Chelsea Manning and the State’s Abusive Transphobia

by Nathan Goodman (via the C4SS) on August 30, 2013

Trigger warning: The following article discusses rape, sexual assault, and transphobic violence

Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower who released evidence of US war crimes to WikiLeaks, has announced that she identifies as a woman. “Given the way I feel and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible,” she wrote in a statement.

But the US Army, which will be incarcerating the whistleblower throughout her 35 year sentence, has shown no interest in respecting her gender identity. Manning will be caged with men throughout her sentence. Furthermore, Army spokesman George Wright has stated that “The Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender-identity disorder.”

Denying Manning hormone treatment and other transgender health care could have serious consequences for her. As the ACLU explained in a recent statement:

Gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition in which a person’s gender identity does not correspond to his or her assigned sex at birth, and hormone therapy is part of the accepted standards of care for this condition. Without the necessary treatment, gender dysphoria can cause severe psychological distress, including anxiety and suicide.

Denying Ms. Manning this care would violate the state’s own laws. As the ACLU notes, “courts have consistently found that denying such care to prisoners based on blanket exclusions violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.”

But denial of medical treatment is certainly not the only abuse that transgender inmates like Manning face in American prisons.  A 2007 study of California prisons found that “[s]exual assault is 13 times more prevalent among transgender inmates, with 59 percent reporting being sexually assaulted.”

These sexual assaults are often committed by guards, whose power over prisoners shields them from accountability. When prisoners assault transgender inmates, they are often aided and abetted by guards, who force trans* women into prostitution. Gabriel Arkles of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project testified at a Department of Justice hearing that “In these systems, corrections officers bring transgender women to the cell of male inmates and lock them in for the male inmate to have sex with.”

Victoria Law also notes that in some male prisons, “officers practice ‘V-Coding’–placing transgender and transsexual women in cells with sexually aggressive men.”

Because of this pervasive violence, transgender inmates are often placed in solitary confinement, ostensibly for their “protection.”  Yet solitary confinement is internationally recognized as a form of torture.

Before her trial, Manning was held in solitary for months on end, treatment that UN special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez concluded “constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture.”

When asked why Manning’s gender identity justified placing her in solitary, Marine Corps Master Sgt. Craig Blenis answered “that’s not normal, sir.” Years before she even came out publicly, Chelsea Manning was tortured by the United States government for her gender identity.

Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, remains optimistic. He does not fear for Ms. Manning’s safety in prison, because “Everyone that’s in a military prison is a first-time offender. These are soldiers who have done something wrong, have gone to prison and are really just trying to do their time and then get out.”

I hope that Mr. Coombs is correct. But given the military’s violence, authoritarianism, cultural conservatism, and abysmal record on sexual violence issues, I fear that Chelsea Manning may face brutal violence and abuse throughout her sentence.

Even if the state does not torture or brutalize Ms. Manning while she is incarcerated, it’s worth remembering that she should not be incarcerated or punished at all. Instead, she should be commended. Having witnessed atrocities, Chelsea Manning released the evidence to the public, hoping to help end the carnage. She exposed evidence of murdertorturerape, and numerous other crimes. Her courageous actions warrant gratitude and respect, not bigotry and state violence.

Thank you, Chelsea Manning.

 

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

C. Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 8:48 am

It is interesting that how people have reacted to this bit. While I am not one for life-style politics, the states use of transphobia and gender-baiting seems to be par for the course for a somewhat desperate P.R. campaign.

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Jon Hoch August 30, 2013 at 8:57 am

Care to clarify what you mean by “lifestyle politics,” which is generally considered a dismissive term?

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Abraham Marx August 30, 2013 at 9:49 am

I second C. Derick. Though there is nothing desperate about this.

Lifestyle politics is basically a way of fueling the divisive culture war. And often obscures genuine economic issues in favor of ‘outrage’ or ‘indignation.’ On both sides. (The premise here is the two party system, a manichean worldview, ‘good’ and ‘evil’)

And it leads to a twisted logic. We see the ‘left’ (as in MSNBC) crowing on and on about the right of prisoners to receive gender therapy…. Because ‘the law’ says so. And we get indignant about the law not being honored.

We buy into the frame that Manning should be in prison; should receive all the healthcare Manning wants; and that extended solitary confinement and exposure to all the forms of sub-rosa torture that America has perfected had nothing to do with Manning’s apology or sudden move towards identifying as a woman. (It wouldn’t be hard to see that the interrogators/captors/shrinks did everything they could to zero in on these identity issues through solitary confinement and offers of plea-bargains, gender therapy, etc., and do whatever they can to make them worse so as to further discredit Manning’s heroic actions.)

Which obscures the whole problem of empire, the whole issue of universal healthcare, the whole issue of prisons, and the whole issue of gender and sexuality, into a misrepresented ‘case’ that is all too easy for the right to characterize, and convince the undecided middle, as just another case of leftwing hysterics.

Which means that Assange is a rapist, Manning is a drag queen, and dissidence turns to deviance.

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Pavel Dubrovsky September 24, 2013 at 9:38 pm

“Which means that Assange is a rapist, Manning is a drag queen, and dissidence turns to deviance.”

only if you already think so.

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C. Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 10:32 am

I do not think life style choices like that are political except in the negative sense of being oppressed. So I tend to advocate for them when they are being used as means of say trans-baiting, but I also tend to not care that much when we get into the privilege-talk conversations. Not because it is not true, it is more that I do not see where it goes.

In this case, Manning has her sexual identity being used for political purposes that have NOTHING to do with that sexual identity. So its clearly not lifestyle politics in the sense of a trans-movement, so much as it is human decency.

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Jon Hoch August 30, 2013 at 10:39 am

I’m not really comfortable with what either of you are saying. Seems reductionist and reactionary. But I’m about done with TNS anyway.

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Abraham Marx August 30, 2013 at 11:33 am

In the best of all possible worlds, how would things be then Mr. Hoch?

As it is now we have to contend with reaction…

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C. Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 11:38 am

How is it reactionary? Reactionary does not mean anything you do not like, Jon.

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Richard Estes August 30, 2013 at 12:10 pm

“Which means that Assange is a rapist, Manning is a drag queen, and dissidence turns to deviance.”

I think that I will pass on your socialist party. I don’t want to part of an effort in which transphobia is a prominent feature.

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Abraham Marx August 30, 2013 at 1:42 pm

You’re pretty willfully fixating on that statement. And misrepresenting it. You’re smart enough to have followed all that I wrote leading up to that statement.

It was meant as the intended conclusion of mainstream handling of lifestyle politics; reaction’s intended effect or takeaway or message is to conflate dissidence and deviance.

Bonus points for trying to link that to the article on Proyect’s site.

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Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Hey, Abraham, we have cross-posted your critique here for fairness.

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Richard Estes August 30, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I read all of it. It’s transphobic. And a deliberate effort on your part to put workers and transgendered people at odds because you have your own personal issues with transgender.

There is no reason that a movement can’t include workers and transgendered people. That’s the sort of movement I want to join. And, for someone who wants to build a movement for the 21st Century, instead of falling back upon what has failed in the 20th, you should, too.

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Abraham Marx August 30, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Oh man. I’m transphobic. I’m terrified of people who haven’t clearly sorted out some basic identity parameters. Nightmares every night. Behind every corner. In every shadow I’m stalked by these terrors.

Grow up Estes. I’m making the point that in this world, the powers that be would rather have ALL people who don’t have trust funds fight over every conceivable difference than to unite over a basic right to healthcare-education-housing-employment.

Stage-managing a dissidence-deviance line, across lots of different types of people, is an excellent way for dividing people striving so hard to be “normal” from the other people who are striving so hard to be “unique.”

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Richard Estes August 30, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Anyone who characterizes transgendered people as an example of “deviance” is transphobic.

You are the one dividing people by characterizing transgendered people as deviant. Surely, you are aware that transgendered people are workers, too? So, there are workers who aren’t deviant, who will part of your movement, and deviant ones who aren’t?

Kind of like ministers who would condemn homosexuality, blissfully unaware that there were gay members of their parish?

Pham spoke out strongly against violence against transgendered people, considering them as human and and as uniquely individual as himself. I want to be a part of a left that shares this value. Hopefully, the North Star will facilitate it, instead of your approach.

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Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 5:26 pm

“Anyone who characterizes transgendered people as an example of “deviance” is transphobic.”

I will agree to that. My issue with lifestyle politics has nothing to do with “deviance,” and everything to do with the fact that I largely do not think it is effective and easily co-opted by neo-liberal individualism.

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Richard Estes August 30, 2013 at 6:20 pm

There are plenty of transgendered people and organizatons who have resisted being co-opted by neo-liberal lifestyle politics and could be allies in a socialist effort, whether Marxist or anarchist, if one takes the time to look. But characterizing them as an example of deviance isn’t going to get you very far with them. Perhaps, the problem in regard to this post is that it does address transgender within a liberal framework of “rights” instead of within a more radical context.

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Derick Varn August 31, 2013 at 6:25 am

I am not characterizing them as an example of ‘deviance”–please be clear that Abraham Marx and C. Derick Varn are not remotely the same person just because he shares my suspicion of lifestyle politics.

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Richard Estes August 31, 2013 at 7:13 am

I know.

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Abraham Marx September 1, 2013 at 2:33 am

absolutely certain i made a post on this the other day. it got eated. I’ll try again.
At any rate, here is my basic argument, restated but undiluted.

We live in a world filled with reaction. We are in point of fact on the cusp of WORLD WAR THREE.

Because I point out that the powers that be create a very tidy correlation between deviance and dissidence does not mean that I myself believe dissidence = deviance.

Yet, for all practical purposes, dissidence = deviance. Not to me. Not to us. But, as it is portrayed in the media. As it is viewed in ruling circles. Mr. Hoover used this notion to control a great many people during his tenure. It is what was used to discredit Assange. It is the same tactic behind revealing an extramarital affair in order to destroy a politician like Weiner or Spitzer. It is likely one of the most powerful means for the deep state to restrain politicians and all kinds of other people.

And then of course the backhand of this – either forcing repression upon people through blackmail, or spilling it, as the authorities detaining Manning certainly must have spilled it – is that turning people into arguing about this, and essentially having a circular firing squad under the guise of ‘sensitivity training’ is immensely distracting and asphyxiating to real debate and discussion.

Everyone who self-selects to the left of the democrats, as a marxist or anarchist has no problem with individuation and self-expression. So tossing charges of phobia and insensitivity among these people is absolutely divisive. We become self-conscious and police our speech and perfect our phraseology amongst each other to avoid accusations of being insensitive. And that ends up being all we do.

I never had much interest in identity/lifestyle politics; not from any chauvinism but from a belief that solving the economic problems reduces these issues to something manageable, changeable. And in the past year or so I have become extremely hardhearted towards debating these issues precisely because I see how shamelessly the Democrats use these ideas as distractions from hard economic issues.

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Richard Estes September 1, 2013 at 5:27 pm

“Because I point out that the powers that be create a very tidy correlation between deviance and dissidence does not mean that I myself believe dissidence = deviance.

Yet, for all practical purposes, dissidence = deviance. Not to me. Not to us. But, as it is portrayed in the media.”

Interestingly enough, the media and the ruling elites consider transgender less deviant than any form of socialism. Transgendered people have had some legislative successes, much more so than any sought by socialists. So, it would be understandable if transgendered people arrogantly considered us to be politically deviant. But the fact that neoliberalism can accommodate them, as it has other forms of identification, doesn’t mean that the left should argue against them.

“I never had much interest in identity/lifestyle politics; not from any chauvinism but from a belief that solving the economic problems reduces these issues to something manageable, changeable.”

What some call “identify/lifestyle politics” is not going away, people who identify by race, gender, sexual orientation are not going to do it because of some Marxist epiphany. But they can be encouraged to identify with a Marxist or anarchist perspective because they see their lives within a context where they associate the struggles of their lives with the struggles of others. This is what I was trying to suggest in my “Occupy and the Politics of Consumption” piece. Indeed, some already do, perhaps to the same degree that other people do. My perception is that there are quite a few transgendered anarchists, but not as many Marxists. If true, it might be worthwhile to look into why this is happening.

Marxists have already failed catastrophically in relation to feminism by considering it a “secondary contradiction” in the late 1970s and 1980s, alienating a lot of women and contributing to the British SWP debacle. Surely, in this instance, we can learn from this and reach out to people, like transgendered people, in a different way.

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Abraham Marx September 1, 2013 at 9:40 pm

I think we’re in agreement- or converging towards basic agreement, though we’re coming at it from different angles or emphases.

You write: “Interestingly enough, the media and the ruling elites consider transgender less deviant than any form of socialism. Transgendered people have had some legislative successes, much more so than any sought by socialists. So, it would be understandable if transgendered people arrogantly considered us to be politically deviant. But the fact that neoliberalism can accommodate them, as it has other forms of identification, doesn’t mean that the left should argue against them.”

By the media, you must be referring primarily to MSNBC, and to a lesser extent, CNN; and by ruling classes you must be referring primarily to the Dems. I’d suspect Fox and the Republicans are if not openly ‘phobic’ or hateful, then at least certainly either uncomfortable with the whole notion, or callous enough to use it to make their own base queasy over the whole issue.

The ruling class split over this issue is primarily a stratagem to keep the people arguing. MSNBC fostering ‘super-sensitivity’ to this issue, and the Dems pushing LGBT rights (within purely social and legal confines) means union concerns like card check, or economic movements like the fast-food strike, get minimal coverage. And that then Fox can make the argument, with more truth than it cares to admit, that Obama is using these cultural issues to cover up substandard economic recovery.

Which means that the republican base (white southern working class primarily) will resent the whole issue entirely, fall back upon gun ownership and hardline religion, and make intolerant noises or even commit hate crimes.

Which means that MSNBC and the Dems can rile up their base (a thinner strata of professionals, activists, the LGBT community, the immigrant community, and the leadership of the extremely impoverished and politically inert black population) with ghost stories about the extreme GOP and how evil it will be if it ever comes back to power, thereby keeping the Dems in power, and their constituencies dependent on them for ‘protection’ from the Right.

All the while ignoring, sidestepping, or minimizing the bread-and-butter issues that people desperately need solutions to. And exacerbating and refining the cultural division among wage-laborers and the unemployed (who are essentially self-segregating into different life-style-consumption tiers, different life styles that are framed as being in opposition to each other), thereby further eroding any collective identity, and the possibility of collective action, as a class. Which is what you diagnose as the death of the working class.

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