The Seeming Contradiction of Being Anti-War and Supporting the Rights of Trans-Folks to Serve in the Military

Over the week that has passed since Chelsea Manning officially came out as trans I have heard several different positions taken by people withing the trans-communities.

That there are differing opinions is to be expected, we are after all a very diverse coalition of people with different views on life and different personal politics.

I should know I am often labeled as ultra left by people I consider to be ultra right wing.

For the record I learned Chelsea Manning was trans many months ago when Zinnia Jones (Lauren McNamara) wrote of her on-line conversations with Chelsea.

I consider the actions of Chelsea Manning to be heroic.  I always consider the exposing of war crimes to be an act of heroism.  I consider her up there in the ranks of heroes like Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

I remember  going to school in the 1950s when I was indoctrinated in the ideology of patriotism.  My country right or wrong.  My country is always good, we value human life more than all those other countries.  We act only in self defense.

All the lies one has to believe to be an unthinking patriotic militarist.

Being a transkid meant dealing with a lot of contradictions cis-gender kids did not have to contemplate.

Alienation led to questioning. Being an avid reader of extra material in addition to our Social Studies texts raised more questions.  The first war I had doubts about was the Spanish-American war.  Mark Twain and others spoke out in loud opposition to that war.

By the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis I had started learning the “People’s History”.  Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie taught it for years before Howard Zinn published his book.

By then I was questioning our support of right wing dictators every where.  My opposition to the war in Vietnam was early and complete.

I became involved in the Draft Resistance Movement and later aided and abetted deserters.

I supported the Winter Soldiers and Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

I’ve always thought that every veteran no matter the form of discharge should be eligible for health care and other benefits.

I question the actions of some in the military and believe they should be prosecuted when they commit atrocities and war crimes.

But more I question the legitimacy of those who send others out to fight and commit murder for dubious reasons that often have more to do with protecting corporate interests than defending our nation.

I have stood up for and signed petitions in support of the rights of LGBT people to serve in the military if that is where their hearts and minds lead them.

Those who choose to serve should be able to serve.  It is a matter of conscience.

Just as it is a matter of conscience for those of us who oppose these wars.

I disagree with those trans-folks who served and may still be serving, when they call Chelsea Manning a traitor.

Since when is it treason to expose war crimes?

I continue to support the right of trans-folks to serve, the rights of trans-veterans to have full access to all benefits.  Further I believe that anyone who has received a less than honorable discharge for being LGBT should immediately have that discharge upgraded to honorable.

I fully believe that Chelsea Manning should be able to receive the medical care she need as a trans-person including hormones and surgery.  America claims to have all sorts of high ideals.  Time for us to live up to those ideals.

One of those ideals is that we do not torture or abuse prisoners, nor do we deny them needed medical treatment.

Chelsea Manning is in prison for exposing the wanton murder of civilians by US Troops.  She isn’t in prison for murder or some other sort of violent crime.

When I wrote about the case of Michelle Kosilek, a year or so ago, I said the case wasn’t really about her but that it was good that the rights of TS/TG people to receive medical treatment in prison was argued using the least sympathetic of people.  The precedent has been established using Michelle Kosilek, some one so despicable and hard to support that many of us had a hard time supporting her.

But if we claim hormones and SRS are medically necessary then the principle of providing such treatment to prisoners has to be defended.

I understand the concerns of people in TAVA and other organizations that support the right of trans-folks in the military but no one TS/TG person actually represents all of us, they represent only themselves.  It is up to you to make that distinction.

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Open Letter: Kate Bornstein to Chelsea Manning

From Out:

By Kate Bornstein

The trans pioneer reaches out to the recently sentenced whistleblower

Editors’ Note: We are aware that Chelsea Manning will not have access to this open letter right away. According to the Leavenworth prisoners’ handbook, Manning will not have Internet access, so we will physically mail this to her (there’s a whole procedure to follow if we want it to get to her, and we have to use her “Bradley” name and prison number, once it’s assigned), so if anyone wants to also send the physical letter, please do.

Dear Chelsea,
Hello. My name is Kate Bornstein. I invite you to think of me as your whacky old aunt who loves you very much, and wants only the very best for you. I’m 65—a very old lady, indeed. I was born boy in 1948. I legally became girl in 1986 at the age of 38—I was 10 years older than you when I openly began my transition in 1983.

But enough about me. Let’s get right to you, missy. I know—well, the whole web-connected world has access to the information—that you’ve lived through the horror of “extreme solitary confinement” for months on end. You are the surrvivor of over-the-top cruel and unusual punishment, the kind of cruel and unusual punishment you’re likely to face over the next decade, honey, when you face active and potentially violent opposition to you simply being the girl you know you are.

It’s easier to use the labels boy and girl than man and woman. Men and women—both cisgender and transgender—are very possessive about those labels, so I’ve found it easier to claim neither gender as my own. A lot of people are upset with you because you’re tampering with the notion of what it means to be a woman. I do that too—I break the laws of gender. So, I call myself a Gender Outlaw. My neither/nor gender status has been a choice. Your current in-between gender state has been forced on you, and it breaks my heart. I wish I could hug and comfort you.

Every trans* person in the world has had a hardship in transitioning from one gender to another. Every single one of us, Chelsea, has cried about our transitions and strove passionately against all odds to finally express ourselves as who we’ve always felt ourselves to be. But you have been dealt a particularly rough hand. And you’re still going to be better off than some trans people in the world. There are hundreds if not thousands of genders and sexualities being owned and expressed in the world today by some very brave people in some very scary places. You’ll soon find a way to express your gender as best you can in the mono-gendered world of Leavenworth Federal Prison.

Please look at it this way, Chelsea… you’re a soldier and a girl. What does that translate into? You’re a real-life kick-ass warrior princess… only most people think you’re a guy. That really, really sucks. I know. I had my own warrior princess days when I was a guy, and an officer in the Sea Org, the paramilitary clergy of the Church of Scientology. I lived a military-style two-only gender life for 12 years before I couldn’t take it any longer. With strength, luck, and your good behavior, you might even get out in eight years. You’ll still have a lot of girl life ahead of you.

But no matter how all this upheaval in your life shakes itself out, please know this: God (or Goddess, or whatever gender-free deity, angel or sprite might move your spirit) only gives us what we’re capable of handling. A whole lot of people, including and especially me, your auntie, have faith in you to handle what you’ve been given, because you’ve done such a good job of that so far. Keep that inside your heart, please.

The good news is: You are not alone. You have got a huge support network out here. There are already folks out here who proudly call themselves your sisters, and brothers. You’ve got uncles, and you’ve got aunties, like me. Given a decade in your circumstances, it’s possible you’ll find a daddy, if that’s what you’re looking for. And somewhere in your life, you’re going to find your trans* mom, and she will teach you many wise trans* things.

My own trans* mom—and by extension, your great trans* aunt—was Doris Fish, San Francisco’s premiere drag queen in the 1980’s. The plague took her, hon. Please, please, please take every precaution to keep yourself safe from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Use safer sex guidelines, whenever you can. I hope you find someone inside those walls who will comfort you. Until you find someone like that in your life, please remember that alone doesn’t equal lonely.

Now… a word about hormones, because EVERYONE is clamoring about your hormones. Yes, of course hormones are important. I LOVE what hormones have done for the enjoyment of my own freaking freaky body. You’re going to love what hormones are gonna do for you, too. I promise. But for now, you just have to be patient. I know, you want to slap me, right? Sorry, grasshopper—you’re just going to have to use this part of your life to learn the art of patience.

I’d suggest the Stephen Mitchell translation of Lao-Tse’s Tao Te Ching, an ancient Chinese text. The Tao (which means “the way” or “the center path”) has gone a long way into making sense of my own gender quandary. Plus, it’s only 5,000 words long! I’ll figure out some way to get you that, if you’d like me to. But, I digress.

Back to hormones. My girlfriend and I (yes, I’m a dyke) are going to look into the possibilities of a bunch of us out here paying for your hormones and then sending them to you in prison. Please ask your lawyer to ask if the US Military prison system will administer them for you. (Hello, Mister Lawyer—thank you for taking good care of my dear niece, Chelsea. Please call me if I can help.)

Wrapping up now. I’m going to give you some last bits of advice. Not everyone is going to give you the same advice as me—and it would do you well to get advice from a LOT of people who only want the best for you. But this is me, your Auntie Kate, telling you:

Job one: Stay alive. Do anything you need to do in order to make your life more worth living. You’ve been in the army, and in jail, so you know how to obey the rules. The rule that counts the most for you right now is this: don’t be mean. Anything else goes.

Job two: Make yourself as safe as possible. You’ve been a member of the US military. You know what it means to fight an enemy. You’ve got a different kind of enemy now—people who will hate you for the sole reason that you’re trans*. You’ll need to put into play every bit of military strategy you’ve ever learned, as you deal with people we call transphobes, or transphobic.

Please keep this in mind: Transphobes are expressing the same fears we had about ourselves right up until the day we admitted that we were in fact trans. You’ve taken a HUGE step forward in self-expression, and I’m very proud of you for that.

Job three: Experience as much ecstasy as you can, with the girl/boy body you’ve got right now. You are occupying an in-between stage of transition, and most cultures consider that place pretty darned magical and powerful. Underneath it all, we’re all caterpillars on our way to butterfly.

Job four: As best as you can, make your body look the way you’d really like it to look. Do something, every day—even if it’s as simple using your fingernails tweeze a single hair from your brows,—to make yourself a little more happy with your body.
In closing, baby girl, remember that you have brothers and sisters and aunties and uncles all around the world who are so proud of you. Thousands of us, in fact. Think of us, and breathe.

Kiss Kiss,
Auntie Kate

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AP editor’s note on Manning



AP editor’s note on Manning

Update: The following advisory was sent to AP member editors and other subscribers on Aug. 26, 2013, at 6:03 p.m.:

The Associated Press will henceforth use Pvt. Chelsea E. Manning and female pronouns for the soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning, in accordance with her wishes to live as a woman.

Manning announced her wishes last Thursday after being sentenced to 35 years in Fort Leavenworth military prison and a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Army for revealing U.S. secrets to WikiLeaks, the anti-establishment website.

Manning’s statement was reiterated, with additional detail, in a blog posting (( and an interview with The Associated Press on Monday by defense attorney David E. Coombs.

The use of the first name Chelsea and feminine pronouns in Manning’s case is in conformity with the transgender guidance in the AP Stylebook. The guidance calls for using the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.


The following note was sent to AP member and subscriber editors on Aug. 22, 2013, at 7:46 p.m. ET:


The Associated Press policy as stated in the AP Stylebook is to comply with the gender identity preference of an individual.

At this time, the AP is seeking more details about the gender change statement attributed to Pfc. Bradley Manning that was read Thursday on the “Today” show in the presence of defense attorney David Coombs. The typewritten statement said “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female,” and asked supporters to use “my new name and use the feminine pronoun” in gender references to the U.S. Army soldier. Manning’s lawyers had raised the issue of gender identity during the trial, but Thursday’s statement went further.

Manning was sentenced Wednesday to 35 years in Leavenworth military prison for providing secret U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks, the anti-establishment website.

With Manning in custody and unavailable to comment, the AP is seeking additional information about the statement from Coombs, who did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages.

For the time being, AP stories will use gender-neutral references to Manning and provide the pertinent background on the transgender issue. However, when reporting is completed, the AP Stylebook entry on “transgender” will be AP’s guide.

That stylebook entry states: “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly. “

The AP

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What’s in a name? Chelsea Manning and Muhammad Ali

From Salon:

Almost 50 years ago, another big-name newsmaker shocked America with a new identity that challenged our prejudices

Saturday, Aug 24, 2013

Consider a polarizing political and cultural figure who is seen by many people as a hero and by others as a traitor – and who has a powerful symbolic importance to members of a persecuted minority. This person adopts a new name and a new identity, which transforms his or her relationship to mainstream culture and confuses both the media and many members of the public. Many people refuse to accept the new name and identity, or treat it as a nickname or a passing fad. At age 25, this person is prosecuted for an act of conscience-driven defiance against America’s war machine, one that arguably serves as a political turning point but also strikes many people as an unpatriotic or treasonous betrayal.

Obviously I’m talking about Chelsea Manning, at least in part. The Army leaker and whistle-blower, who was recently convicted on 17 charges of espionage and theft, declared this week that she identifies as female and no longer wants to be known as Bradley. It’s an event that feels, at this early stage, like a cultural touchstone of our young century. Among other things, as my colleagues Katie McDonough and Mary Elizabeth Williams have addressed, Manning’s “Today” show statement opened up an epistemological and taxonomical can of worms in the mainstream media, which seemed startlingly unprepared to deal with the identity preference of a high-profile transgender person.

For members of the general public to feel confused about the identity issues raised by Manning’s case, and to struggle with the question of how we decide what gender someone is – is it a matter of self-definition, of a legal piece of paper, of genetics or of physical anatomy? – is not especially surprising. That kind of confusion might even be productive, were it dealt with honestly and without hateful or dismissive rhetoric. But this is by no means a new issue for LGBT activists or media professionals; the gender transition of “Matrix” co-director Lana Wachowski (formerly Larry) was handled with far more grace last year. On the Manning story, major news outlets have appeared unsure whether to lead or follow. Most have continued to refer to Manning as a man named Bradley, although the Guardian, the Daily Mail, MSNBC, Rolling Stone, Slate, the Huffington Post and Salon were among the prominent exceptions. The current Wikipedia page is temporarily locked as “Chelsea Manning,” but was apparently changed back and forth five times within a three-hour period on Thursday. Debate continues to rage on the associated Talk page while a seven-day survey in search of consensus progresses. (Seriously, someone needs to preserve that conversation as a key historical document of 2013.)

But everything I said in that first paragraph applies not just to Manning but also to Muhammad Ali, who shocked the nation by claiming a new name and a new identity almost 50 years ago and went on, like Manning, to become an important figure in the domestic resistance to American militarism. After knocking out Sonny Liston and winning the heavyweight championship in February of 1964, the boxer until then known as Cassius Clay announced that he was a Black Muslim who was rejecting his “slave name” for a true one issued by Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam. That’s certainly not the same thing as a person who has previously lived as a man proclaiming that she’s a woman, but in the context of that time, it may have been even more startling.

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MSNBC: Masen Davis and Mara Keisling on Chelsea Manning & Transgender Equality

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Pussy Riot’s Yekaterina Samutsevich: ‘I Support Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Boycott’

From Huffington Post:


Freedom is only the first battle for Pussy Riot’s Yekaterina Samutsevich.

The Russian punk pioneer, radical artist and gay rights campaigner is the only member of Pussy Riot on Russian soil who has her freedom, since three of the band were jailed a year ago.

The oldest of the Pussy Riot three, aged 30, Samutsevich was released in October, her two year sentence suspended.

The reason was she had never made it to the altar of Moscow’s cathedral to perform a ‘punk prayer’ against President Vladimir Putin – she was kicked out the church before she could get there.

Her two bandmates, Nadia Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina remain behind bars, staging hunger strikes and so-far unsuccessful appeals.

Her freedom, Samutsevich tells Huffington Post UK in a Skype interview, was nothing more than “a small victory”. In person, she is far from her characterisation as a ferocious, leaden-faced campaigner, speaking not in absolutisms, but softly, of moral dilemmas.

“I do try to be pleased about gaining that freedom, but Nadia and Masha are not free. Justice was not done, so the battle continues,” she says, from the offices of Amnesty International in Moscow.

Now, 12 months later, the images of Russia dominating TV news in Europe and the US are not of three young women caged inside a courtroom, or a rainbow of balaclavas outside Russian embassies.

Instead, the pictures are of bloodied gay rights demonstrators in St Petersburg and Swedish athletes with multi-coloured nail varnish to protest the new Russian laws against “gay propaganda to minors”.

The law, in practice, makes it near impossible to hold gay pride marches or demonstrations for equal rights.

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Fischer: Russia’s Anti-Gay Law Is Exactly The Sort Of ‘Public Policy That We’ve Been Advocating’

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