I've wanted this past week to produce a post on my feelings on Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning. Not about her actions regarding the Wikileaks scandal, the charges levied at her because of same, or anything that focuses on that whole cluster-fuck of an issue. What I've felt that I wanted to broach was her identity and how it's being mishandled, lazily (or deliberately) skewed, and how so many in the media and world at large seem to have a honking big double-standard regarding said identity.
I don't know Chelsea. I don't know anything about the woman that she is. But as I'm not debating the merits of the person that she is, that's rather moot. What I am certain of and therefore are very desirous of debating is how a human being is being treated.
Our identities. They're the image and "label" that represents us and begins each interaction we have every single day, for the rest of our lives. The concept that comes to mind unconsciously for every other human one interacts with. How we think of ourselves and how we relate to the person that we are...or want to be. That very promise, of being someone better, or simply different than we are in any given moment. It's irrevocably fundamental for the vast majority of us. For arguably far fewer others it's oscillatory, whether by their own volition or apathy.
Prior to my transition, I had two identities. My familial "self" and "myself". For 18+ years I woke up every day and put on my disguise like camouflage. Clothes, attitude, affectations, behavior, language, the way I sat, the way I walked, the register of my voice...everything you'd expect from a spy. And, to be completely honest with myself, that's what I was and wasn't what I wanted to be/do. Even my name, male and rather unique on it's own, was a sign I had to hang around my neck every day. To remember to answer to it and to give that to authorities, strangers, new friends, etc, without pause. Sure, it became second nature, but that didn't make it easier from my point of view, because every time I said that name, every time I interacted with the world in a way that was so strongly filtered by artificial psychological mechanics, every time I took a step or spoke with my hands or ...well, anything really....was exhausting. Demoralizing. Chipping away at myself time after time.
Imagine that for some reason you have to say "I suck at everything and I'm a bad person" multiple times a day. Not that you believed it to start with, but because of some outside consideration that was as cold and impersonal as anything and yet was accepted and staunchly supported by society as a whole. If you didn't say it, if you didn't follow expectation, the social, economic and political (perhaps even legal) ramifications ran the gamut from strong discomfort within the family to facing jail time or disenfranchisement or starving homeless or even winding up dead in a park somewhere. How would that affect you?
Now imagine that all of that is reflected back at you by the simple act of how people interact with you, even though you're toting the social line, so to speak. How when every time someone does nothing but call you by a name that reflects NOTHING of yourself other than that very expectation that is so severely impacting your life in the most overwhelming and fundamental ways, it's like another nail in your coffin. Or at your wrists/feet, or another noose at your neck, fill in the imagery of your choice.
That is what it can and (far more often than some recognize it to be) IS like for a transgender person to have their gender marker held as being more important or more meaningful or "simpler to deal with" than their gender identity. That is what it's like for transgender people to have their "birth" names used by their friends, family, organizations, their medical providers, the law, the government, the media, or strangers on the street used without any deference ...without any consideration or forethought...for how it impacts a transgender individual to have their gender identity treated as if it's optional. That is what it feels like to have your identity rendered as not mattering. That's what it feels like to be marginalized, violated, and treated as if your basic human rights are weaker than or count less than everyone else's.
Remember, I'm not debating whether or not Chelsea Manning is guilty, or deserving of what she got, or good/evil or just wrong. That's why they had the court martial. That's been handled. All of that has nothing to do with her rights as a human being to exist with her identity intact and protected from being a secondary, never-ending and cruel source of emotional pain and unusual punishment.
We treat felons and violent offenders with more consideration that she's receiving regarding that very specific topic. We treat celebrities that haven't changed their name legally like it's just expected that we should refer to them as they wish, even if they're so pathetically untalented, or self-destructive, or physically abusive, or corrupt, or what-have-you that why they're considered "celebrities" is fucking impossible to discern. We, as a society, and our media, treat people that have little in the way of any real interaction with our lives with more respect than we're showing someone that, while she did break laws and military regulations, at least was trying to contribute to what she saw as the greater good. It's not an excuse for what she did, but it's damn sure not an excuse to devalue and marginalize her identity...something that we as a civilized and progressive society should fucking well be better than doing.
Thanks for reading, please comment, share and like if you feel it!
(Update: There's a better expression of this on HuffPost so check it out if you haven't....Huffington Post: Parker Marie Molloy's Article