Trump’s “trans ban” is an attack on health care

 — and an especially cruel one

Marginalizing health care for trans people is nonsense. It’s also unnecessary and needlessly hurtful

On Tuesday, a rash of extremely misleading headlines, from the New York Times to the Washington Post to ABC News, reported that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had “frozen” Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. This was misleading to the point of being a flat-out lie. As Mark Joseph Stern of Slate wrote:

This framing is an extreme mischaracterization of the facts. Mattis did not “freeze” the trans ban, and he is not “buy[ing] time” in some potentially insubordinate effort to buck Trump. In reality, the secretary is doing exactly what Trump directed him to do in a recent memo.

Mattis’ claim that the issue needs more study is a lie designed to make a decision based in raw bigotry look more thoughtful than it is. The reason we know this is that the military has already studied this issue extensively, releasing a 2016 report that found “allowing transgender personnel to serve openly” would have “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.”

The excuse that Trump used when he first announced this ban on Twitter, and the excuse he will almost certainly continue to use, is that medical care for trans people, such as hormone therapy or gender confirmation surgery, is too expensive. Not only is this another lie — it was widely reported that the military spends five times as much on Viagra as it expects to spend on gender confirmation treatments — but this excuse is in itself a form of bigotry, a way to demonize transgender people by stigmatizing the health care they need.

“The only reason we’re even having this conversation is because the president and others don’t actually consider health care for trans people to be real health care,” Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project, explained to Salon. “It’s only because we stigmatize this care and we don’t understand trans people that part of the conversation even comes up, because all of the evidence shows that the costs are negligible in a budget that’s billions and billions of dollars.”

Strangio, who helped Chelsea Manning with legal issues during her time in a military prison, is working on a suit that the ACLU filed against Trump and the Department of Defense on behalf of five active service members. The ban would not only bar trans people from enlisting and threaten the status of those currently serving, it would also forbid them from having equal access to health care.

“From a medical aspect, transgender care is regular health care,” explained Dr. Jenn Conti, an ob-gyn who has helped trans men with their gender confirmation care and who is an advocate for Physicians for Reproductive Health. Trump’s “statements and his tweets are truly not founded in medical science,” she continued. “It’s a political issue, and it’s something that’s happening at the expense of an already stigmatized and underserved population.”

What Conti and Strangio both emphasized repeatedly is that there is no reason, morally or medically, to single out trans health care as any different from any other kind of medically necessary care.

“There are enormous medical and psychological consequences that stem from being forced to live in the wrong body,” Conti explained. She has provided gender confirmation surgeries for trans men, including some veterans, and reports, “The relief they feel afterwards is indescribable.”

It’s frustrating to even have to write about this, because people’s right to private medical care that makes them healthy and whole should not be up for debate. Unfortunately, however, trans care — like contraception and abortion care — has been politicized by forces that wish to exploit these private health issues in interests of marginalizing entire classes of people.

“In all contexts, the data shows that not providing health care that’s necessary is more costly than providing it,” Strangio said. He contrasted the $8 million the Pentagon estimates they will spend on trans medical care versus the $960 million bath that the military will take by trying to implement a ban on trans troops.

Beyond the money, however, there is a human cost involved in marginalizing trans health care from any system, military or otherwise. Conti has firsthand knowledge, because she’s worked with patients who get health care through the Veterans Administration, which currently does not cover gender confirmation surgery or related trans medical treatments.

“These people, in addition to feeling really stigmatized, are tasked with this additional stressor of getting creative” in their pursuit of  health care, Conti said. Some of her patients have been forced to claim “that they need these procedures for other indications, like abnormal uterine bleeding or heavy bleeding.”

As far as Conti is concerned, any uterine bleeding is abnormal in a trans man, because they “aren’t meant to have a uterus.” However, the more humane and simpler solution is to simply treat health care for trans people as part of a regular health care system.

Banning trans service members adds another burden to the military medical care system by encouraging trans troops to hide their identity, Strangio added. Once inside the system, there are a number of situations, such as when getting sexual health or mental health care, that a closeted trans person may need to disclose his or her status to a doctor to get proper treatment. But doing so risks a discharged, creating an impossible and stressful choice that does no good for the patient, the doctor or the military.

Strangio expressed confidence that the ACLU’s case against Trump and the Department of Defense would be successful. Pentagon-financed research backs the inclusion of trans troops and coverage of their health care needs. There’s also “significant evidence,” Strangio added, that the president’s alleged concerns “are pretextual for animus that is driving the policy.” Even if the plaintiffs win, he hastened to note, Trump’s actions have done a tremendous amount of needless damage.

“Surgeries have been cancelled. People have been emboldened to act out their individual biases,” he said. The president has sent a message, in Strangio’s judgment that “the government doesn’t value our participation in public life, doesn’t take seriously our health needs.”

Chelsea Manning released amid growing attacks on democratic rights in the US

18 May 2017

Chelsea Manning walked out of the US military’s maximum security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in the early morning hours Wednesday after serving a sentence of more than seven years, marked by brutality and ill-treatment tantamount to torture.

Manning’s supposed “crime” was that of exposing to the people of the United States and the entire planet the criminal atrocities carried out by the US government in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Washington’s conspiracies around the world.

It is ironic that the release of the US Army private imprisoned for leaking classified documents received minimal coverage from the corporate media, even as it churned out endless stories covering President Donald Trump’s alleged exposure to Russian officials of classified secrets.

The political crisis in Washington is the product of a bitter internecine struggle between rival factions within the ruling political establishment and the US state apparatus, which are equally hostile to the democratic principles and antiwar sentiments for which Chelsea Manning sacrificed her freedom and nearly lost her life.

Days after her sentencing in August 2013, Manning came out as a transgender woman, but the military held her in an all-male prison, subjecting her to sexual humiliation and denying her treatment for her well-documented gender dysphoria. Much of her imprisonment was spent in punitively imposed solitary confinement. The predictable result was extreme mental anguish, depression and attempted suicide.

Manning’s seven years of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the US military represented the most draconian punishment ever imposed for leaking classified documents in the United States. She was originally sentenced to 35 years in prison in a drumhead military court martial, in which the prosecution pressed for a “treason” conviction, a charge that carries the death penalty.

Whom did Manning “betray”? Certainly not the American people, to whom she helped expose crimes being carried out behind their backs. Rather, her actions cut across the interests of the American capitalist ruling class, which is waging endless predatory wars and building up a police-state apparatus to suppress social unrest and popular resistance at home.

Working as a 22-year-old military intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning became increasingly opposed to the US war and occupation in that country. In early 2010, she provided WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents exposing Washington’s crimes.

Among the first pieces of this classified material to catch the attention of a wide public was the chilling “Collateral Murder” video. Viewed by millions, the video, recorded through the gun sight of a US Apache helicopter, provides a gut-wrenching exposure, not only of a deliberate massacre of over a dozen unarmed civilians, including two Iraqi reporters working for the Reuters news agency, but of the criminal character of the US war as a whole.

Other documents provided by Manning made it clear that the US was vastly underreporting the number of civilians being killed and wounded in Afghanistan. Manning also gave WikiLeaks some 250,000 diplomatic cables from American embassies around the world, which exposed official US lying, efforts to subvert governments, and dossiers on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, showing most of them had no significant role in terrorist operations.

The exposure of these crimes provoked a vindictive reaction from the Obama White House and the State Department, then headed by Hillary Clinton. The persecution of Manning was part of a broader crackdown on whistleblowers—the Obama administration prosecuted more individuals under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous administrations combined. This crackdown went hand-in-hand with the buildup of a state repressive apparatus that extended from the massive spying on the US and world population to the president’s invoking of the power to order the drone missile assassination of anyone, anywhere in the world.

If Obama commuted Manning’s sentence on his final day in office (adding 120 days onto her time served), it was not out of any last-minute sympathy for the imprisoned soldier’s suffering, or any newfound democratic convictions. It was a calculated political act, aimed at sanitizing the filthy record of his administration and currying favor for the Democratic Party. The conviction and the draconian sentence remain on the books, a brutal warning to anyone thinking of following in the persecuted private’s footsteps.

During the seven years that Manning spent enclosed behind cement and iron bars, the government’s witch-hunt and persecution against those daring to expose its crimes has only intensified.

Julian Assange has been trapped in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012, threatened by a US federal grand jury. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated last month that Assange’s arrest was a “priority,” adding that the US government was “stepping up our efforts on all leaks … whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” This was accompanied by an extraordinary speech by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who branded WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” He declared that Assange “has no First Amendment freedoms” and that anyone who reveals the secrets of the US government is an “enemy” guilty of “treason.”

Edward Snowden, who exposed the NSA’s illegal wholesale spying operations, has been turned into a man without a country, living in forced exile in Moscow. Both Trump and Pompeo have publicly called for his execution.

If Manning, Assange and Snowden are compelled to face the threat of imprisonment and even death for lifting the lid on Washington’s dirty secrets, it is in large measure because the corporate media in the United States is fully complicit in these crimes, functioning more and more openly as a propaganda arm of the US government.

In a revealingly hostile response to Manning’s pending release, the New York Times buried an article deep inside its printed addition Wednesday under the headline “Manning Is Set to Be Freed 28 Years Ahead of Schedule.” Presumably the newspaper of record would have preferred she serve her full term.

The Times’s former executive editor, Bill Keller, expressed his attitude toward the WikiLeaks revelations in 2010, while Manning was being brutalized in a Marine Corps lockup in Quantico, Virginia. He described himself as “uncomfortable” with the notion that the Times “can decide to release information that the government wants to keep secret,” a practice that in an earlier period was regarded as the most essential function of the so-called Fourth Estate. He made the Orwellian declaration that “transparency is not an absolute good” and that “Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity.”

Today, the Times’s editorial pages are under the direction of James Bennet, a figure with the closest ties to the state apparatus and the top echelons of the Democratic Party. (His father is a former head of USAID, a front for the CIA, and his brother is the senior senator from Colorado.) The Times churns out war propaganda, while news coverage is, by the paper’s own admission, vetted by the US intelligence agencies. These practices set the tone for the corporate media as a whole.

The suppression of freedom of the press and free speech in the US—epitomized by the relentless persecution of Manning, Assange and Snowden—is driven by the needs of America’s ruling oligarchy, as it seeks to extricate itself from deepening economic and political crises by means of ever more dangerous acts of military aggression abroad, while confronting rising hostility and anger from masses of working people in the US and around the world.

The defense of these rights and the fight against state repression can be waged only as part of the struggle for the independent political mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system.

Bill Van Auken

“Tales of the City” author Armistead Maupin: “The Google Bus is the emperor’s carriage”



Maupin on how San Francisco has changed, and ending the series that made the world fall in love with it


Few writers have seen their work as wholeheartedly loved as Armistead Maupin. His “Tales of the City” series, the saga of an assortment of unconventional characters searching for love and self-understanding in San Francisco from the late 1970s on, began as a hugely popular local newspaper serial. When the first of nine novels derived from the serial, “Tales of the City,” appeared in print, the rest of the world fell for Maupin’s vision of the city as the joyous capital of self-expression, too. People (gay and straight) have moved to San Francisco under the influence of the “Tales,” and one fan reputedly even asked to be buried with the books.

Maupin has published a couple of novels touted as the final installment of the “Tales,” but this time, with “The Days of Anna Madrigal,” he really means it. Anna, the wise, pot-smoking one-time landlady of the legendary boarding house at 28 Barbary Lane (an address almost as fabled as 221B Baker Street), is 92. She has a legal prescription now, and a live-in caregiver, a trans man named Jake, but 28 Barbary Lane has fallen into the hands of dot-commers who have “made it look like a five-star B and B,” and Anna herself is contemplating the art of “leaving like a lady.” Her former tenants — what Anna calls her “logical family” — still cluster around her. There are plenty of young folks, too, like a bisexual blogger who’s written a novel composed of text messages, but even as the characters make a hedonistic pilgrimage to the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert, the story retains a mellow, retrospective glow.

Which is not to say it’s nostalgic — nostalgia being a sentiment Maupin has avoided ever since he first arrived in San Francisco in 1971 and read Herb Caen’s misty-eyed newspaper columns about the city in the 1930s. As if to prove that he doesn’t look back, Maupin and his husband, Christopher Turner, recently moved to Santa Fe, seeking closer contact with nature and a quieter life. I met with him during the international book tour for “The Days of Anna Madrigal” to ask him about moving forward and the recent major changes in the city that has been his muse.

By now, you’re probably tired of people telling you how much your work has meant to them.

How could I possibly get tired of that? I just try to appreciate it and take it in while it’s going on, at various book signings. To feel it all. That’s the best of it. Beyond that, there’s the beauty of people sharing some part of their own lives. I was in Albuquerque the other day and a Navajo kid told me that his family had accepted him not on the basis of Michael Tolliver [the series’ central gay character], but on the basis of [transgender landlady] Anna Madrigal. Native Americans revere the “two-spirit” person. And because Anna accepted Michael, they accepted him. Chris and I went to a dance not far from where we live last winter, and the whole thing was led by the two-spirit person.

Anna is seriously old in this novel. As long as the sweep of “Tales” has been, and with the original characters now mostly in late middle age, the energy of it has been so youthful. The stories have always found something new and hopeful to explore. Eventually time does run out, though, but Anna approaches it very gracefully. What’s it like to write about someone at that point in her life, with so much more behind her than ahead of her?

Well, I had to imagine it because I still have plenty of panic about dying. She’s always been my higher self. I tried to crawl inside that and imagine how she’d handle it, how placid she would be. I had a grandmother who had been a suffragist in England all those years ago, in 1913. She was in her 90s when I saw her for the last time. She had on her nice suit and hat with her nice cane, sitting in a chair as if she were waiting for a bus to come take her away. She was ready.

A lot of the fey, spiritual side of Anna came from my grandmother. I always adored her. I grew up in a Southern household rife with prejudice, and she was the free, forgiving spirit.

“Tales of the City” was so prescient in many ways. Anna’s history came as huge surprise to many readers. It just didn’t occur to people that she might be transgender.

Nope. I told the editors of the Chronicle about it and they said, “You can’t reveal that for a year.”

So you knew it from the beginning?

I did. They said if I revealed it, that would scare away the readers. And of course, in a way, that’s been the journey. Now I have Anna talking to Jake, who asks her if someone is “T,” and she gets annoyed by all these new terms for their “once-exotic species.”

She liked her mystery.

She liked her mystery.

Do transgender people tell you that she was an important character for them?

They do. Obviously I can’t speak for every transgender reader and there may be people who have issues, but I do hear that a lot. I’ve also been hearing from trans men for the past eight years. I had a trans man come up to me at Burning Man to tell me about an important moment in his life. He said, “I was in a tent full of naked men and I was not ashamed of my body.” That was moving.

Writing about Anna’s youth is the first time you’ve included a lengthy flashback and a historical setting, isn’t it?

First time ever. It was exhilarating, especially, to write about a time I didn’t live in. It was like a complete escape, like crawling into Narnia, if Narnia was a whorehouse in Nevada in 1936! The Internet was tremendously useful. I could Google “1936 whorehouse menu” and up it would pop.

You’ve been working on this long narrative for years, and sometimes events just come along and hijack it. AIDS is only the most obvious example of that.

Absolutely. People didn’t want me to deal with it, but I had to. And sometimes in the telling of the story, the details take control. I wanted Proustian sensory triggers to send Anna back to her past. One was the smell of an old book. Another was rose water, which would be a cheap perfume in a brothel. And the other was Lysol, which you would obviously have to keep around in such a place.

So you didn’t already know about it being used as a contraceptive douche?

[Shakes head in amazement] No! I Googled Lysol just to make sure it was around in 1936. I found out not only that was it around, but it was being used as a spermicide!

You learn about that in women’s studies classes.

You do?

It’s one of the horror stories from the days before contraception was widely available.

Well, it is a horror story! And then they started advertising it as a “freshener.” With a picture of a husband scowling and it says, “For the problem even your husband won’t tell you about”! Doesn’t it seem like the problem would be smelling like the kitchen floor?

I think the real problem would be that husband.

The husband — yeah, pretty much! So Lysol went from being a little detail to a pivotal plot point.

This really feels like a desert novel.

It is a desert novel. People have tended to connect that with my moving to Santa Fe but I had it in mind before we did that. Because of both Burning Man and Winnemucca. I wanted to go to Anna’s past, and then Chris dragged me kicking and screaming to Burning Man.

And you liked it?

I did. We’ve been twice now. Usually when he gets me off my ass, it turns out right. We have adventures.

How did Chris talk you into Burning Man?

I’m not sure I remember. Everything he said was putting me off. I’d have to wear earplugs. Then there was the dust and the white-outs. He said, “Let’s do the naked bicycle pub crawl!” and I said, “My big white ass on a bicycle seat — drunk?” And I actually didn’t end up doing that, but I waited in the bar for it to come around. Our camp was the cosmo camp. We made cocktails out in the desert.

So I had to be persuaded. And we did have to wait in that long line of cars. But you get there and you do sort of cave into it in a nice way. You think, there’s no escaping this, so you might as well relax, and oh yeah this sarong does feel kind of good. He also seduced me with his seamster abilities, if that’s the male word for it. He touched me by going out and buying a sewing machine and taking a lesson from a lady in the Marina and then he was sewing outfits for both of us. That was pretty irresistible.

Burning Man is just such strange, hallucinatory experience. At some of my Bay Area book signings, fellow burners have shown up and at first we didn’t recognize them. It’s such a … they refer to this as the default world. Everything else is the default world.

You know the burning question that everyone wants to know when they learn you’ve moved to Santa Fe?

[Apprehensively] What’s that?

Have you met George R.R. Martin yet?

I’ve not only met him, he’s a friend! I’m going to do an appearance at the Cocteau Theater, which is the theater he owns downtown. He’ll be interviewing me. A friend from V-Day [an international organization to end violence against women] mentioned to me that they needed a theater to premiere a movie, and all I had to do was ask him. He said it was an issue that matters a lot to him. Great guy.

Have you found a literary scene in Santa Fe?

Well, I didn’t have one in San Francisco. I knew a few writers there, but not a scene per se. For us, living in Santa Fe is more about having a house in the country with uninterrupted views and privacy.

I’m sure I was far from the only person who was crushed to learn that you’d left San Francisco.

[Laughs] I’m required to live there for life!

Perhaps you’ll write a “Tales of the Desert”?

We’ll see. The first few months of living there, I was thinking in gothic terms. There’s something about it — the black skies, white stars and coyotes. One thing Chris talked me into was performing at the Crown and Anchor, a nightclub that’s largely full of drag queens and singers in Provincetown. I had 300 bears in a room listening to me telling stories. That got me thinking I should put together a one-man show. I’ve admired a number of people who have done this, from Quentin Crisp to Elaine Stritch and Spalding Gray. I like the life that would come with it, the ability to connect with people after 40 years of sitting in front of a word processor. I’ve also thought about writing a memoir that would dovetail with the one-man show.

What is it like not to live in San Francisco anymore?

We do miss it. We miss our longtime friends, and the chance for street life. So we’re making a serious effort to find what I call a “pied-à-merde” there. It’s going to have to be pretty humble.

Real estate has gotten so expensive there.

A realtor was on my Facebook page telling me he’d love to help us find a little place in the city. I told him what we could pay, and that it needed to be dog-friendly and have a parking place. He wrote back one line: “You may have to put out for that.”

It’s brutal, but we’re working towards it. We’ve learned how to swap apartments with friends. I couldn’t sever myself from that city if I tried. It’s inside of me. And I love being identified with such a beautiful place.

What was the attraction of Santa Fe?

Santa Fe is full of interesting people and it has its own singular beauty and peculiarity. I like the peace and quiet of it. I hate traffic, let’s start with that.

I’d like to have both, if we could afford it. My Social Security pays the mortgage in Santa Fe, such is the cheapness of real estate there. That’s another thing. It’s a very affordable place.

One touch I especially like in this novel is the passage where Michael reflects on how the economic changes of the past 40 years have affected his friendships, slowly sifting them into two different categories.

Yes, he says they’ve become separated from their wealthier friends “by embarrassment.”

It’s one of those phenomena where you’re aware of experiencing it, but you haven’t put it into words yet, and then someone spells it out for you. That’s something “Tales” has always been good at. I haven’t lived in San Francisco for a while, but from everything I’ve heard, it’s gotten pretty extreme there.

It’s in many ways a different place. There are high-rise condos marching up Market Street towards the Castro.

And then there are the Google Bus wars, which from outside make it sound like the city is tearing itself apart.

The Google Bus is the emperor’s carriage.

With the disgruntled rabble throwing muck at it!

It’s become symbolic of that. If you look at it logically, it’s a courteous thing for Google to do, to not have all those people driving in and parking in the city, but it represents the intrusion of enormous wealth. On one level I can’t blame a 35-year-old millionaire for wanting to have a cute little place in San Francisco. It’s just that there’s no room for the rest of us.

When I moved there 40 years ago, I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that any neighborhood would be off-limits to me as a fledgling reporter for the AP. Maybe if you wanted Pacific Heights you had to settle for a cute garage in a garden, but every other part of the city was completely possible. My little pentshack on Russian Hill was $175 a month, with a sweeping view of the bay and all the charm you could possibly want. But times change, cities change and people change.

The characters in “Tales of the City” were able to be, essentially, bohemians.

Yeah, they are. I never really put that label on them, but they are.

Mona and Anna most of all, though of course Mary Ann goes in and out of it.

She does. Michael is without a job for some years, but he can go win the jockey shorts dance contest and still pay the rent!

He couldn’t pay the rent with that now! How can it go on being such a wonderfully eccentric city if people like that can’t afford to live in it?

Well, it can’t. That’s the answer.

That’s sad.

Yes, it’s very sad. It can’t be that city anymore. Of course, it’s more beautiful than it’s ever been. They’ve torn down the freeway so they have the waterfront again, but it’s not that city anymore.


Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of “The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia” and has a Web site,