CeCe McDonald on her time in prison: "I felt like they wanted me to hate myself as a trans woman"

McDonald was joined by Laverne Cox and other trans activists to discuss their powerful vision for justice

Published January 19, 2014 6:46PM (EST)

CeCe McDonald and Katie Burgess   (MSNBC)
CeCe McDonald and Katie Burgess (MSNBC)

CeCe McDonald on Sunday gave her first televised interview after spending 19 months in a men's prison for defending herself during a racist and transphobic attack.

In conversation with Melissa Harris-Perry, McDonald spoke at length about the experience of being a trans woman incarcerated in a men's prison, as well as the institutional violence faced by all trans people who are incarcerated. "I felt like they wanted me to hate myself as a trans woman," she explained. "They wanted to force me to be someone that I wasn't. They wanted me to delegitimize myself as a trans woman -- and I was not taking that. As a trans woman -- as a proud black trans woman -- I was not going to allow the system to delegitimize and hyper-sexualize and take my identity away from me."

McDonald spoke powerfully about the disproportionate rate of violence faced by trans people -- both inside and outside of prison -- but also aimed her critique at the dehumanization and violence experienced by all people who are incarcerated. "Prisons aren't safe for anyone, and that's the key issue," she continued.

The segment -- which also featured the brilliant Laverne Cox and Trans Youth Support Network Executive Director Katie Burgess -- also highlighted the work that was done to secure justice for McDonald and the work that remains in order to secure that justice for others.

"The only way that trans folks are going to be safe in prisons is for incarceration of people to end," Burgess explained. "The only way that trans folks are going to be safe in prisons is for us to fight against these laws that criminalize things like drugs, sex work, poverty. People of color and trans folks are finding clear pathways to prison because of laws like that and that's where we need to put our focus here."

"And the issue too is that we are really stigmatized and criminalized at every level of culture," Cox added. "The very nature of the gender binary model suggests that we transgender people don't exist. ... There is constantly this denial of the existence of trans people, and because of that denial we don't get services and are discriminated against disproportionately everywhere. We have to have policies that acknowledge that we exist to even begin to dismantle some of the systemic discrimination that we experience."

You can (and should) watch both powerful segments here:

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Cece Mcdonald Laverne Cox Trans Justice Video