Un-Manning; Or, Queering Bradley

Bradley Manning Trans Wig

Private First Class Chelsea (formerly Bradley) E. Manning has serious gender issues. Or so goes the story of the moment. In the wake of her statement, the question of identity (and language) has somewhat displaced that of the conviction and sentence. Another dimension in the smearing of whistleblowers, perchance. A way to denigrate and emasculate her still further, and so to reinforce the patriarchal entitlement of that shining city on the hill. Except that Manning’s sexual personhood is more contested than that.[1]

Navy Captain and psychiatrist David Moulton, according to CBC, testified that Manning’s ‘gender disorder’, amongst other things, “caused him to conclude he could change the world by leaking classified information”. But Moulton was a defence witness. Captain Steven Lim, Manning’s brigade commander, also pointed towards gender trouble, and revealed the existence of the now much-seen photo of Manning in a wig to the Fort Meade court. Again, a defence witness. Manning’s lawyers were forbidden from seeing much of the (non-)evidence against him, thanks to techniques of classification, and this surely influenced their strategy. Since they could not openly contest claims of the most traitorous harm (claims that were in the end unsubstantiated), why not try and reduce the sentence with whatever biographical resources were available? Where gender identity sometimes served as justification for the leaks, at others it was made irrelevant (to wit: “It was never an excuse because that’s not what drove his actions. What drove his actions was a strong moral compass.”). Interviewed today, David Coombs (Manning’s lawyer) again juggled his client’s personhood somewhat unsuccessfully, maintaining both that “we weren’t offering it as an excuse” but also that Manning’s gender explorations were relevant because they “happened at the same time [as the leaks and therefore] that provides context”.

Paradoxically enough, it is at times Republicans who have had to point out the shamefulness of this strategy:

Now that he prepares to stand trial, he has shown himself to be willing to sacrifice honorable gay and lesbian servicemembers to avoid responsibility. Lawyers for Manning are claiming that his struggle with his sexual orientation contributed to emotional problems that should have precluded him from working in a classified environment. This shameful defense is an offense to the tens of thousands of gay servicemembers who served honorably under “don’t ask, don’t tell.” We all served under the same law, with the same challenges and struggles. We did not commit treason because of it.

Despite the appeal to homonationalism, there is here an actual defence of LGBTQ identity against perpetual fears of a deviance that cannot be trusted with full equality. Fairly obviously, framings of ‘disorder’ put trans* and genderqueer back in the realm of medical pathology from which they have only just begun to escape. And yet this is not a one-sided story of medical bio-politics. Continue reading