Soldiering On: Bradley Manning and the “Transgender Defense”

From Psychology Today:

The eyes are what break your heart first. The photo–apparently a selfie– shows a young woman in a car. She has long blonde hair and makeup, freckles on her nose. If you didn’t know the rest of her story, you might think, here’s an attractive college-age woman, maybe heading out to visit a friend, or making a run to the store.

But if you do know her story–and almost anyone who reads the news at this point does–you circle back to those eyes. It’s impossible not to read what we now know into the photo, to re-interpret what we see in her based on everything that happened after. When I look at those eyes, I see a woman who knows she is trapped in a situation that she did not choose, and for whom a solution seems impossible. Her problem, at least at the moment she took that photo, is not what she has done. Her problem is who she is, or wants to be.

The photo is of Pfc. Bradley Manning, and it was shown last week by his attorney, David Coombs, as part of the sentencing phase of the court marshal of the WikiLeaks whistleblower. Coombs’ intention, in showing the photo, is to demonstrate the seriousness of Manning’s psychological stress.Manning sent the photo to Captain Michael Worsley, an Army psychologist, in an email whose subject heading was “My Problem.”

Being transgender can indeed be a problem, but whether it is a legal defense is a dicier question. The stress and the sorrow that the condition can bring to a man or a woman is almost unimaginable to a someone who has never had to wrestle with gender identity issues, and feeling such a disconnect between ones spirit and body surely makes a person feel isolated, depressed, and alone. But it’s isolation and depression that drive people to break the law-even in the name of justice–not transness itself.

For many transgender Americans, our identity is something to celebrate, to be grateful for, and to recognize as one of the wild variations of what it means to be human. Still, getting to the place where gender identity feels like one’s greatest gift, rather than one’s greatest problem, can be a long, hard road. Many of trans women– like Manning–immerse themselves in super-masculine activities in an attempt to shake off their inner sense of womanhood. Welsh author Jan Morris climbed Mt. Everest during her days as James; the writer and activist Donna Rose competed as an amateur wrestler when her name was Don. For my own part, I spent many hours during my life as a man playing keyboards in a bar band called “The Smelts,” about which the less said, the better.

For many trans women, the hope of escaping gender confusion leads to a life in the military. The letter Manning wrote headed “My Problem” details the private’s hope that enlisting “would get rid of” the gender identity issues. For Manning, as is the case with virtually all women born trans, “immersion therapy” didn’t cure the problem; it only made things worse. “You put him in that kind of hypermasculine environment,” said Worsley, “with little support and few coping skills, the pressure would have been difficult to say the least. It would have been incredible.”

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Bradley Manning to request pardon from Obama over 35-year jail sentence

From The Guardian UK:

Manning says ‘It’s OK – I’m going to get through this’ after military judge hands down stiff penalty for WikiLeaks disclosures

at Fort Meade, Wednesday 21 August 2013

Bradley Manning will send a personal plea to Barack Obama next week for a presidential pardon after he was sentenced on Wednesday to 35 years in prison for passing hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks.

The sentence was more severe than many observers expected, and is much longer than any punishment given to previous US government officials who have leaked information to the media.

Manning showed no emotion, neither when the sentence was delivered, nor after being escorted into a side room, where his lawyers and members of his family were waiting, some of them in tears.

“Everyone was emotional from his defence team, including myself,” his lawyer, David Coombs, told the Guardian. “The only person that wasn’t emotional was Brad. He looked to us and said: ‘It is okay’ … I am going to move forward and I’m going to be alright’.”

After the sentence, Manning was taken to a side room, where Coombs, was waiting in tears. “[Manning] looked to me and said: ‘It’s OK. It’s all right. I’m going get through this’,” Coombs told reporters later. “If nothing else, he is a resilient young man.”

Coombs told a press conference that next week he will formally submit the request for a pardon, “or at the very least commute his sentence to time served”. That request will contain a personal appeal from Manning to Obama, which his lawyer read out.

“When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love to my country and a sense of duty to others,” Manning will tell Obama. “If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.”

Coombs said the military’s decision to seek a charge of aiding enemy – which ultimately failed – was placed amid a “government-wide crackdown” on journalists and whistleblowers that should alarm those who care about a free press.

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Manning Sentenced to 35 Years for Leaking Government Secrets

From The New York Times:

By and
Published: August 21, 2013

FORT MEADE, Md. — A military judge sentenced Pfc. Bradley Manning on Wednesday to 35 years in prison for providing more than 700,000 government files to WikiLeaks, a gigantic leak that lifted the veil on American military and diplomatic activities around the world.

The sentence is the longest ever handed down in a case involving a leak of United States government information for the purpose of having the information reported to the public. Private Manning, 25, will be eligible for parole in about seven years, his lawyer said.

In a two-minute hearing on Wednesday morning, the judge, Army Col. Denise R. Lind, also said that Private Manning would be dishonorably discharged and reduced in rank from private first class to private, the lowest rank in the military. She said he would forfeit his pay but she did not impose a fine.

Before the sentencing, Private Manning sat leaning forward with his hands folded, whispering to his lawyer, David Coombs. His aunt and a cousin sat quietly behind him. When Colonel Lind read the sentence, Private Manning stood, showing no expression. He did not make a statement.

The materials that Private Manning gave to WikiLeaks included a video taken during an American helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 in which civilians were killed, including two journalists. He also gave WikiLeaks some 250,000 diplomatic cables, dossiers of detainees being imprisoned without trial at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and hundreds of thousands of incident reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Immediately after the judge left, military guards flanked Private Manning and hustled him out the front of the courtroom as a half-dozen supporters in the back of the courtroom shouted words of encouragement at him.

“We’ll keep fighting for you, Bradley,” one shouted. Another said “You are a hero.” After Private Manning left the room, another supporter yelled, “We love you.”

Several hours after the sentencing, Mr. Coombs told reporters that he would apply for a presidential pardon for Private Manning next week. At the White House, Josh Earnest, a spokesman, responded that Private Manning’s application would be considered “like any other application.”

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Focus On The Family: Transgender Young People Don’t Exist In ‘Physical Reality’

From Think Progress

By Zack Ford
on June 17, 2013

Numerous conservative groups are concerned about a bill (AB 1266) advancing in the California legislature that would recognize transgender young people’s identities in school, allowing them to use the facilities and play on the sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. Focus on the Family’s resident ex-gay Jeff Johnston lashed out at the bill, claiming that trans identities only exist in a “fantasy reality”:

The reality is that humans are born male or female. At birth we don’t “assign” sex to a child arbitrarily, as the analysis of this bill implies. We recognize the child’s sex – it is a physical reality. But in the world of this bill, that reality doesn’t matter. Like Cinderella in a fantasy world, a person may choose or change his sex, saying, “I can be whatever I want to be.”

But trans identities have nothing to do with who a person “wants to be”; it’s about who a person is. And sometimes, people’s mental understanding of their gender identity does not match the sex of the body they were born into. Denying the reality of their lived experience only serves to shame and stigmatize them, but won’t change their core identity.

Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, an anti-LGBT hate group, argues that the “idea of socially constructed gender is very radical” and “not safe for the kids,” but there is no evidence to support his aspersions. In fact, the American Psychological Association recommends the passage of nondiscrimination protections like this California bill and any effort to recognize and affirm transgender people. It is that affirmation that best serves their mental well-being, not condemnation and erasure like these conservative groups propose.

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Conservative media won’t stop trolling transgender people

How many times have the Radical Feminists and the rest of the Ultra Right made the exact same claim.

You know the one:  If transsexual and transgender people are protected by anti-discrimination laws it will mean straight male perverts will be free to attack women in women’s restrooms.

Wait a second.  Where did I hear that one before?

Oh yes.  That was one of Phyllis Schlafly’s lies about why we couldn’t have the Equal Rights Amendment.

From Salon:

A video from the Media Research Center shows everything that’s wrong with the right-wing and Radical Feminist view of transgender rights

Monday, Aug 19, 2013

The conservative Media Research Center responded to news of a California law that allows transgender youth to use school facilities and play on athletic teams that correspond to their gender identity with a blatantly transphobic video that equates transgender people with sexual predators.

In the video, reporter Dan Joseph “poses” as transgender (by affecting a slightly feminine voice) and asks a woman if she would be comfortable with him sharing the bathroom with her by saying, “I’m a transgender. So that means I have the man parts but inside I feel more like a woman. I was just wondering, is it okay if I go in there with you in there and change and shower and stuff?”

The video then cuts to a series of interviews in which Joseph indicates that the new California law will somehow lead people to openly expose their genitals in public restrooms or allow predatory men to spy on women while they are changing.

Joseph’s hateful framing is a perfect representation of how willfully ignorant (and openly hostile) conservative media outlets are to transgender rights, as National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling remarked to Raw Story on Monday: “[The people at MRC] know that there are real trans people. They know we’re not talking about boys who want to pretend that they’re girls or girls who want to pretend they’re boys. They know we’re talking about people who have a gender identity that want to safely use the restroom in a way which is the least disruptive.”

Beyond grossly misrepresenting the content of the law and the experiences of transgender people, Joseph’s video serves to “villainize a group of kids who have it really rough, and who the state of California’s just trying to make it a little easier on,” Keisling continued. “This [law] doesn’t put anybody else out. It’s really easy to scare people about it … nobody’s put out, nobody’s made unsafe, nobody’s made unmodest [by this law].”

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See also:

Gay Star News:  Conservative activist says he would claim to be transgender to watch girls changing

Media Matters: This Is What Conservative Media Think A Transgender Woman Looks Like

Raw Story: Trans activists slam ‘hateful’ conservative video in which man ‘dresses up’ as ‘a transgender’

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The Closet and Bradley Manning

From Huffington Post:


The recent publication of some of Bradley Manning’s personal emails and photos about his gender dysphoria, including admissions from his psychiatrist during the sentencing phase of his trial for espionage, once again raise the issue of the “closet” and the pathology created within it.

For purposes of discussion, let’s posit that Manning’s story is generally true; it is neither a ruse to evoke compassion pre-sentencing nor an attempt by the prosecution to damage the LGBT community by disparaging Manning. And let’s accept on face value that being trans had nothing directly to do with the actions that brought about his conviction. Those acts are related to his idealism, or to his personality and character defects, or both, however you choose to view his leaking classified documents.

So what does it say about the state of LGBT acceptance in the small towns of America?
Manning’s therapist related that his client joined the military in an attempt to overcome his gender dysphoria. He was not the first — recent public figures such as Diane Schroer and Kristin Beck come to mind — nor will he be the last. Many others have joined relatively macho professions or attempted risky behaviors, such as reaching the summit of Mt. Everest for the first time on Coronation Day in 1953. Their purpose was a form of self-administered reparative therapy.

This self-repair can be cloaked in a religious vestment, as was my experience, or it can be completely secular in nature, but the key point lies in the attempt to cure oneself of the feelings, the profoundly intimate knowledge that you’re female, even though everyone else perceives you as male, or vice versa. The process usually proceeds for years, often decades, before the erosion of one’s resistance to the truth has been completed and you’re left with nothing but the raw truth. At that point, should you reach it, you either engage with your truth or take your life. Some people never get to that point and are able to run and hide forever; others come up short in childhood or adolescence. The majority have made it to adulthood, with all the trappings that that involves, before the executive decision must be confronted. As an aside, my motivation for my advocacy is to prevent those decades from being lived with a mask, at best, or fraudulently, at worst, by today’s generation of trans children. To allow children to be who they are, with their lives ahead of them.

The waste generated by the closet is primarily personal: the waste of a life lived inauthentically. Gay persons know this just as well as others who’ve pretended to be someone they really aren’t. It’s remarkable how universal the closet is, and how familiar the experience. I know people whose fathers wanted them in the family business so badly that they gave up on their dreams to become teachers, and others whose parents wanted them to become doctors when all they wanted was to write or paint. The years pass, you get tired of fighting the familial and social pressures (“the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice”), and before you know it you’ve convinced yourself that you’re right where you belong, or worse, right where you deserve to be.

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Jose Julio Sarria (1923 – 2013) – Founder of Imperial Court System – Tribute Video 1

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