Midwest Voices

Dear Chelsea Manning: My sisterly advice

Updated: 2013-08-29T21:53:42Z


Midwest Voices Columnist

Sharp-eared readers might have picked up on a curious noise Thursday morning: a muffled thump, seemingly coming from multiple directions.

That sound was the noise made by all the transpeople in the country reading Chelsea Manning’s statement outing herself, and subsequently bringing their heads into contact with the nearest flat surface. Hard.

Being transgendered is, alas, never easy. It’s expensive, painstaking, inherently makes your life riskier. What’s more, you find yourself suddenly subject to the most bizarre assumptions on the part of the people around you. They think it’s a mental disease, or a way to get your kicks, or heaven knows what. Getting a job or a place to stay is suddenly a lot harder. And then, on top of all that, you open the paper and there’s something like this.

See, what we have here is what you might call your basic public relations problem: a small, misunderstood segment of the populace wakes up one morning to find one of the most notorious figures in the news of the day is claiming to be one of them. This is not a way to start your morning, let me tell you. I mean, think about it: we’ve got writers, several musicians, one of the people who wrote “The Matrix”, tech mavens, even a billionaire philanthropist. But ask the person on the street to name a transgendered person today, and odds are nine-out-of-10 you’re going to get the one that will be in the pokey for the next 35 years.

Still, if she is one of us and all, we gotta recognize that. So, in the spirit of universal sisterhood and all that jazz, I’d like to offer a few words of friendly advice to Chelsea, in hopes she may find them of benefit.

First of all, let’s talk timing. Various LGBT support groups have been so kind as to make a list of times when it’s not a good idea to come out to your loved ones, such as holidays, funerals, etc. Somehow, “Just after being found guilty of a major, headline-grabbing crime and being sentenced to spend a substantial portion of your life in a military prison” has never made the list, but let’s just go ahead and add it now, shall we?

Now there’s the question of what you’re trying to accomplish. We know you believed you were acting in good faith when you leaked all that stuff, but by coming out when you did, you’ve basically undermined the whole point of what you’d done. You see, there’s a lot of important questions that need to be answered about government surveillance, and whistleblowing vs. espionage, et cetera. And now, the argument is about to be subsumed by your gender issues. And don’t think for a moment that people will not use that as a rhetorical weapon against you or anyone defending your deeds or motivations. No matter how right or wrong you were, no matter what fair points you made or important things you revealed, the fact that you are transgender just became issue number one.

Speaking of which, I dunno if you gave any thought to this, but you’re not exactly doing your fellow transfolks a favor here. See, when you cross gender lines, it’s pretty transgressive. It’s hard for most folks to understand the why and wherefore of it all, and as a result some people make some really weird assumptions about you. And this? What you’re doing now? This is not helping. The average transsexual is basically someone trying desperately to have a nice, quiet life and be left alone to have as close to a regular existence as they can. We really don’t, as a general rule, call attention to ourselves, and when someone does, more often than not it’s not a good thing. I mean, for heaven’s sake: isn’t Jerry Springer enough?

And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about treatment. Now, you and I both know that science has long established Gender Identity Dysphoria as a bona fide medical problem with established diagnostics and procedures and suchlike, but let’s face it: the idea of taxpayer dollars going to fund your transition, particularly after what you’ve done, is liable to send some folks ballistic. Granted, the Army has already said no way, but still, it really ain’t helping. Not to mention it’s a bit weird from a moral standpoint. Yes, some transpeople — especially those who already transitioned — can get subsidized hormones while in stir. But on the other hand, here’s me, whose entire criminal career consists of parking tickets, and I gotta pay my own way for everything. I mean, what is the lesson we’re meant to be taking away, here?

Look, I’m not gonna try and tell you the next few decades are gonna be easy. And coming out in all likelihood made things worse. Not just for you, but for the rest of us on the outside. You strike me as a reasonably intelligent young person who genuinely believes in doing what you feel is right. I’m just suggesting next time you throw a little more thought to consequences, all right? And I’m sorry if I sound a bit upset, but hey, I am. You could have handled this any number of ways, but as it stands you’ve just brought a lot of unexpected and extremely unwelcome attention on people like yourself, people who never did anything to you and certainly never asked for the spotlight on them. And now you’re going to spend a third of a century in one of the worst possible places to be openly transgender. There are groups, such as the TGI Justice Project, and the Transgender American Veterans Association out there that might or might not be able to make the time smoother, but in any case you’ve got a lot of goodwill to build back up with this community.

The good news is, you’ve got a lot of time ahead of you to do it.

Kelly Luck, of Kansas City, works in information technology.

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