Giovanni Gonzales, 33, is a transgender man incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF).
I been down ten years now. I was born a female but I’m now transitioned into a man. I been
going through my transition for probably eight years now. Being incarcerated and being a trans
man is an obstacle in this facility, because the staff discriminates against me. It’s hard to get
placed in any good job. The staff and supervisors here, they want to hire someone who is what
they want to look at all day rather than someone who qualifies best for the job. It really drags
me down. I was a troublemaker for about six years in the beginning, but I’ve now been write-up
free for almost five years. I changed. I started programming. I started wanting more for myself.
When I started loving myself, I was able to start working on myself more and being able to see
things for what they are.
It’s still hard though when staff talks down at me, saying, ‘Oh you think you’re a man. You’re
not a man, you’re in a woman’s facility.’ I had an officer the other day, I was watching TV and
he walked by and said, “Turn down the TV so I can hear people like you saying, ‘I need my shot,
I need my shot!’” And I had to suck that up and stay quiet. I’m not gonna let this guy win. But I
looked at my friend and I said, see? What was the point of that? Why couldn’t he have said
turn down the TV because I need to be able to hear a medical emergency. Why did it have to be
right away about me being transgender?
I didn’t have a supportive family growing up. They all knew I was different, and my mom had a
hard time accepting the way I was. Eventually she did, but she passed away in 2008 right after
my 18th birthday, three days before Christmas. So, I took to the streets, lost, you know, drugs,
and I didn’t really care about nothing. Honestly, coming to prison saved my life because if I
hadn’t, I’d probably be dead. I needed to sit down so I could get my shit together. But once I
started transitioning and was able to put myself first, that had a lot to do with my change,
because I started feeling happy. I started being able to feel relief from all the stress and all the
stuff I was going through and didn’t understand. I had no one to talk to about it, it weighed me
down. Now, living my truth and being who I am, it’s like I’m free. I’m free.
That’s why it’s so important to me to reach out to other transgenders and help them. Because we
don’t have any groups for transgenders in here. We have no support. I had to fight for my chest
surgery. I got denied. They said it wasn’t medically necessary, and I did everything I was supposed
to do. I602’d it, which was a grievance, and I had filed a lawsuit in 2019 which I still have open right
now but the state is trying to get it dismissed. I just got my surgery last year, Sept 2, 2022. Now
they’re trying to say you got your surgery now, forget everything we put you through. No. I had
to fight for my surgery. You guys pick and choose surgeries; you approve and deny the rest of
them. Gender dysphoria is a one thing. There’s nobody who suffers from gender dysphoria who
is more or less entitled to surgery. Transwomen and transmen, we go through the same things.
Our abuse might be a little different but at the same time we all struggle in a body we don’t
belong in, and we try to be free from that. We walk the same walk.
I do talk to mental health [personnel]. I’m not big on medication. I feel like, I’m not crazy
and I hate that sometimes they put gender dysphoria in a category as if we’re psychotic. We’re not.
These are things we have to live with, though and it’s a struggle. It doesn’t help that people
put us down. So I do talk to therapists here about that. When I got denied for my surgery, I cried,
but there was nothing that they did for me. And not only that, they don’t even take time to note
down what I went to see them about. So when I go to see a new therapist or the therapist changes, I
have to tell my whole story over again. Luckily, I’m strong enough now, stronger than I was. I
think about the younger ones, the young transgenders coming in here, finding themselves, and
they don’t have the help or the support that they need. Even within the LGBTQ community, it’s
hard. Yes, transgender is included in LGBTQ, but at the same time, you have some gay and
lesbian and bisexual people, pansexuals, asexuals, all these people who judge transgenders.
You’ve been judged all your life for being gay and you’re going to judge a transgender. That
makes no sense.
Just because someone’s gender identity is male or female it doesn’t mean their sexual
orientation is supposed to be just one thing. Transitioning has nothing to do with our sexual
orientation and I try to tell that to people all the time. And yes, there are trans women in here
and trans men who have gotten into relationships. Women need compassion, they need that
friendship, you know, they need that love.
Yes, you’re not supposed to have sex but it happens, it’s natural and there’s nothing that’s
gonna stop it from happening. That’s why I’ve been advocating for condoms and sexual
protection. Because in the state of California the law says all prisons are supposed to make
condoms available. All institutions, not just male institutions. You’re not supposed to have sex
in men’s prison either, but they are given condoms, so if they do have sex they can be
protected. They don’t do that here, and even without trans women here — if were just the trans
men with cis-women, or cis-women on cis-women, there are women’s condoms that should be
available — because if you have a sexually transmitted disease you’re going to pass it on
Some of the cisgenders get frustrated and angry at the trans women and start judging and
putting it out there that because a trans woman is having sex with a cisgender woman that they
“raped” them. That’s not true. But there are cisgender women in here that have been subject
to abuse from men. They’ve been raped or beaten by men, brutalized by men. When they
found out that the trans women were coming here they were scared. They didn’t understand
what was happening. The police didn’t help either. They handled it so poorly, telling women
here that the trans women coming here were men, and that they were gonna get raped and get
abused. They were telling cisgender women that they had to stick together, that they shouldn’t
allow these transgenders to be in the rooms with them. They were making up stories, adding
fuel to the fire, you know?
There were already a lot of false allegations of sexual assault here even before the trans
women came. People call PREA on each other all the time. I can be here on this yard and call
PREA on somebody on another yard, alleging they sexually assaulted me, and staff will take that
person to jail (AdSeg) before they even do an investigation into whether those two people have
crossed paths. Nine times out of ten it’s a false accusation. Probably a third of the people in
AdSeg now are there just because somebody falsely called PREA on them.
I run a Transgender Awareness group on B yard. I’d wanted to do it for five years and I finally
got the paperwork in right before COVID. I was able to open it up at the perfect time, in 2021,
right as SB 132 went into effect. Even before the law we needed support, but I decided I
needed to bring awareness to the broader community. So, I said let it be open to everybody, to
come and be open minded. A trans woman helps me co-facilitate. People fear what they don’t
know. They fear what they don’t understand.
The first meeting was ten of us in the game room, talking about what gender dysphoria is, and
childhood traumas and mental health and finding ourselves and coming out, and being true to
ourselves. We also explain to people that just because your gender identity is one way, it doesn’t
mean your sexual orientation has to be one way. There are trans women here who don’t like
women sexually and aren’t with women, and there’s trans women here that are lesbian or bisexual
and they are in relationships with women. Same with trans men. When the cisgenders come to
the group, they learn something new. It’s good to have people who were judgmental come into
the group, and then say, ‘Wow, I did not know that. I understand now.’ I feel that I was able to
bring the anxiety down in my unit.
I had a cisgender woman in the group who has a brother who is transgender but wasn’t
able to be himself and still is not able to be himself. When he was little, he used to dress like a
girl and the family used to shame him for it. The woman who came to our group was part of
that abuse. And she cried. She said when she started listening to us, she started feeling for her
brother. He’s a heroin addict now. He’s probably almost 40 years old. She was able to soak in
what we were saying, call her brother, and have a real conversation with him for the first time
about how he felt. She was able to start mending that relationship.
With SB 132, CDCR should have made official groups where people could go and actually get to
know transgenders, get to know what we’re about before the transfers happened, that we’re
no different from any human being on this earth. I think it would have been less hectic had they
had groups like that in place first. But they didn’t. They just threw the trans women in here
without educating anybody.
All the transgenders on C yard and D yard, they want this group to go to the main yard so it can
be open to everybody. But I’ve only been able to have it on my yard because I have nobody to
sponsor my group. It’s hard. I’m lucky I even got this group going. But I’m not going to give up
because transgender groups are needed, and we don’t have one official support group. Any
staff member could sponsor it. I was told they wanted a mental health physician to sponsor it.
Why does it have to be a mental health physician? Why can’t it be any sponsor just like any
other group? I talked to the head physician for the transgenders here, and he said, ‘Send me
the curriculum. If I can’t sponsor it, I’ll have another physician do it.’ I sent him the paperwork
and everything, I didn’t hear from him. I asked him, he said he’d look at it. It’s a back and forth
like that. Everyone’s always half in, not fully dedicated. It shouldn’t be so hard to get a sponsor
for a group that’s needed when there’s all these other groups here that are for cisgenders. It’s
There are a lot of staff who talk shit to us and intimidate us and discriminate against us. But it’s
important to say that a lot of the staff are alright. They do try and when they don’t get
pronouns right they apologize or they ask. Maybe 10 out of 100 are disrespectful. A lot of the
staff that we have issues with are what we call the “free world staff.” Not the custody officers,
but the people who are in charge of jobs and school. As far as job opportunities and trying to
rehabilitate yourself, it’s hard when you’re constantly being shut out of jobs and judged. These
days, I try my hardest to improve myself. I don’t have nowhere to go when I go home. I will be
homeless. I need to build skills so I can be successful out there. But it’s hard when you’re
constantly getting doors shut in your face. I had to threaten to 602 staff to even get a job, to be
able to get equal opportunity. When I got the job and I was able to show my abilities, and my
supervisors started respecting me. They were like, ‘I would have never known that you were a
good worker.’ Yeah, but you would never have given me a chance if I hadn’t been so persistent.
I know the trans women go through that in the men’s facility too. They aren’t able to better
themselves, and that’s hard. The odds are stacked against us. Even jobs like construction and
plumbing here, you think the staff would look at me and say, ‘I want him on my team, he looks
like he can handle himself.’ No, they’d rather have a girl who’s pretty and wearing makeup than
someone who’s gonna work hard for them. It’s tough to prove discrimination though. I’d been
on a waiting list for one job for five years, five years with no disciplinary write-ups, and instead
a cisgender woman who had just arrived here got it. I bring these issues up to higher staff and
they say, well, they get to choose who they want to hire. So why have a waiting list then?
I’m glad for the trans women who have come over here because they bring light to our issues
as trans men too. We get overlooked a lot, but we need some light on what we go through. We
have racially balanced representation on the IAC (Inmate Advisory Council,) but they don’t have
a position for transgenders and a lot of times when we’re having issues, the cisgenders don’t
understand our issues and concerns. Because they can’t relate to them, they brush them off
instead of bringing them to the higher ups. So, we have no voice. We need to be able to have a
voice for our population.