Her Own Payette Idaho

Sunday, July 11, a mobile home and pickup truck were torched, fake pipe bombs found and a woman was arrested running naked down a county road carrying another fake pipe bomb. On that day, the Argus Observer reported:

When fire and police personnel arrived, they found what appeared to be four pipe bombs on the front porch of the residence and a propane tank between the bombs.“There was a note that said, ‘Do not enter. House booby-trapped. This is a bomb,’” Clark said.

Catherine Carlson was charged with arson, indecent exposure and making fake pipe bombs.  But the details of what drove Carlson to self-destruct and attempt suicide-by-cop paint a several-years-long shocking picture of inner death by misidentification.

The spark for this is said to have began back in December 2007, when she was given an $841 fine for driving with a suspended license.  Though her name was legally changed in the 1970s and she has not used the old male name since, authorities insisted on including her previous name from decades ago on the ticket as an “a.k.a.”  She refused to pay this ticket because of the court’s insistence on keeping that name on it, and has served jail time on at least four occasions, including a 5-day stretch in September 2008 and a 3-day stretch in October 2008.  Although post-operative since 1980, she was kept in segregation.  At that time, the Observer reported:

(more after the fold)

Carlson said, when she was in jail, she could hear men’s voices from her cell and said she was told the women’s cells were full. However, after communicating with nearby incarcerated women, she said she learned two of those bunks were empty when she was checked in and continued to be so.

Payette County Sheriff Chad Huff said the “3-man” cell Carlson was placed in was not specifically designated as either male or female.

He said Carlson was housed by herself in the cell because jail officials could not “confirm her gender.”

He also said the jail does not have any legal obligation to house her with the women, which he confirmed with the county’s legal department and the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program.

“We will never put her in with the females,” he said. “That’s just how it is.”

A bookkeeper in Redwood City, CA eventually paid the fine.  But the old name remains on record, and in fact likely came into use by Payette County officials after her mother revealed it to the court during a late 1990s dispute over a house.  By December, 2008, she was a mess, and her weight dropped to 105 pounds. The Olympian reported:

She used to wear pretty dresses, fix herself up. Now she only has a couple blouses and says she doesn’t want to attract attention to herself. She leaves her trailer about once every 10 days.

“You’re going to have to make me one of ‘We the People,'” Carlson said.

In April of 2009, MSNBC detailed her story, including the rocky relationship Carlson has had with her mother, such as an angry beating of the “awful mischievous child” with an electric cord.  Although her mother expressed some remorse, all was still not well:

Almost 29 years after Catherine’s operation, Bowman is still trying to reconcile her deeply held religious beliefs and her distress over this boy she gave life to and this woman she has so much trouble understanding.

“I do not approve of transsexuals, I believe the way the Lord created us is the way we should stay,” Bowman said. “But he was my child and I supported her.”

Yesterday, following the self-destructive pipe bomb incident, KIVI-TV conducted a telephone interview with Catherine Carlson which is very telling:

Steve Bertel: “… but she tells me that the cause of all of her trouble is her frustration with how she’s treated as a transgender woman in Payette County. She tells me that agencies there refuse to use her female name, Catherine, and instead insist that she be called *****.”

Catherine Carlson (by phone): “Nobody ever refers to me by that name… except the State of Idaho.  And… I just… I just… cannot take it anymore.  They’re not going to allow me to have a life, then they’re going to have to take my life, because I cannot live my life with an a.k.a.  It puts a target on my back, it… it seriously endangers my welfare.”

When the desperation has escalated to attempted-suicide-by-cop, all because of stubborn insistence on maintaining a moniker that has long been irrelevant, something is very seriously wrong.  Let me count the ways:

1) For as little value as there is in noting a name that a person has not willingly used in decades, names gendered contrary to trans peoples’ presentation expose them to discrimination, isolation and sometimes violence.  When law enforcement agencies insist on documenting such names in places where the revelation can turn into violence, they are potentially culpable by incitement, and Carlson’s fear of the public would seem to indicate that county officials’ knowledge did not simply stay hidden in court record.  Although not as overt, this is certainly not without precedence.  We don’t know what whisper campaigns, conflicts and troubles have resulted in her everyday life, but it is clear from what has been reported so far that the name and history revelations have made Carlson terrified of going out into public, and that this has had serious physical and emotional consequences for her.

2) As much as media is aware and reporting that Catherine Carlson’s troubles and self-destruction are a result of ongoing misidentification and the creation of a target as a person with a known trans history, every single media outlet thus far has seen fit to include in their report that she “used to be named *****.”  At this point, of course, her history is going to be widespread knowledge, but the salt in the wound is really not necessary.

3) Solitary confinement is a form of mental abuse and dehumanization that should really only be used when the person in question is causing trouble (which is not the same as when the person in question is the target of trouble).  Although it’s said to help protect trans women against rape, it has occasionally happened where some would rather chance the rape than endure the isolation.  There needs to be a better system of including and protecting trans inmates with populations with which they identify.  But when you add this to the fact that Carlson is many years post-operative, the old, weak “she might be perceived as a danger to the other women” argument has even less basis in reality.

“We will never put her in with the females,” [Payette County Sheriff Chad Huff] said. “That’s just how it is.”

4) Payette County law enforcement’s bigotry is showing.  If that’s how they regard her, how have they addressed her and treated her?

“You’re going to have to make me one of ‘We the People,'” Carlson had said.

It’s going to take a serious lot of work for Payette County to undo the damage that has driven Carlson to the edge.  If they’re even willing to.

(offered to Pam’s House Blend)

  1. “3) Solitary confinement is a form of mental abuse and dehumanization that should really only be used when the person in question is causing trouble (which is not the same as when the person in question is the target of trouble). Although it’s said to help protect trans women against rape, it has occasionally happened where some would rather chance the rape than endure the isolation. There needs to be a better system of including and protecting trans inmates with populations with which they identify. But when you add this to the fact that Carlson is many years post-operative, the old, weak “she might be perceived as a danger to the other women” argument has even less basis in reality.”

    Once again, why the linkage of bottom surgery with rights?

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • July 18th, 2010

      To show how much of a fallacy the “she has a penis” fear argument often leveled at trans women really is, by the fact that the prejudice remains even when that circumstance doesn’t.

        • Marja
        • July 18th, 2010

        Bringing up her operative status reinforces the myth that operative status matters. It acts to legitimize prejudice as long as it’s mostly against non-op, can’t-op and pre-op trans womyn.

        • Sara
        • July 22nd, 2010

        But Marja, operative status DOES Matter! Very much so! It matters to most of our society …
        it affects who one can date, the kind of sex one can have, where one can and cannot go freely.
        As far as rights go, what rights exactly? Most transexuals I know (I don’t know too many
        admittedly) have no need of special rights, nor want them, myself included We get along just
        fine in mainstream society.

        This case also points out the fact that we cannot excuse bad behavior, bad decision making,
        and poor choices in general. Although I do not condone many of the things done by law enforcement in this case, Ms. Carlson made a lot of mistakes too. One – driving on a suspended license … Two – not paying the fine. Her old name on the ticket? Crappy thing … for sure.
        I don’t like it. But to go to jail for it? Not once, but twice? I don’t think so. Bad decision.

        It appears that she has some kind of deteriorating mental condition. To blame it on the ticket
        only? No. The ticket, rather than being causal, is most probably the result of pre-existing
        mental issues. Any sane person would have paid the ticket, and THEN complained and followed some other course of action to protest the inclusion of the old, male name on the ticket.

        I abhor some of the things that law enforcement did to her … but please, quit being apologists
        for every transexual who gets in some kind of self-inflicted bind.

        Sara …

    • Northern Chrissy
    • July 18th, 2010

    This isn’t a social interaction issue, it goes much deeper. Her core identity is being challenged again and again.
    The MSNBC article states:
    During an arraignment hearing, the judge verified Catherine’s legal name, promised to treat her with courtesy and respect, and pledged to address her how she wished to be addressed. Then Magistrate Judge A. Lynne Krogh called her “sir” eight times within a span of 10 minutes.

    This sounds like contempt of court to me, and now with the Chief of Police, Mark Clark stating: “She’s had some issues with the Payette County jail regarding her sexual orientation,” shows a lack of knowledge or sensitivity toward the transgender community.

    I surely hope she gets the help she needs, both legal and personal, and doesn’t become just another statistic in the already too high trans suicide rate.

    • nome
    • July 18th, 2010

    Thank you for covering this. I’ve been avoiding most coverage, as I knew it’s be full of nasty transphobia and cissexism.

    @Marja:

    While I agree that focusing on post-op can be delegitimizing, I think the point was to show how getting surgery will not do away with the misgendering issues. I didn’t feel like DBM was saying that because she was post-op, she’s more of a woman. Simply pointing out that nothing will ever be enough for certain people.

    • If that were the way it were phrased, instead of, “Carlson is many years post-operative, the old, weak “she might be perceived as a danger to the other women” argument has even less basis in reality.” Meaning that having a penis inherently makes you dangerous to other womyn then I would agree with you.

      The argument that the penis is a man’s feature, instead of a preponderantly manly feature and one that can be just as essentially womonly as the free-range-organic yoni that some birth-assignment-essentialists purport to cling to, is one that, if trans womyn are ever to have any semblance of freedom beyond a perpetuation of the enfranchisement system, must be opposted at every turn. It simply must. The perpetuation of the invisiblation of those of us who refuse to be ashamed of, or feel undue stress for, or focus the bulk of our resources upon six or less inches of ourselves instead of six feet of ourselves, is, quite frankly, going to divide the official trans rights movement between the 1 in 500 people that it actually speaks for and the 1 in 20 people that it claims to speak for.

      Please either fight for these people or stop claiming to.

        • Angie Silver
        • July 19th, 2010

        There’s obviously more to the story, if she was driven to this. But I won’t be surprised if the religious groups latch onto it.

        About the surgery comment, I thought her reply clarified it pretty well.

        If you haven’t followed, Mercedes was openly non-op for several years. It was a big deal on Bilerico, because some people got upset. I’m not sure why she changed her mind, but she hasn’t made a big deal about it and obviously not depending on it to be legit.

        Plus she says here that solitary is unacceptable for anyone trans before saying anything about surgery.

    • CatherineCC
    • July 21st, 2010

    Well, she’s not in solitary, they moved her to the mental hospital for a “health concern” and delayed her court appearances. This sounds to me like copspeak for “recovery from a blanket party”
    If she keeps on pushing, they’re going to end up seriously hurting or killing her. I really hope that’s not the outcome she wants.

    • dentedbluemercedes
    • July 22nd, 2010

    @Sara – I’ll have to disagree with a bunch of that. For example, while operative status affects specific configurations of sex and the field from which to choose of partner, I don’t know that it has to affect much else.

    Most transexuals I know (I don’t know too many admittedly) have no need of special rights, nor want them, myself included We get along just fine in mainstream society.

    Sure. As long as we assimilate and blend, we’ll never need “special” a.k.a. equal rights. Oh, wait: http://abcnews.go.com/US/transgender-widow-lose-husbands-benefits-suit-gender/story?id=11199690

    Any sane person would have paid the ticket, and THEN complained and followed some other course of action to protest the inclusion of the old, male name on the ticket.

    Well, then count me as insane. I don’t know how it is in Idaho, but in Alberta, if you just pay the ticket, the books are closed and you have to get a court order to get the record changed, which is a long drawn out headache at that point, while protesting it at the court stage will sometimes get someone to do the right thing before it gets to that. And then there’s folks who’ll just see the principle of it.

    That’s also assuming that she had the money to pay the ticket.

    Apologist? Maybe. But when there’s pretty blatant ignorance and disrespect going on despite apparently many vocal attempts to address it, I’ll tend to side with the harassed over the harasser.

    YMMV

    • Emilie
    • July 23rd, 2010

    Some of the problems Catherine has with Payette County, Idaho law enforcement and the Courts has its genesis in a seat belt citation she received just across the Snake River in Oregon. Apparently, Catherine has a phobia about wearing a seat belt while driving because of being strapped down and caused to be immobile during her youth. I vaguely recall Catherine mentioning her fear because this was used as reparative therapy to cure her of her cross gender identity feelings. Because of Catherine’s refusal to pay the Oregon seat belt citation, Idaho suspended her Idaho drivers license. I’m not sure if it was Oregon that initially listed Catherine’s a.k.a. on the citation, or if it was Payette law enforcement when they stopped Catherine and cited her for a suspended drivers license infraction.

    Should Catherine be convicted and sentenced for what she is accused, she will sent to an Idaho prison. That’s where this continuing saga will play out. Catherine will be the first post-operative trans-woman committed to a Idaho correctional facility that I am aware of. All the trans-women currently in the Idaho prison system are confined to male facilities, and are either pre-op, non-op or have self-mutilated while incarcerated. They are typically placed into Administrative Segregation and locked down 23 hours each day, which is like having to serve a sentence on a sentence because of their gender identity. I envision ACLU, Lambda Legal and other advocacy organizations becoming involved if Catherine is confined to a men’s facility instead of where she belongs in general population at a women’s correctional facility.

  2. My heart goes out to Catherine Carlson. I lived in all three corners of Idaho for more than 12 years, most of them in the Boise area of the Snake River Valley. This is just upstream of Payette County in a region marked by religious intolerance, a region where it is very difficult to be different. While Idaho’s unconscionable birth certificate policy is symptomatic of the prejudice suffered by transpeople there, the injustice that Catherine has endured is more fundamental. She is entitled to dignity and equal protection under the law, and she has been denied both. I worry that Catherine may now be at risk of brutality from Idaho’s mental health system that may rival that from their criminal justice system.

    I deeply disagree with the previous comment that stereotypes oppressed people who do not acquiesce to their own oppression as mentally disordered. This is offensive to a great many transpeople who have suffered these pathology stereotypes by virtue of simply being trans or gender nonconforming. I discuss these issues in depth in my book, Gender Madness in American Psychiatry (2008). If Catherine refused to pay a ticket out of civil disobedience in protest of malicious misgendering and maligning langange, then she put herself at risk for my dignity as well as her own and deserves my gratitude. Difference is not disease, and neither is dissent.

      • Sara
      • April 16th, 2011

      Look, Kelley, we have a different world-view. An AKA on a ticket, while annoying and distasteful, hardly constitutes mis-gendering and oppression. AKA’s are standard identifying constructs for people who have entered the law enforcement system. I should know. I wrote law enforcement systems while transitioning. I don’t recall them being standard fare on “tickets” but these things vary by jurisdiction.

      I stand by what I said. A sane person pays the ticket, complains about the AKA (maybe) and goes on their way. Done. Now, it seems obvious that in this case Catherine needs mental health support. Incarceration seems ridiculous. I hope she gets it. I feel compassion for her for the abuse she has suffered. But that does not excuse ANYONE from accountability.

      And less you think I have not suffered “oppression”, guess again. But I handled it, didn’t go to jail, didn’t compromise my ability to take care of myself financially.

      Civil disobedience because of a stupid AKA on a ticket? I think not. Pick your battles.

      Sara …

        • CatherineCC
        • April 17th, 2011

        Except she won’t get any sort of mental health support because your country deals with mental illness by sticking people in prisons.

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