In Colorado, James Pennington has been arrested for “assault” upon Jane Doe. Pennington is a former army medic, not a doctor, and surgically removed Ms. Doe’s testicles.
Pennington performed the equivalent of a back alley abortion.
Transgender people constantly endure roadblocks to transition – denied changes in documentation, denied recognition, denied medical care. If Ms. Doe had been able to attain all those things, she would not have resorted to having surgery done in her apartment, bleeding and risking death.
How does Ms. Doe feel about James Pennington? She wrote a lengthy letter in his defence, pleading for him not to be charged or treated leniently. She criticizes the bigoted medical industry, policitians and society that drove her to this decision.
I am not in her position, not desperate as she was, but I understand and empathize.
DENVER – A transgender woman has penned a letter explaining why she chose to ask an unlicensed Colorado man to remove her testicles in what she called a “back-alley” procedure.
James Lowell Pennington, 57, is accused of operating on the transgender woman and is now in a Denver jail facing charges of aggravated assault.
This is Jane Doe’s letter in full:
Three days prior to writing this I had an unlicensed operation done in my home to remove my testicles. There was a complication during the operation and while the operation was successful in its purpose, I started to bleed heavily afterward and my spouse was forced to call emergency medical services. Shortly thereafter the man who did the operation on me was arrested, and shortly after that his name was released to the press who have now released several stories painting the man as a monster and me as a victim.
I am here to verify that I am indeed a victim. However, I am not a victim of 57 year old James Lowell Pennington who is the suspect in this case. I am a victim of a society and healthcare system that focuses on trying to demonize transgender people and prevent us from getting the medical transition we need instead of trying to do what is best for us. Arranging a back-alley surgery was out of pure desperation due to a system that failed me.
Do not paint me as a victim of naivety or obsession and do not paint Mr. Pennington as a monster.
I would like to state that this issue is not to debate the validity of transgender people and our genders. Any expert will tell you that gender is separate from reproductive sex and that transgender people are the genders we claim to be, and that we have a need to be able to live as that gender in our lives. While some may incorrectly state that transgender people are “new” or a fad, we have existed in many societies for thousands of years. Examples include the Two Spirited people in many American Indian Tribes, and the Hijra in the Eastern Indian tradition. While I know these facts won’t stop misinformed corners of the internet and some political sects from attacking transgender people as they often do, I want it known right now that such opinions should be considered settled.
To get stuck on that takes away from the issue at hand.
I was assigned male sex at birth, however, my gender has been female since I developed any sort of gender identity. I have known that I was transgender since I was a child. Well, more correctly I felt strongly that I wanted to be and identified as a female from before the age of ten. Around ten this identity became stronger and stronger. I believe that this was because puberty was approaching, and with it larger noticeable differences between males and females which caused me severe emotional pain because my mind did not match the body I was given. There was no confusion to me as to what gender I was. I knew that I was a girl. My only confusion was why my body was not the same as the gender of my heart, and why it was considered so wrong for me to be able to live as a member of that gender.
As I went through my adolescent years I tried various methods to destroy these feelings. I tried to just be a devout Christian and follow the Bible which I was raised by. I tried to be a gay man and just date men and be happy with my sex. However, religion can not make someone something they are not, and gender identity and sexual orientation are separate aspects of a person. When neither of those worked I became extremely reckless and turned to drugs and alcohol because I could not deal with the pain of going through life as something I was not. These conflicting and destructive behaviors continued into my early twenties.
Around 22 years old I decided to try to be true to myself and went to several therapists who quickly agreed that I was indeed a transgender woman and not simply suffering from some other mental illness which was causing me to experience these feelings. I then started female hormone therapy to help make my body match my mind, and started living full time as the woman that I always knew I was.
While I managed to obtain counseling and hormone therapy for a time, I ended up losing my insurance which made me lose both of these resources. This turned into the hardest time in my life, and began a trend of setbacks whenever I pursued transition.
Eventually I was able to get back on my feet and get back on female hormone therapy. This was in 2013, and I have been on HRT since then. Since then my life has improved enormously. I no longer abuse drugs and rarely ever drink, and when I do, I do so only at home with my wife where we are safe. I no longer want to die as I did from childhood into my young adulthood because I could not be true to myself. I have met and married the love of my life as I no longer have had to hold back and pretend to be a man which always kept me from being able to seriously pursue a romantic relationship before. The last few years have been the greatest in my life. Living as the woman that I have long known that I am has been a true blessing for me.
However, not all in life was smooth. I have long been plagued by genital dysphoria – or in layman’s terms feelings of extreme depression, stress, and overall negativity when one’s genitals do not match those of their gender. There are two major operations for transgender women (“male to female”) to deal with genital dysphoria. The first and better known option is called genital reassignment surgery (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “sex change operation”). This operation takes the penis and scrotum and reworks them to be a ‘neo-vagina’ which functions and looks similar to any other vagina up to where the cervix and uterus would be. The second operation – one which has been practiced for thousands of years – is called an orchiectomy and involves the removal of the testicles which completely stops the production of unwanted testosterone – a hormone which causes secondary male sexual characteristics and prevents estrogen from making desired changes on the body.
Many transgender women seek one or both of these operations. Unfortunately, they are governed by an outdated set of standards of care from 1979 which is currently known as WPATH or “World Professional Association of Transgender Health” Standards, but was originally known as the Benjamin Standards of care, named after a cisgender (non transgender) psychiatrist who had very limited experience and knowledge on transgender people. These standards of care have largely remained unchanged during the last 40 years.
According to the WPATH standards of care, a transgender person must obtain letters from anywhere from one to three psychiatrists which take a minimum of one year each to obtain just to get permission for a surgery that the patient already knows they need. These standards do nothing to help transgender people what so ever. While these gates are said to protect people from mistakenly transitioning, most people who are not sure of their gender identity are reluctant to even start hormone therapy – which has more easily reversible effects and takes months to years to have noticeable effects in most cases – much less pursue these surgeries. These sorts of surgeries (or a mastectomy or removal of the breasts in transgender men (“female to male”)) are operations which allow a transgender individual who has long known their gender to have their physical gender match their mental gender and are needed to change sex on official documentation in most jurisdictions.
Unfortunately, these “standards of care” are not at all meant to help transgender people, and instead are simply placed to try to keep transgender people from transitioning due to backward and outdated beliefs that being transgender is a mental illness – a diagnosis which the latest American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual disagrees with. Due to these beliefs and a society which often demonizes transgender people led by politicians who try to outlaw our existence, treatment for transgender people is held back and stunted at every turn. Trans care is even portrayed as wrong. In several articles which spoke about this case it was stated that surgeons could not reattach my testicles as if that were a bad thing. Obviously, I wanted them gone and would have been traumatized had they been restored.
These “standards of care” and societies treatment of transgender people are the only true crimes regarding my case. I tried for many years to go through legitimate routes to get these surgeries which would make my physical genitalia match my gender. Yet every time something went wrong. Whether it be the loss of insurance, or changes in the law, I have been stopped at every single turn from completing my transition. Eventually it became too much. My body is my body, and my gender is my gender, and I am the only one who gets to decide how I want my transition to go.
I contacted Mr. Pennington because he offered to do me a favor and help me get an operation which I so badly needed for my mental and physical health. Not only did my genitalia cause me severe psychological trauma, the gonads also produced testosterone which interfered with my female reproductive hormone therapy, and forced me to take a testosterone blocking medication which is highly dangerous to the body over long periods of time. I had been abandoned and tossed aside by a highly transphobic system and was kept year after year from completing my transition. Mr. Pennington presented me an opportunity to achieve this goal. He offered me a kindness which the environment I live in denied me.
So, no, I am not a victim of Mr. Pennington, nor is Mr. Pennington a monster. I will not be pressing charges against him because of this. I hope the District Attorney is kind to him, and while I hope he never operates again because of how dangerous it turned out to be, that he is not harshly sentenced.
I am one of many victims of a society and healthcare system which focuses on trying to bully and discourage transgender people into the shadows instead of realizing that we are here, we are real, and we deserve and absolutely need these medical resources. As long as this system continues in its present form there will continue to be events like this. Until this system is fixed and transgender people are encouraged and able to get the care we need, there will always be cases like me.”