The struggle ahead for Chelsea

August 29, 2013

Judy Heithmar and Dove Paige Anthony explain the injustices ahead for Chelsea Manning as she enters military prison having declared herself a transgender woman.

IMAGINE FOR a minute that under an international spotlight, you are told that the next 35 years of your life will be spent behind bars at a military prison in Kansas, for releasing information to the public regarding atrocious war crimes committed by your own government.

Imagine being the one to have to console the shocked and tearful members of your defense team as the verdict is delivered and sets in. Then imagine waking up the next morning and revealing to the whole world that you are a woman and that you're transgender.

What an incredibly intense 24 hours. This is the reality for Chelsea Manning. In her official statement to the public, Manning wrote:

As I transition into the next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am 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.

Unfortunately, the reality is that we live in an incredibly transphobic society, and the prison that Manning will be sent to will provide no services beyond psychiatric care as Manning goes through her transition.

Chelsea Manning supporters rally in Berlin
Chelsea Manning supporters rally in Berlin (

Manning's intention of beginning hormone replacement therapy, which is a process by which estrogen or testosterone (estrogen in Manning's case) is administered to alter characteristics to better match one's gender identity, will be incredibly difficult to access at Fort Leavenworth Prison. A spokeswoman for the prison, Kimberly Lewis, explicitly stated, "The army does not provide hormone replacement therapy or sex reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder."

Being diagnosed with gender dysphoria (the preferred term for gender identity disorder, which is insulting since it suggests someone has a disorder simply because they want to live life according to the gender they identify with) is a step that many people who are trans have to go through in order to receive the services that are vital to their survival.

The uphill battle that many trans inmates face in accessing these services is not surprising in an unjust system of punishment that places vulnerable people in cages and treats them as subhuman.

Inmates are subject to some of the worst treatment imaginable, including being forced to work long hours, doing labor-intensive work for extremely low wages, experiencing physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and living under the threat of being placed in solitary confinement, to name a few.

INMATES WHO are transgender are subject to all of these horrible injustices on top of a host of others.

First of all, Manning will now spend the next three decades of her life in a prison facility for men, when in fact, she's not a man at all. Katie Burgess, executive director of the Trans Youth Support Network comments that, "There is really no history of transgender people being placed according to their gender identity." This is certainly the case for CeCe McDonald, a Black transgender woman, who was sent to a men's prison in Minnesota after being convicted of second-degree murder for defending herself against attacks by racist, homo/transphobic, white supremacists who attempted to take her life.

Manning, like CeCe, will also be placed in a men's prison, and as a transgender inmate, she will be subject to heightened abuse by prison guards and other inmates. Of course, when inmates attempt to file complaints or lawsuits against such abuse, their complaints are rarely taken care of and oftentimes are dismissed entirely.

The case of another Black trans-female inmate named Ophelia De'lonta who testified in federal court that she had been repeatedly sexually abused by a prison guard, showcased the lack of justice for transgender inmates.

This kind of constant abuse and harassment is all too common for trans people in prison. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 15 percent of respondents from transgender inmates report sexual abuse--a number that increases to 38 percent among Black trans women. As bad as those statistics are, they represent civilian trans-folk in the civilian prison industrial complex, not those living in a military prison.

The military classifies transgender as a form of paraphilia, therefore considering them unfit for service, lumping them in with child molesters, exhibitionists, sado-masochists, necrophilia's, etc. Never mind the fact that many trans folk have served while living stealth or closeted lives, and never proved to be "unfit," and transitioned after retirement.

There are no statistics for transgender military personnel, making their history another contributor toward trans-erasure. However, if you take into consideration the horrendous record of harassment and sexual assault of cisgender women in the military, add that to the historical longstanding bias against homosexuality in the military, and consider recent statistics stating that last month alone, transgender people were murdered at a rate that is almost 50 percent higher than that of gay and lesbian people, it doesn't take much for one to realize what awaits Chelsea Manning in prison.

We must all take it upon ourselves to band together in support of Chelsea Manning. Her bravery pre- and post-transition is astonishing, and our solidarity is very much needed. Chelsea has asked folks to begin supporting her by writing to her in prison.

To do so, please send mail to the following address (but remember to always use Chelsea and female pronouns in your letters):

Bradley E. Manning #89289
1300 N. Warehouse Road
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 66027-2304

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