It’s been awhile since we’ve heard anything about Private Chelsea Manning, also known as Bradley Manning, a dishonorably discharged soldier who was sentenced to 35 years for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks. The last we heard from Manning was in August, when she had publicly come out as transgender and informed the world she wanted to be referred to as Chelsea. This announcement drew attention to the fact that she was being sentenced to confinement at Fort Leavenworth, an all-male prison.
At that time, Chelsea Manning also announced that she intended to began hormone replacement therapy, a medical treatment which aids in the physical aspects of transitioning genders. According to ABC News, she is the first-ever military inmate to make this request. The problem is, however, Fort Leavenworth does not offer hormone replacement treatment — in part because transgender folks are barred from the military entirely.
So, it is a mixed-bag of news today that according to a Pentagon statement, Chelsea Manning may be transferred to a civilian prison. The purpose of this would be so she would receive medical treatment for the diagnosis of “gender dysphoria.” As the Advocate noted in 2012, gender dysphoria is what used to be called “gender identity disorder” in the big ol’ book of mental disorders, the DSM. But trans folks and their advocates balked at the diagnosis that their gender was “disordered” and this is how it was amended. With this change in the DSM, people whose assigned gender at birth is different from the gender they experience are no longer considered “disordered,” but are referred to by doctors and psychologists as having gender dysphoria.
However, I’m wondering why a trans person — military or not — needs to be “diagnosed” by a doctor or a psychologist as being transgender/having “gender dysphoria” in the first place. I’m assuming the reasoning is that the only way that Chelsea Manning can obtain the hormone replacement therapy as a trans woman would be to have a diagnosis that allows treatment. I am only an outsider looking in on this, but the larger implications of pathologizing and medicalizing someone’s gender identity seems potentially harmful. Although I’m not saying that all labels are explicitly bad, I’m concerned about the stigma associated with these particular medicalized labels, especially when they can be seen as defects. (Remember, in the not-so-distant past, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder as well.)
One also wonders why the military won’t just change their discriminatory policy of banning and discharging trans service members. It’s worth noting, as ABC News points out, that transferring a trans prisoner to a civilian prison then takes the onus off the military for protecting her safety. Changing their policy also means they have to provide trans folks with health care that they need. The military may be making some headway on this front, as the Pentagon recently approved “evaluat[ing] potential treatment options for inmates diagnosed with gender dysphoria.” The Washington Post notes they may be motivated by a recent court case in Massachusetts which found that depriving a trans inmate from trans-specific health treatment constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.” (You can read more about the constitutional concerns from the ACLU here.)
It’s unclear yet what exactly will happen to Chelsea Manning. But it does indeed seem unfair that, regardless of her crimes, she has been going without the health care she needs as a trans woman all this time.
Email me at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.