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Soldiering On: Bradley Manning and the "Transgender Defense"

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Psychology Today
|
August 21, 2013
Issues: 

The eyes are what break your heart first. The photo--apparently a selfie-- shows a young woman in a car. She has long blonde hair and makeup, freckles on her nose. If you didn’t know the rest of her story, you might think, here’s an attractive college-age woman, maybe heading out to visit a friend, or making a run to the store.

But if you do know her story--and almost anyone who reads the news at this point does--you circle back to those eyes. It’s impossible not to read what we now know into the photo, to re-interpret what we see in her based on everything that happened after. When I look at those eyes, I see a woman who knows she is trapped in a situation that she did not choose, and for whom a solution seems impossible. Her problem, at least at the moment she took that photo, is not what she has done. Her problem is who she is, or wants to be.

The photo is of Pfc. Bradley Manning, and it was shown last week by his attorney, David Coombs, as part of the sentencing phase of the court marshal of the WikiLeaks whistleblower. Coombs’ intention, in showing the photo, is to demonstrate the seriousness of Manning’s psychological stress. Manning sent the photo to Captain Michael Worsley, an Army psychologist, in an email whose subject heading was “My Problem.”

Being transgender can indeed be a problem, but whether it is a legal defense is a dicier question. The stress and the sorrow that the condition can bring to a man or a woman is almost unimaginable to a someone who has never had to wrestle with gender identity issues, and feeling such a disconnect between ones spirit and body surely makes a person feel isolated, depressed, and alone. But it’s isolation and depression that drive people to break the law-even in the name of justice--not transness itself.

This piece was written by GLAAD Board Member Jennifer Finney Boylan. Her latest memoir, Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders was released on April 30th. Her other memoirs include She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders and I'm Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted. Find out more about Jennifer Finney Boylan's work at www.jenniferboylan.net.