Democracy Now! Reports: Manning Announces Gender Transition, Name Change. “In a statement just released this morning, Bradley Manning thanked supporters and announced plans to live as a woman under the name Chelsea Manning. Manning said: “As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.”
How many people will stand up and proudly announce “I am Chelsea Manning”, as they did when he was Bradley is still unclear, but it is an important issue that a highly distressed person, suffering from a well recognised gender dysphoria, (which should have been a mitigating factor given the failure of the military to acknowledge they were putting the security of their country in the hands of a rather unwell person) is about to spend up to 35 years of his life confined in an environment most unsuitable for his psychological problems.
From the Catch 22 cross dresser to Life of Brian’s “I want to be known as Loretta”, transgender issues have been a source of mirth and ridicule, a form of sexual violence part of the wider constellation of physical, economic, psychological, racial, religious, ecological and moral violence of our uncompassionate and dehumanised world. But in this particular situation there is a wider issue. We would like our heroes to be perfect, idealised, and solid. Their weaknesses, we fear, may weaken their arguments and put their actions into question.
No better example than Martha Mitchell, the wife of John N. Mitchell, Attorney General during the Nixon administration, a key whistleblower who contacted the press to disclose facts about the Watergate scandal, and for a time her statements were discredited because people believed she had a mental illness and was also considered to be an alcoholic. Once more “reliable” sources got involved (the two journalists who disclosed the extent of Nixon’s illegal activities) the process of impeachment went ahead.
Much has been made Mahatma Gandhi hitting his wife for not wanting to clean a toilet, as that was an Untouchable task. Many have stated that this invalidates his Nonviolent teachings. But who is in a better position to propose the need for nonviolence than those who recognise it, acknowledge it and are committed to overcoming it in themselves?
If we can be compassionate towards our own imperfections we can be more comfortable about finding out that people held up by history as “models” also had their own weaknesses. So Bertrand Russell was a womaniser and had bad breath? We can still admire his clear thinking and commitment to peace. So Mikhail Gorbachev advertised for Pizza Hut? Yet he ended the Cold War, after humanity lived for 40 years teetering on the brink of Total Nuclear Annihilation. Our heroes have clay feet but their contributions should remind us that we can also attempt to make our small contributions, even if we do not yet feel liberated from our own compulsions and imperfections. Moreover, our actions in the world can be an important factor in overcoming them. Social actions carried out for the benefit of others may often contain elements of integration and transformation of the self that can be the envy of any self-respecting therapy.
Let us also hope that the plight of this wretched soldier that is Manning, forced to live his attempt to solve his gender dysphoria in a fishbowl, (no doubt news of his treatment and setbacks will provide for the thirst for sensationalism of the Roman Circus-adepts), will also serve to educate and inform the public about these little understood health issues, without detracting in any way from the importance of the role he has fulfilled in opening the discussion about the ethics and legality of military actions in pursuit of “national interests”.