Queer Visions of a Better World

Bradley Manning at work

Bradley Manning at work

The news this week that Private Bradley Manning had come out as Chelsea made me think first that truth is way stranger than fiction, and second that it makes perfect sense that one of the most courageous warriors of our time would be a queer woman.

Gloria Anzaldua, who has been one of my heroines since I first read her seminal work Borderlands/La frontera back in the 1980s, always insisted that queer folk have a special role to play in bringing about a change in human consciousness—moving us from the patriarchal mold of the past 5,000 years or so to what she called “a new mestiza consciousness,” a much more holistic, inclusive, planetary awareness.

Anzaldua extended Virginia Woolf’s famous statement, in her anti-war tract Three Guineas, that “as a woman, I have no country.  As a woman, I want no country.  As a woman, my country is the whole world,” giving it a new queer mestiza twist:

Gloria Anzaldua

Gloria Anzaldua

“As a mestiza I have no country, my homeland cast me out; yet all countries are mine because I am every woman’s sister or potential lover.  (As a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me; but I am all races because there is the queer of me in all races.)  I am cultureless because, as a feminist, I challenge the collective cultural/religious male-derived beliefs of Indo-Hispanics and Anglos; yet I am cultured because I am participating in the creation of yet another culture, a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet.  Soy un amasamiento, I am an act of kneading, of uniting and joining that not only has produced both a creature of darkness and a creature of light, but also a creature that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meanings.”

Because queer folk have lived in their own bodies this awareness of being more—more than meets the eye, more than can be limited by any label or category—Anzaldua believed that they would be able to lead the way towards a new human civilization founded not on dominance and subordination, not on hierarchies of value, not on black-and-white binary systems, but on synthesis and what she called “a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity.”

Some, like Anzaldua herself, would be called upon to become what she called nepantleras, boundary crossers and bridge builders who would go through the wounds and pain of traumatic life experiences to access courage and wisdom to lead others into a new awareness of human potential.

Chelsea Manning is such a nepantlera.

Several years ago, in a class I offered on human rights, my students and I watched, horrified, a recently leaked video called “Collateral Damage,” which clearly showed a group of American soldiers in a helicopter searching out and gunning down unarmed Iraqi civilians who were simply talking together on a quiet, sunny, bombed-out village street.

Still image from the Wikileaks Collateral Damage video--before the machine guns started

Still image from the Wikileaks Collateral Damage video–before the machine guns started

The language the soldiers used as they hunted down their targets was straight out of a violent video game, which is probably where they had learned the shoot-em up skills they displayed.  But this was no game.  Of the several men who lost their lives that day, one was a journalist on assignment for the Western media, armed only with his digital camera.

My students and I agreed that we needed to know that this kind of behavior was taking place under the banner of the American flag.  Keeping us in the dark about the reality of what was happening in Iraq, at the cost of enormous sums of taxpayer monies, was a violation of the rights of every American citizen in whose name this war was being fought.

Many obviously agree: the clip “Collateral Damage” has now been viewed more than 14 million times on You-Tube. Only because of the courage of Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange of Wikileaks, both now branded political heretics, did we find out this information.

imagesWe like to think that America is a free country, but it turns out that our freedom has very carefully regulated borders and boundaries.  We are free to dissent as long as we have a permit.

The World Wide Web knows no such boundaries.  It is truly a queer space, a space that has room for every kind of human activity and belief.  In exercising her freedom to circulate information on the Web, Chelsea Manning ran afoul of those who would try to dam the flow, controlling access to knowledge.

Some insist that it is essential that knowledge be controlled, in the name of national security, counter-terrorism, American interests, etc, etc.

It’s past time to start asking questions about whose interests are really served by restricting the free flow of information.

Are we going to become another China, where all individual freedoms are subordinate to the will of the State?  Has it already happened?

What all totalitarian states have eventually learned is that the more human beings are repressed, the more our will to resist is strengthened.

In this country, for the past few decades, our attention has been dulled by the opiates of the entertainment media, consumerism and drugs of many kinds.  A majority of us have slipped without even realizing it into a new form of labor bondage, in service to the almighty Bank, by whose credit and in whose debt we live.

During this time, the military-industrial-financial-media corporate conglomerates have grown huge and menacingly well-armed, to the point where it seems almost impossible that those of us who dare to imagine another way of living—another way of relating to the planet and to each other—might prevail.

We must not allow our vision of a better world to be limited by those who are currently in power.

We must insist on the freedom of the World Wide Web as a queer space for those who understand that “our country is the whole world.”

Chelsea Manning, I salute you!  You had the courage to shine a light into the dark corners of our government, no matter the consequences, and now you courageously step into the full measure of your own identity.

May we each learn to be so bold.

Leave a comment


  1. Very powerful Jennifer – with so much to think about. I must read Anzaldua’s book.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  August 24, 2013

      Yes, Borderlands/La frontera is as radical today as it was when it was first published in 1987. And I highly recommend one of her last essays, “Now Let Us Shift,” in This Bridge We Call Home.

  2. Carole Spearin McCauley

     /  August 24, 2013

    Excellent article, Jennifer. My first two mystery novels, published by Hiliard&Harris (MD), begin with a bisexual heroine/amateur detective who becomes a lesbian–beyond murder, deceit, financial fraud, terror, and whatever else happens in a feminist mystery story. Good wishes from Carole

  3. leavergirl

     /  August 25, 2013

    Are you serious?! Is everyone going mad?
    A man can “come out as a woman”? What nonsense. It looks like we are heading toward a three-gender society: (cis) men and women, and trans. Three sets of public toilets. Which is ok by me. But it’s not ok by me to have “men who have come out as women” pushing their way into (cis) women’s spaces. Appalling.

  4. I am surprised that you refer to Chelsea Manning as a “queer woman.” As far as I can tell she is simply a woman, sadly born in a man’s body. I am filled with compassion for Manning. I can’t imagine Leavenworth meeting his needs any more than the army or his family of origin did. As for leavergirl, I wonder why you consider a man coming out as a woman to be madness or nonsense. To those born in the wrong body, it is simply “coming home.” Why would it not be okay for men who have come out as women “pushing their way into women’s spaces”? Our natural space is where we feel most comfortable, and the gender arc is so broad and complex that dividing it into “man,” “woman”, “trans,” etc. is simply labeling the most obvious categories.

  5. leavergirl

     /  August 25, 2013

    Mmmm… you end up referring to “him’. It’s telling, Margaret.

    And no, I don’t think that I can legitimately refer to myself as a child, a man, or a Pygmy just because I feel like I am that inside. It takes more than “wishful thinking” to be another type of person.

    As for the rest of the question, I ask you to imagine stopping at a dark and unpeopled rest stop, dashing into the rest room, and having a cisman (regardless of what his wishes are) walking in. No, thank you. America is turning into Absurdistan.

  6. Being born into the wrong body is definitely not “wishful thinking.” If it were, it would be logical to wish oneself “normal,” especially for a child. Leavergirl, you probably need to get to know a few transgendered people to begin to understand the sort of dislocation they feel before they take the painful but ultimately healing steps to match their outward appearance with their inner reality.

    • leavergirl

       /  August 28, 2013

      Margaret, here is another scenario. A group of 13 years old girls are in the menstrual hut, celebrating right of passage. A 13 year boy demands to be let in, because he really feels a girl inside, and has renamed himself Mona. As a mother of one of the girls, what would you do?

      IMO, a person who was given a male body, male ways of perceiving the world, and male enculturation, cannot be a woman no matter what he wishes or longs for. He can be a he, or he can be what some people call a he-she. Another category. But he cannot be a she. This is how Indian tribes of old dealt with the dilemma…. they had a name for this third group of otherwise-gendered.

      Which opens two kinds of questions: first, do these people deserve accommodation? I’d say yes. But how far? Is a convicted rapist who renames himself Mona and claims is a woman inside entitled to ask for a women’s prison? And how do you weed out those who are using this issue the old fashioned way: to fuck with women’s heads, and to intimidate?

      Are he-shes entitled to demand entry to spaces women have claimed as their own, for modesty’s sakes, sometimes, and other times for safety? Because a he-she still has a male body that on the average is physically stronger that that of a woman.

      And will those of you who for some reason believe that a he-she is a woman and entitled to womens’ spaces, vilify those of us who do not, and who wish to protect these spaces? Given the seriousness of the issues we and their earth are facing, I would rather not see this become another divisive fight.

  7. I am not looking for a divisive fight here. Much less am I vilifying anyone. I am surprised, though, that you are so dogmatic about who can be called what and why. As we become more sensitive to the many different ways we are constructed and the identities we claim as a result, it not only becomes more obvious that we need to be open to a new descriptive vocabulary, but also that we cannot name others; they/we must name ourselves. Some like the term he-she. Others prefer woman or man. When you use the example of a male rapist becoming a woman and wanting to be imprisoned in a women’s prison, you are muddling the issue by giving one very extreme scenario. We may indeed find clues to human behavior in ancient cultures, but the ways in which those cultures solved social problems is hardly useful for solving all today’s problems.

    • Extreme scenarios are a way to clarify the issue. Eskimo children have to deal with them all the time… it trains you to deal with all sorts of difficult situations.

      But rather than grapple with it, or the other scenario I offered, you tell me I am dogmatic, and by inference, insensitive.

      No, that just won’t do.


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