The ‘Progressive’ Empire: A call to action

On the Ban of Transgender Persons from Service in the United States Military
27 July 2017
Cambria York

On July 26, 2017, POTUS Donald Trump issued the following statement through his Twitter feed:

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender [sic] in the military would entail. Thank you.”

Allegedly this action took the joint chiefs of staff “by surprise,” and the extent of the consequences coming from such a proclamation have yet to be determined. What is known, however, is that the sole state-funded apparatus by which transgender Americans may acquire sufficient healthcare for medical transition and everyday needs is through the military-industrial complex. Further, since many transition after retiring from active duty status, most of this coverage is facilitated through the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.), the cost of which represents .04 to .13 percent of the annual military healthcare budget, a trifle in and of itself. Approximately 2,450 out of 1.3 million active duty service members are purported to be transgender. Further, approximately 20% of all transgender Americans pursue or did pursue a career in the U.S. military, which is the single highest percentage within an individual demographic in the nation.

That being said, a great many siblings have come forward decrying this move as an erasure of their humanity, a cementing of their status as second-class citizens, and as a limitation of the agency of U.S. citizens to choose which career path is most suitable for them. While the sentiments expressed therein are correct and blameless, there is something to be said for the deafening response from cisgender “allies” in the wake of the announcement. What makes you think we weren’t robbed of our humanity before? In what way were we not second-class citizens before? It is my fear that such a move will reallocate resources, normally used for organizing around key survival issues, toward the repealing of this ban. The number of times I have been spoken “for” and over by people claiming my interests as a trans person, and the interests of my siblings who got out of the military-industrial complex while they still could, speaks volumes for the overall misguidedness in terms of priorities that can be seen in this country.

I do not wish for you to be angry for me, I wish for you to listen to me when I am speaking on issues that affect me and mine. And I’m speaking now, so I beg for, and demand, your silence that you may listen. Much obliged.

Where I Stand

First and foremost, I am anti-imperialist. This is a non-negotiable aspect of where I am politically. I believe that the duty of anyone who claims to be anti-imperialist, and lives within the borders of an imperialist power (such as the U.S.), must do everything in their ability to combat narratives that harm oppressed and colonized communities “at home” and abroad. What that entails is a variety of tactics, including the examination and analysis of popular cultural narratives that many people take for granted. The first of these narratives I will be unpacking is that of the working-class soldier (or sailor, or airman, or marine, or coastie – insert your branch here).

Before I continue, I want to offer the following caveat: I organize with, and am friends with a great many persons who at one point had a career in the U.S. military. A number of them are transgender as well. They recognize the reactionary nature of narratives that encircle the military-industrial complex, and are eager to fight against them. In most instances, I know of no single veteran that doesn’t feel, in some capacity, “used up, chewed up, and spit out” when they no longer serve as useful. This piece was written with them in mind, to honor their commitment to a common struggle against the forces of imperialism that once used and abused their bodies on both domestic and foreign soil.

Legionnaire or Auxilliary?

Much like the police, the military exists to reinforce the interests of capitalism. Further, I assert a disproportionate, predatory relationship between military recruiters and the most impoverished and disenfranchised parts of the population. I grew up in a city between several major military installations, and the recruiters were, like clockwork, stationed in my high school cafeteria to offer free pizza slices to whatever poor sap would listen to their enlistment option spiel. And I lost a lot of friends that way. The police, similarly, rely upon the ideals of young people wanting to serve their communities. Yet these ideals are exploited through the violence police enact upon marginalized peoples, the poor and working class, homeless people, undocumented people, and those struggling with substance abuse. The fact that we are so quick to forget that the first acts of queer rebellion were ones against police violence and, 40-odd years since Stonewall, we argue the merits of police inclusion in Pride, makes one wonder where our priorities lie as a community.

At the same time, in the years following 9/11, the U.S. military has been utilized as a sort of adventurist gun club for the wide-eyed sons of the middle class who, in wanting to “do their part” to “fight global terror,” volunteered to continue the occupation in West Asia that has been more or less ongoing for the past several decades. Unlike the inequity in conscription practices during the invasion of Vietnam, which was indeed more of a “poverty draft” than any surge in recruitment we have seen since, this was the product of a massively successful propaganda campaign to galvanize disparate class narratives, and distract from abuses carried out by the U.S. government. In many cases, we see a parallel with the career citizen-soldier of the ancient era: the legionnaires of Rome.

To quote a comrade of mine,

“Killing colonized people and destabilizing anti-imperialist nations in capitalist imperialist wars is not a labor class. Much like cops, soldiers in the U.S. imperialist army are not working class. Rather than rationalize and defend predatory recruiting practices, focus on the fact that oppressed people who join the U.S. army are working against their own class interests and those of all colonized and nationally oppressed people.”

Intersectional Imperialism is Still Imperialism

Earlier this year, a number of articles were published surrounding the case of IDF officer, Shachar Erez. Erez, a trans man, came out to a group of supportive peers and staff, and had his medical transition and affirming procedures covered by Israeli military health insurance. The moral of the story is to give the impression that trans people can safely be “out” in the IDF, a force which exists almost exclusively to assert Israeli violence in the continued occupation of Palestine. This perversion of intersectionality only furthers the narrative of an “accepting, inclusive” power who in one hand embrace its own trans/queer citizens, and in the other, uses said citizens to murder trans/queer people of other nations.

Trans people in the U.S. aren’t more important than trans people outside the U.S., and even with the argument of military aid providing resources not otherwise available, there is still the fact that supporting the U.S. military comes with the weight of enacting violence upon people of the Global South, which very much includes other transgender and queer people. If that is the cost one is willing to pay to have a marginally-better existence than those in other nations, I would ask if it is worthwhile.

I bring this story to question because it is very similar to what we have seen in regards to the U.S. military, both at present and in times past. The integration of the U.S. military was used as a tool to further destabilize black liberation movements within the country, and the coercive recruitment of indigenous peoples is indefensible in the first place. This tactic is being used in Israel to deflect the military’s treatment of Palestinians, while performatively displaying how “progressive” they are – the very definition of Pinkwashing. In the U.S., this tactic has been used as a litmus test of a sort to satiate people into reflecting on how “progressive” the country is when compared to allegedly “barbaric” nations to whom have been “gifted” whatever we’re calling democracy these days.

I cannot in good conscience defend those siblings who have actively chosen to take the side of the imperialist narrative, though I will gladly stand beside those who have chosen to work against their former employers for the betterment of humanity as a whole.

Would You Like to Know More?

Dean Spade, founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, was quoted in 2014 as saying,

“There is a very conservative narrative in the U.S. that eligibility for military services means a person can be considered a full citizen […] Some people believe that gaining inclusion in the military changes the public image of marginalized groups, and that will change how they are treated. Movements for social justice want people to be considered human, deserving of housing, food, education and everything else they need, without having to be connected to possibly the most destructive and dehumanizing force on earth, the U.S. military.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty damn tired of hearing rhetoric that veers dangerously close to the Starship Troopers-esque line that “service guarantees citizenship.”

What are we to fight for, then? What cause are we to dedicate ourselves to? Where should our priorities lie, then? The basic human rights and dignities of trans people, that’s where:

– Guaranteed protections for workers: Stable employment is a human right! What protections do we have against summary termination for the slightest offense? Why should we be afraid of coming out to our fellow workers?

– Guaranteed access to universal healthcare: Healthcare is a human right! What access do we have to medicine, clinics, surgeons, therapists, and consultants? Why do we have to bankrupt ourselves and beg online for the most basic of affirming procedures? Why must we as a culture view mental healthcare as a luxury that’s out of our reach?

– Guaranteed food and shelter: Housing and a stable diet are human rights! Why should we have scramble to form emergency housing alternatives and soup kitchens to serve our homeless and hungry siblings with a modicum of humanity and respect? What protections do our siblings on the streets have? What are we doing to fight the rapid food desertification of our cities and rural communities? What progress can we make as individuals, and as a society, if we must sell ourselves to acquire our most basic needs?

– Guaranteed access to education: Education is a human right! Why are our youths subject to sub-par public educations that follow long-outdated pedagogical methods? Why must we treat educators as slaves when they have perhaps one of the most important jobs? What protections do our youths have against bigotry in the classroom? What are we to do about the inaccurate and unhelpful excuses presented as sexual education? Why should we submit to predatory banks to pay for advanced degrees whose value fluctuates as with the tides? Why are universities run like for-profit businesses, where only the most affluent can truly pursue their dreams?

I suspect that, in the following days, weeks, and months, there will be a great deal of public outrage. There will probably be a series of demonstrations to protest this ban. But, to my friends and siblings intent on organizing such efforts, I respectfully ask: Why should we have to join the military in order to have any of the above, rather basic amenities of life, guaranteed? Why can’t we work towards a guaranteed improved quality of life for all of us? And, if we can no longer work within the systems as they are, why can’t we create new ones to better serve us? I know it can seem daunting, if not impossible, but it is not by leeching off the dying predator that we will survive. Rather, by picking over what is left of its corpse. And, as things are, the giant beast is losing its balance. Let’s take it down, together.



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