Should the State Have to Pay for a Trans Inmate’s Hair Removal Procedures?


Michelle Kosilek is currently serving a life sentence for murder. Prison time, it turns out, really gets in the way of moving ahead with your MTF transitioning plans.

Sentenced for strangling her then-wife Cheryl Kosilek back in 1990, Michelle used to be Robert, before legally changing her name in prison. Then she began lobbying Massachusetts State to pay for her sex change operation, which set off a whole litany of courtroom proceedings and talk radio punchlines. A decision still hasn’t been made, but in the interim, Michelle has been trying to eliminate her body hair with electrolysis treatments — and now she wants the state to pay for those, too.

That request, a judge just decided, was too much. While U.S. District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf acknowledged “that hair is an excruciatingly painful reminder of her status as a male,” he also noted Kosilek appears to be doing just fine living as a woman inside an men’s prison. (He also reminded the court that the cost of the Department of Corrections’ legal team fighting Kosilek’s request probably costs more than the electrolysis itself.)

Naturally, what Kosilek is “suffering” from is gender identity disorder, which is that negative-sounding classification that’s sometimes necessary to make the case that this is a medical problem, not a cosmetic one, and medical problems require medical solutions, like surgery and hormone treatments. And while prison and trans-rights advocates will likely side with Kosilek, we’re still on the fence about whether letting Kosilek remain in prison with body hair constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Your thoughts?

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  • ThatguyFromBoston


  • Lucas

    Sure, why not?
    They pay for other ridiculous items for inmates.

  • emb

    I really hate to be this way, but No, the state shouldn’t be paying for Michelle’s MTF transitioning. This isn’t an argument about the nature of transsexuality or the rights of individuals to express their true characters (all of which I support), but about the role of incarceration and the state’s obligations to prisoners. Certainly if Michelle suffered from a life-threatening illness the state should cover treatment; aside from that, I don’t think the state has any duty to ensure the general happiness and personal fulfillment of prisoners. Michelle’s crime (and it still gets to be her crime regardless of any subsequent self-discoveries) relieved her of many of her Constitutional right (voting, bearing arms, etc), as well as her right to personal freedom. While I sympathize with her suffering on a human level, as a prisoner and a murderer she opted herself out of any right to public support beyond the basic necessities. I hate cases like this, because they really don’t help the real and arguable rights of trans folks who aren’t serving life sentences for murder.

  • me

    I’ve seen a lot of hairy women in Massachusetts. She should just tell people she’s from Worcester.

  • jeffrey

    That nasty “woman” should have thought about her “treatments” BEFORE she strangled her wife to death. She can rot in prison as far as I’m concerned. And who cares about her hair removal problems anyway? Put her in solitary confinment with a pair of tweezers and let her pluck away. This idiot is a waste and a drain on our taxpayer money.

  • Fitz

    Jeepers.. Mass Health has cut back on healthcare so dramatically. It is obscene to imagine the prison health system paying for cosmetic procedures. This is the kind of story that gives progressive people a bad name.

  • Dave

    Cases like this annoy me. On the one hand, we’ve got to fight the public perception that transitioning is “elective” or “cosmetic”, which so many insurance companies use to deny benefits.

    On the other, it seems unpalatable to say that hers should be covered since she killed somebody when she’d probably be SOL and paying out of pocket if she hadn’t. The idea of reaping a financial windfall from murder sucks, and it seems horribly unfair to unincarcerated transpeople who are struggling to pay.

  • terrwill

    With that mug heshe should be asking for MORE hair to cover that mask up!!!

  • Dishy

    Jeffrey you are wonderful thanks for the smile!!!

  • Richard in DC

    In life, we all have plans for the future… well, most of us at least. The very purpose of incarceration is to derail or defer those plans.

  • Cam

    you lose certain rights when you murder somebody. Frankly she is lucky to live in a state that won’t excecute her. How about she works in the prison in the various areas they have and saves up the money to do this. Until then, do what hairy women have always done and shave.

  • Fitz

    @Cam: I agree with most of your post– but just a detail about working in prison: there are very few jobs, and competition for them is fierce.

  • schlukitz

    I’m with Jeffrey and Cam on this.

    She snuffed the rights of another human being. What makes her think that her “rights” are now of paramount interest to anyone?

    She’s not suffering from a gender identity problem. She’s suffering from an ego problem.

    It’s all about “Her”.

  • M Shane

    There are a number of thoughful points made(above) I suspect that she has a lot of spare time, and will manage too shave or pluck her hair, as a lot of women do (No. 12 ยท Cam ). In that respect , electrolysis is cosmetic, and the hair problem can be resolved in other ways. I know people who are despirate about their cosmetic surgery they feel like a handsome person in an ugly body.and hair implants.

    Taking another life is not an insignificant matter., Part of the impact of incarceration is the lose of an incredible number of rights. It may be meaningful to say that she should have considered that when she commited the crime.

  • jeffrey

    Thanks Dishy!!

  • schlukitz

    @M Shane:

    I could not agree with you more.

    Incidentally, check out the down-turned corners of her lips and the mean-set look of her face?

    Not the face of a person who has a love for life, let alone a love for any other human being on the planet, hence her incomprehensible and uncalled for taking of a human life.

    Unless it is in self-defense, the taking of another person’s life is totally inexcusable. I for one, do not buy into this “rehabilitation” crap.

    She is lucky the state did not put her out of her misery. Had they done so, there would have been nothing left for her to complain about and end of story!

    As it is, we will hear about her shit until the day she dies of old age…and be paying bloody well for it too.

  • InExile

    The worst part of this story is the fact it is a story at all. She may become another right wing pen up girl to justify discrimination against LGBT citizens. She is just thinking about herself and no one else.

    After taking another life, she deserves nothing.

  • Jon B

    No! Don’t pay for her shiz. That’s absurd! Let the bitch have hairy legs. This is precisely the kind of stupid expenditures that make liberals seem absurd. You’re not supposed to enjoy jail. It’s supposed to suck. I’m not crying that a murderer can’t get to her electrolysis appointment on time… the state should pay for necessary healthcare. While I am all for trans rights and acceptance, I think this goes WAY too far.

  • Quinn

    While I’m dubious about whether the prison should pay for her medical expenses, if she identifies with and has been living as a woman for all this time, they should NOT be keeping her in a men’s facility.

  • Emily

    Ok, I’m going to chime in as the resident transwoman (as indicated by the misunderstanding of the issues by the other comments).

    First, let me clarify – this is a medical issue, not a cosmetic one. The presence of facial hair have real psychological effects on transwomen, due to it aggravating the already omnipresent feelings of dysphoria (which I can tell you from experience, can be pretty disabling when it’s strong enough). While for many cisgender people electrolysis may be a cosmetic decision, for most transwomen, it is a procedure that is mandatory for being able to live healthy, productive and filling lives. Since the person in question is a transwoman, this needs to be treated first as a medical issue, and anyone calling this a cosmetic procedure is quite frankly, wrong.

    Second, I’ll point out that we live in a society where even more important medical procedures such as hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery are frequently denied specifically to trans people. Considering that, we should note that electrolysis is almost always denied to transwomen, whether in prison or not. I live in BC, Canada, where both HRT and SRS are covered, and electrolysis still isn’t.

    Third, while many rights are removed from a person when incarcerated, prisoners still have some rights. This has been put in place to prevent abuse on the part of authorities. This is held true no matter how heinous the persons’ crime may be. Even when executing a prisoner, we still accord them the right to die with dignity. And since transwomen are disproportionately (and often unfairly) incarcerated, it is even more imperative that we protect prisoners’ rights.

    Fourth, the right to dignity includes the right to one’s own identity. Nobody can experience life through her eyes other than herself, thus nobody can determine her gender identity other than herself. For you to deny that she is a woman, is for you to deny her her dignity. I have said before, if you wish to invoke your cisgendered privilege and deny a transperson the right to their gender identity, then transpeople have just as much right to deny you yours.

    Finally, given all this heady information, I come to the conclusion to (nominally) support her pursuit of electrolysis, if only because it might set a precedent for other transpeople. If a ruling grants her and her alone the right to having electrolysis paid for her by the State, then I cannot in good conscience support it as it is unfair to other transwomen who are clearly more deserving of the treatment. But if the ruling can extend to all transwomen in the State, establishing electrolysis as a recognized medical treatment for transwomen, then I’d be happy to support her efforts.

  • Marcus

    Everyone should watch this film ->

    Then everyone will see why it is important for our community to support Trans inmates rights. Just because they are in prison does not make them any less of a human being. Trans people have an innate right to respect and ethical treatment regardless of whether they are on the street, our next door neighbor or in prison. I’m also pretty sure that the 8th amendment to our constitution also provides for their protection (denying transwomen medical treatment in prison, cruel and unusual punishment???). Just a thought for everyone to ponder.

  • jeffrey

    Great story there Emily but if my dental insurance won’t cover my teeth bleaching, then I’ll be damned if that “woman” should have her procedures paid for by the state. Again…she should have thought about that before she wound up in prison — FOR MURDER.

  • Kropotkin

    Thank you for bothering to post this Emily, I’m wasn’t much the mood to confront such idiocy with a long-winded response.

    -another trans woman

  • Emily

    @jeffrey: You sort of understood what I was pointing out. My initial response to your post was to think how dare you compare a cosmetic procedure (teeth bleaching) to a medical procedure, but then I realized I was doing the same thing as most other posters on this board – and I also realized teeth bleaching may have some medically beneficial properties too, just like electrolysis. The psychological benefits of electrolysis is similar, in principle, to the pro-immunity properties of teeth bleaching (that is, it helps protect you from infections coming from damaged teeth). She deserves these benefits only when everyone else who isn’t incarcerated gets them.

    Now if only you could be the “man” you claim to be (judging by the distinctly masculine name you posted under) and at least give her the recognition of her legitimate gender identity, again, like everyone else.

  • Kid A

    @jeffrey: No need to put “woman” in sneer quotes.

    @Emily: You mention electrolysis as cosmetic for cisgender women and a matter of dysphoria for trans women, which I understand, but I think many cisgender women might feel a sense of “dysphoria” (likely not to the same extent) in not being able to maintain themselves as well. I know women who religiously keep their body hair in check.

    I’m torn. I see Emily’s point and think this could especially be a problem socially for a MTF inmate. I’m pretty passionate about prisoners’ rights issues, especially prison rape, but I just need to think more about this situation before saying anything definite.

  • Elisabeth


    Well as a transsexual myself I found your post rather offensive. I totally resent this person and the ugly, selfish image they cast for transsexuals as well as the impact this sort of story has on health care reform in America.

    “For you to deny that she is a woman, is for you to deny her her dignity.”

    First of all why do you credulously assume this person is a legitimate transsexual? Maybe this person has some other sexual or psychological condition. This person’s status as a murder is statistically strong evidence of this person being psychologically male. Women commit very few murders outside of reaction to domestic violence.

    Your claim about this being medically necessary under the circumstances is false. If this person’s alleged transsexualism were that pressing (i.e. suicidal risk) they would have not gotten married and lived to middle age.

    I contend that this person gave up all rights to such extraordinary self-fulfillment and determination when they brutally murdered another human being. I feel prisoners have a right to basic amenities (clean water, safety, etc.) but there is no reason they should have provided for them treatments that honest, hard-working people cannot afford.

  • schlukitz


    Oh, spare us please. Having her hairs plucked, is not “medical treatment” for crissakes! It’s cosmetic.

    I get so sick and tired of all thse bleeding hearts types who cry “cruel and unusual punishment” over every perceived mistreatment of criminals and murderers.

    What about the “cruel and unusual punishment” her victim suffered?

    Not one fucking word of compassion or concern for the dead person, only for the comfort, well-being and the welfare of the murderer. Screw the dead person. They’re gone…and forgotten..while the murderer becomes the center of attention.

    You people are whacked in the head. Why don’t we take her out of that “horrible, awful, terrible place, and send her to an upscale resort in the Carribbean, at taxpayer’s expense, where she stands a much better chance of being “rehablitated”?

  • schlukitz

    This whole fucking nation is getting whacked.

    We reward the oil companies for bilking us at the pump.

    We reward the Wall Street fat cats for stealing our investment portfolios and life savings.

    We reward the insurance companies who take our premiums for a lifetime and then refuse to pay us when we have a few more hurricanes than we “should have” in Florida.

    We reward the automobile makers for “sticker shock” in the car showrooms, gross mismanagement of the companies they head-up and the $10 million plus annual salaries that all of the CEOs are receiving for their fucking incompetence.

    We reward the crooked politicians who pass unfair legislation that causes suffering and misery for millions of hard-working, law-abiding citizens.

    We reward the military/industrial complex for killing and maiming millions of innocent babies, children, women and men in senseless wars we cannot ever hope to win, because it is “Good for the economy”, not to mention the pockets of those who run things.

    We reward the Church and the Pope (who lives better than he does?)for fucking with our laws and telling everyone, including the non-believers, how they must live.

    And now, we reward the incarcerated criminals and murders with more “perks” than a good many old-age and nursing homes provide senior citizens with…and they pay as much as $50 grand a year or more, for the “privilege” of being incarcerated in one!

    *shaking my head in sheer amazement”

  • schlukitz


    Thank you for a sane post Elisabeth.

  • Emily

    @Elisabeth: Why do you credulously assume she is not a legitimate transsexual? That just because she murdered someone, she must therefore be a man? C’mon, this smacks of the worst kind of sexism the feminist movement has been trying to eradicate. Does this mean that any cissexual woman who murders someone become a man in your eyes too?

    @schlukitz: First off, electrolysis isn’t just getting your hairs plucked off, if that were the case, I’d say just give her a set of cheap tweezers, let her do it herself, and be done with it! But electrolysis is a lot more than that – it’s a often painful process that leaves hair follicles eventually too damaged to regrow. It ultimately has a cosmetic effect, for sure, but the underlying reason for doing it is to manage a psychological condition, thus it becomes a medical treatment.

    Also, I don’t believe Marcus was neccesarily supporting the inmate in question – merely pointing out, as I did, that the majority of trans women are incarcerated unfairly, and subsequently treated unfairly during their incarceration.

    You claim that nobody here has any compassion for the victim, that being the woman who was murdered. That’s not the case, as that’s really the reason so many people are angry at the idea of granting the inmate treatment. But your statement implies that we have room for compassion for only one of the two!

  • D-Sun

    The only medical procedures the state should be paying for for prisoners are necessary, life saving procedures. Being born the wrong gender isn’t a life threatening condition. The taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for any sort of gender re-assignment surgery.

    Michelle probably should have thought of all this before murdering someone.

  • Duncan Behines


  • hyhybt

    @D-Sun: Amen!

  • Andrew

    No. Use a razor. Shave. No!!!!!

  • Zoe Brain

    She should be allowed to pay for it herself, and given access to an electrologist in her cell.

  • schlukitz

    @Kid A:

    Thank you for sharing. I’m certain that you’re feeling much better now that you’ve gotten that off your chest.

    I find that taking a healthy crap does the same for me when I am feeling ornery and cantankerous.

    You might want to look into that! ;o)

  • hyhybt

    @schlukitz: If you take a crap whenever you’re “feeling ornery and cantankerous” you must spend a lot of time in the bathroom :)

    (I’m not saying there’s anything *wrong* with being ornery and cantankerous!)

  • Karaxen


    If bad mistakes and bad things people do are really so unforgivable, then what is the point of living? What can you possibly learn and better yourself with if you can so permanently mess up that it doesn’t matter how hard you try to be good. You’re saying that TRYING after the fact is useless. So by your thought process, most inmates should just commit suicide and never try again to live. Yes, what she did was horrible. And she will obviously be serving time for it… But letting your own race suffer is just cruel and HYPOCRITICAL and childish form of punishment. That is the same thing as hitting your kids after punishing them.

    And your “Woman” comment is fucking mean. Don’t be a dick.

  • Karaxen


    Yes it is life threatening. Just as much as major depression. its a physical condition just like any. It causes suicide and misery and nothing but bad things in its wake. Sure she’s gonna rot in prison, but let herself rot away… That is cruel and unusual to do I’d say.

  • Shannon

    Electric chair, yes. Electrolysis, not so much.

  • Miss Understood

    Listen, just being in prison has damaging psychological effects. the line has to be drawn somewhere. Let her shave her legs and call it a day. I’d be more concerned about general abuse endured from simply being a transsexual in prison. I’d expect there would be issues with inmates and prison employees. If she has time to think about electrolysis then conditions where she is must be pretty damn good.

  • Katie B.

    @Miss Understood: We are not talking about electrolysis of the legs, but of facial hair. Removal of facial hair either by electrolysis or laser is in fact a significant and medically important part of treatment for transgender people – and one that is wholly neglected by the insurance establishment.

    @D-Sun: Actually, being born in the wrong-sexed body IS a life-threatening condition. Untreated it has a 100% mortality rate.

  • Miss Understood

    I know many transgender people who have not gotten their finances together to get electrolysis and they ain’t dead yet.

    My mother grew facial hair and used an electric razor.

    That 100% mortality mortality rate sounds like quite an exaggeration. Where is this statistic coming from? Gender reassignment treatments are only decades old, many people in many cultures lived transgender lives without the aid of electrolysis, hormones, or surgery.

    Yes these things are a wonderful and help many people lead more fulfilling lives but I still can’t see them as a basic right for an incarcerated murderer.

Comments are closed.