The People’s Prejudice v. Michelle Kosilek
“He says he’s a woman trapped in a man’s body. His argument’s not with the taxpayers of Massachusetts, it’s with his creator,” said Sheriff Thomas Hodgson of Bristol County in a FOX 25 interview that aired September 17.
He was, of course, referring to the case that passed through federal court earlier this month in which Michelle Kosilek sued the Department of Corrections to provide her with a sexual reassignment surgery, and won.
Presiding Judge Mark Wolf also recently awarded Kosilek—who is anatomically male but has been undergoing hormone treatment and living as a woman since 1990—the opportunity to be reimbursed for the legal fees she has spent since she began fighting the Department of Corrections 12 years ago. Kosilek is entitled to these fees because, as Judge Wolf wrote, the Department of Corrections has been and continues to violate her Eighth Amendment right to freedom from “cruel and unusual punishment” by denying her surgery. Judge Wolf cited a previous decision in which the Department of Corrections was forced to pay legal fees for Muslim prisoners who had sued for the right to halal meals.
The case was a landmark not only for prisoners’ rights, but also in how it defines transsexualism. As Hodgson’s quote makes painfully clear, transsexuals are often seen as abominations to nature, or people who would dare question and defy their “creator’s” infallibility. Hodgson expressed the urgent need for someone—the governor or state attorney general, he wasn’t sure who and didn’t seem to much care—to appeal the decision immediately.
“You can’t send a message to people that [...] if the only way you can afford to get, for example, a deformity corrected, if you’re not a citizen, it can’t be the message that the thing you do is go to jail and kill your wife,” Hodgson said.
Even if one ignores the completely inappropriate xenophobia, Hodgson’s reference to transsexualism as a deformity is simultaneously a reflection of two seemingly opposing beliefs: that transsexuality occurs naturally, and that it is wrong in the natural order of things. Recognizing transsexuality as something inherent, as opposed to something decided or conceived of later in life, is an important step toward achieving social equality for transsexuals. In this case, Kosilek was diagnosed as having “gender-identity disorder,” or GID, which, because it’s medical, obviously cannot be disputed by Hodgson. But the Sheriff still referred to Kosilek’s transsexualism as an abnormality, and, no matter what his semantics are, he believes that this is, somehow, a medical condition that is not worth taxpayers’ money. What the Sheriff seems to have missed is that Kosilek’s attorneys have offered to waive their fees, minus certain out-of-pocket expenses such as hiring experts to legitimize Kosilek’s GID, if the Department of Corrections agrees not to appeal the decision. So, the threat to taxpayers may not be more than the cost of Kosilek’s surgery. But Hodgson disagrees with that cost, as well, stating that “we have kids in children’s hospitals that could use that money.”
The fact that Kosilek has tried to castrate herself and attempted suicide twice doesn’t seem to justify the price of her surgery to Hodgson.
But, if we’re going to put this into monetary terms and phrase the fight in terms of dollars instead of ethics, then let’s talk brass tacks: Earlier in August, when Hodgson asked the Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez for higher salaries for his staff, he identified the Bristol County detention facility as a possible source of funding. The center brings in $8 million annually by housing illegal immigrant detainees, according to Brockton’s Enterprise News. (Suddenly, the xenophobia falls into perspective.) Kosilek’s surgery, at most, should cost $20,000. That leaves $7,980,000 for Hodgson to pay his staff and then some, which renders his financing argument a moot point. This debate can only be about human rights and differing definitions of “justice.”
but because of the potential for scandal, stating that former Corrections Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy was afraid to “provoke public and political controversy, criticism, scorn, and ridicule.”
These, of course, being things that Judge Wolf is facing from the likes of Senator Scott Brown and Sheriff Hodgson. Hodgson is representative of the backlash against Judge Wolf’s rulings, and his arguments reflect two conflicts at the base of this issue: whether prisoners should receive proper medical treatment for life-threatening conditions, and whether transsexuality and GID can be considered a matter of life or death for those who experience them.
Short of arguing with The Great Judge, as Hodgson suggests, these are issues we humans are just going to have to battle out in court.