A photo of the U.S. flag on a camouflage uniform.

PSA: Support Trans People But Not the Military

“Imperialism is still imperialism even if the soldiers are queer. Sorry.” — Kat Blaque

Today was shitty. In a series of tweets this morning, President Trump announced that transgender people will no longer be accepted within the U.S. military because they are a “disruption,” and providing them healthcare is a “tremendous cost.” This is obviously transphobic bullshit (fun fact: the military spends five times as much on Viagra as it would on transgender troops’ medical care).

But, what was also shitty is how today revealed the massive and gross soft spot progressives in this country have for imperialism, war, and crushing brown and black people abroad. Juliana wrote to me asking: aren’t we capable of expressing support and love for trans people without legitimizing an institution that has killed millions of marginalized people in order to protect the power of a white supremacist and imperialist state? Here are three quick-ish thoughts I had in response to her question.

1. Banning people from any institution based on gender-identity is discriminatory

And as so many people have articulated today, its impacts will be devastatingly far-reaching and affect institutions beyond the military. As friend and brilliant law student Milo explains:

The “tremendous medical cost” part of it [repeats] an argument that’s used to prevent trans people from getting healthcare in all kinds of situations (Medicare and Medicaid coverage, other insurances, folks in prisons, and so on). It furthers this narrative of trans people’s lives being a burden on cis people (see “disruptive”) and our survival being unnecessary or somehow optional. This outlook influences things like how trans healthcare is often deemed “elective” and not paid for by insurance companies, state entities, and so on. Our lives become an unpleasant and unnecessary disruption to the greater cis world, which in turn justifies discrimination and violence against us, particularly against those whose identities are deemed disruptive in other ways, like people of color or those experiencing homelessness or poverty.”

2. Voicing outrage over the ban while legitimizing the U.S. military is violent

There is a nuanced, needed conversation to be had about marginalized U.S. citizens and residents participating in a war machine and accountability. But what is not complicated is how fucked up this war machine is. It is possible (see Milo’s quote above, Jennicet Gutiérrez, or L’lerrét Jazelle Ailith’s piece) to articulate the violence Trump’s ban further enables against trans people in this country without relying on jingoist, nationalistic, pro-war, pro-murder BS garbage that legitimizes the primary institution of maintaining white supremacy (and therefore, anti-queer violence) worldwide. Unfortunately, progressives have a violent soft spot for imperialism and/or need a language lesson.

Saying people “serve” in the military is gross. People don’t “honorably” or “bravely” serve in the U.S. military; they murder, rape, and pillage. Our soldiers don’t “defend our freedom;” they deny the rest of the world theirs’. There is absolutely no excuse for progressives writing, sharing, or aligning themselves with outrage from electeds, Joe Biden, Republicans, Department of Defense warmongers, or white gay inc. that in any way legitimizes the U.S. war machine. I am so deeply disappointed by the dozens of advocates I look up to who have voiced their outrage today in a way that is racist and imperialist — and makes very clear how little mainstream progressive movements value the ultimate victims of U.S. imperialism (indigenous people and the third world).

Again, it is possible to talk about the impact of the ban without using language like: serving, honorable, bravery, defending freedom, patriotism, or emphasizing “national security.” U.S. progressives — queer and otherwise — need to do fuck better.

*This is especially a challenge to fellow straights who seem to only show support for queer folk when it’s around mainstream assimilation.

3. Discussing the military vs. soldiers individually

There is a bigger, admittedly, more complicated question of to what extent and how we can hold marginalized people  who have participated in the military accountable when we know that the U.S. military preys on poor, queer, people of color (links welcome on this). As many of us learned today, one in five trans people have participated in the military, and therefore, depend/ed on the military for healthcare. What we do with this fact is challenging, and for now, it is a reminder to that we continue to direct our energy at the system, rather than vulnerable individuals within it. That said, some things still strike me as obvious if we’re going to waddle into discussing individual soldiers: it is possible to uplift the experiences of soldiers who, if discharged, will lose health care without celebrating how they have killed; and being trans, queer, women, etc does not absolve individuals of the violence they have caused.

So while I’m not going to sit here and bash people who’ve made decisions I will never face in constraints I don’t experience — I am also, as Kat Blaque writes, “not keen on photo essay about trans soldiers where I get to hear about their kills and such.” Murder by marginalized soldiers isn’t suddenly more moral because the soldiers, too, faced discrimination. This is an insult to the people who again bear the ultimate costs of our military (the third world) and to the marginalized people (many of whom are trans) who risk their lives trying to protect their communities from our armed forces/money-making war machine.

For more reading, please check out everything by Dean Spade and the reading list over at Against Equality, Queer Challenges to the Politics of Inclusion.

Image via ACLU

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

Read more about Mahroh

Join the Conversation