BOSTON – A killer who sued to have a sex change claims her body is becoming more masculine again because she's being denied treatment in prison as she awaits a ruling in her bid for the surgery.
Michelle Kosilek, formerly known as Robert, said that for months she has not been allowed to have court-approved hair-removal treatment or access to a specialist to discuss her testosterone levels.
"My breasts have shrunk, genitals have regained previous size and function, facial hair is thicker and scalp hair is thinner, all related to an elevated testosterone level," Kosilek said in a handwritten letter submitted to the court recently.
Robert Kosilek was sentenced to life in prison in the 1990 murder of his wife. Kosilek said the slaying was self-defense after she poured boiling tea on his genitals.
Kosilek, 58, who legally changed her name to Michelle in 1993 and has been living as a woman, first sued the Department of Correction in 2000, saying its refusal to allow her to have sex-change surgery violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
In 2002, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled that Kosilek was entitled to treatment for gender identity disorder — including hormone treatments, laser hair removal and psychotherapy — but stopped short of ordering sex-reassignment surgery.
Kosilek sued again in 2005, saying the treatments were not enough to relieve her anxiety and depression.
"I would not want to continue existing like this," Kosilek testified in June 2006.
The trial lasted on and off from May 2006 until March 2007, with expert testimony from 10 doctors, psychiatrists and psychotherapists. An Associated Press review last year found that the corrections department and its outside health care provider had spent more than $52,000 on experts to testify about the surgery, which would cost about $20,000.
Though testimony ended almost a year ago, Wolf has given no indication when he will rule in the case, which is being closely watched nationwide by advocates for other inmates who want to undergo a sex change. Transgender inmates in other states have sued prison officials, but none has persuaded a judge to order a sex-change operation.
The Department of Correction claims Kosilek's surgery would create a security quagmire and make her a target for sexual assault. Department spokeswoman Diane Wiffin would not comment on Kosilek's recent claims that her treatment is being neglected, citing the ongoing litigation.
In court papers filed last month, Kosilek claimed that prison officials have stopped following the treatment plan outlined by Wolf in 2002, causing a "serious revision" in her attempts to complete her transformation into a woman.
Kosilek said she has not received any laser hair removal or electrolysis since May 2006, and that prison officials have refused to let her see an endocrinologist since October 2007. She said she has repeatedly told prison authorities that the testosterone blocker Lupron has stopped functioning effectively.
In a written response, lawyers for prison officials said Kosilek has continued to receive adequate treatment for gender-identity disorder. The Correction Department also said Kosilek met three times in December with a nurse practitioner to discuss her concerns about her suppression treatment.
Kosilek, however, said prison officials have denied her repeated requests for a follow-up visit with the endocrinologist.
Prison officials said Kosilek received extensive laser hair removal treatments, then asked in January 2007 for electrolysis to remove hair that was too light for laser treatments. They said the department's mental health provider is currently reviewing the request for electrolysis to determine whether it is "appropriate or necessary treatment."
Kosilek's lawyer, Frances Cohen, said the surgery is a medical necessity for Kosilek, who has twice attempted suicide.
"We hope that the Department of Correction wouldn't use the amount of time that it necessarily takes the judiciary to resolve this to allow her treatment to move backwards," Cohen said.