06/10/11-by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
Ophelia De’lonta has filed a lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections in order to try and obtain a sex change operation. De’lonta, who is in prison on a number of charges, if fifty years old, and this past October, attempted to castrate herself in order to try and remove the last outward evidence that she had been born male. Such attempts are not uncommon among trans women. There is, of course, the danger of the resultant scar tissue ruining any future surgeries, bad disfiguration, and even death.
De’lonta acknowledges that if she loses this case, she will continue to try and castrate herself even if that means dying. She told the AP “That’s a possibility. But at the end I would have peace.”
The AP reported:
Experts say that De’lonta’s behavior is an unusual — but not surprising — manifestation of her disorder. At least 12 other inmates in Idaho, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, Oregon, Kentucky and North Carolina have castrated themselves over the past 14 years, and several others have tried, said psychiatry professor George R. Brown at East Tennessee State University.
“This is not a choice. Transsexuals are born and not made,” said Brown, an expert in gender identity disorder. “If you didn’t have this condition, why would you want to have your genitals removed, if not by a competent surgeon but by your own hand?”
While many with gender identity disorder wish to get rid of their genitals, the majority never act — often because hormones and other treatments help make them feel more comfortable, Brown said.
According to research by Brown, about 27,000 people nationwide have gender identity disorder. Experts estimate 500 to 750 Americans undergo the surgery each year, with hundreds more seeking the procedure abroad.
For many trans women, the tendency is to attack their penis and testicles, and for trans men, the tendency is to attack their breasts.
Last October, after fighting the urge to castrate herself for several weeks after having not had them be as severe for a couple of years, De’lonta tried to do the surgery that the prison system would not give her using three green disposable razors. De’lonta is in prison for trying to steal enough money to have her surgery as well as a number of other crimes. She is also housed specifically in a men’s prison because there are no special facilities in the United States for transsexual prisoners.
This is the second time that De’lonta has had to sue over her gender identity disorder or gender dysphoria. In 2004, she was able through a court order to obtain hormone replacement therapy and that has produced noticeable changes to her body including the growth of breasts. She is not, however, allowed feminine clothing nor to grow out her hair in a female manner.
There are around 750 inmates who have GID of the more than 2 million in the prison system across the nation according to Brown, but this was according to numbers he was able to research in 2007. Inmates in several states have sued to try and get the surgery, but all but one of them has failed and one is still pending.
The AP reported:
Federal courts have said prisons must provide adequate medical care, and that they must protect inmates from themselves. But correctional officials and lawmakers balk at using taxpayer money for sex-change operations that can cost up to $20,000.
A Massachusetts bill to ban the use of public funds for sex change procedures, hormones and other treatments has been before a joint committee since January. Wisconsin lawmakers passed the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act in 2006, but a federal judge declared it unconstitutional last year. The state appealed, and a decision is expected soon.
Virginia Republican Delegate Todd Gilbert has said that if De’lonta’s lawsuit is successful, he would seek to outlaw the use of state funds for the procedure saying “The notion that taxpayers are going to fund a sex change is just ridiculous.” Of course, Virginia houses its inmates by birth sex not by gender, and Virginia’s
The AP concluded their article by saying:
Advocates argue that treating repeated self-mutilations costs more than the surgeries. De’lonta, for example, has needed expensive airlifts three times for self-inflicted wounds.
The hormones and other treatments had kept her urges in check for years. She snapped Oct. 8 when an officer used a male pronoun toward her, despite a court order that prison workers refer to her as a woman.
“I screamed `She, damnit!’ becoming so overwhelmed it was hard to breathe,” De’lonta said.
Looking down, she felt repulsed and helpless. She cried herself to sleep, then hours later she prepared for her surgery attempt by covering her cell door’s window with paper and putting towels around the commode.
Using knowledge gained from mail-order anatomy books, De’lonta cut on and off for three hours before she passed out. It took 21 stitches to repair the damage.
“It’s like if this doesn’t exist, then I won’t have any more problems,” she said.
Born Michael Stokes, she didn’t understand from an early age why other girls’ names were different from hers, or why she felt no connection to the boys in her gym class.
She constantly looked in mirrors and couldn’t understand why the reflection was so unlike how she envisioned herself.
Years ago she legally changed her name. Ophelia was chosen for the Shakespearean woman who died for love; De’lonta because it was the last name of a slain friend; middle name Azriel for the angel who helps one cross over.
De’lonta first tried to cut herself when she was 12. By 17, she was robbing banks with the hopes of getting enough money to have a sex change operation. By 18, she was in prison, sentenced to more than 70 years for robbery, drugs, weapons and other charges.
She is eligible for parole this year, but a wide range of prison infractions mean it’s unlikely she’ll be released any time soon. Asked why she can’t just wait until she’s free to get the surgery, De’lonta says she would if she could.
“This is not something that I have any control over,” she says. “This is just how I was born.”