Legitimating transphobia : the legal disavowal of transgender rights in prison

John Nguyet ERNI

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Transgender persons are strangers to the law; or put more accurately, the legal imagination is so deeply entrenched in normative gender binarism as to effectively render transsexuals a 'freakish' anomaly to law. This essay attempts to offer a reflection on transgenderism, law and sexual crime from a human rights and criminal law perspective. It focuses on one of the most violent types of institution in society - the prison - and asks: what are the legal imagination and practice surrounding transgender prisoners as they are linked to social and cultural transphobia? What 'human' rights can be practiced for a dehumanized class? It first surveys the legal predicament of transgender prisoners in the US prison system in relation to Eighth Amendment rights provided by the US Constitution. The US situation has seen cases that have importantly shed light on other jurisdictions when engaging with the combined questions of prisoners' rights and transgender rights together. The analysis is then taken to the context of Hong Kong prisons in a modest application. In contrast to some other Asian contexts (such as Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia), critical cultural studies of transgenderism are non-existent in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, human rights studies of the same have only emerged through the work of legal scholar Robyn Emerton. It is hoped that a rights-based approach will emerge in Hong Kong for the protection of transgender inmates from sexual violence in local correctional facilities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-159
Number of pages24
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number1
Early online date20 Sept 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


  • Eighth Amendment rights
  • Hong Kong
  • Prisons Ordinance (Hong Kong)
  • prison
  • sexual crime
  • transgender


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