Everywhere you look today, there are articles about Chelsea Manning. Even I jumped on that train, and I’m going to jump on it again. However, I am going to talk about her transition this time, and the problems behind not supporting her medical transition. Every news site, even the queer friendly ones, has discussions over how the government should not pay for the coverage of her hormones. Some places are even dragging surgeries into this, surgeries she has not even mentioned, she has only mentioned HRT. Many trans* and cis people have voiced several of their concerns with her transition. While understandable, they are all problematic. Chelsea should have the basic health coverage everyone should have. Whether or not you condone her as a hero or a criminal should have no affect on the way she is treated. However, for most, it sadly has everything to do with it.
Many people are complaining about their tax dollars being spent on the transition of prisoners. Obviously, these people do not support Chelsea and what she did. Even those who are neutral or do support her may stand on shaky ground in supporting her transition. The reality is, not only do tax dollars already go to supporting some prisoner’s transitions, the prices are not nearly as high as the price of the mental health and hospital visits required if a person tries to take matters into their own hands. Treating gender dysphoria with hormones and surgery (if required by the person), is the only solution to mental anguish suffered by being without. If people were so concerned about cost, they would be for Manning being able to transition is the prison system. Transitioning is a medical necessary and life-saving procedure for trans* people, akin to insulin for diabetics.
Tax dollars are also spent on things we may or may not support. Even the most far right Conservative’s dollar goes towards places like Planned Parenthood and the social services that various agencies provide. Our tax dollars are used to fund whatever the government wants them to, regardless of our personal preference. Millions disagreed with the war on Iraq and yet our taxes still funded it. We do not get to choose where our tax dollars go. Manning’s transition is just an easy scapegoat for allowing people to vocally disagree with treating prisoners like the people they really are.
The main concern I see, is trans* people expressing their frustration on the fact that Chelsea, a criminal, can get her transition covered while they cannot. They feel since they cannot get coverage, as law abiding citizens, that someone who is a tried and charged criminal should not either. However, this has nothing to do with Chelsea and her charges or criminality and everything to do with the broken American health system. The American health system is extremely broken since it functions, not as a basic human right, but as a for-profit and a reward for those able to obtain work. The American health system is inherently racist, classist, and ableist (with those who are often uncovered being poor Americans of color, or those who suffer from disabilities). To get health care in America, you need money. Many transgender people live in poverty, experience homelessness, and have trouble finding employment due to their trans* status. The American health system is essentially at odds with the transgender population. However, by allowing prisoners to transition, we make great strides for those outside the prisons.
By allowing prisoners to transition, we show the nation that transitioning is medically necessary. If prisoners are allowed to be covered by government funds, then those outside of bars should too. There is a push for companies and insurance agencies to include transgender related coverage in their policies (in places such as Philadelphia). If prisoners absolutely need these types of medications, those outside of prison need them too. It also shows the need for national health coverage for all, comprehensive health care that includes coverage for trans* people, like in the UK and other European countries. Clearly if these countries can do it without major economic strain, the United States can do the same.
Lastly, denying Chelsea Manning access to transition related health coverage because those outside cannot obtain it due to whatever reason, is sadistic, on the verge of torture. Prisoners are humans with basics needs and rights, regardless of their crimes. They should have access to the same medical coverage that everyone should have, whether they actually have it or not. Just because the system is currently broken and needs severe repairs does not mean someone should go without. That borders cruel and unusual punishment. It is not a reward for her behavior anymore than giving someone access to mental health services is a reward, or giving a diabetic their insulin shot, or allowing someone to go through chemotherapy for their cancer. They are all equally valid and medically necessary rights that everyone should have, prisoner or not.
Chelsea Manning deserves access to transitional medicine. Every trans* person does. Incarcerated or not should not matter. No matter your stance on the reasons she is incarcerated, she deserves to be treated for her medical issue. It is not elective, nor is it any less serious than any other medical issue. Being in prison is already pretty hellish for trans women since they are often housed in men’s facilities, are thirteen times more likely to be sexually assaulted, and face higher rates of abuse at the hands of fellow inmates and guards than their cis cellmates. Why should we make Chelsea Manning suffer anymore than she already will? Just because she is a criminal does not mean she should be tortured or denied basic human dignity, respect, or rights. Chelsea deserves to be treated with the basic human dignity we all should, criminal or not.