by Angela Mogrovejo
As I have done on a previous occasion, I must state a much needed sentiment to set the tone for the concerns I have to voice:
Fuck Donald Trump.
I wish nothing but ill will towards him and his floundering, robber baron administration and I hope history will remember him with nothing but scorn and laughter.
There is no redemption for him and I wish him nothing but to be sentenced to an eternity of shame and misery.
What has prompted this particular bout of anger?
As of this past Wednesday, the USA elected monster-in-chief declared via Twitter that a ban would be placed on trans members of the military, citing exorbitant medical costs and strain on unit cohesion as its reasons.
Understandably, many in progressive and liberal circles have responded to this ban and its justification with outrage. Many allies to LGBT communities have expressed fury on social media and several parties directly affected by the ban have taken to various media outlets to decry this obvious attempt at discriminating against trans populations. There is much to be said for how quickly people have been willing to respond in favor of trans inclusion in the military and I suppose I should be grateful for that support.
But something feels off.
Something feels not quite right about just how much time and energy is being expended to center the US military as a place where trans people should be welcomed. And I feel I must respond to it. Not only because of my personal dislike for the military but for two larger issues this support represents in conversations about trans livelihood.
The first concerns the complete lack of critique aimed at the military and the need to leave its moral character unmarred by its long history of imperialism and abuse. No matter how you try and spin it, deploying US soldiers more often than not represents the spread of abuse and imperialism worldwide, not the securing of freedom and liberty which many against the ban claim it to be.
As Sydney Roberts so eloquently puts it, liberation for trans people will not look like “gender non-conforming bodies in military uniforms killing civilians overseas” (Sydney Roberts). I take no comfort in knowing trans people like me are being sent abroad to kill other brown people in worse situations than me. Quite frankly, I find it disturbing that any trans person would see such deployment as anything other than state-sanctioned murder. The US state, as it exists now, represents bloodshed and pain to far too many people to name. Becoming involved with the military signals, in my eyes, a desire to trade one’s own oppression for the right to ship that oppression abroad and carry out the evils of history in their most violent, strategic forms. This to me is not liberation and I cannot support it.
More importantly, the recent focus on deciding whether to support the open inclusion of trans folk in the US military ignores the much larger issue of using trans lives as a tool to enforce the agenda of imperialism abroad. Framing the debate as a choice between trans inclusion or exclusion in the military denies the more pressing need to ask whether or not the military should be treated as a legitimate life path for trans people.
Furthermore, whether or not the government approves of trans lives is not evidence of the US evaluating whether to stand on the right side of history or not. That trans lives (and I would argue LGBQI+ lives as well) are considered for use by the US military is more a testament to whether or not the state approves of them “as instrumental to the project of hegemony or as an affront to "American values"” (Sydney Roberts). And to be clear, those American values are stained in blood. They represent the desire to translate any recent visibility of trans people into something horrid, into something absolutely foul but unsurprising.
They represent the desire to carry on past gay and lesbian lobbyist efforts to promote a normative, hegemonic assimilation into the American project of empire. Who would feel the need to care about homeless trans youth of color or the lack of resources for LGBTQ folk in general so long as middle class (white) queers can marry and have space to kill brown and black folk abroad?
They represent the desire to pinkwash the crimes of Israel and craft an image of a nation trans/LGBT friendly in order to better enlist trans participation in human degradation.
They represent the desire to convince trans people of “pseudo-progressive action” on longstanding social and economic issues plaguing trans communities rather than take serious the alternative visions for liberation which racial justice and economic justice trans/queer folks (of color) have articulated for decades http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/41414-transgender-liberation-won-t-be-found-in-the-military ; http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/40109-the-right-wing-is-leveraging-trans-issues-to-promote-militarism ).
In short, these efforts to evaluate trans inclusion in the military reflect, at best, a continued reliance on gay and lesbian assimilation into American imperialism and, at worst, a new variation on sending people to die for the purposes of war. In either case, the story does not end well for the trans lives tossed away for political/military aims.
However, in spite of all that I have said against the US military and trans collusion with its imperial projects, there is another reason why I find this whole trans inclusion in the military debate troublesome. And, to be honest, it is much less rooted in any robust, longstanding analysis of the perils of militarism abroad than a matter of rhetoric.
As trivial as it may sound to say, I find myself nowadays wondering if people think trans lives matter beyond being used as evidence of suffering in the world.
To be clear, I am not saying people shouldn’t care if I or other trans folk suffer or are facing situations that we need support with. As someone who is just starting to recognize I need more help than I am willing to accept more often than not, I am grateful for people that care about me.
No, what I am talking about is this rather unnerving trend of people referring to trans death or trans people only as evidence of suffering and of who needs to be attended to most, despite no actual efforts being made to help them. Dean Spade writes that to imagine an “anti-war, anti-colonial queer and trans politics” seems impossible for those who consume “the most visible, available images of gay and lesbian political life” and I can’t help but feel the truth of that sentiment.
It is as if people desiring to talk about trans people, in regards to the military or otherwise, cannot fathom the complexity of trans people as anywhere near human. To hear most cis people (straight and LGB) talk about trans people is to hear them talk about abstract concepts as opposed to living human beings with complicated feelings about the military and beyond. Or, perhaps even more scandalously, as people capable of imagining/creating visions of a world where the military is not one of the few places to find some alleged sign of progress for trans lives.
At the core of it all, I guess my second main discomfort with this whole debate is that trans people time and time again get reduced down to more rhetorical pawns in larger games of war, progressive arguments for change, and signs of who is dealing with the worst in our Queer communities. Trans folk are just tools for rhetoric, never active agents taking part in these issues for better or worse.
So many trans folk fight every day for their “physical and emotional survival…along familiar lines of race, class, gender, and degree of “freedom” from incarceration”. As much as I can decry the military and all that it represents, I can understand why some trans folk take it upon themselves to join. When many folk from the left and right treat your life as an inconvenience, it is hard not to be sold on any sort of group who can make an ersatz promise of change and access to power, regardless of its unforgivable costs.
But, as has been said many times before, another world is possible.
There is another role for trans folk in liberation, both within our own communities and through the help of those who claim to love and support us. But these cannot reflect the same tired standards of either relegating us to the status of inconvenience or as mere pawns to be shuffled around as need be.
We have been fighting for decades to imagine more because we have always known more had to be possible. Otherwise, none of us would have a future to live in at all.
But these futures can only be created together with trans and non-trans communities if cis people are willing to accept the need to rearrange what has been into what must be:
Offer trans folk chances to be leaders in hosting events and be compensated for their labor, especially trans women of color (particularly Black trans women), rather than assuming some visibility is enough for us to live on. (Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda)
Make spaces accessible to those of us who are disabled and accept that these trans folk likely bring contributions to conversations you never thought of (or maybe didn’t want to think about). (Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda)
At the very least, ask something so simple yet so crucial to actually involving us in the work of liberation struggles:
“What do you do to support trans people?”
Not what things do you feel proud of or feel good about commenting on or liking on Facebook. Not what people you considered in a theoretical argument in which no trans people were present to speak whatsoever. Simply, what do you do to support us?
I am only twenty-four years old and cannot begin to touch upon the various feelings which other trans folk have regarding the military given their varied experiences. Despite any outcries I give to their involvement in the war machine, I understand (yet never absolve) trans folk who join.
But I am old enough and experienced enough to know that we as trans folk deserve better options than either being rhetorical evidence or being agents of violence to people abroad.
We are agents of change, of liberation, of a power that no one can match.
Despite all the harms I have dealt with in my life, I know I can still hold faith in liberation for us all someday.
It is high time cis folks recognized just how critical trans folks have been, are, and will be to the efforts for collective freedom. Otherwise, the war machine will devour us all.
And, I can assure you, we are not too weak to be inconvenient for that at least.