Lessons from the US trans ban

Trans liberation will only ever truly come with the abolition of the military-industrial complex and all of the borders and firepower that sustain it.

Binary gender, white supremacy, heteronormativity and heteropatriarchy are the inevitable outgrowths of capitalism and colonization. For these reasons, it is a mistake to look at inclusion in the military as a milestone of what our movements can achieve. Despite this, the state will often try to mask its inherent role in perpetuating oppression by co-opting the language of resistance movements.

Our role as truly liberation-oriented organizers must be to recognize this co-optation as nothing less than a shameless strategy of power; so long as the elites can fragment our organizing efforts by making us divert our radical energies towards liberalizing the killing apparatuses of the state, our ability to bring about a just social order will be forever compromised. 

In the U.S. context, we’ve seen the military try and remake our own history over and over again. In 1948, the U.S. military integrated both women and African Americans into the standing forces. At the time, there was considerable objection within the military to desegregation, but as the civil rights and feminist movement won powerful victories in the rest of the country, the Pentagon began to celebrate that early history, taking hard fought people’s movement struggles as their own.

More recently in 2010, with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the U.S. military’s policy to ban the service of gay, lesbian, and bisexual members, the U.S. military again tried to paint themselves as a progressive institution, portraying the integration of gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers as a victory for gay rights movement and that membership in the military could be used as a force for social good. Many U.S. organizations fighting for LGBTQ liberation celebrated this victory as a milestone in a movement started by queer and trans people, in a gay bar called Stonewall in the United States, who stood against police brutality on their community.

Then, in 2016, the Obama administration allowed openly transgender Americans to be soldiers. But as rising fascism in the United States swept Trump into power, right-wing transphobes pushed for a rollback of that policy. In July 2017, Trump tweeted that he was planning on banning transgender soldiers from the U.S. military, followed shortly by policy putting that into effect.

But for all of the tangible effects that these rollbacks and restrictions would have upon trans soldiers, we recognize the campaign surrounding this latest form of discrimination as ultimately working in the interests of a military trying to brand itself as a force for social good in spite of itself. The forces of state violence, the military, the prisons, the police, the border control, need to portray themselves as crucial to any future we might try to build, whereas as anti-militarist organizers we know the truth is the exact opposite. 

There is no bomb that magically doesn’t kill trans people, just as bombing anyone in the name of their own liberation is impossible.

For even in places where the military could boast of a more “diverse” makeup, these stories are weaponized against the more “savage” regions and populations of the world, providing the cover to bomb, occupy and oppress all those that Europe deemed as backwards, misogynistic, and at their core transphobic and resistant to coming into the “modern world” as the West sees it.

The reality is, colonial-military campaigns throughout history have used the so-called “protection” of vulnerable segments of the population as justification for their crimes, often while continuing to deny those same populations their “rights” back home.

Lila Abu-Lughod, for instance, writes of how 19th-century British colonial projects in South West Asia and North Africa were justified by the logic of “saving” Asian women by the very same powerful men who opposed the women’s suffrage movements back home.

Beth Richie and Chandra Talpade Mohanty both argue that so long as feminist efforts are geared towards supporting a more comprehensive military and prison industrial complex, they will in fact be sabotaging the ultimate liberation towards which all freedom movements need to be striving.

Jasbir Puar has talked about how the military can use the language of queer liberation in order to strengthen its own ability to target and kill the latest enemies of the state: backwards “terrorists” who don’t share “our” liberal/progressive values. The military and the state have only ever cared about global “justice” insofar as it can be twisted to support its own material gains, its power and supremacy over the rest of the world.

As trans and queer organizers against militarism in the United States, the challenge of how to confront the trans ban is profound. We cannot support discrimination and bigotry against our trans siblings, but so long as we bolster or seek to “perfect” the military we are in fact supporting this injustice. Simply put, working for the interests of an institution that exists to plunder, terrorize and kill thousands, regardless of their gender and/or sexual identity, is automatically to support all forms of discrimination by way of the most state of the art technologies of violence and incapacitation.

Trans rights do not begin and end within American borders. Trans people are in the United States, as well as in occupied and colonized Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, Haiti, Chad, and the Philippines, and they are all struggling against the military-industrial complex whose overturning is an inextricable part of truly seeing trans liberation in a global context. Trans people are part of the wider communities that they live in, and everywhere where militarism and state power rears its head, trans people are pitted against the military-industrial complex along with everyone else who is deemed disposable by those in power.

For these reasons, we need to be suspicious of claims that military campaigns can ever be sources of trans liberation — even when such claims are made on behalf of trans people from militarily targeted countries. No military superpower acts for the genuine best interest of humanity; they work for their own gain, at the direct expense of all under their domination. There is no bomb that magically doesn’t kill trans people, just as bombing anyone in the name of their own liberation is impossible.

Rather than putting our organizing energy into calling for the military to become (or remain) more “inclusive,” we need to agitate against the military as the most exclusive disciplinary force of the globe, working to prop up the most repressive and reactionary regimes all over the world and supporting all forms of oppression so long as it props up state supremacy. The resources of our movements for trans liberation deserve to be placed toward the liberation of the most targeted members of our community.

Trans liberation will only ever truly come with the abolition of the military-industrial complex and all of the borders and firepower that sustain it. We are here to dream bold dreams of liberation in even the most private of spaces, but we have to recognize the gains we make in access to the institutions that oppress so many of our siblings are detrimental to our movements.

As anti-militarist organizers worldwide, we should be so cautious of the military trying to coopt movements for liberation and setting inclusion into the ranks as something to aspire to. There can be no trans liberation without military abolition.

This story was produced by War Resisters

War Resisters is a joint page shared by War Resisters International and War Resisters League highlighting pressing antiwar topics of today. WRI is an internationalist network of antiwar groups struggling to end the root causes of war around the world. War Resisters League is an independent organization based in New York and a proud member of War Resisters International.

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