Sex Change in Prison

This is a tough one.

Robert Kosilek aka Michelle is convicted of murdering his wife. The judge instructed Kosilek to be granted and provided a sex change operation, since it’s the only adequate treatment for his gender identity disorder.

Most of the reactions to the judge’s ruling were extremely negative, and even vicious. Many instructed the judge to receive treatment for his mental disorder. Those who were in favor were an extremely small minority.

What to do?

Michelle/Robert Kosilek tried to commit suicide. He also tried to castrate himself. There’s no doubt that Robert cannot live with a male identity. Since many health insurance companies provide for gender change operations, we can see it’s a commonly allowed medical expense.

Moreover, we assume that prisoners – even serial killers, are going to receive treatment for illnesses, such as cancer, which can easily reach beyond the hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the severity of the disease.

But, in a time when the economy is faltering; when people are hurting financially, and with many people unaccepting of transgenders – this case is creating a hateful reaction.

Like it or not, living in a body that feels like an aberration is an extremely painful existence. The issue seems to revolve around our feelings towards prisoners, the money spent on them, and probably much more so because Michelle nee Robert is a murderer.

Would we have been more sympathetic if she were incarcerated for stealing food for her starving children? I don’t know.

Or maybe our negativity has to do with our aversion to transgenders in general, and castration in particular?

I only know that this issue elicited a volume of hate mail, the intensity of which was shocking (to me).

I wonder – would the reaction have been less extreme if the country was prospering? Or would the reaction have been more charitable if we had more exposure and familiarity to the issues and the pain of the transgender population?

Would the reaction to the Kosilek case be different if we looked at prisons as more than just a place to put people away, but rather as a place which has a declared purpose to rehabilitate?

In the meantime, the judge whose ruling was to allow the operation, is getting more hate mail than the murderer. I guess we want our judges to represent our long-held beliefs, and this time the crowd is shouting “NO”.

I purposefully held back from expressing my opinion.

What’s yours?


About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in Gender Identity Disorder, Prison, Transgender, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Sex Change in Prison

  1. Barbara Cooper says:

    My opinion….. I think when you commit murder and are convicted you lose your rights. You cannot rehabilitate a murderer- the act is done. Prisons should not be like resorts, supplying prisoners with all they need or want. I’m sorry for this man being unable to accept his male body, but I would have had compassion for him had he not killed another human being. My statement
    has nothing to do with the economy being good or bad, I’m still angered that we have supported Charles Manson in prison for the past 40 years through many different economic states. He should have received the death sentence and had it carried out a long time ago. He will never be rehabilitated or receive parole. So, let me get this straight. We have a man who is unhappy with his body and therefore himself, in his unhappy state, he murdered his wife and now the “justice” (and I use the term loosely) system had granted his one wish, so he can live out his days as a happy woman. How is this just? He wants to castrate himself? Hand him a knife. He wants to commit suicide? Let him. But give him his wish? Hell, no!
    And for the record, I have absolutely nothing against transgender people. I think they should be helped in any way they need to make them comfortable in their own skin. But a murderer? Let him rot in jail. He contributed nothing to society, so society owes him nothing in return.

    • rachel bar says:

      I know that most of the responses to this issue are very similar to yours, Barbara. For me, the bigger issue is about the prison system and its goals. You raised some troubling facts. No question that Manson is a big question mark, but is he normal to begin with? Many murderers can have a psychotic episode, but they are not psychotic. At the same time, there are many who murder because they hold no valure to human life. Strange to say that, but there are different kind of murderers, and they are not all alike. But again, for me the first issue is the concept behind prison, and its role in society.

      • Barbara Cooper says:

        Prison’s role in society is to keep murderers and criminals off the streets and to punish them for their crimes. To protect society. We owe the prisoners nothing. I’m not talking about those imprisoned for getting caught with a joint in their possession- in my opinion, they shouldn’t even be in prison. I’m talking about hard core criminals- murderers, rapists, and child molesters. Lock em up and throw away the key! (especially the repeat offenders)

      • rachel bar says:

        Dear Barbara, no one is going to accuse you of hiding your opinions:) I love that about you.

  2. Stephanie Kirschner says:

    When he committed murder he forfeited his rights. We’re not responsible for making him happy. It’s outrageous that our school budgets are being looted, tuition is being raised at our universities
    and more is being spent on prisons than education.

  3. Peter G says:

    Regrettably, I agree with Stephanie and Barbara. My reaction is primitive, because this is a primitive situation. In my opinion, this isn’t a person the team needs to nurture. Quite the contrary.

    • rachel bar says:

      This seems to be a gut reaction. However, when we move beyond our anger towards the murderer, should we look at the goal of prison and the process of being a prisoner?

  4. Amy says:

    Ooh, I’m going to go out on a limb here. I think the judge made the right call. A judge & jury at Kosilek’s sentencing deemed her worthy of rehabilitation via the prison system. It seems if we assess someone as possibly capable of achieving rehabilitation, we are also accepting the responsibility to provide whatever treatments will facilitate that person’s rehabilitation. If we’re not going to do this perhaps we should not have the philosophy of rehabilitation in our prison system anymore, or our prison system at all. Perhaps we should revert back to the Code of Hammurabi, practice an “Eye for an Eye” mentality and kill every murderer without exception? The recommended medical and psychiatric treatment for Gender Identity Disorder is hormone treatment and sex-reassignment surgery. Why should we treat the conditions of other prisoners in the correctional system (in the spirit of rehabilitation and humane treatment), and not hers? Investing in the education and correctional systems is an investment in humanity and the hope that we can continue to evolve socially and ethically.

  5. rachel bar says:

    Yes, Amy, it seems that what most people want, including some here, is to ignore him completey. I loved your comment: “Perhaps we should revert back to the Code of Hammurabi, practice an “Eye for an Eye” mentality and kill every murderer without exception?”

    • Jim Palmer says:

      I am with Barbara on this one, what we need here is a little common sense . Amy’s idea of rehab is out dated as to state and federal prison systems…… State prisons have never been big on rehab….The Federal system gave up on rehab programs in the early 1980’s when they abolished the parole system. Now if you get 5 years you do the 5 years with the Fed’s…… Amy’s thought about an eye for an eye and a foot for a foot etc, has been around since Genesis, through Greek and Roman law and even into the Christian bible .. It was meant to be a MAXIMUM punishment not a cut and dried mandatory sentence……Having said that, it seems that most experts on the idea of rehab for sex crimminals is futile

      Who is Hammurabi ??? never heard of this guy..Maybe you could enlighten me….

  6. This is a toughie. I always feel, who am I to judge? Also, I have a problem with killing. I realize the expense keeping murderers in prison. A sex change operation in jail sounds so over the top but then again, I’m not the one in that kind of pain and confusion.

    Hmm…food for thought Rachel. In any event, it’s all very upsetting.

    • rachel bar says:

      That’s why it was so hard for me to state my opinion, Susannah. I want our society to treat mental illness or emotional pain as any other illness, and yet we’re far from it. On the other hand, when we deal with a murderer, it’s hard to feel compassion. Bottom line is that I believe he should get the the operation.

      • It’s a pity he didn’t get it before. The whole thing is disturbing on many levels. Mental illness is right up there with any other, you are very right about that.

  7. katzideas says:

    I feel people are so ignorant about what it’s like to be mentally ill or similar issues especially sex and gender ones.but find some people with a convicted criminal in their family and then you may find out some facts about what their life was like…And prison must rehabilitate otherwise someone may commit more crimes afterwards…Yet,it is a topic unimaginable for public discussion twenty years ago.

  8. jamielee512 says:

    I am retired 30 year Law Enforcement. I am Trans. No one pays for my estrogen. No one pays for my SRS, Why in the name of God, would we expect Society to pay for a convicted Murder, who by the way is only alive because of a plea bargain. I think this is a slap in the face to the Transgendered community! Does the woman, that he viciously murdered have any rights?
    All I can say for that SOB is Boo Hoo, Now go finish the job and kill yourself for real!

    I am Jamie Lee, Ex Veteran, Ex Law Enforcement, A Genetic Transsexual woman!

    My God only in the Unites States! Ask his wife, if he should be able for tax payers to pay for his operation, when she says yes, then cut it off.

    Jamie Lee

  9. rachel bar says:

    Thank you so much Jamie Lee for your response. I took the liberty to reblog your introduction to your blog.

  10. As a transperson who has to pay for all my medical expenses myself, I am on the fence with this. Like Jamie Lee, I am appalled that a convicted murderer can get their medical care, including transition which may involve therapy, hormone treatment and all the monitoring bloodwork, and surgeries, for free. I work three jobs to support my family and none of my transition is covered by my insurance. That seems highly unfair to me.

    On the other hand, I can see two positives here: 1. This may open the door for transpeople to get insurance coverage for their medical care and 2. It sets a precedence for other transgender prisoners who need medical care to get the services they need.

    Thank you for writing about this.

    • rachel bar says:

      Thanks for your comment, and my apology for taking so long to respond. I was on vacation.

      It seems like most peple agree with you. I do think, though, that there are some insurance companies that cover the operation and the hormones. I’m not sure about which ones.

      I, for myself, could not reach a decision about the matter, but it was an important topic to write about.

  11. ShimonZ says:

    I believe there is something ridiculous and outrageous about the amount of time and money that society is called upon to invest in criminals, compared to the resources dedicated to the victims of their crimes. The victim of this murderer can no longer be helped. But would not this money be better spent on the victims of other violent crimes?

    • rachel bar says:

      I would argue with you, Shimon, if I was certain about the efforts to rehabilitate criminals, and if the data about it was positive and conclusive. Since it seems like most of the time, criminals leave prison to commit more crimes, your suggestion seem to make more sense.

  12. I’m rereading all these comments. COMPASSION keeps coming to the front of the line. I feel sorry for everyone even those who commit vicious crimes. There was a time when they were innocent babes lolling in their crib or playing in a school yard. I always ask myself, what happened then I pray for them. I always think with my background it could have been me. COMPASSION, even for criminals and the gendered confused that has to be so, so painful.

    By the way, you were very brave to write this.

  13. I am going to reply to this situation one more time. I was born in 1949, as with the dynamics of any Transsexual, I felt I was a girl in a boys body. I had to hide that from my father, mother and everyone in my life. Because back then this was a forbidden to be acknowledged. I Joined the Military to try and force these feeling out of me and be the man that society expected. I then got married to a wonderful woman. Although my gender was different my sexual preference was for women. So I married her, and when I got out of the Military, went into Law Enforcement. I went into it for two reasons, one to try and force these feminine feelings from me and two, because I believed. I believed that I wanted to protect peoples freedoms and rights. I believed I could make a difference. 20 years into my marriage, I finally had to courage to tell my wife about me, but in fear of losing her. To my surprise she reluctantly accepted me at first. But I had to hide from Society and my own children and friends, about who I truly was.

    I was in Law Enforcement for 30 years, putting my life in danger every day, with the dredges of Society, with my family fearful ,that one day I may never come home again.

    When I reached 50 years of age, going through, so much loneliness, pain, sadness, desperation, because I couldn’t be who I was born to be. I presently have been on hormones and estrogen injections, every two week for the last 7 seven years. To have the SRS, Sexual Reconstructive Surgery, it costs, approximately $20,000.00! I was a Law abiding Citizen. I respected people, places and things. I know the both sides of this story. I am Transsexual, just like that SOB! I know what prisons are like. You see the other facts are that are unwritten is this! That pathetic, human being, is sitting as we speak in protective custody! WHY? Because if he stepped into General congregation he would be killed. But, probably before being killed, his butt would have been turned into the size of a Tractor Trailer inner tube! So here this coward sits, in this situation, and there is no way out. But AH! There is one. Claim that he is trans, have the operation, and then he can legally be transferred to a women’s prison. And happy, happy, joy, joy.

    Someone said here that a Judge ruling on his behalf would be a positive thing for me as a Transsexual woman. And It would! Does it change anything for the woman he viciously murdered? Bleeding hearts are bleeding hearts, until they are attacked by some piece of crap like him, then they would call me to protect them. Mental Health issues, what is new? Every one that goes to jail all of a sudden have mental health issues. And if any one really wonders where GOD is you can find him in Prison. Because everyone incarcerated finds God there!

    You want to show sympathy, you want to show human compassion, then pay for my SRS.! I was the one, that put MY LIFE in danger to protect you!


    Would you like to go the rest of your life knowing that you only got this operation because of a beast who murdered a woman! It just occurred to me, I get it! It is Poetic Justice! KILL A WOMAN-MAKE ME A WOMAN! How sad, give him an injection, not of hormones, but a lethal one……………………………………………………………………………………..

    Jamie Lee
    A Genetic Female

  14. rachel bar says:

    Thanks, Susannah. I did not feel brave, but I did feel that it’s an issue that needs to be discussed again and again.

    Thanks for reminding us about compassion. In the midst of our anger and disdain of the criminal, we tend to forget our humanity.

  15. It is a complex issue, no doubt. I have issues with transsexual surgery simply because it is such an assault on the body. The folks I know who have had it seem to suffer from a lot of health problems because of the forced changes to the physical body which is different than the orientation of the mind. Oddly, before we had surgery for this, people learned to cope. I often think that modern medicine runs way beyond what the mind (we’re still pretty primal, folks) can deal with.

    I was very tomboyish as a child and through life. I am more like a man in my ‘fix it” orientation. That being said, I live my life as it is. I was born female, I shall die female. I play the hand I’ve been dealt. I have other issues. I would not identify myself as a man in a woman’s body, but as a child I might have. That said, for those with the problem I can only wish them well. Few of the transgendered seem to make a complete transition (to me) as the body has matured and it is darn difficult to turn a 6’4″ lantern jawed, tough guy into an attractive woman. Sometimes I think the Emo kids who were often so gender neutral had it right. Androgyny is the name of the game.

    Back to the issue. As an attorney I look at this in terms of cruel and unusual punishment. It is not. If he were a person with no funds on the streets of the city he could not get sexual reassignment surgery. As a prisoner he still has basic rights – to get an abscessed tooth fixed, to get medication routine illnesses – high blood pressure, headache, diabetes, etc. If hard of hearing he would have a right to a hearing aid and he is entitled to glasses. All of these things are normal medical care. Sexual reassignment surgery is extraordinary. Yes, he’s got psychiatric problems because he feels trapped in the wrong body. Yes, he might kill himself. He has the right to psychiatric treatment to help him with those feelings. I don’t believe he has the right to get a gender reassignment surgery. It has nothing to do gay/lesbian/bi/transgender issue – it has to do with what his basic rights are. He is incarcerated and is entitled to be fed, housed, and given basic medical care.

    He was not going to be sentenced to death – this is Massachusetts we’re talking about – we do not have a death penalty – and if we did then we don’t have it now. So his fate is to die in prison. If he choses to suicide then he has made a choice. If he gets aggressive cancer then he should be given palliative care that is compassionate. The point is for him to die in prison – according to the sentence of life without the possibility of parole. If he had the money to pay for his own care then no problem – he could get his surgery, get plastic surgery, hair removal, the whole shtick. But he is a felon who is serving life without parole.

    Not that it matters, as I won’t make the decision, but I oppose the surgery based upon those grounds. Unless we are willing to give free surgery to every American who decides they need it then we have no reason to provide it to him. He is like any other poor person who can’t afford it. Yes, he’s got a problem. Let’s give him the psych support he needs and let it go. Further, having worked with prisoners and former prisoners as a social worker, this appears to me to be the extremely manipulative behavior so many of them engage in. IMO if he gets the surgery that will not be the end of things – he will then have been rewarded and we’ll see an entire range of future demands. Happens all the time.

    I don’t see lawyers going to bat for poor transexuals on the street who are desperate for help. I have great compassion for anyone in that situation, but I’ve also known individuals who cross dressed and lived the life of the other gender without ever considering surgery. In life we are dealt a hand of cards and there are many ways to play them. We can fold, we can bluff, we can discard and pick up and hope for the best. He is extorting – do this or I will kill myself. I can have compassion for the suffering human being without being an enabler. Guess it is also the 12 stepper in me coming out. Got a problem? Talk to your higher power about it. HP always has an answer and it doesn’t involve extorting someone else – or killing someone else – to get the solution.

    Just saying…

  16. rachel bar says:

    This is one of the most interesting comments I’ve ever read. Your perspective is unique and your expertise, being an attorney, only adds to the personal experience. You present your point of view wisely and logically, taking in consideration the emotional, legal, biological and spiritual views on the matter.
    As I stated originally, I could not come to a decision myself but reading your view convinced me to see it your way.

    Brilliantly positioned!

    • Jamie Lee says:

      Rachel, Is it possible to see it my way now? Jamie

      • rachel bar says:

        I’m not sure what you mean by your question, Jamie. Some people will see it your way and some will not. That’s how the human race it. As for me, I agree with you, although I agree with the attorney that changing the body so drastically cmight create long term health problems, specifically due to the use of estrogen. We know that women who take estrogen supplements after menapose show greater incidence of cancer. I don’t know how it applies to Transgenders because I doubt that there’s a medical research on it.

  17. Jamie Lee says:

    I swore to myself that I would never revisit this story, and darn it, here I am! Let me expose myself a little for the purpose of this story. Something that I have never done before! I am in my 60’s, married to a wonderful woman for over 40 years, who has persevered with me in all my trials and tribulations! We have two wonderful children.
    Since I was born, I knew that I was different; however, I was a coward, who didn’t have the Courage to be! I went into the Military, to make myself a man in everyone’s eyes.. When I got out of the Military, I went into Law Enforcement, to be a man’s man, and to drive the feminine feelings from me! Approximately 30 years ago, I went into State Parole.
    In the course of my career, I have arrested and dealt with, Murder’s, Rapists, Sex Offenders, Domestic Violence, and much, much more dealing with the dredges of our Society and the collateral damage which the left behind. I have stood on the edge of the Abyss; I have faced death and guns being pointed at me. a multitude of times, as well, as me pointing it at Criminals. I am burned out and exhausted. We are part of a Society where Criminals have rights and victims HAVE NONE! How sad, because of the “bleeding hearts” of our world.
    All these years, I hide my core, from people and including myself. The feminine feelings in me never subsided; they always grew like an “Abscessed Tooth”. A year before I retired I took my service revolver and was going to kill myself. Basically, because of Society, which I protected, could not accept diversity! At that point I decided I was going to survive, and work on, who I was meant to be with “two spirits”
    At that point, I told wife. And to this day she is at my side transitioning along with me. I am trying to have my children accept me as a “Genetic Transsexual Woman” If you wish to follow my struggles, visit my blog, which is about my life! But some of the readers, must understand that is because of your unacceptance of me as who I am, that I suffer more!
    First of all, with the upmost respect, I wish to address a statement that the Attorney made:
    “It is a complex issue, no doubt. I have issues with transsexual surgery simply because it is such an assault on the body. The folks I know who have had it seem to suffer from a lot of health problems because of the forced changes to the physical body which is different than the orientation of the mind. Oddly, before we had surgery for this, people learned to cope. I often think that modern medicine runs way beyond what the mind (we’re still pretty primal, folks) can deal with”.
    Council, you took an oath to represent! I took an oath to protect. That is our difference as you well know, dealing with the “Scales of Justice” You make the statement above that you have issues with us! Why is it your right to make that assessment? Sure it definitely is a surreal assault on a body. But can you understand that it should be my choice, to feel free in my body, soul and Spirit? I have been on hormones, spiro and estrogen for over 8 years. There still is no statistics available, showing what effects it has on a “Natal Male’s Body” But that is my choice! Even if I die! Because it makes me feel free of my OWN incarceration as a Woman! So I do feel that your statement is unfair until you educate yourself into our dynamics! Just my opinion Council.
    Now, back to the point of the story, and that pathetic S.O.B. I think everyone can see why this is a sensitive situation for me…………….If the readers here will allow me I will address some of the reasons below:
    1. I believe 100& with Councils statement that this is a manipulative ploy by this person. I have seen it many times in the Criminal Justice System.
    2. It is a fact that Criminals, find reasons to change their mundane lives in their 4 X 8, cells. Especially if they are in protective custody! They look for reasons to do things, whether they are true of false! To get them out for a day!
    3. Council says they don’t have the right to make the final decision in this case! I can, I will be the Judge, jury and the executioner in this pathetic situation! Remember, this animal, KILLED A WOMAN in the most, cold hearted manner. Where is, her rights? The majority of transsexuals I know, honor femininity, so much, that wouldn’t ever contemplate, hurting a woman.
    4. What kind, of Society are we in, which will pay for and operation, for a Convicted Murderer, and ignore me, as a law abiding citizen? I think this is atrocious!
    5. I could go on all day! So I will stop with my ramblings, because I have an easy solution, which will save tax payers money!

    Put this wonderful person, in general population, the other inmates will treat him as the woman he was meant to be. He can be happy! And trust me they will give him the “SRS” operation that he deserves for FREE! Before they kill him. But never, never, let this creep, go to a woman’s prison, because, it would be, the most degrading thing to femininity, and womanhood! And you the reader know it !!!!!!!! TELL IT LIKE IT IS JAMIE LEE !

    If I have offended any one, except you know who, I am sorry. Rachel I hope, you will keep my statement here………….Thank You! Jamie Lee

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