Army approves Chelsea Manning’s gender transition surgery, ending her hunger strike

It’s really not like the military to do things half-assed, but when it comes to ending Chelsea Manning’s hunger strike, the Army’s approval of Manning’s gender transition surgery doesn’t really go all the way. She had been on a hunger strike since last week while serving her 35 year sentence at U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth. That the Army has approved the surgery is a very big deal. The gender transition surgery is recommended by medical professionals, but Manning will be the first to get approval while behind bars, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement, “This is a monumental day for Chelsea, who can now enjoy some peace knowing that critically needed medical care is forthcoming.” He added, “This medical care is absolutely vital for Chelsea as it is for so many transgender people — in and out of prison — who are systemically denied treatment solely because they are transgender.”

But things are still very fucked up for Manning. First of all, she remains in Leavenworth, which is an all-male prison. The Army is also asking her to cut her longer hair to the male standards, which sort of defeats the purpose of accepting her gender overall. And she’s still being punished for her suicide attempt this summer, when she was first being denied her surgery.

It feels like a ruse that the Army’s approved the gender transition surgery for Manning, but it is in accordance with a new Department of Defense rule released in June and going into effect Oct. 1 that says those in service are allowed to transition. It orders:

“Service members with a diagnosis from a military medical provider indicating that gender transition is medically necessary will be provided medical care and treatment for the diagnosed medical condition.”

But since Manning is in an all-male prison, being forced to shave her head, and had to go on a hunger strike to get a gender transition surgery, it’s not clear from the new rule if it even applies to her. It’s more about the processes of changing gender while on active duty and having to meet the new gender’s standards post-transition, but being in prison makes it more complicated for Manning.

A cynical reading of the situation is that after her suicide attempt in July and the hunger strike this month, the Army just wants to keep Manning alive — because all hell would break loose if she dies in Leavenworth. Or maybe the Army really is coming around and recognizing her right to a medical procedure her psychologist recommended five months ago.

But Manning seems to have hope that everything will work out for her. She said in a statement through her lawyers, “I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing. I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted — for them to let me be me.” She did question why it took so long and why there is still a lawsuit pending about the requirement that she cut her hair. If she does get to schedule the surgery (and they don’t put anymore roadblocks in her way), Manning will be the first transgender person to ever receive surgery while still in prison.