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Trans Bodies are Human Bodies

The President of the United States announced on Twitter today (I never thought I’d have to type that sentence) that transgender people will no longer be able to serve in the military, reversing a 2016 announcement welcoming trans soldiers into its ranks. Trump cited “tremendous medical costs” and “disruption” as his reasons, claiming that these would distract the military from “decisive and overwhelming victory.”

I’m not even going to touch the terrifying nationalist rhetoric implicit in these tweets. Instead, I want to talk about Trump’s poisonous reasoning in making this decision––reasoning that has seeped into several policies already promoted by this administration.

It all centers on the idea of wrong bodies.

Trump et al seem to believe that there exists a template for a default American. A normal American, if you will. Surprise, surprise: that American is a white, able cis man. Our healthcare and insurance systems are devised to pay for the problems that this normal American experiences; our military is set up to accommodate him and make him feel welcome. In Trump’s world, people with other bodies exist, sure, and they have the right to continue to exist (I mean, for now). But those bodies are not the default; those bodies are not normal, and “we”––meaning doctors, insurers, the United States government, the military––shouldn’t have to accommodate them. Those non-cis, non-male, disabled bodies, those breasts, that uterus, that gender reassignment surgery, it’s all extra. Why should our social systems have to bend over backwards for something special that normal people don’t even have or need? Why should our military or our taxpayers have to pay for those wrong bodies? Why should men have to subsidize maternity care, when uteruses and vaginas are extra features not possessed by normal Americans? Why should the president of the United States have to respect female bodies that don’t fit into his thin, white ideal of what a female body should be? (remember when he called Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy”? I know, it’s tough to keep track when so many horrors have unfolded since then).

It’s not just that Trump and his ilk don’t want to pay for those wrong bodies; they also want to keep the “normal” bodies comfortable. Let’s parse the other 140 characters in this edict: his assertion that trans troops are too much of a distraction for the (normal) Americans serving in the United States military. We need to prioritize the needs of the normal body above all else, according to his logic.

Of course, this is poisonous, dangerous rhetoric, and utter nonsense. There’s no such thing as a normal body or a normal American: all bodies are equally valuable and should be equally accommodated by social systems. And the distraction bit? If some soldiers aren’t disciplined enough to accept different bodies in their ranks, then they are the ones who shouldn’t be given weapons and sent to fight foreign wars.

Singling out some bodies as different or less or not worthy of support is not only harmful to those bodies on a practical level: it creates a sinister atmosphere, and projects an ostensible wrongness around those bodies that can lead to other, very real consequences. Sure, Trump’s not calling for us to round up trans people and imprison them, but he’s persecuting by strong implication. And when people are persecuted by strong implication, when authority figures and our culture and society create an aura of non-normativity around them, well, look at the results: suicide rates among teens who internalize the message that the world won’t accept them, hate crimes, staggering rates of poverty (when you take into account the fact that the military is one way to escape the cycle of poverty, this announcement takes on an even more vile twist).

As long as our leaders implement policy that supports the binary of normal bodies (cis and male) versus wrong (female, differently-abled, trans) bodies, discrimination and prejudice will continue to trickle down to all aspects of American society, making life even harder for people who already move through a world that’s stacked against them. I want to take a moment to celebrate all the trans people who have boldly moved through the world anyway, living authentically in the face of extreme hate and prejudice, from CEO Martine Rothblatt, to activist Jazz Jennings, to writers Leslie Feinberg and Joy Ladin, and first transgender presidential appointee Amanda Simpson, to all the trans people who don’t have the resources or circumstances to stand up and live boldly as they are, to those who existed before our vocabulary could better describe their lived experience. It is immensely discouraging to watch American society move further and further backwards on so many issues these days, but let this pronouncement serve as a reminder that the Trump administration is intrinsically invested in honoring certain American bodies at the expense of others––and there is nothing victorious about that.

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Trans Soldier Erez Shachar (media object)
Full image
Erez Shachar, the first openly trans officer in the Israeli military.
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How to cite this page

Cataneo, Emily. "Trans Bodies are Human Bodies ." 26 July 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 14, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/trans-bodies-are-human-bodies>.

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