The recent announcement by the Pentagon concerning an upcoming change in the US military’s gender policy is mere months away from becoming reality. As of May 2016, the US military will allow trans soldiers to serve openly for the first time in history. Ending this ban has been celebrated as a progressive win in the realm of transgender rights by cisgender liberals and condemned as another attack on traditional values by conservatives.
However, what has been mostly framed as a two-sided issue is far more complex than what mainstream dialogue around it would suggest.
This move to include transgender individuals in the armed forces is not a sign that the US is leaving preconceived notions about the gender binary behind and embracing a fuller spectrum of identities. Rather, it is an example of shameless neoliberalization of LGBT+ issues and flagrant homonationalism.
From a domestic perspective, this is virtually meaningless to a large portion of transgender people. Military inclusion is far from being the most pressing and important battle being fought by activists. The advocacy and interest in this didn’t come from protests and passionate pleas–those were reserved for more relevant issues, like mass incarceration and an increasing surge of hate crimes. No, the study that was launched to look into the effects of a transgender-inclusive military started in 2013 with a $1.35 million grant from a wealthy philanthropist. It was a move that disregarded the voices and real needs of transgender men and women across the country. Still, it is being propped up as a sign of tangible change to come, instead of a pseudo-progressive action that ignores the actual issues at hand that are plaguing the trans community. “Victories” such as a change in recruitment policy and gender expression during service have little solvency for the larger and more deadly threats facing transgender citizens.
From an international perspective, it encourages the destruction of solidarity with other marginalized people across the globe. Historically, some of the most important features of the queer liberation movement have been a united front and intersectionality. In fact, a significant amount of current progress in LGBT+ rights can be traced back to the actions and bravery of transgender women of color. Additionally, leftist and emancipatory politics have a long history with the queer rights movement. This includes the overlap between sexual liberation and the dismantling of an economic power structure and white supremacist social hierarchy that reinforces these systematic inequalities. To strive for true transgender liberation means to stand in solidarity with trans people across the globe, not just within the confines of the west. This includes opposing the jingoistic entities that perpetuate the imperialist policies of the state. Simply including marginalized people into this governmental body that has victimized our brown and black queer brothers and sisters isn’t enlightened–it’s just a new way to indoctrinate and segregate.
If our aim is to truly help the transgender community instead of building up false narratives of progress, there need to be concentrated efforts to solve the true crises at the heart of this disenfranchisement. As cited by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program, close to 90% of LGBTQ murders in 2013 were people of color, 72% of those being transgender women. The statistics regarding the rising number of trans women killed this year are sobering and paint a picture of America that isn’t necessarily shocking, but is definitely reaffirming of how socioeconomic status, gender, and race play a large role in the dichotomy between the haves and have-nots. It isn’t a shocking revelation or an unfounded leap to assert that, historically and presently, internal structures exist to maintain social order. These barriers manifest as housing discrimination, the wage gap, and police violence, to give an extensively abridged list of examples, and put these women, especially those who are black or Latina, at elevated risks of being victimized. Some of the most vulnerable members of our society are being left behind by a movement meant to empower them.
Pinkwashing like this has never been an indication of true liberation, but of evidence that a movement has become so non-threatening and easily placated that it can be used to further an agenda oppositional to the initial intent. We don’t need more trans bodies to act as bullet shields in lands we have no business occupying; we need immigration reform, better access to health care, and an end to the senseless murders.
To hail small changes in a system that perpetuates violence at its core is a lot like putting a Band-Aid over a large gash: the intent might be good, but it does very little to stop the blood.
The trans community has been talking about the things that really need fixing and ways in which to go about it for decades. Now, it’s time to start listening.
(Title image via under CC BY 2.0)