Bradly Manning, ‘manhood’ and The Impossible Dream


As the tension over how bad Private Bradly Manning was going to be punished  by the government subsides, we are left, not only with the task of protecting him from further torture, but to stand by him in his quest to find and realize his real identity.

After Manning came out, I read many comments posted by readers on the main stream media online (The NYTimes, WaPo, etc), initially with apprehension, expecting the typical scorn for his honesty. I’m  surprised by the support he has received by a big swath of the public, despite the nature of his confession.

It comes  at  a circumstance incompatible with the needs of an individual, the war-like scenario of his initial transgression. His confession is  mind-boggling to me because it challenges deep rooted stereotypes at a time where there is not much space to ridicule the issue. Let me try to explain.

Fist is the issue of ‘manhood’. Here we have a man who has renounced his manhood, something that ‘typically’ would bring scorn and ridicule to any man who does that.

Typically’, he would be considered (for wanting to be a woman) the opposite of a ‘man’, a ‘sissy’ (the implication  being that to be a woman is to be weak and cowardly, of course). A ‘sissy’ is a cowardly and ridiculous man, girl-y (in Arnold’s world), not a ‘real man’; and yet, few would dare call Bradly Manning a coward or a ‘sissy’. You may disagree with him, but NO ONE can call him a ‘coward’ or a ‘sissy’ without soiling his/her own mouth in the process. In any OTHER circumstance he could be ridiculed for being ‘sissy’, but not here. Manning is no ‘sissy’.

Few of us have the courage to intentionally expose ourselves to TORTURE for the benefit of the many. He did it while wearing stilettos, in his mind. Well, probably, at some point.

The other issue is the context in which the confession comes. It didn’t come from, for example, a politician caught wearing a wig or any other situation that would have rendered the person an object of ridicule. No. It came in front of the eyes of the world as they were witnessing the torture of a human being for the ‘crime’ of showing us the barbarities that our government commits in other nations in the name of ‘freedom’. The world was watching how the rights of a human were being trampled under torture. There’s no much space to ridicule that human being under those conditions, is there?

Manning put us between a rock and a hard place: if, on one hand, you admire him for showing the truth and withstanding torture, but on the other you hate ‘gays’, what you gonna do now? Approve his torture for being transgender? How do you separate the two issues under this condition? How can you ridicule him and say he’s ‘sissy’ under this conditions?

So, some questions in my mind are these: Can Bradly Manning’s ‘manhood’ be questioned?Is he less of a man than, let’s say, the Arnold? If you can’t call him ‘sissy’, because he has shown that he is not ‘cowardly’, does that means that you must accept his ‘manhood’ despite him renouncing it? What is a ‘man’?And, does it matter one way or the other?

Because, while he was tortured, he was a ‘man’, as he still is until he gets the ‘gender re-assignment’. He was a ‘man’ in the eyes of the tortures because Manning is physically a man.  And, if at that time they thought that Manning was ‘gay’, they must have been shaken, at some point, by the courage and endurance and bravery of that ‘sissy’ man. I know I would have.

When I speak here of ‘manhood’ I’m doing it in the cultural sense of the word.Think of all the adjectives used to describe a ‘man’, socially speaking, not in terms of ‘sex’, but in terms of gender. Gender as in, you know, the socially expected attributes of a person based on the sex of that person: rational (men) vs emotional (women), etc etc etc.

I think that our hero Bradly Manning has, unintentionally, re-cast in our minds our images of what is a ‘gay’ or transgender person and a ‘man’. I think that we, as a society, have paused and blinked at the enormity of Manning’s actions. I think he has shaken our old stereotypes. And something good has come out of that, I think.

A person’s valor and courage is measured by his/her actions, not by the color of their skin, nationality, or gender, whether re-assigned or by birth. And a ‘real man’ is someone who fights against injustice.

Our hero Bradly Manning, with his actions and ‘confession’, has confirmed that.

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