From her prison cell, whistleblower Chelsea Manning has written a beautiful piece for the Guardian about the Pentagon's announcement that it will end a longtime ban on transgender people serving in the Armed Forces, and the implications this has for ordinary trans Americans who serve our country, just like her.
The end of the military's trans ban is a critical step "toward protecting and recognizing the humanity of trans people," says Manning, but the military's proposal "falls far short of what is needed."
Victory: Trans inclusion in the U.S. Military; caveats (many): lots and lots of work to do (incl my hair) https://t.co/idBlAZSJFA #LGTBQ
— Chelsea Manning (@xychelsea) July 1, 2016
From her op-ed:
When I first heard about Thursday's announcement I was grinding and sanding metal to a polish at my prison job. The news was both a relief and reminder of how little we can count on the principles of equality and institutions like the military to bring justice to our community.
Even within the military inclusion framework, many issues remain unresolved and concerning. Right away, something didn't sit right with me. We don't need the military to be the gatekeeper of our gender expression and identity. We should be able to define ourselves.
The policy outlined by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter would require new recruits to be "stable in their identified gender for 18 months, as certified by their doctor, before they can enter the military". How many young trans people like myself fit this criteria? The idea of having a gender certification process is a misuse of the medically accepted standards of care. What is the stability of gender? Isn't gender an inherently unstable concept – always being constrained by the various context and rules under which we live?
I worry that this type of requirement will further entrench the gender binary and further legitimize the control that administrators and medical providers have over our bodies and our identities.
And what about those of us who are incarcerated? Will these rules apply to us? I am deeply concerned that like so many policies, the impact of this change won't penetrate the prison walls. What does it mean that the military will recognize our gender, unless and until we are arrested, and then what? This core identity is then stripped away and our birth assigned sex is imposed on us?
But defining ourselves for who we are is one of the most powerful and important rights that we have as human beings. No one knows my gender more than I do. You do not know my gender better than I do. A doctor doesn't know it better than I do. My parents don't know it better than I do. No one experiences my gender in the way that I experience it. Presenting myself and my gender is about my right to exist. With this policy, the military is essentially saying "you can exist, but only on our terms". What they are doing is taking away the control of our identity.
"It's right to end the ban on trans people in the military – but wrong to set conditions." [Guardian opinion/Chelsea E Manning]
"Chelsea Manning critiques US military reforms for transgender personnel" [Ed Pilkington, Guardian]