Shiloh Quine with author Kristin Schreier Lyseggen, courtesy SFINX Publishing/The Women of San Quentin

After winning a historic settlement with the State of California, Shiloh Quine, a 56-year old transgender woman held a men’s prison, will be the first transgender woman we know of to receive gender-affirming surgery while incarcerated. In addition to providing her with gender-affirming surgery “as promptly as possible” and moving her to a women’s prison, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) committed to changing its policies to allow other transgender people access to the clothing and commissary items consistent with their gender identity and to revise its policies regarding access to all medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria, including surgeries.

Transgender Law Center, which represented Shiloh along with pro bono counsel from Morgan Lewis and Bockius LLP, spoke to Shiloh by phone at Mule Creek State Prison minutes after we finalized the settlement. We wanted Shiloh to have the chance to share her initial reaction in her own words with everyone who is following the big news.

TLC: How are you feeling about the settlement that we just reached?

Shiloh: I’m kind of in shock. I feel like it’s really a great thing that’s just happened. It shows the world is evolving, and starting to understand different viewpoints and perspectives better than in the past. People are learning to recognize the humanity in everybody. It’s been a long time coming.

Can you describe for people what your life has been like up till now?

It’s been like being inside a prison inside a prison within myself. I really related to Caitlyn Jenner’s journey. It’s like I wrote in my first article for Stiletto [TGIJP’s newsletter] – it’s hard enough coming to terms with you are, but for many of us we aren’t able to actually tell anyone or do anything about it due to all the pressure to be like everyone else. I think that’s why suicide rates are so high for us – so little of the population understands us, and of course they don’t understand, because they haven’t been in this position themselves.

I feel like I’m getting closer to being comfortable within myself, at last. I’d almost given up on that for so long. It really seemed hopeless. It’s just been such a long journey. I feel like I was born inside a man’s body, but I’m feminine inside and identify as a female, and I’ve had to suppress that my whole life, in public anyway. When I was young, it was always something I had to hide. There were just a few incidents when I was free where I got to express who I really am, like when I got to wear girls’ clothes to school on “Weird Day” in middle school. Most of the time I couldn’t be me completely because other people wouldn’t understand.

How did it help you to connect with the community of other trans women in prison through Stiletto and TGIJP?

It was wonderful. I was able to have somebody to actually listen to me, and be able to vent my feelings and emotions where I wasn’t always able to, otherwise. It was like a pot boiling over, and I could release some of this emotional turmoil within me, by writing to them, and submitting articles that were published in Stiletto.

The first time I read Stiletto it was amazing. I was so at the end of my rope at that point – literally. I was really at my end and seeing that gave me a spark of life, to know there is something I might be able to do. Things didn’t seem so hopeless after that. I felt like I could educate others, help young people, educate society to some degree on how hard it is just being us sometimes. It really showed that someone cares about us. It gave me a support system to reach out, express myself, and explain what I was going through.

What are you most looking forward to, as a result of the settlement?

To feeling whole, and not having to have the wrong genitals on my body that remind me every day that I’m supposedly what other people say I am – a “man” – even though I don’t feel like that inside. I’m called “man,” “sir,” “mister.” It will complete me. Even then, I know there may be some discriminatory things, but it won’t be the same – I’ll feel complete as a woman and a human being.

You’ll soon be moved to a women’s prison, as you requested. How are you feeling about that?
I’m feeling great. I’ll be around my peers. I think it will be a lot more comfortable, compared to being here [in a men’s facility, Mule Creek State Prison]. I don’t fit in here, or in any of these men’s facilities – I never have and never will. I just don’t fit in around a bunch of males – I need to be around people who are like me, and I’m like them.

What do you think things will be like in the future for other transgender women in CDCR custody, with these policy changes? For example, CDCR agreed to revise its policy to now allow transgender people access to clothing and commissary items that match their gender.

These items are important to help us show other people who we are inside. It never made sense to me that you’re provided hormones [by CDCR] to become more feminine because that’s how you identify, but they deprive you of these things that let you fully appear like a woman. These products are a big part of being who you are. That’s part of the treatment plan – the therapeutic process – that goes with the triadic therapy. I wanted to have that real-life experience. It’s part of the whole process that goes with treating gender dysphoria.

What about the fact that CDCR is revising its surgery policy so that other transgender people can now get surgery if it’s medically necessary for them?

That’s amazing. That will be amazing. That will be amazing for them to have that available, at some point if they qualify. It makes me feel great, like I’ve given back to society to some degree. I’m still in shock. I’m amazed I was able to be a part of this when I didn’t even really know what I was doing. It’s quite overwhelming.

Do you have any reflections on some of your past bad choices? Are you thinking about some of those when you talk about giving back to society?

Definitely. Just because you’re in here doesn’t mean you have to continue certain kinds of behavior – you shape yourself, you grow. That’s what “rehabilitation” is about. You become a productive member of society, and that’s reflected in your character. It’s something you can’t con. It’ll ring true because it is true.

With this case as well as other things I’ve done in the past to try to better the system, I’ve been trying to help. If it don’t help me it might help someone else down the line. It’s sort of like making amends. I can never truly make amends for some of the things I’ve done in the past, but I can try to sort of make amends through this.

How was it working with your legal team from Transgender Law Center and Morgan Lewis?

It was very fruitful. Now it’s bearing fruit! No, it was very decent. Very humane. It was something that seemed to have been lacking for some time in my life – having other people care about me and fighting for me.

It had felt for so long like an uphill battle – I felt like I would go forward, then back three steps. It felt like I’d never reach the top. I felt hopeless, but I kept trying and hoping. But then when you were appointed to my case, I felt amazed. It felt like my pleas and cries fell on deaf ears for so long, but then it turned out someone actually was listening and was there to help.

It felt like you being there and the support you provided was very helpful. It was a support system. It was a place to go when you had an issue and there was now someone who would actually hear you out, and cared, enough to actually do something about it or at least try.

I feel very grateful and appreciative. Honestly, I feel blessed. I appreciate this from the bottom of my heart, forever. And I will never forget you.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Just a great big thank you to anyone who had anything to do with this. And even to CDCR, for doing this. It’s very appreciated. [Tearing up] And the right thing to do, I think. It really is.

This is my birthday, by the way.

It is?? Seriously?

Yup. 8/7/59.

How did we not know that? Sorry we didn’t know that. But I guess we got you a little something…

[Laughing] You sure did. This is the best birthday present ever.