Deena Kaye Myers was born with male genitalia, but due to severe birth defects was surgically altered to be female. Hers is not the most straightforward gender history, but her birth certificate reads (very clearly) that she is a woman.
Which is why Myers filed a $25 million lawsuit against the Virginia prison system for not allowing her to be transferred to a female facility—despite ample evidence that she identifies both physically and mentally as a female.
As she wrote in one formal complaint to the prison:
“I want to make it clear to you, I am not a [hermaphrodite or transsexual], I AM A FEMALE. My birth certificate states my gender as female. … I [do not] belong in an all-male prison.”
Myers hasn’t always identified as a woman, however. When she was arrested in 2003 for armed robbery, she went by the name “Scott Myers” and identified as male. (During the court proceedings, she was listed under both “Kaye” and “Scott.”)
But soon after her arrest she began to question her identity, ultimately concluding that her true gender was female. Before her jail sentence had even began, she explained her situation to prison authorities, however, she was denied her request to transfer to a woman’s prison.
Since then, Myers claims to have been subject to “invasion of privacy” and “various degrees of sexual harassment.” Amanda Hess from TBD reported the infractions:
At times, Myers—who requires use of a wheelchair—says she was forced to crawl on the ground to access her bed and shower. Once, the suit claims, a male official with “notebook and camera” visited Myers to “look at any tattoos Myers had … ordered Myers to disrobe completely … then proceeded to take photographs, both close up and full body shots, of her body including her chest and pelvic regions.” In 2008, she says she contemplated suicide.
Myers says she was subjected to repeated strip searches and body cavity searches by male corrections officials. In 2009, she had her birth certificate sent to a prison counselor to prove her sex at birth. Myers says the counselor was “shocked” that the document listed her as female. This year, Myers says she underwent several more genital exams in the prison. According to the suit, one Department of Corrections doctor “seemed to still be in ‘shock’ from the first exam to not find a penis but rather a vagina.” In August, Myers underwent a blood test; her suit claims that her “hormone levels clearly reflect that of a biological female.”
Despite this physiological evidence and the assignment on her birth certificate, Myers’ requests were all denied.
The gender politics behind this one are, in short, a doozy. On the one hand, it’s strangely heartening that the prison system assigned Myers based on her male gender identity (and not her physiology) at the time of sentencing. But then why the inflexibility afterward?
It’s an issue that’s been faced before and will be faced again. And there’s no simple solution. Gender identity is a vital question when it comes to categorizing people in the gray-area world of the prison system. It speaks to the human civil right to self-identify (even after trying to jack a car).
And when it comes to the complex human mind (and heart), is it too much to ask that a system be able to accommodate someone’s gender?
—Image P. Kevin Morley/Times-Dispatch