On the release of Chelsea Manning
What would I have done?
You're in the closet about being transgender but have an aptitude that's marketable: brilliant with IT, you can draw on five-figure salaries and be an 'asset' to your nation, in the James-Bond world of spying. No longer a small-town, small-time figure, you're far away in a combat zone in Baghdad, living a life that few can know about or imagine. You're needed by your country for a cause that's in the news on a daily occurrence, a fight that's close to the President's heart.
You know sooner or later you'll transition, and if you just keep quiet you'll have the circumstances to do it. Few jobs lend themselves so comfortably to transitioning as IT. Sooner or later, outside the army, you'll have it all, as a highly-paid specialist in computers, a transwoman in the world's richest, most powerful country. No longer Bradley, but Chelsea. With a middle-class mansion and a wardrobe fit for a Queen or whatever is your style; outside by the carefully kept lawn could be a sports car convertible, available for when you feel the need to drive along open highways. Probably in a relationship, probably in love with someone who holds you every night and tells you that they love you.
What would I have done?
Because in this story, the protagonist sees some information on her computer, footage of civilians being mercilessly gunned down by her own troops. The more she learns about the invasion of Iraq, the more she sees of the damage and destruction being wreaked by her own side, the lies, the smoke and mirrors. She knows if she reveals it all, she'll be incarcerated for life. Potentially no transition and certainly no five-figure salary or mansion, no lifestyle the 90% dream of; no relationships, no love, no one to hold her and tell her they love her. Instead, cold bars and criminals and rape in communal showers. Men's communal showers, because you won't be Chelsea to anyone there, you'll be a man 24/7 and they'll let you know it. 24/7. The rest of your life.
What would I have done? What would you have done?It's a story for our time, where a slightly-built individual with more courage than I can grasp became a traitor, jailed for life. Where the most disappointing President in history gave, as his final act, a Presidential pardon releasing her before a right-wing nationalist took over. In an America of mixed signals, of sometimes coruscating brilliance and frequently mind-numbing stupidity, Chelsea Manning and Barack Obama emerged from the American paradox as its tainted heroes. I'm writing this as a trans person wondering what I would have done in Chelsea's place and the truth is, I don't know. But I do know that what she did was fucking brave, and I for one salute her.