I’ve known that I am a woman since I was fours old. Before I entered prison in Illinois, I had lived my truth as a woman and received medical treatment for my gender dysphoria for many years. Being told that I am a man and treated as though I were male, being denied the medical care I needed and had relied upon for years, and subjected to degrading and dehumanizing conditions were extremely painful experiences that I never want to repeat.
As a child, there were so many nights that I went to sleep and prayed that I would wake up as a girl. It was difficult going to school because I felt like I could not reveal who I was to the other kids. They treated me as a boy and used a male name and pronouns for me. That is really painful memory for me. It was a very lonely experience.
When I was 17, I finally was able to begin living as the woman that I am. I was also able to connect with the larger LGBTQ community in Chicago and meet more girls like me. I discovered that the pain and anguish I experienced because my womanhood did not line up with the male gender I was assigned at birth is a medical condition called gender dysphoria. I was able to start medical treatment in the form of hormone therapy and social transition to living and presenting full time as a woman.
Unfortunately, I faced many struggles and discrimination in my early years. I was turned away from jobs because of being transgender, and felt rejected from so many aspects of society. I didn’t know how to survive. There was no path laid out for me and I made some choices that I have come to regret. In 2005, I was sent to prison for forging checks. What I did was wrong and I know that. I’ve paid my debt to society and have been on a path that I consider healthy and righteous since I was released from prison in 2015. I thank my friends, family and God for keeping me on this path.
When I arrived in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), I had been on doctor-prescribed and supervised hormone therapy for over a decade, including while I was held in Cook County Jail prior to being transferred to IDOC. I told the intake people right away that I am a woman and needed to continue taking the hormones my doctors had prescribed for me. Cook County had even sent me to IDOC with some hormones so that I would be able to continue taking those until IDOC medical staff prescribed them for me. The nurse took those hormones away from me and threw them away. She said: “We are not going to give those to you, we don’t go by what the Cook County system does.” I went nearly three months without any hormone treatment causing me severe depression, suicidal thoughts, hair regrowth, skin changes, pain in my breasts, and night sweats. I was terrified, too, of the ways in which denying me the hormones my body was used to receiving could put my health at serious risk. I watched my truth be denied by those in charges of my care and felt erased in every way.
When I finally succeeded in persuading IDOC to give me hormones, they gave me a lower dosage than what I need. The nurse said, “I don’t have any experience with this, I don’t feel comfortable treating you and providing you with hormones, I’ll just give you what I think you should have.” My medical records reflected my hormone dosage prior to coming to IDOC, but IDOC refused to give me what my previous doctors had concluded that I needed. They also did not do regular blood tests to monitor my hormone levels to protect me from the kinds of problems that can occur if those levels are too high or too low. They didn’t seem to care if I lived or died. They were disgusted by me and made that clear.
We are human beings and deserve to be treated fairly. We deserve to be recognized as who we are and given the medical treatment that we need to survive. It is that simple.
And that is why I am speaking out on behalf of this lawsuit – I am not a plaintiff, but I want to stand up for all the women in Illinois prisons who are transgender right now going through their own personal hells. There is no reason for our state to treat anyone like this and to cause such pain to people. The Illinois prison system needs to do better for the health and safety of the people in their care.
All these years later, I am still traumatized by what I went through in prison. Yes, I made a mistake and had to serve my time, but I don’t think that I deserved to suffer being denied the healthcare I needed just because I was in prison. No one deserves this inhumane treatment.
Tatyana Moaton is a community health educator and lives in Chicago.