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Krytyka Polityczna, Poland

Chelsea Manning Need Do Nothing

By Jakub Dymek

Translated By Maciej Lepka

28 August 2013

Edited by Bora Mici

Poland - Krytyka Polityczna - Original Article (Polish)

Even certain left- and right-wing commentators are acting as if they were angry at Manning for making it difficult to make plugs.

There is a scene in the TV series "The Newsroom," in which Will McAvoy, a charismatic host of a TV show, interviews a young organizer of the Occupy Wall Street protests. He criticizes the protesters for not having any clear-cut leadership; claims that this is the whole point behind the idea are quickly dispelled, "No leaders, no one to meet with — you are going to lose."

This underlying demand that social movements fight for their causes within the laws of the system they are trying to change is not only "The Newsroom" screenwriters' idea. We can hear the same voices now on Chelsea Manning's case.

The statement that Manning made public after the trial brought about cries of criticism and disappointment. Manning claims that he is female and that from now on, he should be addressed as Chelsea. Why the criticism? There are voices that say the matter of gender identification is nothing other than an attempt to distract society’s attention from a more serious problem: Manning's surgery will burden taxpayers, and s/he announces his/her femaleness because s/he cannot accept the ramifications of what s/he has done.

These allegations sound familiar, as we have been hearing them since the establishment of the LGBT movement. Lack of responsibility, focusing on inconsequential matters, burdening other members of society — these clichés have been very useful in formulating conservative objections against homosexuals fighting for their rights. It is no wonder that publicists wanting to discredit Manning use the same language.

Manning's statement also constitutes a problem for certain writers of a liberal and left-wing persuasion. As they claim, Bradley's transformation into Chelsea provided a reason for further accusations. It appears they would rather Bradley/Chelsea had acted in a way that would have facilitated making plugs and putting forward simple theses. They feel as comfortable with supporting the leaks as with patronizing and admonishing Manning on how to deal with the matter of his/her identity.

As a result, both sides appear certain that they know best what Manning should or should not do.

This story seems to run parallel to the history of the LGBT movement. Gays and lesbians have also been instructed in various texts on how to behave and what actions not to take, as if they did not have the competence and right to determine how to fight for their rights. This is a kind of conditional solidarity — we support people fighting for some cause, as long as we decide on how they can do it.

Bradley and later Chelsea's whole story could be told in a totally different way: without cautioning anyone, without arguments on whether the main character is a gay icon and hero or LGBT traitor. Instead, we should heed the responses to and consequences of Manning's arrest and trial. Initiatives such as Solidarity with Bradley Manning and the Bradley Manning Support Network show that there are many people who disapprove of an unfair trial and call on the U.S. government to uphold procedures, laws and the Constitution. The fight for the subjective and fair treatment of every citizen is not any different from the endeavors of the LGBT movement. On the contrary, Manning's trial has proven that they cannot be separated.

Presenting the Manning's story in a way that promises "an expanded battlefield" would focus on Bradley, a private fundamentally opposed to crimes against civilians and covering up the truth, who decided to go public to put a stop to it. It would be a story about a young man, whose only vice is his humanness — his terror at seeing his fellow soldiers shooting at civilians with a smile on their faces. It would be a story of a boy who collaborated with WikiLeaks, not because of his questionable sexual preferences, but in spite of them. How was he supposed to know that this very private aspect of his life was going to backfire once he got caught?

We could conclude the story saying that Manning simply cannot be the hero we would like him to be. He cannot be a fearless soldier and symbol of American patriotism because his revelation of confidential materials entailed breaking his military vow and asserting disobedience in front of his superiors. On the other hand, he is not "an ordinary gay" not causing any trouble for the liberal press. Conformity to other people's expectations is the last thing we would expect from a whistle-blower. To many people's disappointment, Manning is neither another James Bond nor a gay icon.

He can only be himself — Chelsea Manning, who has realized she has to impose her own terms if she is to win this fight.



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