgender woman in an all-male prison isn't any person's “palace.” It's hell.
The Daily Beast has since revised Frazier's post, deleting the paragraphs about recidivism rates and inmates secretly wanting to be “raped” while adding en editor's note that reads:
This article is an opinion piece written by a former convict and based on his perceptions of life in federal prison. In its original version, it suggested that prison rape is rare. In fact, according to the advocacy group Just Detention International, 200,000 adults and children are sexually abused in American detention facilities every year. This trauma can carry serious emotional and physical consequences, including post-traumatic stress, depression, and the risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections.
It's unclear how The Daily Beast's editor's note does anything but make the publication of Frazier's op-ed even more problematic. The Daily Beast recognizes that prison rape occurs, but still chose to publish a piece suggesting that transgender people specifically don't struggle with sexual assault and abuse. By agreeing to publish Frazier's horrific op-ed, The Daily Beast helped whitewash the brutality experienced by one of the most vulnerable populations in the American criminal justice system.