Chelsea Manning: Making The Best Of A Bad Situation
Speaking on trans* issues as a white, (mostly) straight, cisgendered male is always a tough one for me. I literally have no idea what it’s like to be trans* in America or what kind of struggles the LGBT community goes through, even though I’m loosely affiliated with it. What I do know is that, as a good progressive, it’s really none of my fucking business who/what you want to be – man, woman, or anything/everything in between – provided that you’re not hurting anyone, most importantly yourself.
That being said, what the hell is going through the mind of Chelsea Manning right now?
Needless to say, Manning’s decision that he now wishes to live the rest of his life as a woman, coming not twenty-four hours after being sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for the biggest national security breach in American history, took the Internet completely by storm. While Manning’s struggles with gender dysphoria are well-documented, and were even used by the defense team to support her case, it doesn’t make her decision to actually go through with gender reassignment at this point any less shocking, especially considering the way many people view trans* people here in the U.S.
“During her trial, Manning’s defense team claimed that she had suffered from ‘gender identity disorder’ throughout most of her life; her decision to undergo hormone therapy shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who was paying attention. And no matter what your stance on Manning’s role in leaking documents, it’s hard to argue with the fact that the timing of her transition — right before entering a men’s prison to serve a 35-year sentence — puts Manning in the lines of some pretty harrowing and unconscionable scenarios.”
Whatever horrible treatment Manning has faced in her life in relation to his issues with gender identity as a free woman will have been a cakewalk compared to what lies ahead. Her road is fraught with all manner of danger, even death. Prisons have never exactly been bastions of tolerance, especially towards LGBT inmates, and trans* folks have it the worst, according to a 2012 study conducted in California. If Manning survives her ordeal, it won’t be without lasting psychological damage, adding further grievous injury to someone who has already suffered so much over the course of her life.
So the question isn’t why, it’s why now? Clearly, there was never going to be a good time for Manning to make such a drastic decision as this. Whatever you may think of her decision, it’s seems inexplicable.
But when you think about it, if there was ever a right time for Manning to make this decision, it’s now. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “making the best out of a bad situation,” right? When you think about, that’s precisely what Manning is doing, and it’s brilliant. First, a bit of context:
“[T]he military has already announced that, although they provide psychiatric care for their inmates, they will not provide Manning with hormone therapy or surgery. So, does Manning have any legal recourse here? Her attorney is confident he can compel the military to provide care to Manning while she’s incarcerated, but this will probably require a separate lawsuit. Manning will have to argue that the military is engaging in cruel and unusual punishment by denying her medical treatment — in this case, hormone therapy. Although prisons are generally required to provide adequate medical care to their inmates, even hormone therapy might be a tough sell on an institution that still refuses to allow transgender people to enlist and serve openly.”
Manning’s actions as a whistleblower, as well as her subsequent capture, trial, and conviction have been some of the most controversial events in national security history, prompting massive support for the young soldier as a heroic martyr for the progressive cause. Massive solidarity with the LGBT community has been there from the beginning as well, when Manning’s struggles with gender dysphoria were first made public. She has garnered a tremendous amount of sympathy from all strata of the progressive movement, and now it’s time for her to cash it in.
Clearly, the military isn’t going to be especially accommodating to Manning’s needs, short of throwing her in solitary confinement “for her own safety,” so what better way to ensure that court-mandated treatment is earned (or to ensure prompt, widespread public outrage if it isn’t) than to make it as publicized an affair as her whistleblower trial was? It gives her the best chance of actual success, because I can assure you, the moment Manning’s name inevitably disappears from the headlines, she is fucked. The Powers That Be not only consider her to be a traitor, but the worst traitor in American history. The longer she can keep her name in the public eye, the better chance she has of being treated like something remotely resembling a human being. Given her treatment during the course of the trial, that’s not saying much. But it’s better than nothing.
Is Chelsea Manning selfish? Yes. Is she callous and emotionally manipulative? Quite possibly. Is she completely and totally justified in her actions, both morally and pragmatically, considering what she’s already been through? Absolutely. Manning has more than earned her stripes thus far, and deserves all the help she can get, for as long as she can get it. Being that her days in the news cycle are numbered, this is her best chance not only at survival, but at a small measure of happiness, no matter how fleeting. And along the way, Chelsea Manning just might make history . . . again.
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