“What the government is basically telling me is ‘you cannot exist,’ that ‘you are wrong,’ and that ‘you do not exist.'”
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday filed a brief arguing that the government’s blockading of Chelsea Manning’s gender dysphoria treatment is for her own good—which Manning said was akin to telling her, “You don’t exist.”
Manning, who is currently serving a 35-year sentence at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, says Department of Defense officials have repeatedly denied her requests to be treated as female and prevented her from growing her hair out beyond the two inches allowed by military regulations.
After “carefully considering the recommendation that the wear of a feminine hairstyle is medically appropriate, and weighing all associated safety and security risks presented,” Col. Erica Nelson, the Commandant of the USDB, determined that allowing Manning “to wear a feminine hairstyle is not supported by the risk assessment and potential risk mitigation measures at this time,” the brief states.
But as Manning wrote Friday in a post on the blog platform Medium, gender presentation is a crucial part of identity.
“I believe that defining ourselves in our own terms and in our own languages is one of the most powerful and important rights that we have as human beings,” Manning said. “Presenting myself in the gender that I am is about my right to exist. What the government is basically telling me is ‘you cannot exist,’ that ‘you are wrong,’ and that ‘you do not exist.’ What they are doing is taking away our right to exist. I think this is the kind of situation that justifies all kinds of terrible things like ignorance, maltreatment, torture, murder, and genocide.”
On Twitter, she added, “It makes me feel unsafe to have military and gov’t officials police my body, identity, and humanity. =(”
According to the ACLU, preventing Manning from receiving medical treatment is a violation of her basic rights.
“The government is attempting to complicate and diminish Chelsea’s core constitutional rights to be treat equally and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment,” ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Project attorney Chase Strangio, who represents Manning, said Friday. “Chelsea’s demand is simple: that she be treated with her medically necessary treatment and like all other women in military custody.”
While in prison, Manning has faced numerous disciplinary actions for charges including possessing expired toothpaste and books related to LGBTQI issues—which resulted in 21 days of restrictions on all “recreational” activities, including time out of her cell and phone calls.
The DOJ’s brief comes amid an ongoing legal battle between Manning and the government over her gender identity.
On Friday, Manning explained, “Nobody knows your gender more than you do. No—one. You do not know my gender better than I do. A doctor doesn’t know it better than me. My parents don’t know it better than me. No one experiences my gender in the way that I experience it.
“Gender presentation should reflect the person that you are. When you lose control of your gender presentation you lose an important aspect of your identity and existence.”