An old Turkish proverb reads, “A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others.”
Bradley Manning is a candle who consumed himself teaching Americans the real horrors of the war. Chelsea Manning will consume herself teaching legal, biological, and social lessons about gender, explaining the “T” in LGBT.
Americans have a contentious relationship with truth. They don’t trust their government to tell it. They don’t like others to reveal it. .” In his book “Dirty Wars,” Jeremy Scahill discloses Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld orchestrated secret American death squads to operate in Iraq, Afghanistan and multiple other sovereign nations. They were unaccountable to Congress and operated far outside the boundaries of American and international law.
Under the cover of “the war against terror” they tortured and/or killed thousands. These soldiers and politicians decided who was guilty or might be guilty. Cheney called it “F3” which was code for “Find, Fix, and Finish” meaning tracking a target, fixing his location, and finishing him off.
Neither Rumsfeld nor Cheney cared much about “collateral damage,” innocent people dying in the line of fire as thousands did. Bradley Manning witnessed the carnage. He decided we should know. So he told the truth, releasing documents and film of the Cheney-Rumsfeld death squads doing what they had been organized to do.
Among the files Manning made public was a video showing an American helicopter firing on a group of men in Baghdad. One was a journalist, two others Reuters employees carrying cameras. The reporters were killed. The Americans then fired on a van that stopped to help the injured. Two children in the van were wounded, their father killed.
Among other files Manning turned over to Wikileaks was video of a May 4, 2009, airstrike in Afghanistan, killing as many as 147 civilians.
Americans were confronted with the truth. The truth can be an embarrassing thing to politicians like Cheney and Rumsfeld. And the American people would rather not learn it. Ask Daniel Ellsberg. It was like that decades ago in Viet Nam and continues to this day.
So, for telling the truth, Bradley Manning got 35 years in prison.
Now Manning reveals he has been imprisoned for life…the prison of being a woman in a man’s body. Chelsea Manning will now become that self-consuming candle that will light the way for others.
Most Americans know less about transgender than they do about what their country really did in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chelsea Manning will likely find most Americans like transgender people less than Bradley Manning learned they like truth tellers. Coming out as she was going into prison will make the experience especially harsh.
We have nearly worked our way through the injustice of discriminating against homosexuals. Thanks to Chelsea Manning, we can now begin the process of learning about the small percentage of our fellow humans who find themselves transgendered.
According to the American Psychological Association, “Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.” Transgendered people have existed, says the APA, “from antiquity until the present day.”
There are apparently few studies to adequately answer the question of how prevalent transgender is in the overall population and researchers are yet unable to explain the phenomenon. But, the APA says, “Many experts believe that biological factors such as genetic influences and prenatal hormone levels, early experiences, and experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the development of transgender identities.”
Neither the lawyers nor the theologians are prepared for the debate Manning has stirred. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote in the Washington Post, “Ultimately, the transgender question is about more than just sex. It’s about what it means to be human.”
Still, I fear it will be a long while before the debate is framed in terms of science, reason, logic and good theology. Manning will, as the Turkish proverb said, consume herself as she lights the way for us on this issue.