Is Bradley Manning suffering from vaginal dryness? Is his hair thinning out? Are his breasts getting smaller while his tummy swells like a gourd? How regular are his periods? What about his personality: is he behaving shrewishly toward his jailers at Fort Leavenworth, haranguing them about the toilet seat? The world wants to know. Or at least I do.
I am wondering because the American Civil Liberties Union has released a statement asserting that Manning, the U.S. Army private serving a thirty-five year sentence for espionage, is being subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment.” More: “The continued failure to provide Ms. Manning with this treatment is inconsistent with well-established medical protocols and basic constitutional principles.” Manning, you see, is being denied access to the estrogen that doctors, including two Army physicians, say he needs. The ACLU, the traditional defender of communists and perverts in this country, has a “Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project [sic]” headed by a person called Chase Strangio. Strangio says that the present situation is unconstitutional. I am not so sure; and before any decision is made by the courts, I think we all have a right to learn whether Manning is experiencing any of the unpleasant symptoms usually reported by women whom doctors sign up for hormone therapy. After all, he is only twenty-seven; and, if not quite in his prime, very much within childbearing years. Menopause, I hope for his sake, is a long way off.
Let me be clear. Transsexualism is not one of those things that keep me up at night, like legalized dope or President Obama’s golf addiction. I find it a bit strange and a bit pathetic (in the older sense of the word). But we live in a republic where freedom of speech and association are constitutionally protected; where grown men erotically interested in talking-pony cartoons can hold meetings on private property to show off their toy collections, as they did last year in Baltimore; where I can smoke organic tobacco while I watch Sanders of the River wearing only my bathrobe. In my least sanguine moods I think I would likely welcome the sight of so-called “brony” conventions being raided by jack-booted thugs in riot gear, or even droned, and their attendees shipped off to an involuntary re-education camp run by ex-Marine sergeants, who could teach them masculine virtue and the pleasure of sport; many of the whey-faced young software engineers who attend such gatherings probably believe that cigarettes are already illegal. Price of freedom, you know.
When Manning decided that he was a woman almost a year ago, he began calling himself “Chelsea.” Even before a court granted his request to change his name in law some eight months later, reporters and columnists were racing to see who could be the first to get “Chelsea Manning” in print, where it now regularly appears with feminine personal pronouns and possessive adjectives in tow. Forgive me for not following suit. Part of the problem is that my first girlfriend, a wispy vegetarian with beautiful flaxen hair, was a “Chelsea,” whereas Manning, with his pimples, razor burn, and prominent-ish jawline, strikes me as more of a “Phyllis” or a “Gertrude.” One also tends to get hung up over the fact that Manning has one X and one Y chromosome, and, presumably, male sex organs. The real issue, though, is that he is a convicted traitor who has given away thousands of secret military documents to an Australian albino wanted for rape by Scandinavian authorities. If Manning were a free man, a veteran of the Iraq war living in his native Oklahoma, he could build a marble altar in his backyard, desex with an antique bronze dagger, and consecrate himself to Diana amid the wafting of incense and the chanting of an Albanian boys’ choir. If he were a woman, at liberty or otherwise, he might really need the estrogen. As things stand, he is a biological male who is incarcerated. Denying him estrogen is not “cruel and unusual”; it is not even, legally speaking, “punishment.” Until his release he has as much right to have his body pumped full of it as his fellow prisoners do to have their chins augmented or their noses reshaped.