latest from the magazine
latest journal issue
o begin understanding the relationship between transgender studies and militarism, we might consider the ways that gender-nonconforming bodies and identities are commonly perceived and portrayed as deceptive in cultural sites ranging from legal cases to true crime television shows. Particularly (but certainly not exclusively) in the context of the war on terror, to be viewed as intentionally hiding something from the state marks one as suspicious, on the level of national threat. We need only look to the ongoing, complicated case against Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking classified U.S. military documents to the international website WikiLeaks, to understand how thoroughly transgender politics are entwined with militarized constructions of national safety. Manning’s lawyers have put forward their client’s internal “struggles with gender identity” as a defense strategy, suggesting that the related emotional turmoil and isolation influenced Manning’s actions. This legal strategy implicitly links hidden truths of gender with national betrayal and endangerment, and thus the harsh conditions of Manning’s incarceration can be understood as part of a constellation of punitive practices against bodies that the state cannot otherwise contain, from the gender-nonconforming to the suspected terrorist, and the many ways that they might overlap.
On a less spectacular scale, even the most basic and clearly demarcated relationships between transgender people and the state build on militarized policing practices. For example, the identification documents that are typically key to state-recognized transgender identity are part of a larger process of marking out national boundaries and citizenship: passports and ID cards track travel and immigration, and mark certain bodies and identities as belonging to the nation. Similarly, the synthetic hormones used by a range of gendered bodies and strongly associated with transgender bodies are entangled in the long history of the U.S. war on drugs, from state anxieties about cross-border trafficking of anabolic steroids to the criminalization of non-prescription drug use, particularly for marginalized populations. In these and many other ways, revealing such links demonstrates the extent to which gender-nonconforming bodies and practices both participate in and are produced through everyday cultures of militarism.
Yet a transgender studies perspective might also propose some wariness about emphasizing the act of exposure, an act that, as the above examples suggest, often serves to make marginalized and transgressive populations more vulnerable to state scrutiny and violence. Does the process of making public the militarized ways that transgender people interact with the state also enhance the state’s surveillance tactics against these groups, by making gender-nonconforming bodies more visible? Of course, we might distinguish between exposure practices that reveal the gender-nonconforming body or identity and those that reveal the inner workings of the state itself, usefully laying bare the gaps in its logics – yet as the Manning case demonstrates, the line between the gender-nonconforming figure and the state is not quite so clear. As scholars, how can we best attend to the many reverberations of our studies of militarism, our efforts to reveal what is seemingly hidden?