When I first heard about Chelsea Manning my reaction was, “You’re not helping!” and it took me a while to figure out why I had such an intense reaction. I had an urgent need to get to the bottom of it too cause my heart wanted to just support her, yet I could not help feeling upset over how sensationalized she was going to be and ultimately was by the news. The picture of her in her car floating around, the misgendering in the reporting. At some point my true problem became obvious to the point I don’t know how I missed it: I didn’t have an issue with her, I had a problem with the military and the press sensationalizing her and the inevitable assertions from uninitiated cisgender people that what the military put her through made her trans. All of this is completely unfair to her.
Coming to terms with being trans is no easy task. Coming out with grace might just be impossible. In my anecdotal experience usually there is a long phase of denial where you make every effort to fit into the life you were born into. While without question there are many brave female soldiers in the branches of our military, that does not change the fact that for many Male to Female trans people they see the military as not only an opportunity to serve their country, but a way to connect them to the manhood they don’t have but want to find in themselves so desperately because it’s the “easy way out”. I’m not accusing Chelsea of having this motivation, I’m just saying that it exists and aware that it exists the military must be understanding when a trans person enters the ranks.
But right now they are not. Right now trans people are excluded from service. Right now they deny the care that Chelsea so desperately needs. Part of me wants to assert that for as long as the United States Government withholds Chelsea her Hormone Replacement Therapy and the care she needs, the United States Government is practicing torture. This is because time and time again I have seen when trans people accept themselves and are ready to go, they’re ready to go now! The pain that Chelsea must have been put through already by being denied care while knowing that care is available to others out there, despite my acquaintance with similar pain, I can still only imagine the intensity.
So the problem here is not the fact that Chelsea or anyone of us is trans. It’s that she’s in a situation that is using her being trans to make her life harder for her. Being trans been made to threaten her employment, the situation is withholding the care she needs and it’s making her a spectacle in the process.
Here Chelsea’s position is not unique. Here she can find solidarity with her trans sisters and brothers working at jobs without insurance, keeping them from affording treatment. Or, too often, working at jobs with insurance but with a section neatly carved out that denies them any coverage for what they need. At best her trans brothers and sisters often take home less of their paycheck because of their medical bills, at worst they can’t get treatment at all with some then risking self medication for salvation or back alley surgeries. Sometimes, with deadly results.
I would be remiss in not mentioning the physical violence that the most unfortunate experience first hand, many times at the price of their life. Make no mistake, these situations are horrible and terrifying as I quickly gathered from a few close calls I’ve had. But what makes the systematic, institutionalized making being trans so hurtful and violent in itself is, it’s chronic, and it affects so much. As stated healthcare is affected and with the money being spent on healthcare not as much can be saved for retirement. Then it’s just outright isolating. It’s like a child being singled out on the playground for having braces or glasses or something else innocuous. How could Chelsea really belong to the military when she had to hide herself out of fear of retribution? How can an employee really be apart of a company when that companies health plan denies coverage so thoroughly to the things they need?
Personally I have surprised people because, on the whole, I have a positive outlook and I believe in innate goodness and compassion in people. Sure there are bad news stories and I have experienced mistreatment myself but, I am not a victim in life because of who I am. I’ve learned to embrace and celebrate my contribution to human diversity and I’ve learned that far far more often than not, others are willing and happy to celebrate with me. In so doing and as an added bonus, I’ve been freed of so much of the fear that once bound me! Life, is really quite wonderful.
Let Chelsea Manning have her transition. Tear down all systems that harass trans people only for the wonderful journey they must take. Then sit back and watch us bloom! Unencumbered.