Transgender and Arrested in a Mississippi Jail

I’ve got a difficult choice to make, about whether I want to try to fight this battle or not–whether I can fight this battle, whether I have the emotional strength and emotional need to fight this battle. It will be messy, and it will be painful. It will certainly land in a federal appeals court.

Earlier today I was arrested for driving on a suspended license. I’m not sure how long my license has been suspended–it’s part of the $3,000 the state wants from me because it decided that I owed it that money. So today when it found out that I was going about my life in full disregard of how they wanted money from me, the state did what the state does best: it used its armed thugs to kidnap me and hold me for ransom. The fines I’m faced with aren’t major, and aren’t even really of concern. What is of concern is a much more serious matter.

I was strip-searched.

I was strip-searched by a male officer.

I was strip-searched by a male officer over a traffic misdemeanor when my bail bondsman was literally there waiting on me and after I’d already explained that I’m transgender and identify as female. For all intents and purposes, a male officer strip-searched a female prisoner today when she was arrested over a misdemeanor and while she was waiting on paperwork to be processed so she could be released.

It may seem minor. The officer didn’t touch me while I was naked, after all, but if you’ve never been there, then you couldn’t imagine. These are the police. The “Do as we say, or we beat you or shoot you” people. It’s hard to express what exactly it feels like to be told to turn around and face the wall, pull down your pants and panties, to lift up your genitals, and to stand there presenting your ass to a male officer.

Because he said so.

And if you don’t comply, he might just beat you to death.

So here’s how it happened, the events I wrote down as soon as it occurred to me a little while ago to write them down.

After being arrested by the Senatobia officer–I’m horrible with names, and even though I tried damned hard to take note of them, I don’t recall them–I was taken to the Senatobia Police Department for processing. The officer can vouch easily for my good behavior, respectfulness, and politeness. It was always “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” The officer admitted this and handcuffed me so that my hands were in front of me–in fact, they were loose enough that I could have slipped out of them if I’d wanted to. I didn’t want to, obviously, but I did tinker with them during the ride. I still had my phone, my pocket full of things; the officer had given no thought whatsoever to me as a danger, and had let me finish smoking a cigarette precisely because I was polite, well-mannered, and cooperative.

On the ride to the Senatobia Police Department, I informed this officer of the fact that I am transgender and identify as female. I pointed out that it probably wouldn’t matter since I was immediately being bailed out, but if it became important to know, he needed to know it. He asked a few questions mostly out of curiosity and, as he said later, to make sure that all of his “i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed,” a position that I completely understand. As I’ve said to all of my friends and everyone else, I’m not going to get worked up over someone using the wrong pronoun to address me, or using my old name. So I made it clear to the officer that there was no chance that I was going to make it unnecessarily difficult for him; I was just verifying that things wouldn’t get unnecessarily difficult for me.

As further evidence of how the officer considered me no threat and nothing but polite, during the processing he left me alone for long periods of times, never searched me, and only asked what I had in my pockets. I complied to the fullest extent to his offhanded query and placed all the contents of my pockets on the desk, and put my phone on silent, even though he had requested none of these things. In fact, he explicitly told me at one point that it was fine for me to look and reply to a text message. He removed the handcuffs through my stay at the Senatobia Police Department, and left me more or less to wander at my leisure through the room. Clearly, nothing about my demeanor or appearance suggested that I was remotely a threat.

Then he had to take me to the actual jail, the Tate County Jail, and again handcuffed me with my hands in front for the ride. They were even more loose this time, and as we pulled into the parking lot he remarked that my father and grandmother were already there with the bail bondsman, and that they’d beaten us to the jail. I didn’t reply, because there were too many thoughts racing through my mind. He asked if I’d heard him, and I replied that I had, but had been lost in thought. Through this ride, he listened to music and invited someone to go with him to a ball game after work. It was a relaxed ride–considering–and more evidence that I was nothing but polite and compliant.

Once inside the jail, the processing began again, and I was told to turn and face the wall, where I was patted down. This was done professionally, and was not odd in the least. The officer who had brought me there–the Senatobia Police Officer–had gone. This other male officer emptied out my pockets and patted me down while the other officer on duty, a female, helped him process the paperwork so that I could go. He then took my shoes and my belt, as well as the rest of my possessions, and placed them in a basket. He then instructed me to enter a nearby room, and I did so.

He asked something about my size–I don’t recall exactly what, but he made it clear that his intention was to get one of the jailhouse jumpsuits for me to wear. Thinking he must have overlooked the fact that the bail bondsman was there and had already been talking to both officers on duty, including the officer I was then speaking to, I said, “Is it really necessary to do all this? The bondsman is right there to get me out, and… I’m transgender. I’ve been taking hormones for months. I’ve got breasts, I’m wearing a bra and women’s underwear.”

Then he stated that no, it wouldn’t be necessary, but he would still have to search me for weapons–one would have expected this to be included in the pat-down that he had done, but more than anything there was the vibe that this was in response to my statement that I’m transgender. It may not have been, but it absolutely felt that way, and is a moot point anyway. The moment that I informed the officer I’m transgender and identify as female is the moment it became unlawful for him to search me. Regardless, he shut the large steel door, leaving just the two of us in the concrete box. “Turn around and face the wall,” he instructed, this authority figure with a gun.

I obeyed. You don’t have a choice but to obey. It’s “obey or get the shit beaten out of you.”

“Drop your pants and lift up your shirt,” he said.

I gulped, and braced myself. God only knew where this was going, but none of it felt right–obviously. So there I stood, door shut, with this officer standing behind me, with my pants down around my ankles and shirt lifted, broadcasting to him my panties and ass.

Then it got worse as he said, “Pull down your underwear and lift up your shirt.”

Again, I complied. What manner of society is this, where a man can lock you in a concrete box and command you to drop your pants and underwear to your ankles? It was humiliating, degrading, and terrifying, to stand there with my pants and panties around my ankles, effectively presenting my ass to this male officer. He instructed me to lift up my genitals. So I stood there then with my pants and panties around my ankles, one hand holding up my shirt, one hand holding my genitals out of his view, naked and presenting my ass to him.

I don’t know how long we stood like that. I was busy trying to convince myself that I was literally anywhere else and doing literally anything else. I really don’t think it was very long, but there was absolutely no reason we should have been in that situation in the first place, as I was arrested for a misdemeanor and was simply being processed, with the bondsman already waiting outside. After some period of time elapsed, the officer said “Okay, you can pull your clothes back up.”

I’m sure it seems minor. It may even seem routine. But no part of it felt routine, and I’d already been patted down and searched–one would presume that he was patting me down for weapons, after all. I identify as female. That has been the case for more than a year. I’ve got A cups, some curves, and I perpetually wear both a bra and female underwear. Because of the nuances of life in Mississippi and still being relatively early in the process, it is necessary that I still pretend to be a male some portions of the day, especially in regard to work. This is done, though, not to present myself as a male but to minimize the consequences of certain people finding out before I am able to deal with those consequences. When you’re being arrested, the consequences of not informing the police are multitudes higher than the consequences of telling them, and at that moment it became illegal for the male officer to strip search me–alone in a concrete box with the heavy steel door shut.

As soon as I told him I’m transgender, it became unlawful for a male officer to strip search me alone.

Much less make me stand there with my pants and panties at my ankles with my balls pulled up and showing him my ass.

I do believe I’m going to pursue this. I haven’t stopped shaking since the event happened, and I’m sure that it’s noticeable on the lobby camera, since we returned the lobby after this utterly pointless strip search by a male officer of the female prisoner who was arrested for a misdemeanor and whose bondsman was merely waiting on the paperwork for her to be released. Even if they could justify the strip search–which isn’t at all likely, given the circumstances–there is absolutely no justification for a male officer strip searching a female arrestee, and certainly not in that manner, certainly not in private.

I don’t like the government, and that includes when the government has things like its Civil Rights Act and all that other stuff that is supposed to help transgender people. But clearly the state of Mississippi has no transgender policy. When they entered my information into the system, I saw this second officer–the one who had performed the strip search–enter me as “male.” The prompt offered him only the choices of “male” or “female.” It is backward, and the police exist to lord power over people and hold them at their mercy. If anyone must have their feet held to the flames, it is them.

8 thoughts on “Transgender and Arrested in a Mississippi Jail

  1. I’m sitting here balling my eyes out & I was reading it out loud to my hubby & I couldn’t finish it out loud. This was beyond wrong. I’m so disgusted. There’s not one part of me that Elie vessels that search was procedure but a douchebag with authority’s curiosity.. I’m so sorry you went through this. I know how strong you are, and I know that having an authority figure take advantage of their power to look or touch a woman in an inappropriate way – has a major impact on a person. I have experienced a situation that left the same kind of impact & it took me a while to get past it, but I remember that feeling like yesterday. I’m so sorry you went through this… I hope you do fight this, you are so strong and I admire your fire and will so much. I wish I had the fight in me you carry within.❤❤

  2. I’m so sorry this happened to you, Aria. It’s horrifying and no one should have to go through that.

    In thinking about whether to pursue the matter, I hope you will consider one thing: You don’t owe anyone anything. Yes, pursuing it may save someone else the same degradation, and if you do so you’ll be doing a good thing. But don’t set your own interests aside. Make sure it’s something YOU want to do for YOUR own reasons. If so, Godspeed and I’ll be among those making such small contributions as I can to the cause. But if not, like I said, this is not a cross you owe it to anyone to pick up and carry.

    • Thanks, Tom. I think I’ve decided to pursue it, and have contacted a few civil rights attorneys nearby. As I’ve thought more about it, the biggest concern is the reality that if I hadn’t been bonded out, they’d have thrown me in a cell block with a bunch of men, and that would have been horrifically bad.

      The strip search itself was bad, and I seriously had nightmares about it all through the night. There won’t be anything that can fix that, and I don’t necessarily blame the officer in question, but the state of Mississippi itself or the county itself. And while I’ve got a benefactor who is going to handle the fines for me, if I didn’t I’d be returning to jail in two weeks, where I’d receive the same treatment and would ultimately be placed in a male cell block–probably with the worst offenders, since prisons and jails have a long history of placing gay men into blocks where they know the men will be raped; they’d likely do the same to a transgender person. While there’s thankfully no risk of me returning to jail–the state even successfully extorted the initial money–that’s making a lot of assumptions about the state and its relative benevolence.

      But I’ve also been there, harassed in the city of Memphis by K-9 Units who spent hours searching my vehicle and who could easily have planted drugs. We both know that it’s all too easy to end up in law enforcement’s crosshairs–I was there years ago over a series of stop signs that I certainly didn’t run. But if they want to arrest you, they’ll find a way to, and there’s no protection there.

      And I sincerely doubt that it’s standard procedure to strip-search a prisoner who is arrested for a misdemeanor and who is immediately being bonded out. Not only is that offensive, but it’s asinine. If I had a shiv smuggled up my ass, then it was going home with me. The terrifying prospect of being placed in a male block, though, is my primary motivator.

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  5. Very sorry to hear of your travails. I’m not going to say this nicely: I hope every criminal thug who participated in this abortion of justice meets a painful end, and soon.

    • Thanks. They picked the wrong one with me, though. They just don’t know it yet.

      Of course, police murder people in broad daylight and get away with it, so there’s not much chance of being successful challenging their authority to force me to do a strip tease. But I’m going to fight them to the bitter, cold end.

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